Dudley Council has shown that there’s a green heart to the Black Country as it gets its second National Nature Reserve.
The already highly-acclaimed Saltwells Local Nature Reserve has been officially elevated to National status after Natural England recognised its unique geology under its new National Nature Reserve strategy.
The borough is already home to the country’s first ever geological National Nature Reserve, Wren’s Nest which was declared in 1956. With Saltwells now recognised as a national gem, and the first geological site to be selected under Natural England’s new strategy, it makes the borough a rarity as an urban borough blessed with two National Nature Reserves.
The reserve’s important geological features date back over 420million years. They give visitors a glimpse into the world during the Silurian Period when Dudley lay under a warm tropical sea, through to the Carboniferous Period when the coal seams which fuelled the Industrial Revolution in Dudley were forming in vast swamps. In places visitors can also see hard igneous rock which formed when hot molten magma forced its way through these older layers.
More recently the rocks here have been exploited for industrial purposes with coal, clay, fire clay and ironstone being quarried and used by the industries that helped define the Black Country. Salty waters were also found here and during the 1880s attempts were made to use the area as a health spa until later mining activity polluted the water and prevented further use.
Today, the clay pits, collapsed mines, pools, cuttings, rail and canal sides reveal not only the site’s remarkable geology but also its industrial and mining heritage.
The borough already has 11 other nationally important Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and five locally declared LNRs. The designation of Saltwells as a NNR is of particular significance as it’s the first geological site to be selected under Natural England’s new National Nature Reserve Strategy strategy, launched in 2017, which was created by a partnership of public bodies, wildlife charities and other representatives. Together they have developed a shared vision and a common purpose to take forward the founding purposes of NNRs – conservation, environmental research and places for people – putting them at the heart of 21st century conservation.
England’s 223 National Nature Reserves are the crown jewels of England’s natural heritage. The recognition of Saltwells as meeting this extremely high national standard is a testament to how this National Nature Reserve has been cared for by the wardening team and local volunteers and puts it alongside such famous landscapes at the Lizard in Cornwall and Lindisfarne in Northumberland.
Saltwells is one of the most important geological reserves in Britain and a highlight of the recently announced Black Country UNESCO Geopark and is regularly visited and studied by geologists from all over Britain and the world. Geopark status recognises the many world-class natural and important cultural features in the Black Country and how they tell the story of the landscape and the people that live within it.
Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, said:
"England’s National Nature Reserves embody our natural diversity of wildlife and geology. They are places where nature comes first, places for conservation, research, education and people. Saltwells is very special for its geology, somewhere where we can learn about life hundreds of millions of years ago, but being located in the heart of the Black Country it is also a place where many local people can experience nature now and for many years to come. Its location also means it’s a brilliant place particularly for people in urban areas to discover the wonders of geology and wildlife.
"Achieving National Nature Reserve status is not easy and Dudley’s wardening team, local volunteers, friends group and the Canal and Rivers Trust can be rightly proud of what they have achieved in managing this reserve to reach the standard it is today."
Councillor Karen Shakespeare, cabinet member for environmental services said:
"We’ve been working closely with Natural England for some time, and to have Saltwells recognised like this is testament to the strong working relationship we have built between our organisations.
"I am so proud of what we have on our doorstep and this is testament to all the hard work of everyone involved on a daily basis, including our hugely committed volunteers and supportive friends group.
"I am delighted that Saltwells is the first nature reserve to be recognised for its geology under the new Natural England National Nature Reserves Strategy."
Dr Colin Prosser, Principal Geologist at Natural England said:
"The geological features visible at Saltwells are nationally important and represent two periods of the Earth’s history spanning more than 100 million years.
"This new National Nature Reserve provides visitors and local people alike with a window into deep time, connecting this ancient world of swamps and tropical seas with the history and people of Dudley and the Black Country; a further reminder as to why the Black Country was recently recognised as a UNESCO Global Geopark. "
Adnan Saif, regional director at Canal & River Trust, said:
"This is wonderful news for Saltwells Nature Reserve and the Dudley Canal that runs alongside it. The nature reserve along with our canals provide a vital green and blue space for local people in communities that often need them the most.
"Our research shows that spending time in nature next to water is good for your health and wellbeing so I would encourage everyone to come and visit and spend some time being outdoors. "
Dudley Council’s countryside management team has a long track record of working successfully with Natural England and has recently been designated as an ‘approved body’ for the management of National Nature Reserves, with Natural England recognising their work as national best practice in terms of geo-conservation and engagement of people.
The reserve works with partners including the local Canal and River Trust and also has a large and active friends group and runs a range of events, including bluebell walks, green woodworking and currently hosts one of the largest health walks in the borough as well as a monthly carer’s walk. Work is already underway on a new £450,000 warden’s base and education centre on the reserve offering additional school visits, educational activities and forest schooling opportunities.