‘I think people will go away stunned by the countryside’
Sunday on a small lay-by off the A57, and a series of bottles, cans, indeterminate clothing and a full baby’s nappy fly out of the bushes, followed eventually by a smiling fell runner, who jumps back over the fence, gathers the rubbish into a bin liner and sticks it in his car.
Colleague Lorna Jackson jogs back from another lay-by up the road. “Red Bull cans, laughing gas canisters and a series of new trainer bags,” she says. “I’m not sure what story that tells about a Saturday night on the Snake Pass?”
Lorna and husband Stuart Walker were among a dozen members of Runners Against Rubbish cheerfully collecting 50 bin bags of litter from the roadside, moors and woodlands around Ladybower Reservoir in readiness for 250 teams of fell and hill runners arriving last weekend for the 2019 British Fell and Hill Relay Championships.
Hosted by north Sheffield’s nationally infamous Dark Peak Fell Runners, the relays are “a prestigious and substantial national event,” said Dark Peak’s David Holmes. It was a monumental three year task to organise, he added, but the club were determined to ensure the championships worked for the local people and countryside as well as for the 1,500 athletes.
“In our view, the National Park is giving us so much, it’s a phenomenally beautiful wilderness place to do exciting fell racing, and I think people will go away stunned by the countryside they’ve been running in, and impressed by the stewardship of landowners like Severn Trent Water and the National Trust,” said David.
“In some ways, we’re on the take, so we want to make sure we give something back.”
The Peak District National Park Authority ask event organisers to seek permission from all landowners along proposed event routes. Landowners of the moors above Ladybower, the National Trust, have an online event application page, and say organisers should ideally apply a year beforehand, as Natural England also often have to clear events running through sensitive areas.
“Organised events are at an all-time high,” said Katherine Clarke of the National Trust, “which is good news for us because we want people to enjoy the places we look after. But we also need to keep a balance between enjoyment and protection of the countryside.”
People love running, cycling, climbing and walking in the Peak District because of its landscape and wildlife, she added, but if an event is in the wrong place at the wrong time, or not organised sensitively, it can cause damage to the landscape, disturb wildlife or disrupt the lives of local people.
Dark Peak Fell Runners spoke to farmers and landowners and held public meetings so everyone knew how to make sure last weekend’s championships left minimal impact while still bringing plenty of income to the local economy. (A few noticeably pounded pathways will soon regrow, was the assessment).
Over 170 volunteers guided visiting runners and spectators, coaches and cycle parking were provided to reduce cars in the Derwent Valley, and the Sheffield-based Runners Against Rubbish charity organised pre and post championship litter picks, while promoting the ‘binners are winners’ ethos to fell runners.
“The National Park, National Trust and Severn Trent are working in this area all the time, they know where the sensitive places are and they have the expertise to help you avoid making mistakes,” said David Holmes.
“By working with them from the start, you’ll actually get a better event. In the end, it was a thrilling day for us after the years of planning, and all that was left behind were muddy footprints and precious memories.”
After their earlier roadside bush plucking, Lorna and Stuart joined a team rooting out dubious litter near Cutthroat Bridge. An XL pair of underwear were unhooked from a tree, another exploded nappy was scooped up, and several disintegrating plastic drink receptacles were rescued from washing down into the reservoir to deposit microplastics in our drinking water.
“It can get you down to see all this,“ said Stuart. “But it also feels good to know you can make a difference.”