A look at the work of the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership

PUBLISHED: 13:45 15 July 2016 | UPDATED: 13:46 15 July 2016

A pair of mute swans on the water at Old Moor in the  Dearne Valley Photo by Alamy

A pair of mute swans on the water at Old Moor in the Dearne Valley Photo by Alamy

© idp wildlife collection / Alamy Stock Photo

A pioneering partnership breathes new life into the Dearne Valley landscape

Dearne Valley residents are given key information to identify and record their natural neighboursDearne Valley residents are given key information to identify and record their natural neighbours

The Dearne Valley was once the backbone of South Yorkshire industry. Its river and rich coal seams powered mining, potteries and glass-making, providing jobs, homes and a future for communities that blossomed and grew around it. But then it all started to go wrong. Cracks began to show in the 1960s when concerns were raised about the region’s over-reliance on its collieries. Then, as the 1980s rolled round, the Dearne Valley’s core industry collapsed dramatically, producing a devastating ripple effect across the neighbouring communities.

For a while, things looked very bleak indeed but, as the years have gone by, a real sense of optimism has returned. Business parks have been built on brownfield land, spoil heaps have been levelled and grassed and now, thanks to a pioneering five-year scheme, local people are beginning to celebrate their region’s unique post-industrial landscape.

The Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership (DVLP) is working with communities to protect, preserve and enhance the historic buildings and natural environment of the area.

It’s paid for by the Heritage Lottery Fund and is based at Elsecar Heritage Centre between Barnsley and Rotherham, looking after ‘South Yorkshire’s back garden’ which extends from Barnsley town centre in the west to Conisbrough in the east and from Wentworth and Swinton in the south to Grimethorpe and Thurnscoe in the north.

Volunteers get a closer look at what they’ve found back at Elsecar Heritage CentreVolunteers get a closer look at what they’ve found back at Elsecar Heritage Centre

Among the vital projects it’s carried out are workshops on identifying snails, willow weaving, mammal identification weekends, spider hunts and, currently, a reptile survey collating photographs of the lizards, slow worms, newts and grass snakes that inhabit South Yorkshire’s woodlands, grasslands, waterways, hedges and verges.

The survey is being led by DVLP community officer Roseanna Burton with support from European reptile expert John Newton.

‘We really need members of the public to let us know about any credible sightings of reptiles in the area, even if it’s just in their back garden,’ said Roseanna.

‘We don’t know much about the distribution of reptiles in the Dearne Valley so this will help us piece together a better picture of where they live, meaning we can help ensure they are protected.

Wild primrose in woodland at Old Moor, Dearne Valley Photo by AlamyWild primrose in woodland at Old Moor, Dearne Valley Photo by Alamy

‘With longer evenings and warmer weather, this is a great time of year for the public to get involved and get out into the Dearne Valley; a really beautiful place to explore.

‘These reptiles are all harmless and it’s amazing what you can find when you look hard enough.’

The reptile survey is part of a wider environmental heritage project by DVLP, Surveying the Dearne, which aims to fill in gaps in ecological data, train and educate local communities in wildlife identification and enhance the biodiversity of key sites through more sympathetic management and fuller records.

‘With more biological records there is a greater understanding of the rarity and fragility of habitat in the Dearne, which in turn supports a number of these rare and misunderstood species,’ said John.

Twenty-three grass snakes like this one were spotted during just one day by volunteers on a reptile survey at a former colliery siteTwenty-three grass snakes like this one were spotted during just one day by volunteers on a reptile survey at a former colliery site

‘It’s hugely important that we have accurate records of what is currently living in the area, and we are depending on the human residents to help us with this.’

But the survey is just part of the story. The DVLP, which runs until 2019, wants to create a lasting legacy, empowering local communities to continue the preservation and enhancement process long after its funding runs out.

‘We want to raise awareness of the landscape – both natural and manmade – and give local people a real connection with their past,’ said Roseanna.

‘People think our industrial heritage and biodiversity are two separate things, but it can often be precisely because of the buildings and landscapes left behind by industry that we have such an abundance of insects, animals and wildflowers.’

The team is currently working with former mining communities to map the wildlife on what was once colliery land, calling on locals to help identify and record their natural neighbours.

One amateur photographer snapped a southern species of hoverfly rarely seen in the north but thriving at Old Moor. While, at Monk Bretton park, a former miner revealed he had been logging butterflies for 20 years without realising the importance of the information he was gathering.

‘His work is pretty exceptional,’ said Roseanna, ‘and will help us to protect the area from further development.’

For the DVLP’s work to continue, it’s vital that children and young people get involved, building a relationship with the landscape around them and building a bridge to future generations.

‘Younger people are often simply not aware of their community’s history,’ said Roseanna. ‘This stuff can get forgotten in a frighteningly short time, which is why we need to get them informed so they can pass on the knowledge to their own children later down the line.

‘The Dearne Valley landscape is like a natural storybook setting out the history and natural heritage of the area. And, if we work together, we can make sure there are many more chapters to come.’ w

To submit photographs and details of your own reptile sightings and to find out about volunteering opportunities, email DVLP@barnsley.gov.uk or call 01226 787540.

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