Worsbrough Wet Woodland Rescue and Rediscovery
7th September 2021
We were fortunate enough to secure funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in October 2019 for the conservation and development of Worsbrough Mill and Country Park. As the project is drawing to a close, here is an update of what has been happening since then.
Sadly, in less than a century we have lost 97% of our meadows and they now cover only1% of UK land (Plantlife, 2020). As well as being fantastic wildlife habitats and providing forage for livestock, they form an important part of our cultural heritage so safeguarding them for their intrinsic value and for future generations is critically important. Fortunately, with the right management –meadows can, over time, be restored.
Botanical recording highlighted the very high level of biodiversity at Worsbrough. We have been working in a close partnership with Wigfield Farm who lease the grasslands to balance their grazing and forage needs and adapted them to enhance the biodiversity value of the habitat.
WET WOODLAND & REEDBEDS
We have been working with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and ecologist Geoff Carr to deliver management works to improve this habitat. Two phases of thinning works have been completed, most recently in December 2020. Judging from the success of the first phase of works, estimated that the reed bed will be increased by 25%.
Prior to lockdown, 8 volunteer hedge laying days were completed involving 271 volunteer hours and improving approximately 70 meters of hedges. A second phase has just been completed involving a further 8 days working with on-site site staff and volunteers where possible.
Covid restrictions have made this element of the project particularly challenging. However, creating the Worsbrough Christmas Trail has been a recent success, creating partnerships between different volunteer groups and working creatively to accommodate social distancing measures. We worked with QDos Creates and Greenacre school on the trail. The young volunteers then helped us to promote Wild at Worsbrough by filming this fantastic video:
GREEN FLAG AWARD
Worsbrough Mill and Country Park have achieved Green Flag Award status in the past, but not in recent years. As part of the work of the Worsbrough Wetlands project, we are hoping to restore Green Flag status for the site. We have worked with colleagues within the museum’s service to undertake a ‘mock judging’ exercise to help identify priorities for the site. The full application was submitted to the judging panel on 21st June and we’re waiting to hear when the judging day will be.
A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is a formal conservation designation. Usually, it describes an area that’s of particular interest to science due to the rare species of fauna or flora it contains. In April this year, Natural England announced the notification of the Dearne Valley Wetlands as an SSSI. This is because the corridor of sites is nationally important to breeding and wintering birds that use the wet grasslands, wetlands, open water and scrub habitats in the area. For Worsbrough Country Park, the main species of bird that this benefit is the willow tit which lives on the site and across the Dearne Valley. The Dearne Valley Wetlands SSSI links different pockets of valuable habitat at a landscape scale down the valley and is a rare example of a number of linked sites in an area gaining the designation as opposed to one specific site. Having this designation ensures the national importance of the site is taken into account in future decisions regarding its use and management.
FURTHER WORK AND FUTURE ASPIRATIONS
We are still working on a programme of footpath upgrades across the site. This much-loved site has been very well used for walking during the pandemic and footpaths that were already starting to show signs of wear have deteriorated further. We have assessed which are the most urgent in terms of health and safety or for accessibility and are arranging for their repair. Some repair works will not only consist of re-surfacing but also drainage to alleviate the problematic mud in the wetter areas. We have also been working through fence repairs and hedge laying where needed.
The mill pond has been dredged and a huge amount of silt removed which will free up the water flow to the mill. This was done in a controlled way to ensure that any creatures in the silt had full opportunity to return to watercourses on-site before the silt is removed.
A small orchard has been created in a meadow near the entrance of the site. We’ve replaced the old bird hide with a new, family-friendly wildlife viewing screen created by sculptor Dan Jones. We’re working on creating more places for children to play and explore using willow sculptures and tunnels after some staff and volunteer training by artist Maggie Cooper.
We’re working on new wildlife interpretation for the site and refreshing the family walking trails too. We’re supporting The Shedders – a volunteer group that support people who are isolated or lonely – to create an exciting new workspace on site, and the Young Volunteers who created our fantastic trail have continued to have their weekly sessions remotely which enable them to make their wonderful video.
The lottery-funded project will finish in late summer 2021 but there are still many more things we’d like to achieve on the site. The wet woodland and reedbed restoration could be increased into a much larger ongoing scheme of works to create even more habitat for wildlife. Pollarding/coppicing works for the large willow trees along with the mill race and throughout the dry woodlands would benefit healthy tree growth and help create more resources for willow tits and other wildlife.
More footpath and access improvement work across the site are needed and we aim to develop more schemes of community/volunteer surveying of wildlife on-site once restrictions are fully lifted.
We want to work more with partners to develop training and work opportunities on the site too.
We’d like to thank the people of Worsbrough for their continued support for all we do at the site. We have been so buoyed up by the kind comments of visitors who have stopped and chatted to us over the past months