Volunteers make a real difference to the future of Ilkley Moors

PUBLISHED: 00:16 09 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:25 20 February 2013

Volunteers start to survey over 400 prehistoric rock carvings on Rombalds Moor

Volunteers start to survey over 400 prehistoric rock carvings on Rombalds Moor

Volunteers make a real difference to the future one of the world's most famous stretches of moorland, reports Terry Fletcher

There is probably no more revered patch of Yorkshire soil than Ilkley Moor. Wherever Tykes congregate the mournful dirge of Mary Jane and her suitor out on the heather Baht At is seldom far from someones lips and the countys unofficial national anthem has carried the name of this 1,700 acres (700ha) of heather and bracken around the world.

But it takes more than a bit of singing to keep such a hallowed tract of White Rose heritage in good fettle and now, thanks to the Friends of Ilkley Moor, it is getting a bit more of the care and attention it needs.

Since 1974 the moor has been under the control of Bradford Council but not everyone in Ilkley was convinced it was taking its responsibilities seriously. In 2006 things got even worse when a disastrous wildfire destroyed huge areas of heather and burned deep into the peat causing damage that will take years, perhaps decades, to heal.

There were even calls for the moor to be handed over to the National Trust but instead a volunteer group, the Friends of Ilkley Moor was formed to take matters in hand. Ever since they have been trying to reverse the effects of years of if not exactly neglect then at least under-resourcing. Throughout the year teams of volunteers are out in all weathers tackling the kind of labour-intensive jobs that a local authority with a host of other pressing problems struggles to pay for.

Project officer Tracy Gray, who organises the teams, says: There is so much to do that it can seem overwhelming but there is no doubt that the volunteers are making a real difference and local people are beginning to notice the improvements that we have been able to make.

The volunteers, most of whom come from the Ilkley area, range from retired people looking for a new interest and a practical way of expressing their love for the moor to students getting hands-on experience of conservation work for their courses and even school children who can carry out wildlife surveys as part of their school national curriculum science courses.

There is a job for almost anyone who wants to take part, says Tracy. They vary from footpath building to drystone walling, clearing overgrown ponds, tending woodland and carrying out surveys of wildlife or the archaeological sites and carved stones that dot the moor. Some volunteers come with the necessary skills but others receive training to carry out fresh tasks and use specialist equipment.

The biggest job is the relentless war of attrition against the bracken that has taken over parts of the moor since the numbers of sheep kept on it has dwindled. Bracken is an incredibly tough and invasive plant, said Tracy.

It is not just a question of cutting it once. Bracken can have a two metre root system and it needs to be weakened by cutting it back year after year to do the job. Theres so much that we cannot tackle it all so we are choosing areas like some of the bogs that are important for wildlife as well as favourite paths and picnic spots so people can enjoy using the moor.

Tracy believes that the volunteers benefit as much as the moor itself from the work days, learning fresh skills and making new friends.

However there is always work for extra hands and Tracy hopes that as well as recruiting more helpers locally she will be able to attract companies to use conservation work for team buildings days and other groups looking for a useful outlet for their efforts.

Getting there: Ilkley lies on the A65, one of the main roads to the Dales from the conurbations of West Yorkshire. Regular trains from Leeds and Bradford.

Where to park: Large car park behind the Grove in the centre of town. To explore the moor drive up Cow Pasture Road and park in the shadow of the impressive Cow and Calf that dominate the town.

To volunteer with the Friends of Ilkley Moor contact Tracy Gray by email on projectofficer@ilkleymoor.org or telephone 07854 447947.

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