In September of last year, I had to travel back to the UK for family reasons. Since the majority of my family now live in the North of England it is logical that I travel via Manchester Airport, and this means I can often fit in a visit to the beautiful Peak District National Park. The majority of the National Park (the first founded in Great Britain in 1951) lies within the boundaries of Derbyshire, but some peripheral areas of the counties of Cheshire, Staffordshire and South Yorkshire are also included. The Park contains large areas of heather moorland and peat bog, and this ecosystem is of extreme significance. Indeed, the heather moorlands in Great Britain represent 75% of the world’s total. The Peak District National Park Authority has made significant strides in minimizing the erosion on the 1,600 miles of public rights of way (footpaths, tracks, bridleways) which exist in the Park. Other entities, such as 'Moors For The Future Partnership' and the National Trust are undertaking specialist restoration work, such as the re-introduction of several species of Sphagnum moss, which, like Sphagnum recurvum, act as a natural ‘sponge’ for water and nutrients and prevent damaging ‘run-off’.
Members of the public can learn more about the Peak District at Visitor Centres such as the one in Castleton, (which also contains the Castleton Village Museum, featuring prehistoric exhibits) and at the Moorland Centre, Edale. All this has given rise to an increase in the study and research associated with the Peak District environment. One of the ways this was achieved was by using the resources of Losehill Hall, the Learning and Environmental Conference Centre formerly run by the Peak District National Park Authority, in the Hope Valley. In the photograph, you can see a group of students measuring and sampling the flora and fauna in and around one of the many streams flowing off the Kinder Plateau, and taking pH and turbidity measurements of the water. Members of the public could learn more about the Peak, by signing up for one of the many different courses held at Losehill Hall; this enabled environmental scientists to broaden their own knowledge base.
Now, the bad news! Due to the overall financial position of the UK Government, a savage series of austerity measures have been imposed, and the Peak District National Park Authority has been told to save between £1.0M and £1.9M over the next four years. Closing Losehill Hall (which has an international reputation) would save up to £300,000 in running costs over the 4 year period and the building would then be sold (raising yet more cash, which would have to be handed back to the Government). Some educational services would be re-located (along with a few staff), but, when this announcement was made, the jobs of 41 full-time and part-time staff, as well as 45 casual staff were at risk. The Park admits that, in the year 2010/2011, over 22,500 people had stayed at Losehill Hall, 17,500 of which were children.
To say that this has angered the local population, who already have a high rate of unemployment, is an understatement; it is estimated, by the University of Derby, that the complete closure of Losehill Hall would mean the loss of approximately £2 million per year to the local economy. It was finally announced by the Peak District National Park Authority that 26 ‘full time equivalent’ jobs had to go at Losehill and associated sites. However, the Peak District National Park would 'still have some educational staff based on site', no matter who took over.
Fortunately, bids to turn this Victorian country residence into a private club or a high-priced hotel were squashed, and the Youth Hostel Association stepped in to acquire Losehill Hall; the YHA intends to spend some £2 million on refurbishment, and they will ensure that the work of educating the next generation of visitors about the Peak District National Park - at least, to some degree - does continue. Well done, the YHA!