Intruders leave a permanent blot on the landscape

In the second part of our series on national parks, Stephen Goodwin reports on an unwelcome presence
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The Independent Online
Tanks on the clifftops of Pembrokeshire, soldiers shooting their way across Dartmoor, big guns and rockets pounding the moors of Northumberland. Successive public inquiries have concluded that military training is "discordant, incongruous and inconsistent with National Park purposes".

And the same could be said of quarrying. Whole mountain sides are being removed in the Yorkshire Dales and in the Peak District to provide aggregate for roads.

But there are fears that both the military use and the quarrying seem to be increasingly tolerated. From Rushup Edge in the Peak, the 300ft tiered cliff of Eldon Hill Quarry dominates the southern skyline. Slicing into the highest limestone in the park, it is acknowledged as "the best known eyesore in the Peak", but in one sense it is a success story.

Eldon Hill will close in 1997. An application by North West Aggregates, a subsidiary of RMC Roadstone, to extend the working life of the quarry to 2004 was refused last September. The company said it wanted time to complete a landscape restoration scheme - it just happened that it would take out another 5 million tonnes of stone along the way. But the Peak District authority was able to say no, partly because the closure date had been fixed after a public inquiry in 1987.

This year, when Tilcon proposed extending and deepening Swinden Quarry in Wharfedale, in the Yorkshire Dales, the company got the go-ahead on the casting vote of the park chairman.

Swinden is already the busiest quarry in the Dales and the plan is to extract 2 million tonnes of stone a year until the year 2020.

"That sent a signal to the industry that the Secretary of State isn't going to worry," said Amanda Nobbs, director of the Council for National Parks. Pleading poverty, the Countryside Commission has dropped out of the fight against quarrying bids.

The quarrymen have seized the moment and are pressing for extensions in the North York Moors and Northumberland parks. Nor is the renewed activity confined to limestone. Concern over the loss of jobs has persuaded park authorities to approve more slate quarrying in Snowdonia and the Lake District.

Only five quarries produce the distinctive green Lakeland slate, but the rates and methods of extraction are anything but traditional.

Petts Quarry, above Ambleside, employs about 50 people. Slate is to be quarried from another two acres of hillside. Ninety per cent of the rock will be waste, and the scars will be visible from the shores of Windermere.

Dartmoor has double trouble. Waste from china clay workings may soon be dumped on Shaugh Moor, in the south-west of the park. And the Army continues to operate across a third of Dartmoor. Even when red flags are not flying, the words "Danger Area" on the Ordnance Survey map deter the nervous.

The Prince of Wales's green credentials were dented four years ago when the Duchy of Cornwall renewed the Army's licence to carry on firing artillery and mortars on 20,000 acres of its estate. "We were appalled when the Duchy signed away all this land for another 21 years," said Kate Ashbrook, president of the Dartmoor Preservation Association. "It was an opportunity for the Prince to do something for Dartmoor. He could have said 'Three more years to make new arrangements and then you're out'." Instead, for most of the year, it is the public who are "out". Despite repeated criticism by official inquiries, the military has not noticeably scaled down its manoeuvres in the parks.

Indeed, the opposite may happen: the Government has said the withdrawal of forces from Germany may involve "more intensive use" of existing training areas.