Wildlife Columnist: Welcome to the wildlife Washlands

Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust manages local nature reserves and other important sites across the region.

Monday, 27th November 2017, 4:04 pm
Updated Monday, 27th November 2017, 4:08 pm

One long-standing part of the area’s precious nature conservation resource, is the Woodhouse Washlands Nature Reserve off Retford Road,Handsworth. Not only a unique wildlife habitat for the region but also a vital component of the flood-protection system along the vulnerable River Rother, this special place has a very chequered past. It survives today largely because of its role as ‘strategic floodland’ or ‘washland’. Formerly the region’s ‘noxious trades’ zone, much of the land was used for car dismantling, tyre recycling, tripe and bone-meal manufacture, animal ‘by-products’, wood tantalising, and a sewage works. This is before we consider a history of deep-mined coal and nearby open-casting, and a shovel works. Up until the 1950s, the local factory even had its own water-wheel for power.

Opened as a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Reserve in 1995, the site was part of the Sheffield Wildlife Action Partnership at a time when there were few formal nature reserves in the area. This was very much a site chosen by local people and developed and guided by them too. Today it is a very special place for wetland birds like snipe, jack snipe, lapwing, reed bunting, kingfisher, grey heron, little egret, cormorant, and much more.

In summer it teems with dragonflies and damselflies; the reserve’s ‘pond-scape’ home to good numbers of newts, toads, frogs, and grass snakes. Indeed, the ponds and improved footpath access were the focus of a recent celebration by the Wildlife Trust and their local volunteers thanks to a generous landfill grant from Viridor. The money helped provide much-needed improvements to the main footpath into the site from Furnace Lane and several new ponds.

The idea from the 1990s was to create a rolling programme of new ponds to maximise the wildlife interest which differs in ponds of varying ages and at different times of year. Wildlife Trust Chief Executive, Liz Ballard joined project officer Nabil Abbas and Deputy Mayor Majid Majid to cut the ribbon to open the new footpath. Well done to all the team!

Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues