I went on a pilgrimage last week to one of my old stamping grounds, to the Dearne Valley in South Yorkshire. A rolling landscape linking Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster. An environment ravaged by coal mining and a community devastated by the end of the industry that shaped and sustained it.
The ghosts of mining are everywhere the names; Grimethorpe, Houghton Main and Cortonwood; the restored pit heaps and the installation of monuments to the past amongst the modern architecture and the reinvention of South Yorkshire.
With deep coal mining comes subsidence of the land, and in the river valleys shallow wetlands form – often named ings recalling an earlier Viking past. Havens for nature in a land despoiled by industry; places treasured, and protected, by local people.
My pilgrimage was actually a meeting – but no matter, we did get time for the grand tour, around Old Moor, shaped from the railway sidings that served the pits and now a honey-pot RSPB reserve. Our guide was Pete Wall, project manager of Dearne Valley Green Heart which is a great project underpinned as a Nature Improvement Area and involving partners and the local community.
And not only is Green Heart healing the environmental damage of the past it is bring together people and is at the core of the economic regeneration of the valley.
We saw avocets (now breeding locally) and heard of the pride that booming bitterns bring to the area. We climbed the restored Grimethorpe tip and looked down the valley as Pete talked of the cooperation and shared values that were transforming the area, swifts swept past us as we looked down at Edderthorpe Ings, the water’s edge dotted with loafing lapwings.
The green heart of South Yorkshire's Dearne Valley. Photo A R Farrar
Fragments of nature sustained through the impact of mining and it’s on its way back, a recovery that is at the heart of the renaissance of the area.
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