Dodworth Dingies and a By-Pass

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     We first found the Dingy Skipper on the former Dodworth Spoil heap in May 2003. The Barnsley/Huddersfield line skirts the bottom of the muck  stack as it climbs up to Silkstone station and beyond that to Penistone, the site of what could be Britain's highest Dingy Skipper colony. This heritage railway may have played a part in the butterfly's dispersal for Dodworth, assuming colonization went from east to west, lies in the path of the prevailing winds from Penistone, meaning it is less likely colonization proceeded down over from Penistone to Dodworth. However this may forever remain speculation because the heights in and around Penistone have been mined for centuries and the colony of Dingies at Penistone could simply be the last of a number of similar ones that had long established a toehold on this bleakish Pennine landscape.  At the time we thought if new factory units are to be built along the railway line between here and the MI the very heart of the Dingy Skipper colony will stop beating. Alas it was to be far, far worse than we thought.

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     In 2004 a friendly, inquisitive walker who lived close by and asking what we were photographing, informed us that a road has been proposed which is to pass through here to relieve the rush hour congestion caused by the frequent delays at the level crossing before Dodworth station. From what he was saying, it seemed most of Dodworth's residents were opposed to it but common sense and mute, passive petitioning had ceased to matter. The easing of a traffic bottleneck we all know by now will only multiply the problem in the long term  by encouraging the increased use of motorised transport but such sanity has long ceased to matter seeing that money is the only game in town.

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    By the time we found the Dingies at Dodworth, the Dodworth Business Park, that now occupied the land where the former pit once stood, had been in existence for some time. It was then expanding, and still is, on the flat land at the base of the spoil heap. The latter is still clearly visible from anywhere in the village and from the MI motorway, though its now wooded sides, to the untrained eye, means it looks more like a natural feature than a reclaimed spoil heap. Back in 2003 the M1 trunk road was still a gleam in the eyes of the transport planners though by this time the Labour government had gone into reverse gear and backed down over the moratorium on yet more road building. Making suckers of the road protesters by wholeheartedly agreeing with them made it easier for the Labour government to do the opposite, the fraud of utter sincerity being the key to defusing opposition.This drastic change of direction was orchestrated to the tune of fine-sounding words like sustainability, conservation, eco-awareness, reduction in CO2 emissions and all round environmental improvement - words, and combinations of words - which were then rendered valueless because they are now so necessary to the actual process of universal destruction and mean the opposite of what they say.

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          Dodworth pit had been a large one employing approximately 5,800 people and from early 1870 the colliery had worked many different seams with output being around 1200 tonnes a day. The pit had finally closed in 1987, Barnsley Metropolitan Council acquiring the muckheap in early 1990. Along with many other spoil heaps at the same time including Kiveton and Dinnington between 1993/1994 limited remediation work was undertaken. This included capping the spoil with a layer of clay, to limit water ingress, and the development of settling lagoons and the creation of reed beds to treat water run-off. Though done on the cheap it was still very effective as a means of dealing with heavy metal contamination and greatly added to the beauty of the spoil heaps, especially when seeded with trefoil and clover, which must have increased the numbers of Dingy Skippers that were there. Had the nutrient poor clay then been covered with top soil as happened with the hyper makeovers ten years later, the outcome would have been disastrous for the butterfly.

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          In fact Dodworth spoil heap along with the one at Shillbottle near Newcastle became part of a special study that enquired into the feasibility of setting up a permeable reactive barrier for mine water treatment. Considerable interest was shown in this experiment at international mine water conferences, the geo-chemistry of acid mine drainage and the fear that it could lead to the contamination of surface water then beginning to seriously exercise minds as coalfields and iron stone mines throughout the west were closed down. However we were still a long way from today's drastic bio-remediation which has only succeeded in throwing the baby out with the contaminated bath water.

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         Back then however better sense still prevailed, and the chief problem became how best to treat the rain water that fell on the spoil. When oxygenated water percolates through the spoil's pores and cracks, water rock interaction results in contaminated water which may pass into surface waters and underlying aquifers. The degree of contamination varies with the time the rainwater spends in the spoil and the production of polluted acid drainage is termed acid mine drainage and primarily consists of pH and an increase in dissolved metal concentrations.

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         A permeable barrier was erected at Dodworth and forms a culvert at the bottom of the steep south facing slope, the geochemists leaving the collecting of the rainfall in the culvert to the downward pull of gravity. The construction of this culvert took place in 1996 and was lined with limestone, which helps in the precipitation of mobile metals. For all we know it is possible to find plants there that normally would only be found a few miles to the west in the Derbyshire Dales. It was, however, the heart of the Dingy Skipper colony and it remains to be seen if the butterfly can survive the intrusive motorway feeder road that now runs alongside the culvert.

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       Dodworth village is now well into the throws of change. There are a number of council estates at Gilroyd and South Road that once housed the miners and are a legacy of Dodworth's  industrial past. Further development is happening to the west with new housing in Champany Fields and the place is set to become largely a dormitory village, the new houses being purchased by commuters working in Barnsley or Sheffield. The motorway feeder road will only increase the huge proportion of commuters to places even further a field like Leeds and Manchester, commuters having easy access to Manchester along the very busy A638 over Woodhead. Had the Woodhead line not been railroaded into closure in 1980 by the railway-hating, car-crazy Thatcher government, these commuters would now have a far easier time of it, as would the Dingy Skippers at the former Penistone Junction perhaps now spreading far up the line and into the warm, rock railway cuttings toward Stalybridge.

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         Pathways criss-cross the spoil heap. Some have been laid down deliberately others are of an informal nature and all the more interesting for that, because this age old testament to human preference has been all but lost excepting in places such as these. This powerful reminder of what self-determination can achieve is another reason why these  spoil heaps can be left to find their own form. And there can be no doubting how much local people enjoy strolling around these man-made industrial commons that only latterly have truly come in to their own.

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        However the motorway feeder road is going to divide the villagers from their spoil heap. And besides most of those out strolling particularly those getting on in years preferred the flat ground between the muck heap and the railway, the very ground now occupied by the feeder road. The challenge then is to encourage the villagers to use what's left of the remaining spoil heap, a challenge that is bound to fire the feeble imagination of Barnsley's Metropolitan Council that will opt for the kind of amenity makeover we've already had a belly full of in South Yorkshire. Most of the original inhabitants were dead against the motorway feeder road which would by-pass the bottleneck created at Dodworth station, every time the level crossing barriers descends and a warning siren sounds. Once the train has departed the traffic that has backed up behind the barriers can take several minutes to clear. Even in the days of steam, traffic was regularly held up at Dodworth level crossing when there were many more trains than today. However as we live in an age that puts a premium on getting from here to there in double quick time, the delay caused by the level crossing was never going to be tolerated indefinitely.

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         Just up from the level crossing on the A638 and to one side of the new business park called Capitol Park there is the Bluebell Inn motel which was completed only a short while ago in 2005. It was built in the firm hope through traffic in Dodworth would increase once the motorway feeder road is opened. Dodworth is already a traffic hell but it will be doubly so when this happens. The adage if you want to increase traffic then first remove a bottleneck is more true of Dodworth than most places.

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               Cars already travel at speed through Dodworth though that is obviously not fast enough. With increased speed, motorway capacity declines, as it is not safe for cars or lorries to bunch up, the  stopping distance lengthening as cars and lorries accelerate. According to the Royal Academy of Engineering in its pamphlet 'Transport 2050':  'Congestion already costs the UK an estimated £25 billion each year and that figure is expected to double over the next decade as more of our transport reaches capacity'. The Labour government is hell bent on promoting the growth of traffic by building more roads. According to  Dept of Transport statistics for the year 2005, it is spending £11.4 billion on creating more space for traffic. Between 1997 and 2004 car journeys in the UK increased by 9% and a year later, in 2005, the Dept of Transport claimed  'the central projection is for traffic to increase by 26% between 2000 and 2010 implying an annual increase of 2.3% over the whole decade'. Dodworth is being remade in the image of the future, a future that will never arrive because commuter towns like these will be left stranded when oil runs out, its inhabitants at the very least forced to seek alternative forms of transport.

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          We informed environmental consultants employed by Barnsley council of the butterfly's presence at Dodworth. But  because this increasingly rare creature receives no protection under the Wildlife & Countryside Act nor has UK BAP (Bio-diversity Action Plan) status, the motorway feeder road was allowed to go ahead. However we have to be thankful for small mercies; at least the bio-diversity officials were not downright unpleasant with us as some have been in the past. But it did confirm what we've long suspected - that bio-diversity officials are ecological adjuncts of council window dressing, merely there to show off its green image.

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       Almost certainly the Dingy Skipper would, not so long ago in the 1990s, have been found on the flat land where the pit once stood and is today occupied by Dodworth Business Park. This is predictably made up of serial big-box constructions whose surrounds have been landscaped and horticulturised in the usual business-like, nature hostile, manner. Flanked by acres of car parking, in between there are appealing patches of un-modernised earth  with patches of trefoil growing on them. Perhaps the occasional Dingy Skipper strays onto these areas but we didn't see any. The vanquished old industry has given way to ubiquitous box construction tending to the windowless - lit by artificial light day and night - and surrounded by a manicured, often non-indigenous shrubbery and tidy parking lots giving a contemporary, even bizarre  twist to William Blake's description of "dark satanic mills". This new setting is in reality farther removed from nature  than anything experienced in the paleo-industrial era. Here it has to be said, there are also other areas worth investigating like the embankment that slopes down to the  MI motorway cutting near Dodworth.

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         However it seems likely the remaining Dingy Skippers have been pushed back onto the steep sided spoil heap, the terrain at the bottom having now become far too hostile for the butterfly's liking. From the  summit there are splendid views over the surrounding countryside. Baildon and Ilkley Moor are easily visible in the distance as is Penistone and the former spoil heap of Woolley Coliery. Though practically bare of trees it hosts a resilient population of Dingies that is doing quite well, particularly where the carr woodland thins out close to the top. However on much of the spoil heap the invasive carr woodland is so thick that not even trefoil can survive, never mind the Dingy Skipper. Both in response to conservation measures from the 1960s onwards, requiring that the management of industrial tailings be the responsibilities of the extractive or milling industries and the Aberfan disaster where many children were killed, the spoil heap proper has, over the past 30 years, received a considerable amount of attention. So far this attention has not unduly harmed the spoil heap's wild life and may actually have helped it. However what lies in store for it is another thing entirely.

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           Finally though it was up to the locals themselves. Though many people living in Dodworth pit village opposed the new road because over the years, the spoil heap became their strange through beautiful recreational area, no determined rank 'n' file group  came into existence to protect their unusual playground. Such a group could have made a real difference and in combating the reign of universal passivity and present day "thin democracy" - designed to make people feel utterly helpless - become a much needed beacon for others perhaps to follow suit...

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          Second only to Wakefield in all of Yorkshire, Barnsley Metropolitan Council had, at the turn of the millennia,  207 hectares of derelict land. We believe there are still colonies waiting to be discovered round and about and would heartily recommend that the area is thoroughly gone over in the sure knowledge such efforts will meet with success.

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Tractored out by the Cats:  The Woolley Colliery Dingy

Skippers 


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      This former colliery site still signposted on bus indicators as Woolley Colliery sits astride both Barnsley and Wakefield municipal councils. The total area covered by the spoil heap is enormous and it took several visits  to completely cover the site from end to end. To judge from the amount of undisturbed trefoil we were finding tucked away on gentle slopes and in folds and hollows, this gigantic spoil heap must, we believe, have once hosted the largest colony of Dingy Skippers of all Yorkshire's spoil heaps. The colliery lies just within the boundaries of West Yorkshire and for sure the butterfly does not appear to have moved much beyond Woolley into West Yorks.

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       None the less, even in 2004 we reckoned at the height of the emergence there were about 3000 plus Dingy Skippers on the wing here. That year, alas, marked a peak in numbers and thereafter the butterfly began to decline very drastically, though it still may be possible to find isolated pockets of Dingy Skippers in some out of the way fold where the butterfly is just to say  clinging on. There is in particular  one spoil escarpment that lies at the far side of Woolley Edge Lane, a busy road that skirts the top of the largely 19th and 20th century pit heap. On our reckoning this was centuries old and formed part of the colliery's early workings. Despite its elevated position, with a magnificent view across to Grimethorpe and beyond, there was enough tree cover to provide shelter from the wind for a colony of Dingy Skippers. Moreover there was plenty of birds foot trefoil about which would merely strengthen our argument the butterfly has been on these spoil heaps for over a millennia, possibly going back to Roman times.

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     (The following is a read-out behind particular camcorder clips) We are still back in 2004 ---- the Bluebell Rd bus stop -----and an old  Coal Authority sign ------ shale piled upon shale forming strange man made geological features as if not of this earth and definitely from another planet which nobody in their right mind would ever want to see rolled flat  and made ready for the next, unspeakably boring, legoland house. And then the patches of  trefoil and sudden lines of birch carr woodland, the larval flows of 300 million year old spoil traversed by rivulets of water all adding to the fascinating topography. It is ugly to developers and business people, to politicians and landscape architects, to philistines with a warped love of money but not to us - nor the butterflies of industrial dereliction. And when we espied a sewing machine stuck up a tree we knew that beautician of nonconforming ugliness, Lautreamont, would, if he were alive today, also find remarkable.  

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        When we first 'discovered' Woolley, a large section of the spoil heap had either been recently planted with trees, covered with soil and then farmed. Or turned into open cast or the terrain flattened to attract developers or used as a landfill site ' at that time there were two longish barrows of incinerated plaster board giving of an unpleasant odour of ash and burnt gypsum. The reclaimed area was so extensive (and barren of all vegetation and life) it could have  supported not only a sprawling housing estate but a small, out-of-town shopping centre, as well. However, the new development was to be a cut above that vulgar conception!

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     (The following is a read-out behind particular camcorder clips) This is Woolley two years on in 2006 and way in the distance is the new estate. This is no tacky Barretts housing experience for the lower orders and has been named Woolley Grange, the large stone gateway that bears that inscription like the entrance to a landed estate. This new estate has an outlook over the surrounding countryside toward Denby Dale and the Derbyshire hills no other colliery spoil heap in all of Yorkshire can match and shortly there will be nothing to remind anyone this was formerly a huge pit spoil heap and Arthur Scargill, General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, once worked here.

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      The estate has been modelled to fit in with the outlying Woolley Village that  gives off an  aristocratic air, though more improving 18th century landlord than old style aristocracy, more built on financial risk taking in the East India Company than being in receipt of hereditary wealth, more Cock Robin (i.e. the Prime Minister and speculator, Robert 'Pillage' Walpole) than the Gothic novel of his namesake, Horace Walpole. The new estate is deliberately neo-Georgian in character and has snob appeal written all over it. Mercs slide through the new imposing sandstone portals down the now horticulturally manicured gently sloping incline rather than the former 1 in 3 steep gradient that lorry drivers on their way to the colliery went in dread of, especially when the road was a sheet of ice.

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       To the side of the new estate there is the old, red bricked, terraced pit village that house the people left behind by the value added, new economy. They are hostile to the newcomers and very basic graffiti leaves one in no doubt of that. And though what's left of the old spoil heap gets smaller each day, whilst it is still possible to see the black on black mounds of shale and slurry, they at least have something outside their doors they can recognise and feel at ease with in the old landscape of old, discarded, lives.

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      Now nearby Barnsley hasn't just got an image problem like other former industrial towns in the north. It has been eaten away by a plague it will do anything to kill off once and for all. Barnsley has had to live with the knowledge that the closure of a little pit, Cortonwood, not far from the city centre, sparked off the great miners' strike of 1984/85. It no longer wants to be reminded of this and will go to any length to be rid of that damaging memory. It is now prepared to spend vast sums of money to refashion the town in the likeness of a Tuscan Hill town, which is as different as can be from its 'infamous' mining past that the new hip authorities are inclined to view it. This was the idea that  the so-called visionary architect Will Alsop, who joined the regeneration team in 2002, came up with. Alsop is renowned, just like his much older colleagues in the long dead and gone Archigram project, for dreaming up autocratic schemes on paper and his plan for Barnsley is not a piece-meal rejigging but a remaking from scratch, an approach which accords with the town councils longing to bury the past. Alsop's plan marks a further step toward the integration of avant-garde art into everyday life like his scheme to ring the town with searchlights that will shine an Yves Klein blue at night. In fact the plan has been rather successfully satirised by a local ham poet by the name of Ian McMillan, which could almost be an anagram of William McGonegall: 'Barnsley is a Tuscan hill village, there is no doubt about it, Barnsley is a Tuscan Hill village. The red roofs of the simple houses glow like tomatoes in Barnsley market in the impossibly beautiful light of the gala bingo by the bus station. Barnsley is a Tuscan hill village, Barnsley is'.

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        Just opposite the former Woolley colliery spoil heap on the far side of  the M1 there is a highly 'successful' business park. Formerly one of the units now called Premdor (a furniture factory) belonged to Spring Ram. This company manufactured a range of bathroom suites which a few years back attracted the notice of the Economist magazine as an example of how the north's industrial base could be remade. Had there already been a modern housing estate on Woolley Colliery it would have made business sense to locate its showrooms here just across the way from the factory. As the proxy of decorative sanitary ware progressively replaces essential hygiene, Spring Ram's 'stylish' tat could well have been all the rage.

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       We can say that at the present time a large flourishing population of Dingy Skippers resides at the base of this enormous spoil heap probably still numbering hundreds at the height of the emergence. It runs parallel to the MI (a mere 1000 yards away) and the railway line from Sheffield to Leeds. Going from a row of industrial cottages, Haigh Mews, it extends around the perimeter of several ponds into which flood waters from the pit are still pumped and terminates where the railway line passes through a thickly wooded cutting just before Darton station. The latter area is classic industrial habitat almost to the point of caricature and we have yet to take a photograph of the Dingy here that sums up the spirit of the place. There is a fenced-off area containing an industrial waterfall caked with iron oxides, a graffiti covered brick outhouse, wartime hockey stick  posts of crumbling concrete with the rusting steel reinforcing  showing through, storm drains, ballast on which, wisps of desiccated grass,  shrubs of goat willow and trefoil are  growing. Every now and then a train passes, sometimes within inches of a resting Dingy Skipper.

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       Here we take a closer look at the industrial fountain that still pumps contaminated water out of the closed off galleries far below of the former Woolley pit. Every so often it stops then starts up again after a few hours of inactivity and silence. There is no nuanced resonance, no sound of Dippers to be singled out, in fact no natural music at all in the sound of this industrial waterfall, just a dull unwavering roar like that of a water main turned on full blast. Yet it is a mesmerizing object in its own right and we would hate to see it go. And so would 'sculptor' Anthony 'Gormless' Gormley who is rightly fascinated with the north's heavy industry leftovers. He would only ever get rid of it on the condition he was commissioned to replace it with one of his own wretched bits of metal tomfoolery costing millions of pounds. A Gormley inspired artistic rebaptism would instantly kill of the site's beauty, made all the more potent because Dingy Skippers still fly all around the new steel fencing that has recently been erected in place of the old mesh fencing that had been cut in places and provided an almost unimpeded view of the water pump. We know we could never hope to reproduce the industrial water shoot's magic and would never contemplate doing so, not even for all the readies in Gormley's bank account. However the fountain still serves a useful purpose and without it the mine workings below would flood and the spoil substrata beneath the housing estate become waterlogged, causing subsidence and heavy metal contamination.

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         The pit ponds are located on both sides of the rail track connected by a tunnel that goes under the Barnsley/Wakefield railway line. One of the pit ponds before 2006 had even been turned into a fishpond, which anglers frequently used before it too was judged a danger and fenced-off. This 'new enclosure' had to be at the behest of  the Health & Safety Executive now mindful that the children of this top drawer executive estate could venture out of doors, and, in the absence of parental supervision, start to play around these ponds, just like miners' children once did.  So far we cannot say if the Dingy Skipper is to found in this area between the railway and the MI motorway but very likely it will be here as there is enough bare earth and trefoil.

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        In fact the path traversing the pit heap on which the Dingy Skippers are to be seen is part of the old Dearne Valley Way series of footpaths. One of them, as it climbs up from Haigh Mews, formerly a row of miners' cottages, to Woolley Edge Lane at the top of the spoil heap, not only becomes impassable but even by 2005 had actually been fenced off with barbed wire. We found this infringement of ancient rights maddening and utterly cavalier: it is almost always possible to climb over a wooden fence but barbed wire is another matter. And to cap it all there was a cast iron signpost dating from the 19th Century pointing the way. And an Ordinance Survey map clearly showed there were several paths through the dense woodland fringing Woolley Edge Lane. But we were unable to locate them because, unsurprisingly, they have become overgrown through lack of use. Thwarted on every side this was modern enclosure in practise and very much the shape of things to come. Nowhere is this more true than in the grounds of the former Woolley Colliery, the new fangled aristocratic pretence ruling out its use by commoners.

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       By 2005, repressive measures were set to increase and we were astonished to find that come 2006 there had been an attempt to completely block-off access to the Old Dearne Way. Barbed wire had been thrown across the pathway though it seems some rambler or local inhabitant had rightly got very upset about it and pulled a couple of posts up, tossing them to one side.

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      And then we have  a cinematic conclusion: One lone Dingy Skipper patiently drinking up the pale sunlight for 3 minutes. Should there be commentary behind this?

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       We conclude this section with a long three-minute sequence of a resting Dingy Skipper. In the last minute of the film note how once the sun begins to come out, the skippers wings start to move involuntarily, the butterfly eventually taking off.

                             D & S Wise 2007

 

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