The Big Challenge: The quest for a clean, green city

8 Sept 2015.......A fell runner on Burbage Moor in the Peak District. . A long-term plan to support the future sustainable management of the moorlands on the edge of Sheffield is being considered by the councils cabinet committee next week. Picture Scott Merrylees SM1009/42e

8 Sept 2015.......A fell runner on Burbage Moor in the Peak District. . A long-term plan to support the future sustainable management of the moorlands on the edge of Sheffield is being considered by the councils cabinet committee next week. Picture Scott Merrylees SM1009/42e

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“Sheffield already has some great strengths environmentally,” said campaigner Dave Dickinson.

“Part of the Peak District lies within its boundaries, and the huge amount of parks, heathlands, woodlands and wetland habitats act as lungs to partially clean the air we breathe while giving a home to nature.”

The city’s two universities play their part by providing information about how best to interact with nature, while charities such as the National Trust, the Woodland Trust, the RSPB and the Wildlife Trust are active along with a range of Friends societies and community groups, ‘all working to make Sheffield a cleaner, greener and wilder place’.

However, challenges remain. David described Sheffield’s drive to be known as the Outdoor City as a ‘great concept’, boosting leisure and recreational businesses.

But he added: “This is all well and good but who is going to maintain these places? In times of council cutbacks the number of park rangers have fallen, they are the ones who work with the volunteer groups to ensure our green spaces are well-maintained.

“People are needed to empty the bins at our beauty spots, paths need to be maintained and wildlife habitats need to be managed to ensure they remain healthy. Who is there to remind people to keep dogs on a lead during the lambing/breeding season? Who will stop people from disturbing rare wildlife during the breeding season or prevent them getting lost on the moors?”

Likewise, Sheffield’s aim to truly become a ‘cycling city’ is an ‘impossible dream within our lifetimes’ without ‘major capital investment’.

“Some parts of the city are served by great cycle paths, the biggest problem is getting to them without obstacles. There are too many stretches of road that are too busy and narrow for cyclists to be overtaken safely without them using the pavement. Even then the pavement if often too narrow for cyclists and pedestrians to use both together.”

Asked to pinpoint one thing he would change, Dave said he wanted people to become ‘more open-minded’.

“Everyone seems to think they know what is best for nature and the environment even if they haven’t studied it. Our environment is a highly complex system that people underestimate. For example, you often hear people complaining about too many trees being cut down in a habitat that is being managed for conservation. The fact of the matter is that nature is far from simple. With that in mind, do they know the importance of the UK’s blanket bogs and what is the best way to manage them?”

Almost everyone ‘could do more to clean up their acts’, Dave continued. “The only thing we can do to change mentalities is try to educate people and show them ‘being green’ can actually be fun.”

Simplifying bus routes and timetables, creating more bus laybys to cut congestion and synchronising lights and signals to improve traffic flows would all help to reduce pollution, Dave recommended. However, he emphasised: “Sheffield is a great place to live. We have more greenspace than any other city in the country, we have the Peak District on our doorstep, we invented stainless steel, modern football and metal folding umbrellas too. I could write a list a mile long but most of all it’s where I was born and the place I call home.”

As for his own organisation, Dave said he wanted Sheffield Environmental to become a ‘hub for people to use in order to make their lives greener’, offering ways to get involved with the city’s various environment groups.

He is organising litter picks at Smithy Wood near Chapeltown, the site of a planned M1 service station, ‘to show the community still cares after three years of campaigning’, as well as backing a new petition calling for ancient woodlands to be offered more protection.

“I’ve given a presentation to the Lords and fed wolves but my proudest achievement is what I’ve done with Sheffield Environmental,” said Dave. “It has a following that is growing by the day and it is starting to make a difference.”

n Visit www.sheffieldenvironmental.net for details.