A much loved walking and cycling route, whose popularity has soared during the lockdown, could be managed by Staffordshire Wildlife Trust in future, the Chronicle can exlusively reveal.
Biddulph Valley Way is currently under the management of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council in a lease arrangement with the county council.
But talks are ongoing with a view to handing a long lease to the wildlife trust, a plan that has been welcomed by a member of the Friends of Biddulph Valley Way.
Independent Coun Andrew Hart, who represents Biddulph North on the district council, said: “I think the move is probably very good because the wildlife trust is used to doing this type of thing elsewhere in the county.
“The trust will also be taking on country parks in the likes of Leek and Cheadle.
“It has already taken on The Roaches estate from the Peak District National Park and has a past record of looking after country visitor attractions.”
Coun Hart reckoned the number of walkers and cyclists using the 4.5-mile long Biddulph Valley Way, a former railway line, increased by between 200-300% after the first lockdown last year.
He said that giving a lease on the popular route to the wildlife trust would be a benefit from the point of view of climate change and biodiversity on Biddulph Valley Way.
“It’s identified in Biddulph Neighbourhood Plan as a wildlife corridor, which works in quite well with having Staffordshire Wildlife Trust looking after it. “The trust has a very good past history in looking after popular areas like that. The Biddulph Valley Way is so important to local people,” added Coun Hart.
He explained that over the years sections of the former rail line have been owned by various organisations including the county council, British Coal and Railtrack.
“The wildlife trust is also a very safe pair of hands and I think there will be a lot more of this type of asset being handed to the voluntary trust sector. It’s the way to go,” Coun Hart said.
He explained that Biddulph Town Council was taking over the lease of the visitor centre in Biddulph Grange Country Park but Staffordshire Wildlife Trust will be having a long lease on the country park and Biddulph Valley Way.
Coun Hart added that the plans had been held up by an issue in relation to Wetley Moor Common, an open public access area of common land and lowland heathland in Werrington.
The common is jointly owned by Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Staffordshire Moorlands District Council.
Coun Hart said the city council had not been able to make a decision at top level about the common’s future management.
When asked about the future plans for Biddulph Valley Way this week, a spokesperson for Staffordshire Wildlife Trust said: “We are in discussion with Staffordshire Moorlands District Council to take on the management of their countryside estate, but those discussions have not completed yet.”
Originally a branch of the North Staffordshire Railway or Knotty, Biddulph Valley Way has a mixture of embankments, cuttings, small copses, hedgerows and ditches.
As more people used it during the lockdown, Coun Hart said there were some “clashes” between walkers and cyclists when some users were not being courteous to others and signs were put up saying “Please take into consideration other users”.