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.
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.
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.
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.
Countryside and Urban Forestry