Save our nature reserve

Blackburn Meadows Nature Reserve.
Blackburn Meadows Nature Reserve.
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From: Geoff Cartwright

Abbey Lane, S8

IN October last year I was very surprised, but very pleased, to be awarded one of the individual awards in the Telegraph Environmental Awards.

You may recall that I was given the award in recognition of the work I had done to promote and develop a major urban wetland nature reserve at Blackburn Meadows just past the motorway at the Tinsley viaduct.

Although the site was already recognised as a significant birdwatching site, the main aim for developing facilities at the reserve was to provide a ‘doorstep’ environmental resource for local schools in what was really a belt of social deprivation.

I am not wishing to intentionally blow my own trumpet again in regard to my role in the reserve’s development, but I invested a lot of time, energy and emotion in fighting to ensure that it came to be, despite the bureaucracy and funding issues that proved to be real barriers.

In order to convey the passion that I had for the scheme I should also say that the tenacity needed to fight for it certainly affected the time and energy I had for my young family.

With this in mind I have to say that I was shocked and depressed when I recently visited the site to find that it seems to have been virtually abandoned by Sheffield City Council who are tasked with its essential, ongoing maintenance and management. The reserve now looks scruffy, unkempt and the wetland habitats, which were so crucial to the site, are now rapidly dying out.

For the last 17 years I have been a lecturer in environmental conservation at Sheffield Hallam University and take pride with my passion and with my experience of working in the conservation ‘industry’.

I have taken my final-year students to the site every year to show them, with some pride, the results of the efforts of the very talented team that I co-ordinated and that devolved the site. I felt after seeing the site this week with my students that all I could talk about was how not to develop a scheme.

I no longer have any influence in how the site is managed but I do know what agreements were made, what it cost and where the money came from.

I was always proud of the fact that our development team were very innovative in finding funding for the project and that all it directly cost the council tax-paying citizens of Sheffield was the wages of the four council officers involved.

The £3/4 million capital development costs came from then Government’s Derelict Land Grant and the now non-existent Urban Programme. The final 25% came from the European Regional Development Fund.

I am fully aware that our council will currently be underfunded and have to prioritise where they spend their money but I still see it as a very sad situation when what was once a flagship council project seems to have now been abandoned.

At this stage in the site’s decline it really would not cost a lot of money to dedicate an officer to looking at ways the site could be pulled back. It needs someone to stimulate voluntary groups and to empower them with a vision similar to what mine was at the time.

In view of the investment your paper made in me by giving me the Environmental Award for this project I feel it’s only fair that the public of Sheffield are made aware of the reserve’s imminent demise.