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- Buckpool & Fens Pool Nature Reserve
The Buckpool and Fens Pools Nature Reserve is a wildlife haven flourishing in the very heart of the industrial Black Country. Canals, pools, ponds, streams, grassland and scrub combine to make this area unique in Dudley.
If you could be taken back 100 years, it would be a very different picture. At that time there were still working collieries at the Dell, on the Leys and the Wallows and around Grove and Middle Pools. There were claypits where Middle Pool and the Farmers Pond are today, and a huge brickworks on The Leys.
The Pensnett Railway ran between Middle and Fens Pools, bringing coal from the Earl of Dudley’s Baggeridge pits to the Round Oak Iron and Steel Works, whose blast furnaces lit up the night sky for miles around.
Railway sidings ran all over the site and went down to wharves along “Wide Waters”, where goods were loaded onto canal barges for transport along the Stourbridge and Dudley canal system. The air was full of
smoke and noise and there can hardly have been room for a blade of grass amongst the slagtips, colliery
waste and railway sidings that covered the site.
All this activity and industry has disappeared today. By the early years of this century most of the collieries and claypits had closed. The brickworks and railways survived up to the 1960s, and Round Oak, the pride of the Earl’s industrial empire, finally shut down in the 1980s. The old brickpits on the Leys were used for a while as a refuse tip, but were finally capped in the 70s.
Only two areas of the Reserve have been relatively free of man’s activities. Evidence of Pensnett’s pre-industrial past can be seen near Fens Pool in a small meadow marked by “ridge and furrow”, rising above are terraces of colliery, clay and blast furnace waste, some 100 fee above the natural ground level.
On this meadow are found hay rattle and adder’s tongue fern, both characteristic plants of old, undisturbed pasture.
Buckpool Dingle still has the appearance of a natural wooded valley, despite the nearby colliery mounds. A few relics of the ancient oak and hazel woodland that must once have covered this area still survive along the valley sides. Bluebells, wood anemones and wild garlic can be found and woodland birds like great spotted woodpecker, treecreeper and jay are present.
Over the rest of the site the scars of past industrial activity are still visible. Once the industry had gone, the land was left to nature. Slowly the abandoned spoiltips and railways were clothed with scrub and grassland, whilst the worked out pits and crown holes (collapsed mine shafts) filled with water. Gradually the wilderness of wetlands, grasslands and scrub that you see today emerged.
Grove, Middle and Fens Pools are still used by British Waterways to top up the canal system. They also have an excellent fish stock, including some enormous pike and carp! There are also large populations of frogs and toads, plenty of invertebrates and some unusual plants.
The wealth of fish, invertebrate and plant life attracts many water birds. Resident species include mute swan and great crested grebe, whilst reed and sedge warblers are frequent summer visitors. The Pools
attract many over-wintering and migrant waterfowl, such as shoveler, wigeon and gadwall.
Some more unusual species can also turn up, and in the past the Pools have seen great northern diver, red necked grebe and bittern.
Much of the Stourbridge Canal is unused, allowing wildlife to flourish undisturbed by boat traffic. Coot and moorhen nest in reedbeds and the beautiful arrowhead and flowering rush are
The many small ponds north of Fens Pool provide a habitat for the great crested newts. Once common in the British countryside, numbers have dwindled due to development, loss of farm ponds and agrochemical pollution.
Now urban wetlands like the Fens house most of the nation’s population of this creature. In addition there are huge numbers of breeding frogs, toads and smooth newts, making this one of the best amphibian sites in the country.
Because amphibia spend most their life outside the breeding season on dry land, the banks of furnace waste and lumps of clinker lying near the ponds are an important feature.
Amphibia use these to hide under during the heat of the day and to hibernate in winter. On summer days around the small ponds you will see dragonflies and damselflies hawking for insects.
A careful look at reed stems will reveal the empty larval cases left behind after the adults have emerged. Swimming on the pond surface are water boatmen, and you may see the fierce great diving beetle, which is not averse to tackling a stickleback or tadpole!
Buckpool stream is surprisingly clean for such a built up area - clean enough for freshwater shrimps to thrive and provide food for small fishes. In several places it opens out into marshland, a habitat for frogs and home to the scarce wood clubrush.
A pair of kingfisher nest in the Dingle and may often be seen fishing. Marshland of many different types is common throughout the Reserve. The Buckpool marsh vegetation is tall and lush because the soil is rich in plant nutrients.
On the poor industrial soils on the Fens a very different kind of marsh with sedges and rushes is found, and on a marsh by Middle Pool is a large colony of southern marsh orchids, a spectacular sight when in flower in June.
On the slopes above Middle Pool and north of Fens Pool, pioneer vegetation is dominant. Because the furnace slag and railway ballast is alkaline, many of these plants are usually found on limestone grassland and are locally rare, such as blue fleabane, ploughman’s spikenard and fairy fax.
Pioneer species survive on very little nutrient. As they flower and die the soil is enriched and other species which need more nutrient can colonise. Sallow and hawthorn scrub develops, providing nest sites and food for birds like finches and warblers, whilst during the winter months large numbers of fieldfare and redwing are attracted by the hawthorn berries.
Sheltered in sunny glades, butterflies such as common blue, comma and small skipper feed on nectar from wildflowers like knapweed and bird’s foot trefoil.
Buckpool and Fens Pools have wardens to look after its wildlife. They will be happy to provide information to visitors and to arrange guided walks and illustrated talks about the Reserve. They also implement the Management Plan for the site, which aims to improve the reserve not only for wildlife but for visitors too.