Hawl lotta friends

Forge Dam Christmas: Richard Hawley and community forester Ed Thatcher (right) plant the walnut tree along with local children
Forge Dam Christmas: Richard Hawley and community forester Ed Thatcher (right) plant the walnut tree along with local children

Richard Hawley planted a tree as part of a campaign to spruce up part of a Sheffield valley. David Bocking reports

HOW does £1,578 for silt removal sound as an early Christmas present?

Ann le Sage from the Friends of the Porter Valley was delighted. “What a day!” she said of the Friends’ first ever ‘Forge Dam Christmas’. “Not bad for a first effort and the next Forge Dam Christmas will be even bigger, I wager.”

Hundreds of people had taken part in the day, adding that the final total could be a lot higher.

FoPV have had a busy year, and much more is planned for 2013. The first priority is funding a bill of £360,000 for restoration work on the dam itself, to include silt removal, cleaning up the water, and reducing the size of the island in line with public consultation.

The £55,000 has already been raised, said Ann. “There’s a long way to go. We’ll be writing to the Big Lottery, Veolia and Viridor over Christmas and the New Year.”

The new Forge Dam cafe owners are working with FoPV on the local landscape with improved gardens, and a likely restoration of the rear of the building to include a small educational water wheel generator in the future, along with a possible new garden seating area for the cafe.

Further along the valley, the Shepherd Wheel, restored thanks to a campaign by the volunteers, has closed for repairs for a few months.

“It’s old machinery,” said Friend Peter Kennett, adding that the regular use for several months had taken its toll. “It’s a living working piece of machinery, so you can’t expect it to last forever. It’s been a major repair to the main bearing, but hopefully it will be open again soon.”

Ongoing work from the Friends includes monthly cutting and clearing of vegetation including weeds, brambles and self set trees. In 2012 the Friends also relaid the path at the side of the river through the west end of Endcliffe Park, which had become uncomfortably bumpy for walkers.

And all 100 or so volunteers are also busy promoting the 5.8 mile long valley, and fundraising for its upkeep.

Saturday’s ‘Forge Dam Christmas’ included wreath making, home made mulled wine and cakes, chestnuts from local scouts, a musical organ, festive knitting and a session of tree planting involving local children and the valley’s own world famous crooner, Richard Hawley, complete with wellies and spade.

“It’s simple really – we need trees to breathe,” he said, as he planted a walnut tree to partner the existing but lonely walnut already standing on Fulwood Green, opposite the day’s co-organisers at the Old Fulwood Chapel.

“Even just for that reason, planting trees makes sense,” said Richard Hawley, adding that his own support for woodlands and opposition to government ideas on privatising the nation’s trees is well documented. “My grandparents fought for the right to access the land, and it’s something I feel passionate about. In Sheffield, the city’s mothers and fathers were so generous with recreational space for the workforce, when there was a mass workforce.

“So I think there is a political dynamic to environmentalism on the most basic level, but that aside it’s just great to go out with your family and dogs and kids and enjoy all this and to be part of something that in a tiny way is about looking out for future generations.”

As a valley resident he thwarted a gang of tree fellers intent on cutting down a street of local cherry trees in the past, and in his youth he admitted to sabotaging plans to cut down trees in Endcliffe Park by overpainting the ‘cut here’ markers of the time.

The walnut tree on Fulwood Green was planted along with paper environmental wishes written down by local children, and was joined on the green by three further new plantings, thanks to the Friends, Sheffield Council and South Yorkshire Forest: a rowan, a Japanese cherry and a Norwegian maple.

It would be great if every part of Sheffield had a Friends group like FoPV said Ann, but Richard Hawley was cautious. “In a lot of areas they’ve got all on to feed themselves, there’s no time to think about trees.”

On Fulwood Green on Saturday, however, there was time enough.

“Tesco grow their carrots in plastic sleeves because people won’t buy them unless they’re straight,” observed the singer and musician. “But trees aren’t like that, they’re like people, I see them every day when I walk my dog. They start off young and very beautiful, and end up twisted and weird.”

* Sheffield Port Valley