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Our work at Hardcastle Crags

A volunteer in the woodland at Hardcastle Crags carries a log
Volunteers helping with conservation work at Hardcastle Crags | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Hardcastle Crags is an important place for a wide range of species and it’s vital to manage the woodland to improve the quality of the habitat. Read on to find out about our work at Hardcastle Crags and Gibson Mill, including current priorities and ongoing projects.

Our work in the woodland

Hardcastle Crags has a ten-year management plan outlining the work needed to keep the woodland thriving. The top three priorities are to:

  • Increase opportunities for local wildlife
  • Slow the flow of water across the land to help reduce flooding
  • Reduce our carbon footprint

Other aims include maintaining a visually beautiful site, protecting the site’s natural and cultural heritage, contributing to the local economy and managing health and safety across Hardcastle Crags.

Read the woodland management plan

Helping wildlife at Hardcastle Crags

To increase opportunities for local wildlife, the team plan to increase light levels to the woodland floor through thinning and selective felling. This is essential for the regeneration of new native trees and wildflowers. Where regeneration does not occur naturally, new trees will be planted.

Both standing and fallen deadwood will be created, providing an important habitat for a host of species, from fungi to beetles and birds. In addition, work will take place to remove invasive species, in particular Himalayan balsam. These plants stop native flora from growing and prevent tree regeneration.

A tree trunk laying on the ground at Hardcastle Crags, Yorkshire
Woodland at Hardcastle Crags, Yorkshire | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Slow the flow

Right now, there are areas of Hardcastle Crags densely populated by beech trees. These block light from reaching the woodland floor and stop plants and flowers from growing underneath them.

With no ground plants, the rainwater flows quickly to the streams taking leaf litter and soil with it. This in turn causes blockages which increases the risk of flooding in Hebden Bridge and the local area.

Our Slow The Flow projects is implementing natural flood control methods, such as building leaky dams, to protect areas further downstream.

Find out more about the Slow The Flow project

Reducing our carbon footprint

Building on the work already happening at Hardcastle Crags, heat and electricity will be produced through sustainable sources. These include hydroelectric power produced by the Hebden Water and heating provided from on-site firewood.

Tree thinning will also take place, to help promote the growth of new trees and protect soils from erosion.

Repair work at Hardcastle Crags

With 140 acres of unspoilt woodlands and more than 15 miles of footpaths to look after, there's plenty to keep our team busy. Our rangers are always busy repairing fences, paths, signposts and picnic benches.

Ranger felling damaged trees at Greenway, Devon
Felling trees | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Looking after Gibson Mill

Gibson Mill is a beautiful historic building, but it needs care and attention. Built in around 1800, it was one of the UK’s first mills to power the Industrial Revolution, driven by a water wheel to produce cotton cloth. Restoration began in 2005. Work included the restoration and reinstatement of the cotton mill’s original 1926 Francis hydro turbine, the installation of a smaller Crossflow hydro turbine for use when water levels are low, and the addition of a solar photovoltaic system, as well as a battery storage system. The solar panels currently generate 25% of the power used in the café, Mill and offices, however they are not as efficient as they once were. The popularity of Hardcastle Crags means our electricity use has grown too. We are planning to replace the roof and panels during winter. With more and better panels, the capacity of our array will rise from 4kw to over 11kw – nearly a 300% increase.

Today, it's the first renewable place looked after by the National Trust that’s off the grid. This means we're not connected to mains power, water or the sewage network.

Keeping it green

Along with the day-to-day maintenace that comes with a building of this age, our team also maintain the special features that allow us to be off the grid. This includes lighting the wood-fuelled boiler every day to power the hot water for the Weaving Shed Café, maintaining our battery system and looking after our special composting toilets.

We wanted Gibson Mill to be totally self-sufficient, without bringing in mains services. It had to rely on the natural resources found on the site, including using water and daylight to power heating and lighting, and spring water for washing and drinking.

Respecting history

At the same time, we needed to preserve the historic quality of this nineteenth-century mill and former entertainment emporium, whilst respecting its spirit.

Today, the only ‘mains’ connection with the outside world is the phone line, making the mill unique in the UK.

A renewable energy system was installed by leading renewable energy company Dulas Ltd. We used local labour and sought to obtain all materials from sustainable, local sources.

National Trust staff member adjusting pipes on the green energy system at Hardcastle Crags, Yorkshire
The green energy system at Gibson Mill, Hardcastle Crags | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Future plans

Long-term plans for Gibson Mill include replacement of the solar photovoltaic panels on the mill’s roof to increase capacity and refurbishment of the Francis turbine to ensure reliable renewable energy for years to come. By harnessing the power of nature and being careful with our energy use, we can keep Hardcastle Crags special forever.

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How Gibson Mill harnesses energy

The mill’s roof-mounted solar panels and water turbines, which generate energy using the river, provide almost all the power for the mill and the café.

A boiler that uses sustainably-sourced logs from the surrounding woodland heats spring water for the café. The quality is monitored and provides water for drinking, washing up and the toilets, with the help of a simple filtering system.

Resident tiger worms are used to compost waste from the toilets. These are dry composting lavatories, which treat human waste so that it can be recycled as fertiliser for use on site.

Between them, these systems allow us to operate without a connection to the outside world for energy or water.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

A wide view of the Hardcastle Crags landscape showing wooded valleys, hills and fields


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