Nick MacKinnon is a freelance teacher of Maths, English and Medieval History, and lives above Haworth, in the last inhabited house before Top Withens = Wuthering Heights. In 1992 he founded the successful Campaign to Save Radio 4 Long Wave while in plaster following a rock-climbing accident on Skye. His poem ‘The metric system’ won the 2013 Forward Prize. His topical verse and satire appears in the Spectator, and his puzzles and problems in the Sunday Times and American Mathematical Monthly. Email: [email protected]
In 2018 Mark Avery and his crowd-funders won a victory on Walshaw Moor in West Yorkshire, between Hebden Bridge and the Brontë stronghold of Haworth. Natural England were persuaded that a proposed track across the moor would result in “a significant loss when considering the total resource across the site and the importance of this habitat in the national and international context.” (click here).
Now, in January 2024, there is a ‘suck it and see’ scoping proposal in front of Calderdale Council for 65 wind turbines on Walshaw Moor, on the same land owned by Richard Bannister. Mark has kindly given space for a guest blog about the moor. Every fortnight I shall walk to one of the proposed turbine sites and write about it, and how the campaign is developing.
We have started with a burst of stories in the national and local papers (Halifax Courier 15/12/23, Guardian 8/1/24, Daily Mail 8/1/24, 14/1/24, Keighley News 11/1/24) but we may have to work against this development, and its successors, for decades, so these blogs will be patient. We don’t have to say everything all at once.
Turbine 11: Mere Stones (grid reference: SD 953 343, what3words /// landscape.puncture.reverted)
10 January 2024 It has been raining since October, but this has been a colder week. I walk up to Mere Stones from the Widdop road. The charisma of this landscape is vibrant in the cloughs and edges, at Hardcastle Crags or Lumb Hole, in the masonry achievement of Hebden Bridge and the community sustained there, but the unemphatic power of Walshaw catchment is obscure to me as I catwalk up the inches-wide path across Sutcliffe Rough. By comparison, Greave Pasture is like a sheep-mown lawn. The farmer, the only person I will see, is feeding his flock, and calls “ ’Ow do?” as I pass. His pick-up moves at less than walking pace on the smooth rut-way up the side of Greave Clough. I am anxious about finding the Stones, but the boundary wall of the pasture is as clear on the ground as on the map. A couple of minutes further on, a quad-bike track has been ironed into the moor like the crease in a sergeant-major’s trousers, and heads directly to the Stones.
The name “mere” comes from the Old English gemære = boundary, and these weathered stones would have been welcome to a medieval surveyor, describing the limits of some feudal holding in this stark landscape. Underfoot there is some sphagnum moss, but black peat glistens in four o’clock light under a film of oily water. It should not be visible, and is emitting CO2. Suddenly the ground levels out onto the site of Turbine 11.
On the West Riding moors, you get this sudden understanding of their grandeur as you cross the 430-metre contour. Your eyeline runs to places far off at the same height: some, like Stoodley Pike drawing the eye like lightning to steel; most offer the flat roof you are standing on. The foreground skims across the dale to find another flat landing, and another, the whole responding to the horizontal planes in the millstone grit, that can still be seen in the Mere Stones, laid down as sandbanks in a vast river delta in the Carboniferous. I take ten minutes to walk round the circumference of what I imagine may be the scar of the foundation of a turbine. The photograph below, of the new Viking wind farm in Shetland, shows what this could look like, and what3words supplies its own accidental poetry: /// landscape.puncture.reverted.
Much of my walk today is likely to be overlaid with a ‘floating’ access road, and at its end will be a puncture wound, stanched with concrete (click here). The turbines will cluster here. Looking north, with your back to T11, T13 and T15 will jostle in the view in front of T21 and T18 on Heather Hill, less than a mile away.
The light is going as I walk down, and the sullen glimmer on Gorple slips away. The far side of Greave Clough is criss-crossed with the rectangular stigmata of burnt heather. I live on the moor above Stanbury, where Mr Bannister owns the shooting rights, but not the land, and am used to these scars, but the regime of burning here is of a different magnitude. In later blogs I shall describe the management history. This degraded surface on a steep clough-side will allow runoff to accelerate (see here).
Then, without wanting to, I find I am thinking like a curlew. “I won’t nest anywhere near those two sycamores: crows.” Recent science (click here) shows that curlews avoid nesting in a buffer zone 500m from a turbine. The brown circle on the map is an example of what we shall call the Curlew Exclusion Zone. Walshaw Moor is a breeding stronghold for ground-nesting birds and gamekeepers are proud of the incidental protection a ‘managed’ moor offers to the eggs and chicks of skylarks, lapwings, short-eared owls, meadow pipits, and curlews. Draw a brown circle round every turbine and there is no moor left. None of these species, some critically endangered to the point of extinction, will nest in the punctured industrialised landscape that Mr Bannister is proposing.
I take a bearing off the scrappy plantation to find the path across the rough, following the tug of gravity which will accelerate the storm surge over turbine pads, impacted ducts and service roads, into Graining Water and barrelling towards Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd.
Turbine 11: The Mere Stones
We do not know what boundary they marked,
but let’s believe for now they split the point
where earth meets sky.
Something of an animal here, crouched
among the pelt of moorland.
A dappled beast, hide-burned,
the stones low lying and silent.
Bedded in moss and peat,
keepers of clough and sike,
waiting and tongue-tied.
Lydia Macpherson’s collection, ‘Love Me Do’ is published by Salt. Her ancestors farmed Top Withens, whose location is believed to have inspired Emily Brontë’s ‘Wuthering Heights’.
This is the the 1st in a series of 65 guest blogs on each of the wind turbines which Richard Bannister plans to have erected on Walshaw Moor.[registration_form]