Ovvy Moor – words and pictures: Nick Small
This is a photograph of a typical South Pennine landscape, Ovenden Moor near Halifax. It’s pretty unremarkable except for the fact that it’s a skyline that hasn’t looked like this since 1993. That’s when the Ovenden Moor windfarm was built. Twenty three turbines have whirled away on top of the moor ever since, harvesting the powerful winds that blow unimpeded from the Atlantic, providing power for 5,000 homes. Over the last few months, those turbines have been dismantled, soon to be replaced by nine much larger, more efficient turbines. So, come the summer, the skyline will be radically different again. I thought I’d take advantage of this opportunity to take you up there for a look.
I’ve written about Ovenden Moor for CBTR before (here).
Happily, the moor has largely recovered. Approaching the tops up one of the steep sided valleys, (known as cloughs) cut by cascading moorland streams , there’s very little indication of what lies ahead.
These rock faces at the head of Ogden Clough are part of a wide seam of millstone grit, known as Rough Rock, which lends this landscape its rugged character. Only the toughest grasses survive this highly acidic environment. Reeds are the telltale sign of boggy peat beneath the surface. In the summer, it’s grazing for the hardy local sheep.
After cresting the top of the clough, a rough path cuts through the heather. As the summit of the moor is approached, some 430 metres above sea level, there’s the first sign of the new wind farm’s construction site.
This does warn of construction traffic. It doesn’t, however, prepare the nature loving walkers that pass this way in their droves, for the drastic impact that the site of the new wind farm will have on their beloved moor. Super-sized turbines require super-sized foundations and super-sized access roads. I wonder what the curlews, plovers, ravens and skylarks make of it all. I couldn’t ask any…unsurprisingly, they were conspicuously absent.
The knee-jerk reaction is to recoil in horror as the natural environment is invaded by industry. It was certainly my initial reaction as I stood on this hardcore to take a photograph of the vandalism.
Then, I stopped to think. This “natural” moorland has actually been an industrial landscape for hundreds of years. The whole moor is owned by Yorkshire Water. This isn’t just one of the windiest places in Britain, it’s also one of the wettest. The winds that turn the turbine blades also carry moisture gathered over the Atlantic. As the air meets the high ground and is forced upwards, it condenses to give us rain. Lots of it. Rather too much of it lately if you live in the valley settlements of Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge. That rain falls onto the moor, soaking into the giant upland sponge that is the thick layer of boggy peat. It’s crucial to the water industry.
This charming pool, with its crust of ice and dusting of light snow is not a natural feature. It sits behind a small moorland dam at the top of Skirden Clough, designed to slow the progress of water and to trap the sandy silt that the flowing stream picks up from the underlying gritstone. Here, the sand has built up over a hundred years to form a small beach where walkers bring their dogs to drink on hot summers days. Sadly, there’s evidence of the construction industry today. The benefits of renewable energy from the new wind farm would be an easier sell if the construction firms did a better job of clearing their litter.
There are more subtle signs of industry on these moors. Walk through the purple heather in late summer and you’ll share the space, not just with the curlew, skylark and plover. You also have a good chance of a mutually startling encounter with a red grouse, hunkered down in the heather until you’re almost upon it, before exploding upwards in front of you in a clucking flurry. The grouse are, of course, a sign that the industry of shooting stuff is alive and well. The purple heather is managed to provide them with food and habitat.
One industry has shaped these moors more than any other: quarrying. In the C19th there were communities living on Ovenden Moor entirely devoted to quarrying. These “delvers” lead tough lives, taking the millstone grit and flag stones from the small quarries, or delphs, that pock mark the entire moor. Conditions for these communities, living at 1,500 feet through hostile winter weather with no electricity or gas or modern comforts, must have been harsh in the extreme. Most of the delphs have been re-naturalised now, but you can still see signs of that industry which provided building stone, pavements and the mill stones (for which the quartz-rich sandstone was ideal).
Look closely at this slab and you can see drill holes alongside the fossilised plant structures (calamites) which are a reminder that the rocks that give this moor its character were actually formed 310 million years ago in equatorial river deltas. We think of our landscapes as permanent fixtures but they are now, just as they have always been, actually in a permanent state of flux.