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Saunterings:  Walking in North-West England

Saunterings is a set of reflections based upon walks around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire in North-West England (as defined in the Preamble). Here is a list of all Saunterings so far.
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200.  Up Hazelhurst Fell in the New National Landscape

For our first walk on the fells for six months (since Pen-y-ghent (Sauntering 189)), we set off from the Delph Lane car-park towards Stang Yule and then on to Oakenclough Fell. We were passed by a group of a dozen or so youngsters who looked prepared for a long trek. I asked a lad where they were going and he waved airily to the right, without much enthusiasm. Anyway, I’m sure that they were walking further than us, as we were on a modest, tentative outing.
The path past Fell Plantation

The path past Fell Plantation

A good, gentle track took us up past Fell Plantation, which has been largely deforested, and then up the slopes of Hazelhurst Fell. Views opened out of the green fields of Bleasdale below Fair Snape and Parlick (which we had walked up in Sauntering 109 between the covid lockdowns) but it was too hazy to see much in the distance. We could just about see Morecambe Bay but not the Lake District hills.

The bilberry seemed deep green and our impression was that there were fewer sheep than there used to be to nibble it. Apart from the occasional curlew, it was quiet. We heard no skylarks and no cuckoos. We saw one grouse. Maybe we are less observant than we were but it seems that these hills, while perfectly pleasant to walk upon, with fine views, are something of an ecological desert. Maybe the new status of the region will make a difference.
Fair Snape and Parlick

Fair Snape and Parlick from Hazelhurst Fell

On our earlier walks in this region it was part of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In Sauntering 99 I queried the word ‘natural’ since these hills are severely managed for grouse-shooting, which entailed the regular burning of the heather and the elimination of predators such as stoats and hen harriers. In Sauntering 109 I queried the ‘beauty’ as well: “What's beauty got to do with it, anyway?  Whether or not I or you consider Bowland to be a region of beauty is neither here nor there. Emphasising ‘beauty’ puts us and our subjective opinion at the forefront when the key factor in the designation of regions for protection should not be our aesthetics but its biodiversity and ecology. In this respect Bowland is sadly lacking.”

In November 2023 it was decided that the Forest of Bowland would no longer be an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It would be rebranded as a National Landscape. The ‘natural’ and the ‘beauty’ have gone. (I don’t claim all the credit.)  In fact, all AONBs would now be National Landscapes.

Forest of Bowland logo Right: The new Forest of Bowland National Landscape logo, replacing the old AONB one depicting a hen harrier, which is just as well as hen harriers have become scarce (I leave you to decide what the new logo depicts).

What is the significance of this change?  The ‘National’ does, I suppose, confirm that the regions are, like National Parks, of national, rather than just local, significance. The titles of AONB and National Park were and are legal designations. Is there a suggestion that National Landscapes would have greater legal powers akin to those of National Parks?  This would, I assume, require an Act of Parliament and I am not aware of any such Act. So, for the moment, I am assuming that National Landscapes have inherited the same legal powers as the old AONBs, that is, rather limited ones.

There is also a hint that the National Landscape designation will entail the allocation of greater resources, on a par with National Parks. Again, I am not aware that the government has said this – and, in fact, I doubt that the present government would do so. The government’s response (January 2022) to a review of National Parks and AONBs commented that:
“[the latter] are just as important for people and nature [as the former] but lack equivalent recognition in law or support in resources.”
However, it did not commit, as far as I can see from the document, to doing anything about this.

So, in practical and legal terms, the rebranding may be just that – just a change of name. However, the National Landscape managers have taken the opportunity to re-express their mission. The Forest of Bowland National Landscape team's response to the new designation says:
“the National Landscapes’ vision [is] to be the leading exemplars of how thriving, diverse communities can work with and for nature in the UK: restoring ecosystems, providing food, storing carbon to mitigate the effects of climate change, safeguarding against drought and flooding, whilst also nurturing people’s health and wellbeing.”
That all sounds commendable. We can only hope that it amounts to more than platitudes.

Will the rebranding affect the public’s subjective appreciation of the National Landscapes?  The ‘beauty’ in the AONB title did rather encourage us to think that these were just regions to visit to look at. I’m not sure that the word ‘landscape’ is any better in this respect. For most of us, a landscape is something to be looked at. However, as discussed in Sauntering 68, the concept of landscape can be broad and complex. Perhaps the new name will help us towards a richer appreciation of landscape. Overall, I agree that the AONB designation had outlived its usefulness. Perhaps we can rebrand the Sites of Special Scientific Interest too?

Looking towards Hazelhurst (centre foreground) and Beacon Fell (beyond)

After crossing Clough Heads Brook the track across Hazelhurst Fell continues to a key point for Bowland walkers, Fiendsdale Head, from which a path continues into Langdendale (walked in Sauntering 180) and a way may be found across peat bogs to Fair Snape. But this was as far as we were going. We dropped down to pick up the public footpath to the farm of Hazelhurst. On the way we saw a hare plus leveret, so perhaps it is not such a wildlife desert after all.

The walk west from Hazelhurst, along tracks and through woods, past Bleasdale Tower (built in the 1840s), across fields and around (rather than through as shown on my map) Broadgate and High Moor was uneventful. Decade by decade, Bleasdale hardly seems to change. It is a quiet haven of green pastures sheltered within the arc of Hazelhurst Fell, Fair Snape and Parlick. I doubt that becoming a National Landscape will change Bleasdale much.
Bleasdale Tower

Bleasdale Tower

Fair Snape and Parlick

A look back to Fair Snape and Parlick

    Date: May 25th 2024
    Start: SD546455, Delph Lane car-park  (Map: OL41)
    Route: N – Stang Yule – NE above Fell Plantation and across Hazelhurst Fell, SW on track, SE – public footpath – S, W – Hazelhurst – SW through Clough Heads Wood, past Bleasdale Tower, through Broadgate Wood, around Broadgate and High Moor – Delph Lane – N – car-park
    Distance: 6 miles;   Ascent: 230 metres

The two preceding items:
     199.   Ten Features of Lancaster, Five Old, Five New
     198.   The Bitterns and Marsh Harriers are Booming
Two nearby items:
     109.   Fair Snape: the Fairest Fell of Bowland
       99.   Heather on Hawthornthwaite Fell
A list of all items so far:

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-


Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar; Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell