It's Time to Stand up for Stanage Opinion

© Rob Greenwood

This week Stanage, the queen of the gritstone edges, has finally been blessed with some sunshine. Yesterday many people were out enjoying the crag, as the sun dropped and the moors burned a deep orange in the sunset. It's a scene that seems timeless and will hopefully be enjoyed for generations to come, but in reality the landscape we see and the easy access we enjoy is not to be taken for granted. Stanage – and the rest of the North Lees estate – is again facing an uncertain future.

Zoomable Stanage -read below  © Dan Arkle
Stanage, the jewel in the crown of the Peak...or just another crag...

You might remember a few years back the BMC's Stand Up For Stanage campaign. The Peak District National Park Authority (PDNPA), who own and manage much of the crag and surroundings, have blown hot and cold on Stanage over the years. One year it is a liability they desperately need rid of; the next 'the jewel in the Peak District's crown'. In recent years austerity politics have played their part, but the inconsistencies date back far longer.

What is the Stanage Forum?

Stand Up For Stanage  © BMC
The Stand up for Stanage campaign was hugely successful in communicating climbers and hillwalkers love for ths truly extraordinary and special place

Stanage is many things to many people – a crag for climbers, a landscape for walkers, a habitat for rare birds, a launch site for paragliders, a working farm. Back in 2000 the conflicting desires of these many users were making the estate unmanageable. The PDNPA's traditional top-down approach to management was failing – and so they tried a bold new approach.

Instead of laying down what it was going to do, and allowing for token comment, it produced a blank sheet of paper, and asked the public who treasured Stanage, visitors and local community alike, what they valued about Stanage and what principles must be upheld in looking after it, what needed to be done, and what should very definitely not be done. The idea, remarkably, was that the public should have a say in the management of public open space, bought with public money. Let's call that democracy.

The Stanage Forum, and a Steering Group it elected, was set up to devise a Management Plan. The BMC was represented on the Steering Group and ensured their members' views were well represented. And PDNPA Members enthusiastically endorsed its recommendations without alteration. An initiative borne of conflict created a textbook example of stakeholder involvement.

But time moves on. Staff changed and Authority Members – the 30 governors appointed by national and local councils – served their terms. New staff and Members saw an area that was getting along fine and struggled to understand the compromises that were reached, or even why the Forum existed. Users and local people did not forget, and have no desire to return to the old days.

Normally the Forum Steering Group meets a few times a year. In the event of major changes a full open forum is called. Now is such a time.

What has happened since the Stand up for Stanage campaign in 2013?

Initially the PDNPA made a commitment to retain the estate, and not sell or fragment it as had been threatened. Then they appointed a dedicated manager for the estate, who worked enthusiastically with the forum. Significant landscape improvements like woodland management and bracken control were delivered, there were big improvements to the camp site, the Ours to Care For donation scheme which entitled you to free parking at the Plantation was introduced, the wildlife flourished (including ring ouzels) and Stanage remained free from man made intrusions. So far so good.

Stanage Popular demonstrating the true extent of its popularity  © UKC Logbooks
Stanage Popular demonstrating the true extent of its popularity
© UKC Logbooks

However over the last couple of years the PDNPA has undergone a complete management restructure, and has a new CEO. Responsibility for the estate is now divided across different departments. The dedicated North Lees property manager is no longer; instead a new manager is responsible for all the National Park's land - of which Stanage is but a small part. Recreation is now under the purview of the 'Commercial Development and Outreach' department. Does Stanage need Commercial Development? Will it be expected to pay its way?

In addition Bill Gordon, the longtime estate warden, is retiring imminently. It is not clear who will replace him, or whether it will be a full time role or if they will reside on the estate. Bill has lived at Stanage for thirty years, working tirelessly at all hours, and always with the landscape's best interests at heart (click here to read Andy Kirkpatrick's fitting homage to Bill's timeless work). Bill leaves a huge pair of shoes to fill.

As of the end of the year the Stanage Sticker, an initiative that was largely inspired by feedback from BMC members, is due to end and parking charges and payment enforcement to be put in place

During the PDNPA's recent restructure, communication with the Stanage Forum broke down to the extent that two longstanding members – Henry Folkard and John Horscroft – resigned in frustration. This lack of stakeholder engagement has been made all the more obvious by comparison with the exemplary Eastern Moors Partnership – run by the National Trust and RSPB and covering Froggatt, Curbar and more – who have taken on spearheading the Ring Ouzel work for all of the Eastern Edges including Stanage. Recently communication has improved but it remains to be seen how reduced staff time will deliver the good work of recent years.

The 'Ours To Care For' sticker scheme is not being continued next year, although as always a more expensive park-wide parking permit remains available. Pay and display charges are increasing and will be enforced from the New Year. Knock-on effects of this - a longstanding bugbear of the Forum and the reason behind the existing compromise - do not appear to have been given much consideration.

At the Forum meeting at 2-4pm on Saturday 23rd Sept the PDNPA will deliver their vision and plan for managing Stanage over the next few years. This will be followed by an hour of open discussion. Everyone is welcome. If you care about the future of Stanage please come along. If you can't make it, please pass comment on the Forums - we'll try and make everyone's voice heard.

Interested? Then come to the Stanage Forum Open Meeting on 23 September at 2.00pm in the Hathersage Methodist Church Hall (between the Pool car park and the main road in Hathersage).

UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Adam Long

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20 Sep, 2017
Has anyone seeen the PDNP plans in advance of the meeting? or have any indication of what their plans are? Or is it all a big reveal at the meeting?
20 Sep, 2017
Unless anything dramatic happens, I'm going to go. Is there anyone who fancies attending the meeting but also going to Stanage either before or after and doing a few routes too? Forecast is currently a bit grey but dry for High Neb on Saturday.
As a sweeping summary, the current Management Plan for Stanage expired back in March 2017 and currently there is no clear picture of what the PDNPA's vision is for it going forwards. Louise Hawson goes into a lot more detail on this within the September Newsletter, but the initial impression is that their broad strategy is exactly that - broad (!!); hence lacking in depth on the finer details (i.e. how it's actually going to be implemented). Henry makes further comment within the September Newsletter, that when the PDNPA presented their plan to the Peak Park Parishes Forum the impression from their perspective was that "the Forum is again disappointed that yet another consultation document is presented in a far from friendly form. It is full of “management speak”’, and the Forum is identifying too many occasions when the Authority says one thing and does another’. I think the points above touch on what I believe are the two key issues: the first being the lack of clarity of their plan and the second being the lack of communication and engagement with relevant user groups on what is within the plan. There's a lot more information within the last two BMC Peak Area Newsletters, which are well worth reading - here's a link to each of them: June: Sept:
21 Sep, 2017
At a recent Steering group meeting we asked about the vision and the PDNPA rep showed us a single page summary. Frustratingly the provider appeared to have no idea that it's production been steered by the Forum three years ago. In their defence the overall thrust we were told was positive but, as mentioned it remains to be seen how it can be delivered with what appears to be reduced resources. A worrying point was made several times that PDNPA staff do not consider Stanage in any way special or different to their many other estates. This is definitely not how Members saw it when they decided not to sell a few years back ( source of 'the jewel in our crown' quote), and seems to imply that stakeholder forums are not required elsewhere so why here? Whereas the reality is, for whatever reason, Stanage has an iconic status the rest of these estates do not (as reflected in the UKC stats), and the Forum arose specifically due this honeypotting effect, increased stakeholder attachment and consequent conflicts that were not as easily managed as elsewhere.
21 Sep, 2017
Can I suggest one minor correction to the article "The Peak District National Park Authority (PDNPA), who own and manage much of the crag and surroundings..." PDNPA is a public funded body, paid for by the tax payer - therefore the people own stanage and we have simply appointed them to manage it. I was hoping to attend the meeting but I don't think I can make it this weekend. One thing I want to know is if peak park are desperate to raise revenue to make up for budget cuts, why don't they make the monsal trail a public bridleway (rather then a consensionary bridleway as it is at the moment) - this will cut the cost of ownership by 50%
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