Otley Chevin Green Park (Green Flag

Leeds City Council

Otley Chevin might not seem like the easiest place to get around. The Chevin Forest, which overlooks the Yorkshire town of Otley, is steeped with massive rock outcrops, rising 280m above sea level. Despite this, Leeds City Council has won a special Green Flag Award for accessibility for allowing almost anybody — regardless of their level of disability — to enjoy the site.

Not only has the council put in an excellent series of paths, last year it bought two rural pursuit vehicles (RPV). In effect, these are motorised four-wheel-drive wheelchair carriers, capable of reaching almost any part of the site.
Senior area manager Phil Staniforth explains: "We wanted to get severely disabled people up to the site and then into the forest itself." The accessibility project started in 2007. To ensure that the site is genuinely capable of dealing with disabled people, the council installed a special disabled changing area, with an overhead hoist and a changing bed for incontinent adults. Part of the money for this came from the local strategic health authority.

The commitment to disabled rights extends to the tea room, which had been closed for many years but which is now staffed by people with learning difficulties. There are even TV screens linked to bird boxes, so that people who can’t go into the forest (or who are waiting for an RPV) can enjoy the sight of nature in comfort.

The council is working on developing a heritage trail and producing an audio tour so that everyone — including those with visual impairment — can understand the history and scientific importance of the site, which includes two sites of Special Scientific Interest.

A great deal of work has been done on the Chevin, which has large areas of heathland and ancient woodland. To preserve the areas of heathland, there are regular bracken-beating days when horses drag rollers over the bracken to keep it down.

Where possible, traditional techniques are used. The orchard, for example, is grazed by rare-breed sheep to keep down the vegetation under the trees.

Most of the activities on the site are aimed at giving people a better appreciation of nature. A local sculptor regularly carves tree trunks with a chainsaw. A pond-dipping platform has been built over a small pond in an old quarry. School parties can go pond dipping — dropping nets into the ponds and examining the small fish, insects and other pond life.

The friends group runs a Wildlife Watch group, keeping records of the rich variety of wildlife in the park. And groups of volunteers are kept busy with building and repairing dry-stone walls by traditional methods.

Through these efforts, a rare area of ancient woodland has been preserved while being opened to the public. "This is full-on countryside," says Staniforth. "But we’ve made the inaccessible accessible. It’s a wonderful resource that we want as many people as possible to enjoy."

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