Brownhills Common – don’t panic!

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It’s hard to imagine now, but this peaceful oasis is actually a post-industrial brownfield site. It’s made a remarkable recovery since mining ravaged this landscape.

There seems to be some concern amongst readers of The Brownhills Blog about upcoming heathland management work on Brownhills Common, currently being discussed in some quarters.

Several readers have contacted me – including an environmental campaign group from Walsall – who are all very worried about tree removal planned for the area of common south of Watling Street, either side of The Parade. The area broadly encompasses that between the Black Path, the scrub north and west of the cricket ground, and the heath behind and north of the Hussey Arms.

Years ago, this land was scarred and blighted by mining, tipping and pollution. In the post-war years in particular, efforts were made to gently reclaim this land for the community, and the aims were laudable and rewarded the community well. As knowledge of heath and biodiversity has increased, it has become evident that a number of conifer plantations were established on the common which are not native and are stifling the ecology of the common.

Natural England in partnership with Walsall Council’s long-suffering Greenspaces team are currently consulting on the removal of the conifer plantations and the restoration of the heath. On the whole, this is a good thing in my opinion.

The proposal is not to remove any broad leaved woodland, just conifers ands the worst of the scrub, to enable light to get to the common floor in areas where it currently cannot. Broad-leaved tree growth will be encouraged, and in the current climate of pests and blight, particularly on oaks, we need all the planting and nurturing of deciduous woodland we can get.

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The conifer plantation just off The Parade behind the Hussey Arms in high summer – it looks great, but notice the almost sterile woodland floor. This isn’t good for the heath or it’s biodiversity.

Work will not commence until at least late 2013, and not without further discussion and consultation. It should be pointed out that Walsall and Natural England have a great record in this respect. The Chasewater SSSI is very, very important, and if we are to protect the common as much as possible from possible future development and mineral extraction, we need to nurture and create natural value within it.

The project will, inevitably, cause concern and alarm; the sight or thought of anyone removing trees and driving heavy plant over the commons will be distressing. It is, however, for the long-term good, and I hope we can explore the issues and work further through them here in time.

I have in my possession copies of maps of proposed conifer removal, but shan’t publish them yet as I don’t think that would deb helpful at this stage. However, I’m familiar with the project and it’s extent. The amount of land to be cleared is not inconsiderable and although carefully considered, it will be a shock.

In order to allay some of the worst fears, I contacted Kevin Clements, Countryside Services Manager at Walsall, for his view on things. Kevin is an excellent outdoorsman and a very experienced ecologist, and I know just how he loves our countryside. He took time out to write this response during his holiday leave, which I think is service above and beyond the call of duty.

Kevin wrote:

Bob,

The work on Brownhills Common is part of our Environmental Stewardship scheme with Natural England. This ten year agreement commenced on 1st October 2012 and also covers Barr Beacon, Shire Oak Park, Park Lime Pits, Clayhanger Common and Pelsall North Common

As you know, Brownhills Common has been included in the Chasewater Heaths Site of Special Scientific Interest. Heathland is a nationally rare and priority habitat, of which Walsall Borough has the greatest proportion across the Black Country.

The significant habitats (or notified features) on Brownhills Common are dry heathland, wet heathland and acidic fen wetlands. These and acid grassland cover just under half of the whole site (12.2ha). The remaining 20.5ha are made up of woodland (15.2ha) and other habitats and features (5.3ha). As part of the Environmental Stewardship scheme NE have indicated that certain areas of trees and shrubs that have either been planted or have colonised the site are not appropriate given the heathland habitat and SSSI designation and have to be removed. Over the next ten years, the aim is to remove several of the conifer plantations and restore these areas to a mosaic of heathland and broadleaved woodland habitats. This would result in heathland habitats covering c20ha and woodland across c7.7ha, which equates to a reduction in woodland area of slightly less than 50%.

Walsall Countryside Services have successfully created areas of heathland on Brownhills Common, Pelsall North Common and Barr Beacon. We would probably use the same technique of spreading Heather brash in the autumn, which allows the seed to fall and be protected by the brash.

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Brownhills Common – often ignored by locals – is host to a plethora of species. If you haven’t, please do pay it a visit.

We have been liaising with Brownhills Local Committee over the proposals and draft management plan. Given the amount of woodland to be removed we are also liaising with the Forestry Commission and will be holding wider public consultation, the exact details of which are still to be confirmed.

None of the tree felling is programmed to start until the end of this year.

This work would also contribute towards the objectives of the Birmingham and Black Country Nature Improvement Area, of which Walsall Council is a partner, including increasing the amount of heathland across the region.

I will be able to provide more information when I return from leave next week.

Cheers.

Kevin Clements

Countryside and Urban Forestry

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26 Responses to Brownhills Common – don’t panic!

  1. Warrington Cuthbert smyth. says:

    i wonder if this will generate much income? i am sure it will cost more overall to put the land back to the way they want it. i know that some of those trees will fetch a fair few £, as my father in law sold some from his land and made a quick buck.

  2. B1ondee says:

    Bob

    This blog is of great interest to me as I live on the edge of this land and going slightly off topic, it really is beautiful but I am growing concerned that over recent weeks particularly weekends I have heard gun shots in the woodland – surely the deer who inhabit this area in large numbers are protected? I have had no reply from the council regarding this matter – are you aware of any hunting activity ?

    • There have been rumours of poaching, but the deer are not protected, no. If you feel poaching is going on, do call the police. Staffordshire Countryside Watch will be particularly interested – they’re a police unit set up to deal with rural crime.
      I think the status is that the deer are not protected, but the poaching of them iOS effectively theft, but I’m sure someone will correct me there.
      Cheers
      Bob

  3. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    this does sound like its going to give us all another super area of natural parkland in Brownhills and I congratulate Kevin and all the team who are involved in this. The transformation of yesteryear’s derelict common land at Clayhanger into today’s beautiful park is a fine achievement . I look forward to this new venture becoming another ” natural beauty” around Brownhills for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.
    Well done the Countryside and Urban Forestry team.
    kind regards
    David

  4. This all sound’s great Bob, but can you tell me who is responsible for the coppice behind the hussey estate, it backs onto Potter’s clay work’s. This area is in desperate need of coppicing and then it would make a lovely area for dog walkers etc.

    • Warrington Cuthbert smyth. says:

      I wonder if it is part of Wyrley estates land? i think Wyrley estates have the land around Marklews pond, as i tried to get some one to clear that up previously. i have recollection that a team of volunteers had done some coppicing work in that area, but i may be wrong.

      • Thank you for your reply, I will go check it out as it was last year that I went there and as I grew up there and was alway’s in that coppice playing, it just seemed such a shame to see it in such a state. It is obviously a sign of the times, that kid’s don’t play out these day’s.

  5. Great blog post, Bob – I have been on the phone to Councillor Harris this week answering his questions about the issue, and I am putting together something for him which highlights some of the species we are working to preserve and protect. We are planning some extensive bee, reptile and great crested newt surveys this year on brownhills common, as we recorded GCNs there for the first time last year, and would like to investigate anecdotal reports of adders, as well as my personal interest in finding out if there are any tormentil mining bees on site, so I should be up there quite a bit this summer!

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  8. Minnie says:

    Thank goodness I found this article!! My hubby just came bk from one of the shops down the A5 and said he had
    “put all our names on a petition, as its disgusting that the council are going to start cutting our trees down”
    It seems to me that people have not been well informed over the plans for this project and a round of Chinese whispers has gone around and caused mass panic…including petitions everywhere.
    I shall be sharing this blog post on Brownhills carboot page on facebook – https://www.facebook.com/groups/Brownhillscarboot
    I just hope they follow through and dont just cut down everything and then leave it, brownhills seems to get less and less money spent on it every year…just a few months ago they came and dug up all the flower beds by the Park centre 😦 I for one was sad to see them go.

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