Commoners wrongs

I’m aware that recently, there has been some scaremongering and showboating locally about Walsall Council and Natural England’s long term plans for heathland management on Brownhills Common.

I outlined what this would entail in a post on the subject some weeks ago.

Since then, it has come to my attention that certain elements of the community are actively spreading disquiet and opposition to the scheme. This is silly, ignorant and damaging.

I grew up, like most of us did, roaming and exploring the commons around the town. I love them with all my heart, as my work here will attest. Now I’m older, I also appreciate the rare quality of what we have here in Brownhills, and the many rare and threatened species that dwell in the environs of the open space we cherish.


I had no idea what a Knopper Gall was until I found one on an oak tree on the common last autumn: they are the result of a wasp larvae that corrupts the growth of ordinary acorns to form a host. In the spring, a tiny wasp will emerge.

In order to protect and support the wildlife – from the rarest to the most abundant – it’s necessary to manage the land: to remove what shouldn’t be there, or which is becoming harmful. This is largely about removing unnatural conifer plantations under which nothing grows, which were planted when it seemed like a good idea in the postwar period.

This will not be a sudden or hasty operation, and will involve a whole host of agencies, from Walsall Council to the Forestry Commission. This isn’t about making money, or exploitation, but careful husbandry of the landscape to promote much needed biodiversity. It will take a decade, possibly more, and will be gradual and measured.


I’d never seen wild honey bees swarm before, until I found this remarkable sight on the common in the summer of 2009.

This isn’t random butchery, as some are portraying. It’s a worthwhile, proven process that’s worked all over Europe. The people planning this are not amateurs, they’re experienced conservationists with a proven track record.

It troubles me that there is already talk of petitions, photo-opportunities, and senior members of the community gatecrashing meetings to which they were not invited. This isn’t about territory, or jaded politics, it’s about preserving the value of rare wildlife for future generations. For once, it would be nice if the old faces of Brownhills could consider things carefully and in the long term.

Odd that I’ve never seen more than two of the complainants ever on the Common. There’s more to it than that which you view from a car window whilst stuck in traffic.

There will, before anything starts, be lots of consultation and publicity. To this end, the matter has been brought up at the meeting of Brownhills, Pelsall, Rushall and Shelfield Area Partnership tonight, 19th March at Rushall Community Centre, Springfields, from 6pm. It’s a shame this couldn’t wait until the regular meeting was scheduled to be held at Brownhills.

If you care about the common, please attend and have your say if you can. The debate needs to be measured and sensible, and all voices need to be heard.

Walsall Council today issued a press release on the matter which I include below.


Brownhills Common provides a beautiful and rare habitat for many species. We need to manage and protect it for the future.

Heathland restoration project for Walsall nature reserve unveiled

Historic heathland at a Walsall nature reserve,home to some of the country’s most threatened plants and animals,is set to be extended after the area was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest(SSSI).

Walsall Council has entered into a Higher Level Stewardship agreement with Natural England which will see them work together over the next decade to manage Brownhills Common. The site is characterised by lowland heathland, which is incredibly rare, with just 198 hectares remaining across Birmingham and the Black Country.

Heathland habitats cover around 12.2 hectares of Brownhills Common with the rest made up of woodland and other habitats including grassland, bramble, scrub, weedy areas and paths.  Under the proposals the area covered by heathland plants would rise from 36 to 60 per cent.

Lowland heathland has declined significantly over the last two centuries and in England it is estimated only one sixth of the heathland present in 1800 remains due to various factors including agriculture and development.It is the primary habitat for rare birds such as the nightjar and Dartford warbler and reptiles such as the sand lizard and smooth snake.

Councillor Anthony Harris, portfolio holder for leisure and culture with Walsall Council’s coalition, said: “Lowland heathland is a rare and threatened habitat and we should count ourselves extremely lucky that it exists here in Walsall.

“By increasing the area of heathland it provides an opportunity for people to catch sight of rare plants and animals which thrive in this environment on their doorstep and will also potentially attract large numbers of people from further afield to visit Walsall.

“The council has a legal duty to manage the SSSI appropriately and the aim is to increase the area of heathland by removing certain areas of trees and scrub that have either been planted and/or have colonised the site over the years.

“Due to the scale of the work involved nothing will happen before the public have been fully consulted and approval sought from the Forestry Commission.”

Under the proposals the existing woodland area would be reduced by less than half by removing young scrub, conifer trees and bramble from open areas of heath. No mature native trees will be affected.

Work would take place over a ten year period as part of the site management plan in partnership with Natural England.

The plans will be discussed at the meeting of Brownhills, Pelsall, Rushall and Shelfield Area Partnership on Tuesday 19 March at Rushall Community Centre, Springfields, from 6pm.

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13 Responses to Commoners wrongs

  1. 7rin says:

    Reblogged this on The Re-blog Blog.

  2. Hi Brownhills Bob. In support of your comments.
    I live in the Pleck area of Walsall where we have contaminated land and derelict buildings from past industrial legacy and i suppose that each area has these places in some form or shape.
    Walsall i think has a third of it land area as country side in some shape or form other like parks open spaces of various kinds, its sad that local residents do not take advantage of these locations as they are little gems, some hidden away these open space are rich in a wide variety of wild life they support both plant and and animal these are place for people to relax wind down from the hustle and bustle of life a place to walk the stretch the legs and walk the dog in a responsible way, have some exercise. All these places help our Health and wellbeing in a very positive way and are important to health and our heritage and we need to leave something positive for future generations who will come after we have long gone. It is important that all these place are managed in professional way by people who know what they are doing as is the case at Brownhills commons.
    In these times of cuts in services, it is good to see this level of commitment to this type of work.
    I support Brownhills Bob and the work to improve this site at Brownhils. I too have had emails as I am a member of the friends of the earth( but I am speaking for myself on this) asking me to get Green Peace involved and other such organisation to campaign against this work. you know my answer no way. Those that complain about the conifers being cut down at Brownhills to they complain or protest about the wilful damage to the ancient forrest for example in Indonesia that feed their printers and so called biofuels and make people homeless as they are turned off their land, or in the UK ancient woodlands dating their origins back to1066 that are scheduled to be logged to make way for the Hastings by pass when there is a cheaper alternative.
    My case rest in support of the improvements to Brownhills commons as explained by Brownhills Bob.

  3. Andy Dennis says:

    I don’t have a problem with what the Council wants to do, but I think we should not forget the past.

    When I was kid the area between the Watling Street, Parade and “Black Path” (it was called “hedgeside” back in the day) was open heath. Every summer it would burn and remain a charred, useless, eyesore landscape of no value to man or beast. What is there now is no more natural than my back garden.

    The open heath of Cannock Chase, including Brownhills Common, was created on the orders of kings to increase the range open land where they and their pals could chase deer and other creatures; that is for ‘sport’. It, too, was a sort of garden, distinctly man-made.

    For me it is the great variety of habitats, vegetation and lanscape types that makes the common, together with other open spaces, interesting. If it were simply to be left unmanaged it would quickly be overtaken by birch and pine forests. I would find that process of change fascinating, but it would lead to a much less diverse and increasingly dangerous place; the wildwood. So, it has to be managed.

    It is clear that, left alone, the pine woods would spread and soon overwhelm the areas of heather and heathland grasses, just look at what is happening right now. Whatever the rights and wrongs of heath versus forest one thing is clear: the pine wood does not belong in these parts and should be cast out of the garden.

  4. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob

    I totally agree with Andy’s comments.The scheme being discussed and planned will bring a wonderfully rich and well-maintained heathand not only for us, but especially for future generations, and the long-term benefit of this improvement should be recognised by all.

  5. Dvorak says:

    Hi, I stumbled upon your blog while searching for something about ‘Spoons. I come from somewhere in Scotland that, although a bit more rural, does, on reading your blog seem to be an almost parallel town. Post-heavy industrial, overspill, used to be a lot better, run down town centre (happily, currently being largely demolished). The reason for commenting though is that this article made me think of this (not where I stay) You could even listen to this whilst looking at it

    PS great pics in the post below

  6. Clive says:

    Although i hate to see trees cut down. The pine trees around the parade keep the ground sterile, nothing under these trees can survive. The experts know what they are doing, so i say go ahead.
    Thats my humble opinion.

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