When we asked about the forestry operations planned for Whitesides plantation at the last meeting we were clearly told that it was a thinning exercise.
Now I may not be a forestry worker but I have seen a lot of thinning operations in the past. The idea is to take a number of trees out to let the rest grow to more useful proportions and sometimes to let more light in under the canopy to promote new growth.
In fact the cutting that has been going on in the Black Hey plantation is a good example as far as I can see.
Here you can clearly see that individual trees have been removed, much as you would expect in thinning such a plantation.
But then we have what is happening in the Whitesides plantation.
Here the trees have been marked for cutting and the brush has already been cut to allow easier access.
We are told that this is a thinning exercise too, because nothing has been decided about the cycle trails. In fact we have been told that ďnothing is set in stoneĒ so often that it is starting to sound like a mantra.
It does seem to be a remarkable coincidence however that the trees, seen here marked in red, form a narrow corridor that zig zags through Whitesides from the top of the plantation right to the bottom, in a continuous trail. It is perhaps even more of a coincidence that this corridor follows remarkably closely the proposed freeride trail (Black Trail) marked on the map we were given at the first CMUG meeting.
In the lower part of the plantation, beyond this arrow marked on the wall, the trees are marked in yellow but still form a trail just like the red marked trail above them.
In fact on Thursday 12th of February I was walking the Moor with Richard Vink, the Principle Greenspace Development Officer for Oldham Borough Council.
I showed him this arrow painted on the wall and also one of the yellow marked trees and asked him if this was to do with the cycle trail or the thinning operation.
He told me that it wasnít the cycle trail and that he had no idea what it was about.
This does rather beg a few questions then.
1. If this is not the freeride trail, why does it follow the proposed line on the map so closely?
2. If this is the freeride trail, why are we being told that nothing has been decided yet?
3. If this is not connected with the Crompton Moor cycle trail project, then who is painting trees and cutting brush in Whitesides plantation along the proposed trail?
4. If this is connected with the Crompton Moor cycle trail project why doesnít Mr Vink know anything about it?
Or perhaps there is some another explanation I havenít thought of?
Iíll let you draw your own conclusions.
Meanwhile it would seem that this ďthinningĒ operation is going to commence whether we have been consulted or not.
All this talk about the users of the moor being ďstakeholdersĒ in the moors future, are rendered complete hogwash by the lack of clear, honest, transparent dialogue in this process.
If Mr Vink and the council wish to earn our trust, they need to act in a way that engenders that trust.
The Destruction Begins.
Itís Easter, fledgling time for many bird species including the Tawny Owls known to be nesting in Whitesides Plantation.
Itís difficult to comprehend how anyone who knows anything about the countryside could miss the link between Easter eggs and birds nesting in trees, but somehow Oldham Parks & Countryside Service managed it in spectacular fashion.
But first the promised heavy machinery of industrial tree cutting had to make itís way to the plantation.
If anything stood in the way it was removed like this stone gatepost which resisted being pulled out with a strop so was eventually gripped in the jaws of the machine and yanked out of the ground before being discarded over the wall.
Next came the gate and the fence, which were both in need of repair anyway so they might at least benefit from some eventual attention when this is all over.
Once these obstacles had been removed the march of the machine continued up the hillside.
It did not require much imagination to see that this was not going to be a gentle process like the one carried out on the Great Meadow Plantation last year.
This, despite the suggested comparison, was going to be nothing like it.
Iíve seen this kind of machine at work before and itís actually very difficult to convey in still pictures the sort of carnage they can produce.
The last time I saw one in action it reduced a beautiful patch of woodland in Gloucestershire into a scene resembling Tunguska in a few short days.
What those jaws hanging from the crane do is grab a tree, cut it through, and then section the trunk stripping all the branches off in the process. Each tree takes just a few seconds.
Of course anything nesting in the tree is also dragged through the jaws too, there is no escape.
To proceed through the woodland the machine has to clear a track and the timber is dumped to the side while the branches lie where they fall.
Until you have seen it with your own eyes itís almost impossible to appreciate the destruction caused. These pictures cannot begin to convey what has already happened here and work continues.
I hasten to add that no blame should be aimed at the forestry company or the driver of this machine. They are tied into a contract with Oldham Council and will lose money if it is not completed on schedule. In fact the driver was uncomfortable with the fact that the cutting work was contracted so early in the year and agreed that such work should not have been done before July at least.
The RSPB, when they heard about this operation and itís timing, were very unhappy to say the least. If this process is being done with due consideration of the wildlife on the moor how is it possible that it has been so catastrophically badly timed.
Last year saw at least two Roe deer fawns emerging from this wood in May, I canít believe we will see any such sight this year.
Could it be that this operation has been brought forward so that the cycle trails could be started this Summer?
Is this not exactly the sort of ill considered action that Oldham Council always seem to manage when they are rushing to spend money before losing it.
Werenít we promised due consultation before that work would begin?
On a final note, does anybody spot any marked tree trunks?
Contact the Rangers on 0161 620 8202 (Strineside Centre) or 0161 627 2608 (Tandlehill) Other contact details
All text, artwork and images on these pages, unaccompanied by a separate credit, are copyrighted material and property of Gary Waidson. All rights reserved.