How Easily can Undesignated Use Land be Converted to Nature Reserve?
I had a conversation the other day with a person living next to a parcel of partly wooded land with a public footpath going through it. The land, he said, is owned by his local council and is classified as not having a designated use. He asked if I knew what is involved in getting the wood classified as a nature reserve. I didn’t have a complete answer, but I suggested, if he is serious, that he should carry out a fauna and flora survey and approach his council with a costed management plan. By the time our conversation had ended, we had discussed managing a nature reserve, his interest in the project had waned. He liked the idea of proposing the project, but had not realised the full extent of the work involved, nor the demands it would make on his free time.
Undesignated use land has not been allocated a specific function, and there is a lot of it around; some owned by local and central government organisations and others privately. The reasons land might be classified for undesignated use are varied, but it might be due to its shape, location, or perhaps it’s sandwiched between other plots, or it acts as a barrier/buffet between industrial and residential areas as is the case with Hoo Wood.
Often undesignated use land degrades through insufficient interest and management input and, at some point, unscrupulous people will view it as a rubbish dump and perhaps a source of free wood for their domestic wood burners. It’s unfortunate, but rubbish attracts rubbish.
A nature reserve is a tract of land managed to preserve its flora, fauna, and sometimes physical features.
Hoo Wood is a strip of undesignated use land situated on the west bank of Stour Hill. It runs roughly north to south along the northern end of Wilden Lane, between Hoo Farm Industrial Estate and the Bovis residential estate. I believe that ownership of this land is split between Wyre Forest District Council and Roxel Limited, and that its undesignated status has existed for almost 40 years.
The wood is predominantly oak, with silver birch being the next most abundant tree species. A few sycamore, beech, elder, holy, ivy, willow, larch, hawthorn and hazel also exist on this site.
Although not comprehensive, here are some of the other common flora growing in the wood: gorse, broom, flowering currant, bugle, hawkweed, comfrey, honeysuckle, oxeye and camomile, red and white campion, columbine, foxglove, hellebore, vetch, periwinkle, mint, celandine, honesty, borage, yellow archangel, ladies bedstraw, stitchwort, bell flowers, willow-herb, purple loosestrife, scarlet pimpernel, forget-me-not, wood avens, cranesbill, St. John’s wort, ragwort, herb Robert, and carpets of bluebells.
My conversation the other day set me thinking about whether it is possible to get the Hoo Wood area designated a nature reserve, and the extent of the process complexity. I have photographed its fauna and flora for the last six years, and roamed it for more than sixteen years. At the southern end is Dark Wood, a marshy area populated with mature silver birch; its east end is bordered by Roxel Limited and its north edge by Hoo Farm Industrial Estate. There are areas within the wood that remain wet throughout the year.
At the far southern end of Hoo Wood (designated Wilden Foreign) is Fox Hollow: a depression populated by oaks, and falling west towards Wilden Lane and the Lagoon Field.
I believe the area deserves nature reserve status because of its proximity to Wilden Marsh and the wide range of fauna and flora it supports. The wood is home to a herd of muntjac deer, hedgehogs, badgers, a fox, polecats, ferrets, weasels, stoats, a wide variety of moths and butterflies, wasps, bees and hornets, speckled bush-crickets, scorpion flies and other flies of various types. It is also a nesting area for buzzards, various owls, bats; great spotted, green and occasional lesser spotted woodpeckers, and a wide variety of smaller birds. The woods have an abundance of standing deadwood, which makes it particularly attractive to woodpeckers, bees, hornets, beetles, grubs, and invertebrates. There is also a growing population of tree climbing slugs, and shield bugs.
The wood works well in support of the Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve and the Lagoon Field a matter of ten metres away across Wilden Lane, as well as serving as a refuge when the marsh conditions are unfavourable for some of the marsh animals; for instance, the marsh badgers move to setts on the hills along Wilden Lane during the summer and autumn months.
I intend to propose the designation of Hoo Wood as a nature reserve, managed by me and local volunteers. Methods of funding might need investigation, but I don’t foresee costs being much beyond the acquisition of basic hand tools, some signage and bird and bat boxes. If Worcestershire Wildlife Trust is interested in managing this wood, I could use the hand tools I have already.
Apart from pathway clearance, removal of Himalayan balsam and general non-organic and synthetic and semi-synthetic rubbish, and the requirements of general site safety, I think a policy of minimum intervention might be appropriate.
There are a few 50 gallon high density polyethylene barrels already on-site that can be positioned and used as rubbish bins.
There is fencing deterioration along part of the Wilden Lane boundary, but this can addressed.
Planning permission is being sought for the building of a small luxury housing estate on the Lagoon Field, so there is the possibility that part of Hoo Wood is being held for residential expansion.