South Yorkshire ramblers transported to a different world at top of mountain

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Generations of hardened ramblers have traditionally been lured to the top of Kinder Scout by enticing descriptions ranging from ‘inhospitable wilderness’ to ‘like walking on the moon’.

Not any more. This summer, visitors climbing to the 636 metre high Kinder plateau, expecting to marvel at the views from Sheffield’s local mountain while tramping over miles of blackened peat bogs, will find themselves in a different world.

Chris Lockyer spent several days on Kinder last winter shovelling heather brash, “being hammered by horizontal snow at minus five degrees,” he said.

“But now, unlike this sadistic moonscape where you can’t see more than 100 metres across a sea of black peat, the same spot is covered in vegetation and you can hear the birds singing.”

Over the last five years, 300 National Trust staff, volunteers and contractors like Chris have been working on the ‘Kinder Catchment’ initiative, to stop the peat erosion caused by a combination of overgrazing and many years of industrial pollution from the factories of Manchester.

More than 470 acres of degraded peat bog have been restored to living moorland with 8,000 tons of heather brash and seeds, thanks to a £2.7 million investment from Natural England, the National Trust, and the United Utilities water company.

The restoration work, which also includes 6,000 small dams to control water flow off the plateau, will improve drinking water, reduce flooding and significantly cut carbon emissions from eroding peat, as well as creating a better landscape for wildlife.

“Everyone I meet says how different it is now,” said National Trust project officer for Kinder, Tom Harman. “What used to be a black desolate landscape is now full of cotton grass and other moorland plants, there are skylarks singing, there are hares, bilberry bumblebees and even lizards. It’s hard to believe when five years ago it was so bare.”

Tom said the regeneration should eventually spread across the plateau from the grass, heather, bilberries and cloudberries now growing around and north of Kinder Low. He said the new landscape will constantly change over the seasons: in early July the cotton grass is in flower as the nesting birds feed their young, followed by billberries in August, then flowering purple heather and reddening autumn grass.

“We want people to enjoy this wild landscape, but remember it’s always been boggy, and always will be.” Last winter, Tom had been checking progress when he saw a figure waving to him through the mist.

“As I got closer, I heard him calling ‘help, can you pull me out?’ and I found a man up to his waist in a peat bog, and completely stuck. He was on his own, his kit wasn’t great, and he’d obviously lost his way from the old Pennine Way path. It took me half an hour to pull him out using some rope and one of the old heather bags. I guided him off the top, and he was very grateful, but I don’t think he realised the danger he was in. He was the only person I saw on Kinder that day, and I think he was very very lucky.”

Visitors following the official modern Pennine Way route will find a generally secure path leading round the hard edges of the plateau, but OS maps still show the original Pennine Way from the top of Crowden Clough to Kinder Downfall. On the ground, the old path is hard to follow as it meanders north west through the bogs, and less experienced walkers are advised to stick to the new route instead.

“We want to encourage people to come and enjoy the countryside on Kinder this summer, but also to realise how dangerous it can be,” said Tom. “It’s a wild place, and you should treat it with respect.”

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