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A walk on the wild side...with Ashbourne Field Club

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: August 05, 2014

  • The Roaches near Leek provides a rich but fragile natural habitat for wildlife with spectacular views to attract walkers and climbers.

  • The Roaches near Leek

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TWENTY club members met Jon Rowe, the Roaches warden from Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, on a gloriously sunny morning.

Jon began by describing some of the historical and geological aspects of this estate, which provides a rich but fragile natural habitat.

The gritstone escarpment provides spectacular views, and a superb environment, which is very popular with hikers and climbers.

Being very close to major centres of population, the pressure on the Roaches (from the French les roches – the rocks) is very great.

This results in degradation of footpaths, disturbance to wildlife, littering, and potential damage to plant life.

A major challenge facing SWT is the need to "harness the footfall" so that much-needed resources can be channelled into maintaining and conserving this special place for future generations.

As we wended our way, Jon pointed out particular features, Bawd Rock, Rock Cottage, and the Princess's Steps. These steps were built for a visit on August 23, 1872, of Princess Mary of Teck.

A bench seat was cut into a rock so that the Princess could rest after her ascent.

Our visit was in idyllic weather, but fallen trees were evidence of the ferocious winds that can scour this landscapes.

Underneath the trees, bilberry shrubs just about managed to survive.

This superb upland plant is an important food source for birds.

There are many traditions associated with the bilberry, or whinberry, one club member espoused the delights of bilberry liqueur.

As we made our way on a well-worn rocky path, Jon stressed the urgent need to repair the paths with materials that are compatible with the local geology.

Very high costs are involved, since helicopter transport has often to be used. Jon stressed the need to work with groups who visit the Roaches, especially the climbing community.

Volunteers play a vital role in the upkeep of the estate. Training programmes are offered on traditional outdoor skills. In order to save costs, cooperative working with staff of the Peak District National Park has been developed.

Well-managed grazing has an important role to play in the management of the estate. The impact of cattle grazing is very beneficial, since their method of grazing is quite different from the topiary grazing of sheep, the numbers of which grazing on the estate have been reduced.

Cattle need to be confined to certain areas and this is achieved by an underground electric "fence".

Our fascinating walk ended under Hen Cloud, where a well developed security system has enabled peregrine falcons to successfully breed over a number of years.

We were fortunate to see some of these magnificent birds, albeit at a distance.

A Q and A session was useful, Jon was able to outline plans for the creation of wildflower meadows and the controlled use of lime.

The next indoor meeting of the club will be on October 6, when Rev David Leese will give an illustrated talk on "Domestic poultry and the rural economy".

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