Out and about in the National Park

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Visited our North Lees estate this morning to see for myself the future potential of this popular site owned by the Peak District National Park. Read below for more information on our plans published on our website.

The future of a popular Peak District National Park owned campsite near Hathersage has been safeguarded.

The North Lees campsite, close to the well-loved climbing, walking and wildlife area of Stanage Edge, is to be refurbished to ensure that people can continue to enjoy and appreciate its unique qualities.

Members of the national park’s audit, resources and performance committee today (January 23) committed to continue to manage the campsite and invest up to £60,000 to improve facilities for visitors to the North Lees estate.

The campsite has been owned by the National Park since 1976 and currently has 60 pitches. New showers, improved toilets, the use of environmentally-friendly technologies, an on-line booking system, possibly four camping pods, and using the site as a visitor hub, are among the improvements campers can expect to enjoy.

NorthLeescampsiteCommittee chair, Cllr Andrew McCloy said: “We are as passionate about Stanage and the North Lees estate as local communities and user groups are, but we have had to review all our properties to manage the 30 per cent reduction in budget we were dealt by public sector funding cuts.

“We carefully considered a number of options for running the campsite and concluded that it is in everyone’s interest that we continue to manage it as an integral part of the North Lees estate.”

The work will now be taken forward by the North Lees manager, Rebekah Newman, who was appointed in December.

Representatives from the British Mountaineering Council (BMC), Stanage Forum and several local residents spoke at the meeting in support of the campsite being retained and invested in.

The BMC’s Henry Folkard spoke of the campsite being part of the Peak District National Park’s “social responsibility in reaching out to a diverse and often under-represented community in Sheffield, the Peak and elsewhere.”

Local farmer James Summerline was keen to see the campsite continuing to “promote the national park, its wildlife, its tranquility, and its beauty. And to encourage people to visit the park and enjoy it in a responsible way.”

Hope Valley resident Jean Hodgkinson said: “It is absolutely essential this campsite continues to be provided as part of the economy not just of the national park, or the North Lees estate, but also of the nearby village of Hathersage.”

Time to Move On

After 11 years in the best job in National Parks, I have decided that it’s time to move on. Today, Lesley Roberts has announced my departure and her statement is reproduced below.  I wish Lesley well in her term as Chairman of the Authority and I hope that she will be successful in recruiting a successor.

There will be a time and place to reflect on an incredible 11 years and to thank everyone who has helped me along the way.  But, in the mean time there’s still plenty to do in the Peak District National Park and in some of the new roles I’ll be taking on this autumn.

Dear colleagues

I’m both saddened and pleased to tell you all that after 11 years as our Chief Executive, Jim Dixon has decided to leave us.

I’m saddened because I have enjoyed working with Jim and he has achieved an enormous amount for the Peak District National Park. We are a better-run, better-respected and more ambitious authority because of Jim’s contributions. He has built great partnerships across our activities in the Peak District and championed our best projects.  He has also played an enormously important role on the national stage, ensuring that our voice is heard in Whitehall and that our UK partnership through new pioneering projects has a stronger financial future.  There will be a proper opportunity to mark all of Jim’s achievements before he leaves at the end of the year.

I am pleased because Jim is moving on to a very interesting portfolio of activities that will stretch him and play to his considerable strengths.  He will be taking up a further non-executive role in addition to his role as a national trustee of the Heritage Lottery Fund.  His first article in the Times has been superb, and long may they continue – certainly the threat of a regular deadline will keep him on his toes. I know that he wants to do more writing and broadcasting too.  He will also be working in an advisory capacity with a number of organisations.

I have started to plan for the recruitment of Jim’s successor as it is important that we move promptly to do so.  A small panel of members will work with me on this and we will be supported by external advisers.  I envisage that the recruitment process will start with advertisements in the next few weeks and conclude with a recommendation on a suitable candidate to the Authority meeting on 5th December.  Jim has kindly agreed to extend his notice period until 31 December to ensure that there is some continuity over that time. To allow Jim the time to take on some of his new commitments, I have agreed that he will reduce his working hours by 1 day per week with effect 30 September.

Jim is anxious to let you all know that he will continue the same pace and energy that he has always put into his role until he finishes at the end of the year.

If you have any questions relating to this, please contact me.

Lesley Roberts

Chairman of the Authority

A Visit to a Pioneer of National Parks

This week I was in Scotland for conferences covering the life of John Muir (who pioneered national parks but whom I am not going to write about here), re-wilding and education in National Parks.  I will write about these events another time. Whilst in Scotland, I took the opportunity of visiting a man who was a great pioneer of national parks and the Peak District in particular.  My visit was particularly timely because we have just celebrated the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Peak District Ranger Service.  Incredibly, the man I met this week played a huge personal role in that, and many other innovations in national parks too.

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The photograph above shows Alderman Charles White standing on a box to launch the first Peak District Warden Service.  Behind him in the centre is the first warden, Tom Tomlinson.  Incredibly, the man that I met played a pivotal role in this event and, indeed, is in the photograph too, standing immediately behind Alderman White.

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Standing to the left in this iconic photograph, is the man who was, in effect, the first ever Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park.  John Foster was appointed Director and Planning Officer in 1953 after his predecessor, Alfred Oldacre, died of a long-standing illness.  In effect, John was the man who established the national park as Oldacre was a sick man when appointed and only spent a few weeks in the office before his early death.

John Foster is alive and remarkably spritely for a 94 year old and I went to see him on Tuesday with the Chair of the Authority Tony Favell, to see John and his wife, who is an equally spritely 88.  John served as my predecessor from 1953 to 1968, before taking up a senior role with the Countryside Commission for Scotland.  A colleague from Scottish Natural Heritage this week described John as ‘something of a legend’ within SNH.  

In effect, John was responsible for establishing the new Peak Park Planning Board and so pioneered things that today are the bedrock of what we do.  As the first UK National Park, these were indeed the first time anyone had done these things in Britain.  He organised the first committees and the first planning committees.  He established picnic sites, trails and car parks.  And, in 1954, he appointed Tom Tomlinson as the first warden.  Some years later, he asked Tom to be the first schools liaison officer, starting the first education work. He appointed Don Aldridge to be the person who developed the first interpretation work.  Indeed, John had been inspired by visits to the US National Parks, so applying what he had seen in the States approaches to countryside management in the UK. 

 

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On our visit, Tony Favell (a long-standing resident of Edale) and John shared experiences of Fred Heardman who established the first national park information centre at Edale.  Following the tragedy in which 3 scouts died in bad weather during the Four Inns Walk of 1964, John convened a meeting which led to the establishment of the professional and co-ordinated Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation.  John wrote the first national park management plan. He hosted the first National Parks Conference held outside London in Bakewell in 1958.  John also made his mark in planning.  He fought off Dr Beeching’s axe , playing a prominent role in the public inquiry which saved the Hope Valley Railway Line.  He was very interested to hear about our work on the Monsal Trail which was a railway throughout the time John worked in Bakewell.  He also wrote a report which recommended moving Bakewell’s livestock market out of the town centre, something that was pursued with great success some twenty years later by Michael Dower.

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John’s reputation as a capable and caring manager with a great love of the national park still echoes a little around Aldern House, although almost no-one today remembers John.  Even those people who have come to the end of 30-40 years service in the last few years and make up the grandees of the retired staff club, all came to the national park many years after John left.

John moved to Scotland and led much of the pioneering work which established the reputation of the Countryside Commission for Scotland as a pioneer in countryside management.   John pioneered the landscape designations of National Scenic Areas and in his retirement did much to make the case for the creation of the two Scottish National Parks which are such a success today.  John was appointed CBE for his work in Scotland’s landscapes.  On the walls of his home today are many fine watercolours and prints of the landscapes of Scotland that he has done so much to protect, and I noticed one of his former Peak District home in Birchover. John’s home today, next to the Crieff Hydro, is also called Birchover.  

It was a privilege to spend an all-too short time with John and his wife. John showed a great interest in all that we are doing today and his recollection of people and details was formidable. I was inspired to pursue those things that it falls to me and my era to pioneer, recognising that in much of what we do in the Peak District today, the real pioneering work was done by John Foster and those who worked alongside him many years ago.

 

 

Thirteen into Fourteen: New Year Message

2013 has been yet another busy year in the Peak District National Park. We have had our fair share of triumphs and sadness too.

What we do in the National Park is so important that we need to find innovative ways of continuing to do this work, especially at a time of tough public finances.  And we’ve done just that this year.  I hope we’re nearing the end of the era of very steep budget cuts.  2014/15 will continue to be difficult, but I’m pleased we’ve already made a number of hard decisions which put us in a good position to start the year.

The budget-planning work led by Ruth Marchington and Philip Naylor had full engagement from Members and was vital, if difficult for some people most affected.  Our settlement announced for 2015/16 – the last before an election – is better than we might have hoped for and more manageable than we have had in recent years.

We’ve adjusted a lot of our working practices to cope with difficult budgets. We’re now much better at generating external funding. In the last year, much of our cultural heritage work, conservation work on the Warslow Estate, on the grasslands on our trails, woodland conservation in the Dane Valley and our flagship Moors for the Future moorland restoration work comes from high quality grant applications.

We remain the leading UK national park for generating these sorts of funds and I look forward to the challenges of making some more multi-million pound bids in the coming year to the European Union LIFE programme, Heritage Lottery Fund and the new Local Enterprise Partnerships.

I celebrated 10 years in my job last year. In that time, despite tough budgets, we’ve seen a 12% increase in the number of people who work with us, although this is in practice 12% fewer full time equivalents. Over this time we have reduced the number of senior managers by 35%, including significant loss of capacity in the last year.  This has created a simpler senior team structure but puts pressure on those remaining managers.

I was pleased to have appointed the new Assistant Director posts in February, but saddened of course when we lost Sean Prendergast to cancer at such a young age so soon after.  At this time of year I am reminded of those others connected to the national park who we have lost or who suffer illness too.  I am delighted though that Mary Bagley has joined the team and with Rachel Gillis and Jane Chapman the three Assistant Directors are demonstrating their considerable collective and individual achievements already.

In the Spring, the then Defra National Parks Minister Richard Benyon launched the Sheffield Moors Partnership, one of the many good examples of how our teams led by Jane Chapman do great conservation work on a landscape scale.  Richard’s successor Lord Rupert de Mauley heard first-hand about this work too on his visit to us just before Christmas and was clearly impressed.

In August I was delighted that as part of a £146M package of support to cycling in England, the Prime Minister included £5M for the Peak District as part of a total package of £25m for National Parks. Rachel Gillis did a fantastic job pulling together this important and complex bid with many partners.  Work starts early next week on the first leg of the network of new trails that should be complete within 2 years.

Our rangers and field staff, shocked and saddened by their terrible loss in March, have nevertheless had an excellent year otherwise. Mary Bagley has already brought new ideas and lifted morale in her first few weeks here.  Rangers supported Severn Trent Water and the RAF in the important national commemoration of the ‘Dambusters’ Raid in May, achieving justifiable and very great praise indeed. We were all chuffed that in the UK national park volunteer awards Dr Chamu Kuppuswamy won the individual award and our volunteer rangers won team of the year.

The fantastic project management skills, great local knowledge and strong logistics capability of our rangers and field staff will be tested to the full in July 2014 as we welcome an important leg of the World’s greatest annual sporting event, the Grand Départ of the Tour de France. We expect hundreds of thousands of spectators and are already closely involved with the many bodies organising this event.

Just a few weeks before we will be welcoming the ‘World’s most elegant’ cycle event, L’Eroica Britannia, in the first ever UK globally-recognised vintage cycling festival.  2014 really will be a fantastic summer of cycling and we plan to invest in our trails, facilities and services so that we capitalise on the eyes of the World focusing on our great cycling opportunities.

Our Planning Service continues to make strong improvements. Turning round public opinion, based on a less-than-sensitive culture in the past, is a long haul especially as planning cases can excite emotions and generate huge public interest.  I am delighted that as John Lomas prepares for his retirement in March 2014 that he does so having completed another complex chapter in some of the most difficult minerals casework anywhere in the country. He also leaves a legacy of a strong and up to date policy portfolio and some very engaged communities doing their own local plans.  John Scott has already made his mark in the community and amongst those who most regularly work with us we are seeing recognition of the changes and improvements John is putting in place.

As the year draws to a close, the Christmas TV schedules have been rich with glorious Peak District listed buildings and brooding landscapes. The national newspapers have been full of lists of the best walks in Britain and the Peak District has usually been comfortably at the top of each.  I’m particularly pleased that in addition to working closely with the partners in Visit Peak District that in 2014 we will be working more closely than ever as a family of national parks with both Visit England and Visit Britain, telling the public at home and abroad what fantastic places national parks are.

I was pleased to have been invited in February to help the Japanese authorities plan for their successful bid for World Heritage Status for Mount Fuji. I used the opportunity of travel to develop further the UK contacts with the China Association of National Parks and Scenic Sites.  As we look forward to welcoming a delegation from China to the UK later this month, we are reminded that we are a part of a global network of protected landscapes, now covering 14% of the planet’s area.  I was pleased to have been appointed to the World Commission on Protected Areas in December last year.

In 2014, the World Parks Congress meets in Sydney Australia. When this important gathering last happened in 2003 in Durban, the then ex-President of South Africa Nelson Mandela spoke movingly of the importance of future generations getting involved in protected areas:  “You may very well be a little curious to hear what an old man without a job, office, power or influence, and with his roots far in the past, is going to say about challenges for the future! The future is after all, in the hands of the youth”.

In 2014 we will have much to do. We have more work to do to balance the books for future years. We have some fantastic funding opportunities.  We need to look hard at all of our income-generating work and increase further our returns and income. At a national and local level we need to find more ways of helping the public and business support national parks practically and financially.

We will have our work cut out to deliver more large conservation projects and help all of the visitors to great events or just a quiet walk have a great and safe experience.  The hard decisions we are required to make on planning, management of green lanes and the way we are run will continue quite properly to be under scrutiny.

In doing all of this, I hope we can heed Nelson Mandela’s words and do more to engage young people in all aspects of our work.  I am delighted that our first two recent apprentices Laura Matthews and Charlie Lovatt joined us recently.  I am pleased too that we have been able to support and promote the fantastic ‘Project Wild Thing’ film and the coalition of organisations behind it.  In 2014, I hope that our new Youth Forum will begin to engage local people in the work we do.

And in the year that the World celebrates the life of the great founder of National Parks John Muir, we will continue to do much practical work to help young people experience ‘the power of imagination’ by giving them the opportunity to see nature in the landscape it is our job to steward.

Why Project Wild Thing Matters to us all

I was a lucky child. Nature was all around me in the long garden that led to our orchard. The slightly unkempt plot was full of birds, hedgehogs and grass snakes. Nearby were the heaths where the army trained and I learned the distinctive calls of cuckoos, stonechats and warblers.

School was different from nature; at least it was until one day when our class was taken for a walk along the banks of the Basingstoke Canal. The teacher pointed out the water rails, yellow flag and dragonflies to us. I was hooked and connected to nature and nature has been my life, career and consuming passion since.

I chose to pursue a career in conservation. I might have ended up in the horticulture industry. I flirted with agricultural science for a few years. And I could have gone down a more maths or engineering route as many of my peers did. What mattered is that the spark of learning about nature was ignited in me.

It was too in the people I’ve been lucky to work with in the great industries that power much of our economy – food and farming, water, minerals, forestry, fisheries, tourism and manufacturing. At the progressive end of these economic and social forces for good are scientific knowledge and endlessly enquiring minds.

Whether your view on the environment reflects that of George Monbiot or Matt Ridley, managing the great environmental challenges of our time will require more young enquiring minds driven by experimentation, knowledge and progress.

How many scientists plotted their first graph describing the plants and animals on a rocky seashore? How many physicists were inspired to find out more about light energy when they realised that a sunbeam hitting a leaf makes the complex sugars that sustain life? How many people today responsible for food supply chains, forests and water resources, learned the first principles of the water, carbon or nitrogen cycles in the outdoors?

The enquiring minds that learn from nature and then place facts and reality into a world view, do so from the basic building blocks of simple scientific exploration. Inspiring teachers, great text books, the internet and Meccano sets all have a place. But so too does nature: outdoors, unpredictable, variable and infinite in its opportunities to experience and understand it.

Outdoor learning is the foundation of much great scientific progress and also of how children learn about themselves and how they begin to see their place in a wider World. John Muir, the Scottish writer who inspired the creation of national parks said that ’The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness’.

It’s not all about geography, zoology and botany, although, goodness, these matter enormously. Biomedical sciences, agriculture, forestry, geology, and hydrology all have their roots in nature. Allied disciplines such as statistics, information management and economics draw strongly on nature too. For many young people this will start in the enquiring minds let free in gardens, parks, fields, woods, canal banks and hedgerows.

The disconnect between young people and nature, so eloquently described in David Bond’s new film Project Wild Thing is a risk to us all. For decades, we have allowed an insidious rift between nature and the lives of young people. Project Wild Thing shows this graphically in one family.

Children are more focused on screens and fearful of the outdoors. Parents are rent with worry over ‘stranger-danger’. Residential areas are designed around cars. There are families and neighbourhoods who have simply lost the traditions and interest in getting into the wild. Our conservation institutions deserve some blame too, having prioritised visitor management and conservation planning over learning and play.

‘Stop doing education and focus on biodiversity’ one Whitehall mandarin told me. We have made our wild places formal, acronym-led and off-limits to young people.

The tide is changing and at a gathering pace. The rebels in conservation bodies who believed in learning, inspiring and engaging young people have turned and now have the upper hand. The RSPB, National Trust and other bodies who were once child-unfriendly now get the urgency and challenge of rolling back decades when we have let our children grow apart from nature. The imperatives have the same broad appeal as campaigns to stop smoking and drink-driving.

David Bond’s acutely perceptive and extremely funny film makes clear that we all have a responsibility to, well, take children outdoors. In the Peak District National Park we have doubled the number of young people experiencing our special place in the last 3 years despite cuts to budgets.

Informal play, child-focused places, open farms, structured walks and family events which reach out to those who have no longer the means nor the tradition of countryside visits are the ways in which we are engaging with those who will carry on stewarding nature after us.

A free school meal or OFSTED scrutiny may be important to academic attainment in classrooms. But time in the outdoors will inspire the future scientists that will power our economy and do so with nature in mind. Nothing matters more.

Europarc Conference 2013

Last week, I joined 300 people from 35 European countries at the annual Europarc Conference.  This is the annual gathering of protected area managers from the Baltic to the Balkans and from Cairngorm to Crete.  I always enjoy the event as an opportunity to catch up with people who do similar jobs to mine in different countries. It’s also an opportunity to hear about what’s happening in the main EU institutions and the international conservation World.

Gábor Szilágyi, Director of the Hortobagy National Park welcomes delegates to Hungary

Gábor Szilágyi, Director of the Hortobagy National Park welcomes delegates to Hungary

The conference this year was held in the University City of Debrecen on the Western edge of the Hortobagy National Park in Hungary. I first visited Hortobagy 20 years ago.  It’s one of the largest undisturbed natural grasslands in  Europe and has some of the largest natural and man-made wetlands too. Debrecen is a charming and very civilised small city dominated by its University.

Big skies are a feature of Hortobagy

Big skies are a feature of Hortobagy

The keynote speaker of the conference was Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of IUCN. I was lucky to have dinner with Julia on the evening before her speech. She can only be described as a ‘force of nature’. She leads a global organisation that has a foot in Governments and also in the voluntary conservation community. They cover the globe with 1300 member organisations.  Julia is the longest serving IUCN DG. Her speech focused on preparing for the IUCN World Congress on Protected Areas in 2014. She encouraged European Protected Area managers to widen their debates to include more people in communities, businesses and young people.

IUCN DG Julia Maron Lefevre talks about the importance of health and protected areas.

IUCN DG Julia Marton Lefevre talks about the importance of health and protected areas.

The second keynote speaker was Ignace Schops who is one of Al Gore’s Climate Change ambassadors. Using similar high quality images familiar to those who have seen the US Vice-President’s presentations, Ignace gave us the up to date messages from the latest IPCC report.

Using Al Gore's Trademark Style of hard-hitting messages and high quality images to get the messages out about Climate Change

Using Al Gore’s Trademark Style of hard-hitting messages and high quality images to get the messages out about Climate Change

The main theme of the workshop sessions that I chose, including the main field visit, was the European Union LIFE programme. This hugely important fund has financed major programmes on ash woodland conservation in the Peak District and also the restoration of moorland in the Peak District. You can read about our current Euro 5.5M EU LIFE programme here http://www.moorsforthefuture.org.uk/moorlife and you can see the latest Al Jazeera report on their work here too bit.ly/MRUxba . I was delighted that Catherine Wynn, who works in our MoorLIFE partnership was a recipient of the Alfred Toepfler scholarship which was presented at the conference.

Hortobagy National Park Staff explain theior work on the restoration of marshes and grasslands funded by the EU LIFE programme

Hortobagy National Park Staff explain theior work on the restoration of marshes and grasslands funded by the EU LIFE programme

New visitor buildings, bird rehabilitation centre and habitat management have been funded by EU resources in the Hortobagy National Park

New visitor buildings, bird rehabilitation centre and habitat management have been funded by EU resources in the Hortobagy National Park

The conference included a visited to Hortobagy Village. When I visted 20 years ago, this national park centre comprised a single newly completed  visitor centre. Today the village has many buildings, interpreting the national park, servicing the many conservation projects and providing opportunities for local businesses to sell their products to visitors.  The National Park administration is proud of its working partnership with the herdsmen of the Puszta, including commercial farmers and those who look after the rare breeds of sheep, goats, cattle and horses.

A Hortobagy shepherd and a flock of sheep

A Hortobagy shepherd and a flock of sheep

Traditional horsemanship skills

Traditional horsemanship skills

A Hortobagy Bull

A Hortobagy Bull

The highlight of the field visit to Hortobagy for me was an evening visit to the huge fishponds that make up an important part of the national parks. The waterbirds in these huge wetlands are impressive and at this time of year, over 100 000 common cranes roost on the mudflats.  Feeding on arable fields during the day, these huge birds migrate daily to their roosts.  It was a fantastic site that you can get a feel of with this video: http://youtu.be/j4IXRsTmEbk

The fishponds are so vast that their produce is collected by light railway. Today, the tourists can travel on the train to see the hugely important wetland habitats

The fishponds are so vast that their produce is collected by light railway. Today, the tourists can travel on the train to see the hugely important wetland habitats

Great white egret

Great white egret

Hortobagy sheep

Hortobagy sheep

The huge wetlands

The huge wetlands

My thanks to Gábor Szilágyi of the Hortobagy National Park, Carol Ritchie and her team at the Europarc Secretariat and all of the fantastic fellow park managers that I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing from at the conference.

A River in Time

Some years ago, I was invited to say a few words at the launch of Christine Gregory’s first book, ‘Brown Hares in the Derbyshire Dales’ which had been financially supported by the National Park.  As I read that book, I was mesmerised by the clarity with which the words and pictures told the story of this wonderful mammal.

I thought it was a book in the tradition of Gilbert White’s ‘Natural History of Selborne’.  I wasn’t alone.  The book was endorsed by no-less than the late Dr Derek Yalden, President of the Mammal Society.  It was an immediate hit with the public too and quickly sold out leading to a second edition.

When I heard that the Bradford River Action Group had had the foresight to ask Christine to write a book on the River Bradford, I was delighted and a little worried. Delighted, because Christine’s talent for telling a story in words and pictures was exactly what our rivers need.  But, I was worried because I feared it would be difficult to beat and repeat the success of ‘Brown Hares’.  I need not have worried.

Here, I want to say something about rivers.  Then I want to comment on the book. Then, like the book itself, I wanted to say something about the future.

A river boatman told me recently that ‘in this world, there are only two things that are innately good: a river and one’s mother’.  The boatman kept a felucca, or traditional wooden boat on the Nile.  Earlier this year, I was privileged to have travelled by and on the Nile for a few days.  As the greatest river in the World, the Nile drives the economy of a whole region of Africa.  It has been the cradle of so much our civilisation. Today, it is the backdrop to the latest sad and challenging chapter in this part of the World’s history.

As we sailed north and downstream along this wide river I reflected on the essentials of a river.  We trailed our hands in the cool, refreshing water.  We drank it and swam in it.  Just a few hundred yards either side of the Nile the unforgiving Sahara desert is arid and utterly lifeless.

In the river, its swamps, banks and hinterland all life is there.  In the ditches, canals, lakes and ponds there are fish, frogs, snakes and swarms of insects. I saw herons and egrets of all sorts, rollers, bee-eaters, hoopoes, shrikes and thousands of turtle doves.

The crops are diverse and the land supports chickens, sheep, goats, cattle and donkeys. There are small farms, villages, towns and the greatest city in Africa, the megalopolis of Cairo.  All of this life is dependent on the river and away from it the desert is still and lifeless.

Like the Egyptians, in our lives today when we have ipads and the internet, a global economy and all of life’s richness and wealth, our lives are still wholly dependent on the water which runs in our rivers.  It is one of the essentials and constants of all of our lives.

Lord Smith is one of our great environmental thinkers and one of the most influential people in the world of water.  I think it’s testament to Christine’s excellent book that he has taken time to read her book and write a foreword to it. A few lines stand out for me from his words:

Running streams are vital to us, not only for sustenance, for the provision of essential support to our human existence, not just for the support they afford to the astonishing variety of natural life, but for the way they calm us and move us and provide us with a glimpse of something more profound than our everyday lives

Rivers are life-givers. Charles Cotton writing of our White Peak Rivers spoke of “streams supplied below, which scatter blessings as they go”. This reminds us that there is something special about our White Peak Rivers.  In a limestone landscape, as W H Auden reminds us, “the essential thing about limestone is that it dissolves in water”.

As our rain falls, in the catchment over time it does so much more than erodes a channel.  It has sculpted all of the wealth of our landscapes features above and below ground – the cliffs, pinnacles, dale sides, caves and caverns. This is what we call a Karst landscape.

The ‘blessings’ that Cotton writes about depend on us understanding the entire catchment. So for us, it is about the whole landscape and all of our lives.  Norman Mclean in his novel ‘A River Runs Through It’ says “ Eventually all this merges into one and a river runs through it”.  In our landscapes, the river is the unifying feature which shapes, supports and enlightens our lives.

So, what does Christine’s book tell us? Are we, as Lord Smith reminds us that rivers do for us moved, given a glimpse of a profound idea and calmed?

The subject matter is very complex, but Christine unpicks this complexity in a masterly matrix that gives us a multi-dimensional view of the River Bradford.  We are taken on a dam by dam, rock by rock and tree by tree journey from the source to confluence.  We learn a huge amount about the physical feel of the river and what it is like to be there.  We are also taken on a scholarly journey in time in which Christie weaves the geological timelines alongside the more recent human history, telling us about farming, mining and fishing in a highly accomplished way.

Like ‘Brown Hares’, Christine’s prose and pictures tell us about the science, literature and expert views and the quality of her research is very high indeed.  But, as she did in ‘Brown Hares’ with the farmers of Haddon Fields, so here she gives a voice to the people whose lives are so intimately tied up with the river including the community and the river keeper.

Quite properly, star of this part of the book is Warren Slaney whose work to restore the rivers of the Haddon Estate to their natural state is justifiably renowned across the country. Through Christine’s book, Warren’s powerful conservation messages will get a wider and new audience.

The elegantly constructed matrix of ideas explains the complexity of the river and as you progress through the book you are moved.  And you are certainly given a glimpse of something profound.  But are you calmed?

In part, you are calmed because the book is beautifully written, illustrated and made and the team at Grafika have done a first rate job.  But, just as with ‘Brown Hares’ there is something about this book that makes you a little troubled, a little angry and  a little impatient.  There is a call to action and it is a number of powerful conservation messages and this is far from calming.

The conservation messages are powerful indeed and I would encourage everyone to read the book and come to your own conclusions.  But I took the following messages from this book:

1. We have to do much better to understand all of the dimensions of our rivers. Our collective and formal knowledge and the public’s awareness of our rivers are woeful and we have to up our game in terms of gaining more knowledge.

2. There are multiple perspectives and we need to consider a river from all of these, taking into account the views of the water resource managers, the flood defence people, the naturalists, the historians, the anglers, the birdwatchers, the dog-walkers and the farmers.

3. Rivers are life-givers and in our modern era we need to do much more to make sure that as well as protecting that resource, we need to ensure everyone is fully aware of the importance of rivers to our lives today.

4. The rain that powers the river flows not just within the channel, but in the whole catchment and so if we are to steward our rivers we have to thin, plan and do across the whole catchment, much as we are doing in the Derwent, Wye, Lathkill and Ecclesbourne.

5. Change can happen and good practical ideas that improve the life of our rivers can be implemented, as we have seen very clearly by Warren’s work on restoring the rivers on the Haddon Estate.

6. We have to act locally – on the management, awareness and protection of our rivers – but also support action globally to remove the threat of the biggest challenge to our rivers, that of an unpredictable and uncontrollable change in our climate.

Finally, please buy a copy of Christine’s book and encourage anyone that you know who may be interested in rivers and the environment to do so as well. Details at www.riverintime.org.uk

This article is based on the speech I gave at the launch of ‘A River in Time’ at Haddon Hall Friday 27 September 2013. My huge thanks to Christine Gregory for inviting me to be part of that launch.