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.
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.
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.
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.
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.