Saving Hogshaw

This fabulous local site in Buxton is threatened with development for housing. This is the text of a Guardian piece I published last year which explains in part why this place should not be destroyed.

“Buxton, Derbyshire: I have long pondered the word ‘Hogshaw’, which describes a small area of the town that is centred by a tributary of the River Wye. Aside from the clear, if intriguing, pig-related associations, the name always conjures childhood memories of old dustcarts brimming with rubbish and adding to Hogshaw’s small mountain of bottles and tins, topped latterly by wind-shredded plastic. Until the early 1980s Hogshaw was the town tip and while it might once have been unbeautiful it has been the site of my botanical encounter of 2020.

Broad-leaved helleborine is a scarce and beautiful flower. The tallest spikes can be 80cm high, the upper third wreathed in blooms. The individual flowerheads vary from ghostly green-white through to deep rose, but all possess, centred in a cup-shaped inner lip, a bowl of dark-flecked lipstick pink.  It may be among the commoner of the Epipactis orchids but I’d never previously seen it and Derbyshire has only about 100 such localised sites.

What’s most intriguing about the orchid is how it has flourished for decades in an unprepossessing patch of wasteground, topped by willow scrub and layered with an understorey of bramble and the fruitiest feral raspberries you’ve ever seen. Just across the fence is a tumulus of Buxton’s historic waste, apparently deep with ancient hoards of asbestos.

This is not the whole story. If the helleborine were an emblem of any aspect of Hogshaw it is the redemptive power of nature once the human leash has been slipped. Across the whole site there have flourished hazy stands of willowherb and sunshine carpets of ragwort. The old railway clinker and cinders from a million coalfires have been carpeted in vetches, knapweed and clover that are busy with butterflies and bumblebees.

The former land-uses make Hogshaw the classic brown-field site, but its unscripted flourishing since the tip was decommissioned has seen it morph into one of Buxton’s best bits of wild ground. How sad that it is now earmarked for major development and for once I am pinning my hopes on historical pollution to halt that destroyer of  urban nature: the often unimaginative and abiotic banality of modern housing.”

Alas the site’s unsuitability as a place for peoples’ homes hasn’t secured it yet and we need your support. Here’s a letter signed by a suite of lead environmentalists.

It puts the case succinctly to High Peak Borough Council.

Dear Madam/Sir

We believe that the development of Hogshaw for housing would be a tragedy for Buxton and its residents. Since industrial activity ceased on the site, nature has smothered it in pioneer sallow and birch woodland, as well as extensive stands of wildflowers: willowherb, knapweed, eyebright and ragwort. The area is superb for pollinating insects, including rare bilberry bumblebees, which come down from the moors to feed there. It has a lovely colony of a scarce orchid (broad-leaved helleborine) and the town’s c300 nesting swifts feed primarily over the area on summer evenings, while the inner town’s last house martins (20 birds) feed there and breed nearby. 

The development of housing at Hogshaw would destroy most of its natural value. Just as important, it will stop local residents from using it for recreation, walking, exercise and pleasure. Most serious, it would obliterate the recreation ground much used by local children. If lockdown and coronavirus have shown us anything it is that green space is vital to peoples’ well-being. Green space of such unscripted, semi-natural character in the very heart of a town is precisely the resource most places lack and which people need for their health and happiness. We ask the council to reconsider the proposals.

The objection to Hogshaw’s destruction is not some romantic holding onto the past or standing in the way of progress. It is progress. It is a way of mapping a future in which local people enjoy the multifarious benefits of open space and wild beauty in their urban area. Hogshaw borders some of the most congested, least privileged parts of Buxton and securing the site in perpetuity would be a way of honouring the needs of those residents.

England has been defined as the 29th most denatured country on Earth. That abysmal record has not been reached by dramatic acts of destruction, but by small incremental local losses such as the housing proposals named above. We hope that Buxton can be a place where that process is reversed.

Yours faithfully


Dr Mark Avery, former Conservation Director of RSPB and Co-founder of Wild Justice

Patrick Barkham author

Professor Tim Birkhead FRS

Prof Jim Crace FRSL

Tim Dee author

Prof Richard Fortey FRS, FRLS

Julian Hoffman author

Kathleen Jamie FRSL

Caroline Lucas MP

Dr Richard Mabey FRS

Dr Robert Macfarlane

Stephen Moss author and naturalist

Chris Packham, TV presenter

Dr Diane Setterfield novelist

Sarah Ward novelist

Iolo Williams, naturalist and TV presenter

It takes a matter of seconds to sign the petition please sign it this week here

Leave a comment

3 Comments

  1. Signed. And you’d like to think that The Powers That Be would take notice of such an impressive group of signatories.

    Reply
    • we hope so Margaret and the collective wisdom that these signatories embody, but thank you for signing. I think many Labour councillors dislike the project but are obliged to meet targets set by central Government. It is to our government we must look, to change minds and values.

      Reply
      • BJ doesn’t have a great record on caring about sites that don’t capture the public imagination.

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