report to HRMG and to the BMC’s Land Management Group
Stone Farm Rocks – Position Statement as at August 2005
The purpose of this paper is to describe the current position on the various issues relating to Stone Farm Rocks, and to draw attention to outstanding problems and decisions that needs to be made.
Ownership The Rocks were sold by the Forestry Commission, who held the Rocks for the Gravetye Estate, to the British Mountaineering Council (Note: not to the BMC Land Company, who owns other BMC cliffs) on 29.11.01 for £100. The boundaries of the land were intended to be coterminous with the SSSI. Management of the Rocks was added to the remit of HRMG.
Management Plan This was drawn up by Graham West and the final version was issued in early 2004.
Bolts 23 pairs of bolts were put in above approx 95% of the climbs by the BMC in October 1995 in accordance with the manufacturer’s (DMM) instructions. Visual inspections are made of all bolts every two or three years (HRMG were advised by Clare Bond that the BMC’s insurance requirement was every three years). The last two inspections were done by Tim Skinner and Bob Moulton in 2001 and 2003. Advice is currently awaited from the BMC as to the locally perceived wisdom that Wealden Sandstone is too soft to allow for the bolts to be tested in situ.
Resin Work Stone Farm has been included in the Mike Vetterlein’s programme of resin work to reseal the surface of worn holds since the mid-90s and annual inspections are made and maintenance is carried out (although in some years this has been curtailed by bad weather). This has been very successful in stopping further wear on the rock, although much damage (particularly to sloping footholds) had already been done, and is of course irreversible.
Ground Erosion and Woodland Management Work. Some ground erosion work (inc. putting in revetments, which can still be seen today) was carried out by persons unknown probably in the 1970s/80s. Likewise a limited amount of rope-groove cementing was done during that period (English Nature are unlikely to agree to any further cement work). In recent years the following phases of work have been undertaken:
Autumn 2000 – revetments/matting/infilling below the Control to Key Wall area and matting/infilling below the Inaccessible Boulder area.
Winter 2001/02 – revetments below Cat Wall, further work to the central area, and work at the top of the crag, following resetting of the bridleway at the top of the crag back to its original line so that traffic wasn’t coming too close to the top of the cliff. The work to the top of the cliff included the trial laying matting and earth (imported from Blacklands Farm) on the bare tree roots above the Remote area (the Cornish pasty method).
Winter 2002/03 – following the success of the Cornish pasty method, this was repeated above the Illusion area. (Note: revegetation has been less successful and further work is required here. The attempts to plant a new hedge along the edge of the two Cornish pasties has also only had very limited success).
March 2005 – tree-felling at the western end of the crag. This was part of a large plan (for which English Nature Consent has been obtained), which included planting of appropriate species of trees below the main part of the crag and which is still outstanding (although EN consent may be needed again for this).
Fencing The covenants attached to the transfer of the land require that: The south boundary fence be maintained in good condition. A post and two wire fence be put in to mark the west boundary. The eastern part of the south boundary fence is formed by Victorian iron fencing, which has broken down below the Inaccessible Boulder area, where it forms an unsightly foreground to the view over Weir Wood Reservoir. John Galloway formulated a plan to replace just this short broken section with post-and rail fencing but was unable to follow this through due to ill health. Recently Tony Boud from the East Grinstead Mountaineering Club has taken up this project (which also included replacing the broken style in the fence below the main section of the crag) and he has made some progress, in particular by contacting the neighbouring landowner (who has asked that we put in stock fencing all along the boundary). Unfortunately, Tony is about to take up a new job in Germany, but he is passing on full details of the work that he has been able to do before his departure. In the light of a) above, in July 2005 I made a quick inspection of those parts of the south boundary fence that were not covered by intense vegetation. Most of the remaining section of the fence is post and two strands of barbed wire. It is in a pretty poor state of repair and there are at least two sections where it has broken down (to the west of the hedge that abuts the boundary just west of the style). Much of the fence is covered by dense vegetation (predominately bramble), which would need to be cleared for a complete inspection to be made and for the fence to be replaced. The fence to the east of the Inaccessible Boulder is Victorian iron fencing, which appears through the copious vegetation to be in relatively good condition. We are therefore faced with a decision as to whether to leave the fence as it is, make limited repairs to the fence, or to replace it entirely. An early attempt by John Galloway and I to mark out the west boundary failed when we realised that we had neither the skills not the equipment to do the job on what is very undulating terrain. At the Sandstone Volunteers Meeting in October 2004, Neil Atkinson offered to take on this job using GPS (or if that’s not accurate enough, traditional methods), and he hopes to do this in autumn 2005. Once the boundary has been clearly marked, we will be faced by a decision as to whether or not to put in the fence as described in b) above. Quite apart from the cost involved is the fact that, in our view, such a fence would be an unwelcome intrusion into what is an unspoilt wooded slope, and therefore we propose that this requirement be honoured in the breech until such time as the (new?) landowner of the adjacent land requires it. Signage Plans have been in hand for some time to replace the BMC sign at the entrance to the Rocks (see below), and a design has been drawn up – although this may be subject to some amendment. We have been awaiting English Nature’s comments on the SSSI wording on the sign for some months, and these were promised to me again in July. We are also waiting for the BMC’s advice as to how the BMC’s Participation Statement (whose wording is itself under review arising from the BMC’s future policy review) and/or a ‘description of the self evident hazards’ could be incorporated into the sign. We are also thinking in terms of putting up a second sign by the stile below the Rocks.
Car-Parking and associated problems. The largest car-park for the Rocks, some 100 metres to the north of the Rocks has been closed by its owner for over a year because of fly-tipping. It is understood that this car-park was opened as part of an agreement with the local council when planning permission for his mountain biking operation was granted, but there are no indications that he is likely to reopen the car-park soon. In the meantime, users of the Rocks have to make do as they can with the limited car-parking opposite to the entrance to the Rocks and on the road alongside Weir Wood Reservoir.
Other Issues Barbeques etc. The Rocks have always been a popular place for evening/night informal parties, and the remains of fires and beer cans are often found at the Rocks. Usually the fires do little damage to the rock face, although recent damage done to the rocks above Undercut Wall was a cause for some concern.
Graffiti As with many of the Sandstone Outcrops, graffiti is a continuing problem. Previously we have thought that there is little that we could do about this as the culprits would pay little attention to signs (and it is already referred to on the sign at the entrance to the Rocks, itself now defaced by graffiti – see above). However, a sandstone-wide initiative is now in hand to put up A4 anti-graffiti signs at graffiti black spots.
Bouldering Not a problem as such but in certain areas, the intensive use by Boulderers is causing undue wear on the Rocks. A4 signs with the ‘Ten Sandstone Bouldering Commandments‘ have been prepared for Harrison’s, and we intend to put one of these up at Stone Farm.
Funding There is no budget for Stone Farm. The purchase of the Rocks and the various ground erosion and other works have been funded variously by: the BMC, the Access & Conservation Trust (ACT), The Climbers’ Club Colin Kirkus Guidebook Fund (the Kirkus Fund), English Nature and Mid Sussex District Council. It is envisaged that applications to fund the work currently being planned will be made the ACT and/or the Kirkus Fund. However, given the experience gained to date and the nature of the expenditure, it may be that the BMC should consider setting up a small budget for the Rocks.
Conclusion Generally the Rocks are in pretty good condition taking into account their usage and the fragile environment, and have benefited from BMC ownership. However, there are a number of outstanding issues raised in this paper that need to be addressed.
Bob Moulton – 30 July 2005