Last week I wrote an impassioned piece about the lack of respect shown by those heading to wild places, but equally by those reacting to the visitors. I've since read a few similar pieces extolling some empathy and thought, but they've sadly been again overshadowed by the mainstream media publishing damning looking photographs and videos of the likes of Chatsworth, Bournemouth beaches and Liverpool city centre in the immediate aftermath of some sunny weather.
The piece I wrote, and a recent initiative by Sheffield City Council called Make Yourself At Home, got me thinking about of home, where boundaries extend to, and what respecting other people's homes means.
To summarise my original piece for those without the time to read it, it was an open letter to the residents of Snowdonia, and any other wild places in Wales and Scotland who are about to experience the unleashing of hoards of pent up folk as lockdown eases, as those of us living in places like the Peak District in England have done over the past month or so.
There seems to be a fundamental problem in that large numbers of people visiting the outdoors don't appear to appreciate that it is important to respect not just the actual wild places, but the people who live in them. These large numbers are clearly a result of the lack of entertainment - pubs, clubs, cinemas, festivals and so on, so from July 4th when some of the hospitality industry comes back to life it is likely to absorb the issue to some degree.
But what of those people who have had a taste of the outdoors and want more? As a purveyor of adventure film and somebody who regularly speaks in Sheffield schools to tell them what an amazing place The Outdoor City is, I welcome the diversity of the new cohort. I think though, that it raises some difficult questions about why it is deemed OK by so many to leave litter, to park even when there is no space and to treat the roads like race track? Are there town and city centre residents quietly sitting at home revelling in the current peace and quiet, not having to listen to the usual all-night party-crowd and carefully walk the dog in the morning avoiding broken bottles and piles of vomit?
So I thought I'd propose a few ideas and maybe even some solutions.
For all the litter I've seen dropped at Padley Gorge recently it pales into insignificance compared to parts of Sheffield. Is the problem not more of a general lack of respect shown to where we live full stop? Can schools not teach their students to keep their own playgrounds free of rubbish and organise local litter picks. At my eldest's school litter picking is doled out as a punishment to those caught littering, reinforcing negativity with more negativity. Incentivising has to be key. That and informing. Could it be that people drop litter safe in the knowledge that it will be picked up again? After all that's what social media shows us, that volunteers do the dirty work. Some reasonable signage might help alleviate this.
Talking of signage I'd like to see some more sensible signage both in Sheffield and the Peak District promoting better behaviour. I took a look at the signs at Padley on Saturday morning and have to say that it could be so much better. There is simply too much of it, with an overload of information, much of it too preachy; lots of capital letters and red text. Each parking area needs a single board outlining some simple messages conveyed in a friendly way. Double yellow lines are universally understood and should be more widely used, but only with the understanding that their use simply moves the problem elsewhere. The Peak District National Park have recently been promoting a website updating the status of their car parks which is great, but this needs to be promoted via signs on all roads into the park so people can find out before they arrive that there is no space.
Whilst on the subject of the Peak District I was heartened to see the authority post on their social feeds the other day that they have cleared the area around each of the boundary millstones. This is great, but if we are to expect people to appreciate that they are in a national park perhaps we ought to make it clearer, and reinforce the message on signs within the park. Try typing Peak District into Google and put yourselves in the shoes of somebody who doesn't actually know where it is, let alone what it is, but has heard that it's nice and isn't far away. A friend who lives in Bradwell has now advised in excess of 30 vehicles, lost on a narrow back road near his house, that they have been in the park for more than ten miles, as they close in on the pin and look for the car park!
A single large sign board at all parking areas could include:
- Some basic info about the Peak District
- Some friendly do's and don’ts - BBQs, litter etc
- A map of the local area ideally showing the nearest alternative parking areas
- 3 colour coded walking routes, an easy, medium and hard option
- An 'if you like this spot then you might also like these spots' side panel to ease people away from honey pots like Padley
- Some local wildlife and conservation information
Ice Cream vans frequent some of the more popular spots. Whilst they are supposed to follow a set of rules and unwrap lollies as they hand them over and take wrappers from customers, they clearly don't. On my Padley visit last Saturday I found over 30 discarded lolly wrappers. I'd like to see rubbish bins on the rear of every ice cream van, it being their responsibility to dispose of not just their wrappers, but other rubbish too. If people see bins I think they are far more likely to put their rubbish into them. If they are full, then a conversation with the vendor would encourage them to take it home with them. If this needs funding I'd suggest a collaboration between the Peak Park, the ice cream van companies, the makers of the lollies, and potentially even the likes of McDonalds, Coke and Red Bull, three of the main players in any given rubbish pick.
Lastly there's the issue of road use. The Peak District is always going to be a natural magnet for cyclists, and with the boom in electric bikes, this is only going to increase. In the sort to mid term a campaign needs to happen to inform and educate drivers that it is simply not acceptable to endanger the life of a cyclist regardless of whatever misdemeanour they have or are perceived to have carried out. Signage on all main roads into the park need to point out to motorists that there are lots of bikes around and that they have equal priority on the roads.
Regular bike stencils with 1.5m arrows to indicate the legal and safe passing distance for cyclists should be painted on the roads. Any driver caught or reported for driving aggressively towards cyclists ought to have to travel on a bike or e-bike for a few days. I'd also like to see more roadside milestone markers indicating distances between villages or landmarks, with an icon of a bike on simply to increase the exposure of cycling.
In the longer term it'd be amazing to see a modern twist on the Park and Ride concept, with fleets of electric bikes available to rent on the outskirts of the park to venture in, as well as a well mapped and publicised network of off road or quiet road cycle routes criss-crossing the area.
Some lofty goals in there, that's for sure, but if there's one thing that is clear to me, it's that better, clearer, and more prevalent messaging is vital. Lastly, it's great to see that Sheffield City Council are taking things seriously at least on the cycling front - https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/home/roads-pavements/changes-footpaths-highways-covid-19.html?fbclid=IwAR37T9I11h4VhgOUfTN5fh0fnOKO93-ZrIr0liGetSMehF2q1wz5RRVDcK4. It'd be great to see the Peak District authorities and councils doing likewise.