Mere vandalism

I was alerted several days ago to a new and somewhat controversial local planning application by Chaz Mason and his excellent Clayhanger Marsh Log. For those of you who aren’t aware, Chaz blogs once or twice every week on the birds and other wildlife he sees in his regular haunt of Clayhanger Marsh, The Swag and Ryders Mere. This keen and hugely knowledgeable birder cares for this area of open, post industrial land with a real passion and it was his post on the 22nd December 2010 that first alerted me to what could be a very damaging development in the history of this valuable open space.

Chaz posted the following on 22nd December 2010:

Planning Application

Just a quick note to tell everyone, I have received some second-hand information that a planning application has been made for leisure developments a Ryders Mere (it was a matter of time I suppose). At present I don’t have specifics but I understand it involves fishing rights, formal car parking etc.

I was aware that fisherman had been deliberately introducing some fish but believe that most of them are accounted for by the Cormorants and wintering Goosander.

I will be getting in touch with Kev Clements to find out what he can tell me and will keep you all posted.

No sign of the Mandarin yesterday apparently.


He then posted again, later the same day:

Hi Folks, I have received some information from one of my sources (Many thanks for that) and can now give more detail about the Planning Proposal.

It is for a change of Land Usage to include formal Fishing and Leisure Facilities including provision of Car Parking and (Outline) residential smallholding.

The implications of this type of development on the more sensitive species in the area are obvious and I have registered a formal Objection on the Walsall Council Planning Services Home Page.

If you value the environmental integrity of the site and wish to do the same then you must do so by January 5th, the application number is 10/1566/FL

Thanks in advance for your support – Chaz

I have since looked into this and the application is now live on Walsall Council’s ‘Planning Interactive’ website. A sketchy, less than illustrative map of the intended site plan is included below.

Click on the image to see a readable version. Image taken from Walsall's 'Planning Interactive' service.

There are few planning documents submitted alongside this application – the above plot, a location plan, application forms and a somewhat revealing ‘Supporting Statement‘. The history of Ryders Mere is short – the man-made lake was created in the late 1990’s after the reclamation of an opencast coal mine, but since its completion it has become a little-disturbed haven for many species of birds, as well as other flora and fauna. Fishing there, and the litter, disturbance and pollution caused by anglers and their ground bait would be a disaster for this gem of the local post-industrial landscape. The supporting statement contains much about the site and it’s situation to justify the commercial exploitation; most of these assertions don’t remotely stack up to me, but I’ll let you readers be the judge of that. It’s worth noting that the application appears to be from the site owners, Parkhill Estates Limited (who oddly,  appear to have have no web presence) who held the site during coal extraction operations.

The final assertion in the Supporting Statement is particularly worrying:

‘The development could only enhance the restoration scheme for the overall site and its chances of long-term success.’

Few would dispute that the Mere is successful as it stands – as Chaz documents weekly, rare species, both resident and transitory, can be found there existing in peace with little disturbance. Quite how any presence of commercial fishing can do anything other than destroy this vital green lung is beyond me.

People need to oppose this development if they value Ryders Mere and the SSSI that surrounds it. Unfortunately, in the current climate, I fear that the planners may be inclined to support it. If anglers and their commercial backers were allowed to desecrate this wildlife haven then it will be an environmental tragedy. I implore all who care for the wildlife of the area to oppose this plan by contacting their councilors, and also by making objections through the planning system.

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19 Responses to Mere vandalism

  1. Neil says:

    Hi Bob, interesting post about the proposed development. Your post rang a bell with an article in Wednesdays Express and Star: “Fishing Bid for Wildlife Haven”. I’ve looked on ES website and can’t find it. Tone of article is that development is to stop area being targetted by yobs. I’ll email you the article. Cheers, keep up the good work!

    • Thanks, Neil, I missed that one. I’ll pop the scan up later.

      The article is a rehash of the ‘Supporting document’ which seems to argue that the only way to stop the site disintegrating to Sodom and Gomorra is to turn it over to a commercial fishery. I would lay good money that, should they get permission, the ‘smallholding’ will never happen. It’s about cash for the site owners.

      There have been scrub fires all over the commons and heaths locally for years. It’s part of the natural cycle of grassland.

      Cheers for your contribution, and happy new year…


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  3. Ke says:

    I believe the following are details of Parkhill Estates Ltd., this is information which is readily available in the public domain from Companies House site.

    • Thanks for that.

      I’m fully aware hat company details are available online – if you click the link for Parkhill in the post I made, it links to a google search for the company that lists these details amongst them.

      I still find it a bit peculiar that a modern company such as that has no website or similar, which is what I meant.

      Best wishes


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  5. themushroom says:

    This is indeed a worrying proposal.
    Anyone who reads my blog is aware I’m not very cosy with Walsall council but one thing it does do right is its countryside services.
    Back in 2009 the borough’s leader speculated about selling off farm buildings wich made me suspicous about what would happen to the attached 330 acres of farm land itself.
    Is this the first step in selling off council owned green belt land?

  6. phil walters says:

    I grew up in Pelsall and spent many happy hours ‘over the back’ before the open cast. I agree that this is a very special area and is a haven for wildlife, for which I have a deep passion. I also have a pasion for angling and currently work within the ‘angling industry’.

    I would like to point out that the provision for car parking in the application provides for just 10 cars, so I suspect that the application may be for ‘specimen’ fishing, which will only allow a small number of specilised anglers to use the water at any one time.

    The vast majority of anglers put enormous value on their surroundings and most are also lifelong nature lovers, so comments like … ‘Fishing there, and the litter, disturbance and pollution caused by anglers and their ground bait would be a disaster…’ are clearly misinformed and grossly inaccurate and based on little more than heresay and second-hand opinion rather typical of the non-angling public. No-one seems to complain about the disturbance and pollution caused by barges to the richly bio-diverse Wyrley and Essington Canal which has been frequented by anglers for well over a hundred years.

    The proposed development is clearly on a relatively small scale and the proposed management scheme can only help to maintain the bio-diversity of this site which was far richer, in my opinion, before the open cast went ahead.
    Lets get a bit of perspective here.

    • 10 cars is ten people fishing. That’s a lot of people using a formerly quiet pool. There just isn’t any need for this – just because there’s a stretch of water there, doesn’t mean it has to be exploited for angling, or indeed, any other commercial use. At the moment, it’s doing sterling service as a peaceful wildlife haven.
      The comments about disturbance, litter and pollution are not misinformed. Conversion for angling would destroy water-margin reeds and weed. The constant coming and going of people with rods would disturb sensitive and timid birds. Groundbait can and does affect the balance of flora and fauna in the water. As to litter, take a stroll up the canal (it was built for narrowboats, that’s why few except anglers grumble about them) and see some of the mess and detritus left behind by fishermen. I accept they’re a minority, but where you get people, you get rubbish. Some of the mess up at Marklew’s Pond recently was atrocious – beercans, discarded line, plastic bags.
      The proposed management scheme is sketchy, as I discussed in a subsequent post. I’d lay good money you’ll never see a smallholding there. The ecology of the area was vastly changed by the opencast, but as you’ll see from a glance at Chaz Mason’s blog, that change has opened the door to rare species not seen here previously. This is, without doubt, a special site, hence the SSSI status of the marsh around it.
      There are plenty of alternative fishing sites nearby – the Mere doesn’t have to be turned over to commercial angling in this way. I’m not anti-angling, just not at this site. This proposal is just a cynical attempt by the site owners to monetise otherwise commercially static land – just as they have apparently failed to do at Reedswood.
      Perspective is what I’m practising.

      Best wishes


  7. phil walters says:

    Don’t get me wrong here, I believe you are right to oppose the plans, but the presence of a fishery manager with the right knowledge and practical ability should prevent the somewhat exagerrated effects of 10 anglers on a huge lake like the mere. I am rather afraid that you may be taking the blinkered view of angling usually portrayed by the RSPB.
    How exactly do you think anglers damage bankside reeds and weeds (your general term for aquatic plants growing perfectly legitimately in their natural environment I presume?).
    Perhaps I am being a bit sensitive here as a lifelong angler, but believe me if I thought my hobby was having the sort of impact you suggest,I would give up tomorrow. You don’t seem too bothered by the presence of cormorants and gooseanders, despite the damage done by these stunning birds to fish stocks nationwide, both on commercial and non-commercial waters, or do fish not form part of a healthy environment?
    I have read Chaz’s blog and there are indeed some exciting species on his lists. I have seen some exciting ones myself in the past. However, I don’t think angling on the lake will affect life on the marsh at all. It’s SSSI status won’t allow that anyway. The fish farm and fishery I work on has a good variety of species of fauna and flora, despite the constant comings and goings of men with rods!
    To be honest, I think they will have a problem proving the ‘need’ for so few anglers.
    I will watch with interest what happens. My parents still live in the village, so when I visit them again, I am going to nip out and enjoy the site and hopefully spot some rarities.

    • Heh. Why do anglers always try to align any critical voice with the RSPB? I’m nothing to do with them, and think for myself.

      The water-margin reeds, weed and aquatic flora are usually removed to allow anglers access. One can see this at the canal side, where piles of dry, discarded weed are often left on the towpath. This is bad for birds who rely on such vegetation for seclusion and shelter.

      Your point about cormorants and goosanders is very telling. They’re part of the environment, and their relationship with the fish is that of predator and predated. It’s a symbiotic relationship that’s gone on for years, and will continue to do so. We can’t select the bits of the natural environment we favour – it’s all interdependent. You might as well hate on sparrow hawks for killing songbirds. They’re here and it’s what they do. Nature, red in tooth and claw. Where it falls to bits is where we disrupt the environment.

      I’m not, I repeat, anti angling. I’m sure you’re a responsible and caring fisherman. I just think that a development isn’t really needed at this site.

      All the best


  8. Chop says:

    I don’t see the harm in a well managed fishery and must admit I find the idea quite appealing, being a keen angler that will be moving into the area within the near future. I find BrownhillsBob’s comments quite offending. Not all anglers are litter dropping, nature killing rambo’s and in my experience enjoying the surrounding wildlife and nature is all part of the fishing experience. Provided the lake is managed correctly, I think the proposal will only enhance the area. I don’t see why the area can’t be enjoyed by fishermen, aswell as bird lovers.

    Just my opinion


  9. CAZ says:

    I personally cannot for the life of me see what ‘pleasure’ anyone gets out of fishing, but a lot of people obviously do.Each to their own
    Relaxing? so is reading a book, and nowhere near as boring. I don’t think there’s a fish alive that would welcome having a hook down it’s throat. I’ve heard all the comments that it’s not cruel because fish don’t feel pain? How does anyone really know, they can’t exactly scream, can they?
    Most anglers, that I see along the canal,are lovely polite people who clear up after themselves but I agree with Bob, a minority do not.
    just this weekend there were people fishing on the stretch of canal near the Blackcock bridge, the rear of Hall Lane. This morning the area is littered with an assortment of packets, wrappers and bottles not to mention the 2 plastic holders off 4packs of beer/lager which are known to be a hazard to wildlife [I took these home and disposed of them].
    I’ve also witnessed a duckling who had become entangled in fishing wire,frantically flapping about trying to get loose and the mother duck obviously distressed. Luckily it managed to get free but whether it was harmed is another matter. I’ve seen several ducks with injured legs and some missing altogether….was this the result of discarded fishing wire? who knows.
    I’m not saying people shouldn’t fish, but they should act responsibly.
    A couple of weeks ago 2 anglers drove a car along the towpath of the canal to get to their fishing spot and parked it on the grass on the towpath. In no way did they block the way for pedestrians or cyclists, but I can’t believe it was legal.I would have loved to see them reversing it back to the Blackcock Bridge.
    I think this wildlife haven should remain as it is
    just my opinion, Caz

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  12. James Millington says:

    “I personally cannot for the life of me see what ‘pleasure’ anyone gets out of fishing”

    Hi Caz, for me personally its all about escaping the every day hustle & bustle, relaxing in a natural environment taking in all the wildlife around me awaiting the best catch of my life!!!

    I disagree with Bob, the gravel pit will make a tremendous fishery, not one of a commercial type but one of a select syndicate and invite only. It is a shame but I do understand why angling and fishermen are given a bad name.

    As a keen local angler who fishes all over the country, the one thing I have noticed is the litter and mess left by anglers especially in the Brownhills area, to sum it up these individuals are not true fisherman, they tend to be local dole waller scum bags with drink/drug addictions, it just so happens that Brownhills Harbours these types…..FACT!

    A simple fisherman rule was past down to me from my father,… “leave only footprints, take only photographs”

    Anyway, the waste land does not need a small holdings, nor does it need an access road….far to commercial, what is does need is stocking and to be enjoyed by true fisherman!!!
    A attractive lease proposal is being drawn up by a local angling club and will be sent to the owners in the near future. watch this space!!
    Tight Lines

  13. James Millington says:

    Hi Bob,

    the fishing rights are a lot more straight forward without the planning and access,
    I will keep you posted,


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