LAGOON FIELD MUSINGS, AND WILDEN INDUSTRIAL HERITAGE

WILDEN MARSH NATURE RESERVE

I lean against a North Corridor gate gazing out at a 30-acre Lagoon Field. I’m musing on marsh development potential, amongst other things. The physical ground management work of the marsh has ended for the duration of the nesting and growing season, and I’m daydreaming of how things might have been in different circumstances. A smaller field, directly north of Marsh Farm, is also interesting. These fields nestle comfortably between the reserve’s boundary stock fencing and the busy Wilden Lane. They are not part of the nature reserve and are not owned or managed by Worcester Wildlife Trust, but they are lying fallow in designated green belt land. Their influence on Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve and SSSI is significant. These fields might benefit from conservation grazing. Even as things stand now, they are certainly good breeding grounds for invertebrates, birds, and small mammals and provide habitat and sanctuary for many animals using the marsh. I think invertebrate productivity and ground conditions can be improved in these fields; however, taking advantage of new marsh potential is rarely straightforward: it might just be a matter of new stock fencing and a few gates that make a grazing project viable, but there can be many influences likely to impede progress including joint agreements and the small matter of who will pay the costs. The payoff is less tangible: improved health and vitality of this flagship nature reserve is the aim. Difficulties can include initial setup and ongoing management costs, but grants and other incentives may be available.

DRONE FOOTAGE OF THE LAGOON FIELD 14/05/2022

Central Government announced that nature is now “on its agenda”, particularly in relation to removal of carbon from the atmosphere to help hit net zero by 2050. I read that the Government says it will deliver on the new 2021 Environment Act, and new targets announce ambitious plans for nature recovery. And in November last year I saw this: World-leading Environment Act becomes law. How these things will affect the future development of Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve and it’s surrounding ecology, I have yet to determine.

Interestingly, Covid lockdowns have shown that nature reserves, parks and other green spaces play a key role in helping maintain people’s sense of wellbeing: For example, visits to and time spent in parks in Cornwall increased by 4% between the start of the year 2020 and lockdown, but then went on to rise by 280% between the beginning of 2020 and September, with similar patterns in Devon, Norfolk and East Yorkshire. High Peak and Ribble Valley are notable as two rural areas that saw high mobility during lockdowns. I suggest the increase in people’s interest in the countryside and their motivation for walk in it was more to do with having a great deal of time on their hands and precious few other legal options in which to spend it; although, I have no doubt people were very glad to have open green spaces available to access during lockdown. The fact that foreign holidays were not possible also encouraged people to head for the UK countryside.

I am eager to learn how these new ambitious nature plans, rules and regulations will affect Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve and the 30 acres of Wilden Marsh and Meadows Lagoon Field. The Lagoon Field, initially owned by British Sugar Plc; is now an Associated British Foods plc asset. Will the Lagoon Field become a better managed local nature asset is what I want to know?

The images below show the Lagoon Field in the years 2000 (lefthand image) and 2022 (righthand image):

The settling lagoons attracted all manner of water loving birds pre the year 2000. It is now a minimally managed site and home to a much smaller number and variety of wading birds, according to Wilden Marsh Bird Report of 1991/92, compiled by I Machin and S Micklewright. How I wish I was looking out at the Lagoon Field this eveing, in the condition it was in 20 years ago To my knowledge, the Lagoon Field owners have not recieved planning permission for residential and or industrial development of the site, so what is the 30 acres of wetland worth without planning permission: not a lot I imagine.

Today, the largest lagoon in this field has degraded to a tightly packed flooded wood that provides sanctuary to a much-reduced number of birds, such as ducks, redshank, water rail, snipe, woodcock and the occasional curlew, and is a frequent haunt of animals predating them. Otters, too, are attracted to the Lagoon Field and its many pools and flooded places. I dare say there are a few great crested newts there too. Also, I have seen badgers, foxes, stoats, weasels, polecats and ferrets here. The smaller lagoons were filled-in when the sugar processing factory closed in 2004. The ground is still very wet, boggy and covered in willow, birch and alder trees and scrub, yet it has much potential for nature development. What a waste of a potentially excellent urban wetland resource if this field is developed sometime in the future for industrial and or residential use. The Lagoon Field and Wilden Covert are breeding grounds for insects carried down the steep sides of the Lower Stour Valley to the valley floor by breezes escaping from the flatlands high above. The strength of these insect trapping air movements helps bolster the lower links of the marsh food chain and are essential to the health and vitality of fauna and flora living, breeding, and growing on Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest. I think it is a mistake to undermine the stability of a marsh food chain that is so important to the continued success of this urban reserve. 

Marshes need lots of water, and we are fortunate to have the River Stour, Hoo Brook, and the Worcester and Staffordshire Canal system flowing through and past the Reserve, as well as multiple springs bubbling up when the water table is high enough. Despite the availability of these water sources, it was still necessary to install two rock weirs in the River Stour in 2010 to raise its water levels sufficiently to help prevent this flagship reserve from drying out. Excessive water extraction from our local aquifers is responsible for lowering the marsh water table. So we fight to make headway on Wilden Marsh, and I fear we might lose the battle if robbed of our natural resources.

The images below, taken by Mike Averill more than twenty years ago, show views of the Lagoon Field when it was operating as part of British Sugar’s manufacturing process.

If the Lagoon Field were to become part of Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve, an increase in the marsh herd of Shetland and Belted Galloway rare breed cattle will be necessary for successful ground management. Also, the flooded wood growing in the large lagoon could be reduced in area to provide an improved species-rich open and part wooded wetland habitat.

Presumably, the Lagoon Field and Wilden Covert were designated Green Belt Land“, because those in authority considered them essential, or at least beneficial to the health and wellbeing of the local communityIt seems to me that an edict from Central Government, ordering the selection and allocation of additional land for the building of new houses and industrial estates, has the potential to change the minds of those charged with making local decisions and promoting local nature on our behalf, or at least it can cause them to revert to a default state of flux.

Presumably, the Lagoon Field and Wilden Covert were designated Green Belt Land“, because those in authority considered them essential, or at least beneficial to the health and wellbeing of the local communityIt seems to me that an edict from Central Government, ordering the selection and allocation of additional land for the building of new houses and industrial estates, has the potential to change the minds of those charged with making local decisions and promoting local nature on our behalf, or at least it can cause them to revert to a default state of flux.

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MAP OF WILDEN MARSH NATURE RESERVE AND SITE OF SPECIAL SCIENTIFIC INTEREST

The video below shows the marsh conservation herd grazing the South Riverside Pasture reed bed. Currently, the herd consists of sixteen Shetland and two Belted Galloway cattle. They work for eight months, September to the end of April, preparing the marsh ground for the new growing season, and holiday for 4 months on the north marsh, from May until the end of August. The herd might be called upon during their holiday to graze Himalayan Balsam, a favoured food, during August.

Wilden Marsh Conservation Grazing Herd

The importance and true value of the Lower Stour Valley are in the wet nature of the various parts of its wildlife corridor and should be appreciated as such for its vibrant fauna and flora.

I don’t want the wildlife to move on somewhere else! How many times do we hear people comment on the loss of species in urban settings? Wildlife too can vote with its feet. Is wildlife prejudice on the increase in towns and cities? Do people feel that towns and cities are for people and their domesticated two and four-legged and slithering friends only and that all others should be banished to the countryside, zoos and country parks? Songbirds would have to stay, of course, there would be a general outcry if the morning chorus were to be banished, but there are people who would like to see even this melodious wake-up call outlawed. People with such views do exist – I’ve met some of them. People are fully entitled to their views and they should air them without fear or prejudice.

SHOWING GREEN BELT LAND SURROUNDING WILDEN MARSH

1945, 1999, 2007 aerial images of Wilden Marsh, the Lagoon Field, and Wilden Covert below:

(Wilden Covert is outlined with a red boundary line in the third row left image. The second image down from the right shows Hoo Wood Ridge, Wilden Covert and Dark Wood combined forming insect feeders to the valley floor. The bottom image show Wilden Nature Reserve and its various compartments)

Of course, Wyre Forest District Council has a statutory duty to promote, enhance and protect nature reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest, but the Lagoon Field is neither of these, but it is designated green belt land. Ecological features are protected under various United Kingdom and European legislative instruments. These are described below. European legislation is not included as it is incorporated in UK legislation by domestic provisions.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000      

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 primarily extends to England and Wales. It provides a new statutory right of access to the countryside and modernises the rights of way system, bringing into force stronger protection for both wildlife and countryside.

The Act is divided into five distinct sections, Part III is of relevance to ecology

Part III – Nature Conservation and Wildlife Protection: The Act details a number of measures to promote and enhance wildlife conservation. These measures include improving protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and increasing penalties for deliberate damage to SSSIs. Furthermore, the Act affords statutory protection to Ramsar Sites which are wetlands designated under the International Convention on Wetlands.

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as Amended in Quinquennial Review and by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 forms the basis of much of the statutory wildlife protection in the UK. Part I deals with the protection of plants, birds and other animals and Part II deals with the designation of SSSIs.

This Act covers the following broad areas:

Wildlife – listing endangered or rare species in need of protection and creating offences for killing, disturbing or injuring such species. Additionally, the disturbance of any nesting bird during breeding season is also noted as an offence

Nature Conservation – protecting those Sites which are National Nature Reserves (NNR) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest;

Public Rights of Way – placing a duty on the local authority (normally the County Council) to maintain a definitive map of footpaths and rights of way. It also requires that landowners ensure that footpaths and rights of way are continually accessible; and Miscellaneous General Provisions.

The Act also makes it an offence to cause to grow in the wild certain plant species. The Act is enforced by Local Authorities.

The Conservation of Habitats and Species (Amendment) Regulations 2012

The Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC ) came into force in 1992 and provides for the creation of a network of protected wildlife areas across the European Union, known as ‘Natura 2000’. The Natura 2000 network consists of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) designated under the Habitats Directive and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) designated under the Birds Directive (Council Directive 2009/147/EC) .

The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 commonly known as ‘The Habitats Regulations’ transpose the Habitats Directive into national law and set out the provisions for the protection and management of species and habitats of European importance, including Natura 2000 sites.

The Conservation of Habitats and Species (Amendment) Regulations 2012 came into force in August 2012. Article 2 of the Wild Birds Directive requires Member States to take requisite measures to maintain wild bird populations at a level which corresponds in particular to ecological, scientific and cultural requirements, while taking account of economic and recreational requirements, or to adapt the population of these species to that level. Articles 3 and 4(4) (second sentence) of the Directive are designed to ensure Member States preserve, maintain or re-establish a sufficient diversity and area of habitats for wild birds and to ensure that outside those areas which are specifically designated as important bird habitats, efforts are taken to avoid pollution or deterioration of habitats.

NATURE AND INDUSTRIAL HISTORY: Wilden Marsh and the Lower Stour Valley are known for their nature and Industrial Heritage, the latter dating back to the year 1500.

FALLING SANDS ROLLING MILL AND WILDEN IRON AND TINPLATE WORKS were situated on the confluence of Hoo Brook with the River Stour, at the north end of Wilden Marsh and Meadows, and Wilden Iron and Tinplate Works at the far south of the Reserve at Wilden Village. A sewage pumping station now stands on the rolling mill site. The rolling mill was powered by two full-width water wheels. Click the link to read more.

STOURPORT BASIN was an important inland narrowboat port, completed in 1768, is the start of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal system. Click the link to read more.

FALLING SANDS LOCK COTTAGE: In David Godson’s reminiscences of his childhood years living in Falling Sands lock cottage, during the 1940s, he describes an isolated and self-sufficient life along the canal bank with no running water or electricity. He mentions the ‘Big Freeze’ of 1947 when the ice on the canal was a foot thick and pigeons froze to tree branches.

PRATT’S WHARF facilitated the loading of horse-drawn riverboats conveying raw materials and finished products to the Falling Sands historic rolling mill and Wilden Iron and Tinplate Works. Click the link to read more.

GAGGLING

It was warm out on the marsh today, with dozens of gaggling Canada geese honking their displeasure at seeing me. I videoed these in the River Stour and South Pool. Herons waded in the marsh ponds, pools and the river shallows, hunting for tasty titbits for their hungry chicks, I expect. Woodpeckers drummed on deadwood, and clouds of gnats, flies, and mosquitoes were a nuisance for me and the cattle.