Is History Important?
It’s another blisteringly hot sunny morning on the path to La Boite 67 bar at the port of Paphos. The only insects I’ve seen on this route all week are a lot dragonflies and a few bee-like flying creatures. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a macro lens on holiday with me, so I used my nifty-fifty lens again to photograph the Cypriot Dragonflies.
Yesterday I saw a man struggling past the port bars with a large live pelican in his arms; it had been swimming happily in the sea alongside a small pier earlier. The poor man was being hassled by people wanting to take selfies with the bird.
There was a dead pelican on the shoreline, a couple of hundred metres from the port this morning that prompted the title of this post. I rely on local historical knowledge as a tool to help answer some conservation-based questions and to solve certain marsh related problems. I don’t have any knowledge of Paphos local history that might help me answer questions relating to demise of this poor pelican, with its head submerged in a rock pool. I suspect its death is pollution related judging by the amount of varied plastic waste littering the foreshore. Obviously, the titled question is rhetorical because I know that Wilden Marsh and its history go back a long way and that history and local historic events are crucial to the management of nature reserves, but here in Paphos, Wilden Marsh knowledge doesn’t help me at all. I will try to explain:
Wilden Marsh history is one surrounded by industrial turmoil, in the main; the inability of often longstanding local manufacturing organisations to survive the onslaught of competition from modern processes and technologies offering greater efficiency and cheaper prices, and their failure to adapt to changing market conditions and trends, has led to their eventual downfall in many cases; of course, this process is still happening and will always be a matter of concern for those loosing their livelihoods as a result. Industrialisation of Wilden Village began in the very early 1500s with the building of a water powered fulling mill on the River Stour, the mill went through various transformations: first to a forge in the 1600s, a finery forge in 1669, the Wilden Iron and Tinplate Works in 1840, which continued under the ownership of the Baldwin family until its closure in 1958, and now it’s the Wilden Industrial Estate.
Wilden Industrial Estate is at the southern end of Wilden Marsh. At the northern end in the 1800s was the Falling Sands Iron Works and Rolling Mill, now the site of a sewage pumping station. A factory producing sugar from pulped beet was built in 1925 on the northwest bank of the marsh. It pumped its waste water to settling lagoons alongside Wilden Lane; it is now a modern combined residential and industrial estate. The Worcester and Staffordshire Canal system, opened in 1771, runs north to south though Wilden Marsh; its use changed from commercial to leisure when the coal-fired power station at Stourport on Severn, constructed in 1940, closed in 1984. There are many other similar stories about local industries whose fortunes rose and fell around the marsh boundaries. So I think that knowing where you’ve come from is important when assessing where you are planing to get to; although not essential, there are some obvious benefits where conservation is concerned.
The Lower Stour Valley area, which includes Wilden Marsh and Meadows, has been traditionally used for grazing. The wettest areas were generally left unmanaged by previous owners, although there has been a limited amount of coppicing and pollarding carried out here. Old maps show areas split by multiple ownerships, with some parts being used to grow withies for basket making. Wilden Marsh and Meadows, specifically along Hoo Brook from Wilden Lane and south along the River Stour, was designated a Site of a Special Scientific Interest in 1971. With the aid of grants from the World Wildlife Fund and the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, Worcestershire Wildlife Trust purchased land here to be managed as a nature reserve. The River Stour was deepened and cleared by the Severn Trent Water Authority during late 1978-79 to satisfy the requirements of a flood alleviation project. The result of this ill-conceived project was the raising of the riverbank levels with river-bottom spoil deposited along them. The spoil contained iron slag, coal and other undesirable waste materials from centuries of heavy industrial activity that relied on the fast flowing waters of the River Stour for its power source and as a transport link. It is now too risky to remove the spoil for fear of the pollution and other environmental damage this might cause. Dredging of the River Stour, and the removal of an historic weir, dramatically reduced the river and the local water-table levels; the natural springs ceased to flow, and any rainwater pooling on the marsh seeped away causing declines in many of the scarcer helophytes. WWT now owns 13.9 hectares at the south end of the site. A further 23.6 hectares is owned by Allied British Food and managed by WWT.
Currently the reserve is managed for nature conservation. Rare breed cattle (Shetlands and belted Galloways) and local volunteers are used to control vegetation and scrub. Conservation contractors carry out large or more complex conservation projects. There are some non-intervention areas. The Wilden restoration project is investigating how to restore and manage water levels for the development of future management strategies.
So I guess by now readers have realised that I believe history, and local history in particular, to be an important asset when dealing with nature, cultural or industrial conservation issues.