This is Pecca Falls, just above the footbridge on the waterfalls walk in Ingleton. Our part of the woods is on the right hand bank as you’re looking at the photograph. From here upwards the falls get progressively bigger, right up to Thornton Falls. I like this view with the water winding off into the distance. It just gives you that taster: you know there’s something big at the top.
I’ve probably been to this wood a hundred times, or more, but every single time it’s different. You go in summer and sometimes you can hardly even tell there’s a waterfall, there’s just a trickle coming down. But if you go after an incessant downpour, you can stand at the bottom of those falls and the whole thing’s full of spray and it’s just unbelievable – a different place completely. The water’s fantastic because it’s always this peaty black colour. Even in the middle of summer you can never see the bottom. You’ve got all this white foam and then it’s black underneath.
I could quite happily go up there and just sit for an hour watching what’s going on in the water: whether it’s a trout in the bottom, or the kingfisher flying up and down, or the wagtail or the heron or whatever it may be – there’s always something to have a look at.
I’ve been the Site Manager there for 17 years now. This is one of the woods that’s always been in my portfolio. It’s an ancient woodland and Site of Special Scientific Interest, because of the plant life on the limestone and shale; my role’s basically protecting that. My job is mainly management: liaising with Natural England, agreeing the work that needs doing, getting all the permissions, and then I’ve got to organise the contracts, oversee the contractors from start to finish, and undertake all the observations we do on site as part of the management plan. We still have to get out to all the woods during the year, whether it’s spot checking on contracts or tree safety checks for the public – there’s an enormous list of jobs that go on. I’ve got 65 sites over five counties, which keeps me very busy.
This wood was ‘enriched’ by the Victorians. They thought the broadleaf trees weren’t interesting enough, so they brought in a lot of other species like larch and spruce. We’ve been slowly taking those out over the last 17 years, hopefully in a way that doesn’t particularly offend or affect anybody in terms of damaging the landscape – that’s been quite a delicate task. It’s let a lot more light into the canopy and we’ve got a huge number of ash seedlings coming up in there. We’re trying to get it back to as close to what would have been the natural woodland cover as possible.
We’ve also replaced all the fencing. There were sheep getting in, which had quite a detrimental effect on the ground flora. I’ve seen the density of the wildflowers increase, and the deer population there has increased quite dramatically over the last few years too.
The prime reason for new planting is to increase the amount of native woodland cover. It’s trying to undo what’s already been done. In this country we’ve hammered our woodlands for hundreds and hundreds of years. We’ve only got about 13% woodland cover, compared to the continent, which has 20 or 30%. We’ve got a long way to go before we can get back to a reasonable amount.
Obviously the ash dieback that’s coming could potentially be a huge issue, because we’ve been working on getting back to oak and ash woodland since we got the wood. Now we’re potentially going to lose three quarters of it. It may be that we need to look at doing other planting on there; we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
I think I’ve been involved in planting about three quarter of a million trees over my career; trees that I’ve either planted myself or been the contract manager that’s dealt with the planting. That’s your mark on the landscape; that’s there forever as woodland now.