WILDLIFE ON THE GREAT BARR HALL ESTATE

The Great Barr Hall Estate is prized for the diversity of its wildlife—two 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.

 

Three general photographs of the lakes accompanied the article:

  • The Great Barr lakes, a peaceful place for patients, naturalists and wildlife.
  • The woodland has been created by mixed plantings and native trees are encouraged.
  • Shooting and sporting activity is not permitted and angling is discouraged in the upper pool.

 

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

Not many hospitals are fortunate enough to have the amenity of a nature reserve within the environs of the hospital. The Great Barr lakes, set in the grounds of St. Margaret's Hospital, Walsall, have recently been designated as an educational nature reserve. This fine example of conservation is described by Derek Spooner, assistant secretary (planning), West Midlands RHA.

 

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 Walsall. Unfortunately he saw no grebes but he did record the other birds he saw on that occasion—kingfisher, a pair seen at the upper pool, mallard, coot and moorhen. As now, the pools were surrounded by woodland and he saw greenfinch, chaffinch, great, blue, marsh and coal tits and, near the church, a yellow bunting.

 

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.

All things take time and it was not until late in 1980 that the legal aspects of this proposal were finally settled and an Agreement, dated 12 November 1981, was sealed between the RHA as agent for the Minister (the owner of the land) and the Staffordshire Nature Conservation Trust Ltd.

 

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:

  • Manage the nature reserve.
  • Pay all taxes, assessments and outgoings assessed upon the nature reserve.
  • Keep the Minister effectually indemnified against all actions and proceedings, costs and damages, expenses, claims and demands whatsoever by reason of the management of the nature reserve by the Trust.
  • Present to the Minister an annual report.
  • Take steps to control vermin in the nature reserve.
  • Inform the minister of any scientific finding which may affect the Minister’s interest in the nature reserve.

3. The Minister covenants with the Trust that he will:

  • Not use any chemical sprays, herbicides, insecticides or similar preparations nor permit the use of fertilisers on any part of the nature reserve except by prior agreement between the parties.
  • Not permit shooting or sporting activities of any kind other than fishing.
  • Not uproot existing hedges.

 

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.

 

A. The Woodland

 

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.

 

Management objectives

 

To improve the quality of the woodland as a wildlife habitat.

 

Management prescriptions

 

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 required.

 

(ii) Control of rhododendron and snowberry

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

 

General description

 

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 potentially productive.

 

Management objectives

 

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 use.

 

Management prescriptions

 

The upper pool

 

The marshy area should be maintained and extended as sites for waders and nesting/feeding sites for water fowl.

 

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 dipping’.

 

Access

 

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’ and local conservation organisations are usually only too willing to assist and advise if given the opportunity.

 

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.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A list of birds seen at the lakes at St. Margaret's Hospital by observer, Norman Ridley, of the West Midland Bird Club, during the period 1977-1980. Those marked with an asterisk have nested on or close by the recently designated reserve.

 

 

 

*Great Crested Grebe (two or three pairs nest each year)
*Mallards
Teal
*Tufted Duck
Pochard
Bean Goose
Canada Geese
Mute Swan
*Kestrel
Pheasant
*Moor Hen
*Coot
Lapwing
Lesser Black-Backed Gull
Herring Gull
*Black-Headed Gull
*(Rock) Feral Pigeons
*Wood Pigeon
*Collared Dove
Cuckoo
Tawny Owl

*Shift
Kingfisher
*Great Spotted Woodpecker
*Green Woodpecker
*Skylark

*Swallow
*House Martin
*Carrion Crow

*Rook
*Jackdaw
*Magpie
*Jay
*Great Tit
*Blue Tit
*Coal Tit
*Willow Tit
*Long-tailed Tit
*Tree Creeper
*Wren
*Mistlethrush
Fieldfare
*Song Thrush
Redwing
*Blackbird
*Robin
*Blackcap
Willow Warbler
*Chiff Chaff
Wood Warbler
Goldcrest
*Dunnock
*Meadow Pipit

 

*Pied Wagtail
*Starling
*Greenfinch
*Goldfinch
Siskin
*Bullfinch
*Chaffinch
Brambling
*Yellow Hammer
*House Sparrow

 

 

Additional birds seen in the early eighties by members of the then Staffordshire Nature Conservation Trust:

Heron (4 seen in November 1981)
Sparrow Hawk
Grey Wagtail
Nuthatch
Ruddy Duck
Common Sandpiper