WILDLIFE ON THE GREAT BARR HALL ESTATE
The Great Barr Hall Estate is prized for the diversity of its wildlifetwo areas are designated as areas of Special Interest for Nature Conservation [so-called 'SINCs']. During the 1980s the lakes and surrounding area were managed as a nature reserve by Staffordshire Nature Conservation Trust, now Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.
An enormous amount of work was carried out by volunteers under the direction of Bob Webb, the reserve manager. Sadly, the formal agreement was terminated by a subsequent owner. An article written by Bob describing the origins of the reserve and the plans for the future is available if you CLICK HERE.
The article below was written by an NHS administrator just after the formal agreement had been signed. It is reproduced from the Estate Management section of the Health And Social Service Journal, January 21, 1982.
The author included a list of some
of the birds seen in recent times at St Margaret's Hospital. How many
of these rarities are still with us? How many would survive if there
were cycle paths and unlimited pedestrian traffic, as envisaged by Bovis?
OASIS OF TRANQUILLITY
Many years ago, on 5 July 1931 to
be precise, a naturalist friend of mine, Fred Fincher, participated
in the great crested grebe survey. One of the areas he examined was
the lakes at Great Barr Hall in
No doubt there have been changes
in the environment, some seen, others unseen, which can have a greater
effect on wildlife, but the general picture remains largely the same
for I took Mr Fincher with me recently to look again. This time, accompanied
by Norman Ridley of the West Midlands Birds Club, we enjoyed the peace
and wildlife of this oasis within the surrounding urban development.
The Great Barr lakes are set within the grounds of St. Margaret's Hospital, which has numerous buildings scattered over an estate owned between 1618 and 1911 by the Scott family. The Scotts resided in Great Barr Hall in the middle of an estate of some 411 acres. Listed as a building of special architectural and historical interest it is particularly noteworthy for its beautiful setting. The Hall itself is said to be a fine example of Strawberry Hill Gothic, but age has left its mark. In the late 18th/early 19th century it was the venue for meetings of the Lunar Society, whose name is said to derive from the convention of its members holding meetings over the full moon period to avoid journeying in the dark.
Among the celebrities associated
with the Hall were Matthew Boulton, Josiah Wedgwood, Joseph Priestley,
James Watt, Charles Darwin, Sir Walter Scott, Dr Samuel Johnson and
a local notable, Samuel Galton, who leased the Hall for some years after
1785. [This list is inaccurate: Charles Darwin, Sir Walter Scott and
Dr Samuel Johnson were most certainly not members of the Lunar Society!
Samuel Galton is usually described as Samuel Galton Junior, to distinguish
him from his father of the same name. Peter
Allen]. The estate was acquired in 1911 by the West Bromwich Board
of Guardians who, with the Walsall Board, used the Hall and estate 'for
the reception of poor persons requiring relief on account of bodily
or mental infirmity'. In 1948 it passed into the ownership of the National
Health Service. About 300 acres remain of the original estate. At present
the hospital has rather fewer than 900 mentally handicapped patients.
In 1976 the idea was conceived to
establish an educational nature reserve in the Great Barr lakes area—a
proposal put to the Walsall Area Health Authority by local conservation
bodies and individuals. Objectives were discussed between the interested
parties and the following prime policies emerged:
1. To generally improve the amenities
of the hospital for the benefit of patients and staff.
2. To develop and maintain the lakes
and the area immediately surrounding them, to improve the quality of
woodland as a wildlife habitat and to improve the value of the pools
for wildlife in general.
The main terms of the Agreement:
1. The Trust, for a period of seven
years and thereafter on an annual basis, was appointed as the Minister’s
agent for the management of the nature reserve established by the Minister
to carry out scientific observation investigation research and expenditure
and any other incidental work or works on the reserve.
2. The Trust covenants with the Minister
that the Trust will:
3. The Minister covenants with the Trust that he will:
The outline management plan for the
reserve was prepared by the Staffordshire Nature Conservation Trust.
This gives an indication of the site, scope and management proposals
for the reserve.
The woodland has been created by
mixed plantings of trees, including exotic and ornamental species. These
trees are semi-mature and there is infilling with naturally regenerating
oak, sycamore and birch. The shrub layer contains bramble, snowberry
and rhododendron, the rhododendron in places forming thickets.
To improve the quality of the woodland as a wildlife habitat.
Native tree species should be encouraged
as they are richer in insect and other invertebrate species than introduced
trees and shrubs. Alien species should be strictly contained and in
certain areas removed. The aim should be towards a good variety of well
spaced native forest trees with a shrub layer of native species managed
so that some open areas are maintained.
(i) Thinning of trees
A programme of thinning should be
undertaken in some areas. In the area west of the dam thinning against
sycamore and turkey oak is required and in a small area near the lake,
just south west of the dam, a very severe reduction of sycamore is needed.
There are one or two other areas where thinning against sycamore is
(ii) Control of rhododendron and
The spread of rhododendron should
be prevented and in places, where it is dominant, e.g. in the thicket
west of the lower lake, it should be severely treated.
(iii) Planting - forest trees
In areas from which sycamore or rhododendron
has been cleared planting of oak, birch, rowan and alder should be undertaken,
the latter particularly in damper areas or near the lake margins. The
pollarded beech trees in the area south west of the dam should be retained
and naturally regenerating beech encouraged here.
Shrubs and smaller trees
Holly, hazel, guelder rose, elder
and hawthorn should be planted to enrich the understorey wherever necessary.
(iv) The lake margins
Coppicing of alder trees is recommended
to give structural variety. A straight edge of overhanging trees is
to be avoided.
(v) Area between the pools
Large trees should be removed and
replaced with shrubs such as bramble and dog rose.
B. The pools
There are two large pools which have
been created by the damming of a small stream in two places. The pools
are separated by one of these dams and the lower pool is fed from a
spillway in this dam. The upper pool is fed directly by the stream and
acts as a silt trap for the lower pool. The water drains from agricultural
land to the north and has a high nutrient status. The pools are therefore
To improve the value of the pools
for wildlife in general and the upper one for water fowl in particular.
The upper pool should provide an undisturbed area for birds and access
and angling should be restricted, angling being entirely discouraged
if possible. The lower pool should be managed for angling and educational
The upper pool
The marshy area should be maintained
and extended as sites for waders and nesting/feeding sites for water
An area of open water should be encouraged,
some of the water lily being removed and controlled by annual weeding.
A varied flora of submerged aquatic plants should be encouraged by means
of a planting programme if necessary. The island is a useful refuge
for birds and could be improved as such by clearing some of the vegetation
and creating clear areas of shingle shore as loafing areas for wildfowl.
Another raft island could be created at the southern end.
The lower pool
The management here should be directed
towards maintaining a good fishery and towards providing for educational
use. The north eastern corner is favoured by birds and could be maintained
as an undisturbed area for them by creating a chain of raft islands
to isolate it from the main body of the lake.
To improve the habitat for fish patches
of submerged aquatic vegetation should be encouraged with as great a
variety of species as possible, particularly those such as Myriophyllum
sp. which provide least resistance to anglers’ lines. Patches
of emergent vegetation should be maintained but controlled. Marginal
trees should be coppiced or cut back where necessary to facilitate angling.
Platforms should be built for the
use of anglers and for parties of school children to facilitate ‘pond
Being a hospital site and in view
of the considerable redevelopment planned, access to the site has had
to be carefully considered. Access to the nature reserve is to be controlled
in much the same way as is access to the hospital as a whole. Apart
from the conservationists themselves, including members of local conservation
bodies who are associated with the scheme, access will be limited to
patients, staff, patients’ relatives and other visitors, and parties
of students from local schools.
Angling will be allowed, and permits
granted by the AHA. It is important to note that admission to the reserve
will be controlled therefore by specific invitation—this will
of course protect the wildlife from unnecessary disturbance.
Not many hospitals have grounds which
are large enough for a reserve to be established but much of our wildlife
can be encouraged and protected even on small plots of ground. One has
only to think of the very important ‘reserves’ available
to birds in our gardens. Many hospitals have grounds and gardens which
could be managed, at little or no cost, as small unofficial ‘reserves’
Look again at your hospital grounds
and see if there is not an opportunity to help our wildlife—it
is a bonus, at minimal cost, for patients and staff.
I should like to express my sincere
thanks to colleagues at the RHA and AHA for the assistance they have
given to me in preparing this article.
Do any readers know of hospital gardens
that provide such a pleasant environment for patients? We’d be
interested to hear from you and may be able to follow up Derek Spooner’s
article with an occasional series on gardens or nature areas. - Editor.
Health And Social Service Journal, January 21, 1982.
*Great Crested Grebe (two or three
pairs nest each year)
Additional birds seen in the early eighties by members of the then
Staffordshire Nature Conservation Trust: