Monday, 13 February 2012

History Of Saltwells Nature Reserve

Saltwells Nature Reserve

Saltwells is my local patch. I try to visit at least once a month and is a good place to watch the seasons go by.

It is located 2 miles south of Dudley, in the West Midlands.

Directions by car :- Travel along the A4036 and turn left at the Merry Hill traffic lights. It is signposted. Follow coppice road for half a mile and turn left at the sign for Saltwells pub. Car parking is free, but check for any closed times. Grid SO 935869

By bus :- You can get the nxwest midlands services 276 from Merry Hill, it's about 3 minutes. Or alternatively get the nxwest midlands service 276 from Dudley, about 10-15 minutes. Depart from the bus at The Bunch of Bluebells pub, Saltwells road, (ask the driver if unsure where that is). Then just walk up the alley next to Saltwells post office, turn left and continue straight ahead. This will take you in to the reserve from a side entrance.

The reserve is open all year round, access is via paths, stiles, gates and trails.

Saltwells deprived it's name from brine spas, which used to exist by Saltwells Inn. Saline water used to well up here during the early mining and were advertised for there healing qualities.

Saltwells is owned by Dudley council and was the first a nature reserve in the West Midlands in 1981. It also forms one of the largest urban reserves in the country at over 100 hectares. In 1992 it was the first reserve under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere project.

The reserve is made up of woodland, grassland, scrub land, Dudley number 2 canal, reservoir, smaller pools, mousesweet brook and small patches of marshland and reed bed.

Saltwells woods make up the main part of the reserve. It has been established for quite a while, some of the trees where planted back in  the 18th century and is. It is comprised of mature oak, beech, sycamore, holly, hazel and rowan. The trees hide birds such as lesser spotted woodpecker, (apparently, still yet to see), great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, jay, treecreepers, sparrowhawks, blue, great,coal and long-tailed tits. There is a good choice of flowers too, including bluebells, primrose, wood anemone and violets. These bring in butterflies including small and large whites, ringlets, painted lady and orangetips.
Covering approx. 40 hectares, it is one of the largest woods in the borough.
Saltwells colliery was established in the 19th century. There were 33 pits served by the Saltwells Railway from 1851.
Doultan Clay Pit, formerly Saltwells Clay Fields, before it was brought by the Royal Doultan Company, are located in the woods. The clay was extracted for use in making china and sanitary ware for 70 years til the 1930s. It was taken out by canal.  This pit is now a Site of Special Interest.

The high cliffs reveal a section through the rocks of the middle and lower coal measures, laid down in the Carbonifererous Period, about 310 million years ago. These include river and lake deposits. The Pit has now been claimed back by nature. Originally, when it first closed it flooded and was the cause of many drownings. It supports plants such as Common spotted marsh orchids, as well as common lizards, grass snakes and smooth newts and until 1966, it was the only local breeding site of Red-backed Shrike. It is also home to around 16 species of dragonfly's and damselflies, including the Emperor.
There is a path down, which is quite steep, so that it can be explored.

This is not the only SSSI. The Clay was taken to the canal and taken out from Brewin's Cutting on Dudley canal number 2, under High bridge, Lodge Farm. This is the best place to view the conglometaic ,(pebble beds), base of the Carboniferous rocks, (the floor of the coalfield itself), resting on the older rocks of the Silurian Period, (415 million years ago).

Nertherton Hill is to the north of Saltwells wood, walking across the canal is the easiest way from the woods. It is gorse covered and is one of the areas that is naturally managed by Exmoor ponies.

The hill was originally called Knowle Hill from the medieval period. It was opencast for coal and clay, until the 1960s. It is now restored to nature. You may be lucky enough to spot linnets, bullfinches and reed buntings.

You are able to wonder around at your own pleasure, but there are three guided walks, all sign posted and start at the car park.

Sculpture Trail

2/3 mile long
no stiles, steps or road crossing
gentle gradients and good surfaced paths

This follows a gently sloping path through the heart of Saltwells Wood. Along the way you will find several sculptures showing the history and wildlife.

Doultan Trail

1 mile
2 steps flights, 1 long and steep.
generally good surfaced paths and gentle gradients

This takes you through parts of the woodland, before coming out at Doultans Clay Pit. ere you can see a panoramic view of this SSSI. It isn't part of the walk, but there is a steep path that allows you to explore the area.

Murray Grey Trail

2.5 miles
2 stiles, 1 small step flight and 2 road crossings
several ascents and descent's - 1 steep ascent
generally good surfaced paths, but Netherton hill can become muddy

This takes you around the back of Doultans Clay Pit, past the reservoir, then leaves the woods and up Netherton hill. You may be lucky enough to see the cattle or Exmoor ponies.

Mushroom Green

If time allows you can continue south of the woods, into Mushroom Green. This is the chain-makers hamlet and is an area of scrubland, meadow and reed swamp. Birds such as water rail, teal and common snipe have been spotted here. The reserve then follows mousesweet brook, as far as it's confluence with the River Stour.

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