Cross county botany at its best

Sat behind a desk in an office it is sometimes easy to forget that, out in the wider world, hardworking organisations are using Biffa Award funding to make a very real and tangible difference. On the surface, grant funding can appear quite soulless; a list of assets to acquire and resources to monitor. But we have seen first-hand that Biffa Award funding means so much more, and can make a real lasting change to people’s lives by transforming environments for the benefit of everyone.

On a sunny June afternoon, I visited Nottinghamshire’s recipient Coronation Meadow on the outskirts of former mining town Shireoaks. The village gets its name from an ancient oak tree which stood where the boundaries of Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire met. This cross county botany was a fitting beginning for my Coronation Meadows adventure. The ambition of restoring a meadow in every county is a beautiful one, and standing at the meeting point of three shires it feels not only achievable, but inspirational.

For 136 years Shireoaks Colliery was the lifeblood of this village and, as with many parts of the midlands, the decline of the mining industry led to a profound loss of identity and purpose for the community. Since the pit’s closure in 1990 the site has been reclaimed by nature; the former colliery has been reborn as the ‘Woodlands’ recreational area which offers a great space for wildlife and the community - whilst still paying tribute to its industrial past. Care has been taken to ensure that the social story of the area is retained within the natural landscape. Pulley wheels frame the entrance to the reserve and a memorial on the crest of the former spoil heap honours the men who lost their lives to the pit.

Biffa Award is able to distribute grants to benefit communities and environments in the proximity of landfill sites as part of The Landfill Communities Fund. It is so appropriate for places like Shireoaks so steeped in industrial history. In these difficult economic times, grants can help breathe new life into communities, who have felt overlooked by the wider world for so long.

A few miles away across the A1 lies Ashtons Meadow, the ‘donor’ meadow which provided the initial green hay used to rebuild the biodiversity of the site. ¬ The meadow itself is a long, thin strip between the woodland and the main road into the village. The wheel of a tractor has left a deep scar in one corner creating a mini ecosystem; a furrow providing a habitat for insect larvae and flourishing marsh orchids. You can spy tiny red flowers of scarlet pimpernel between the yellow rattle, dandelions and purple heads of red clover. A survey last year highlighted the presence of more than 40 varied plant species, and this diversity is increasing year on year.

Resourceful song thrushes can be seen using the lumps of concrete – one of the few remaining legacies of the pit - as anvils to crack open snail shells.  As for butterflies, I saw large whites during my visit and I’m reliably informed that on a good day you can see marbled whites too. In the evenings, a resident barn owl haunts the meadow - searching for field mice amongst the grasses.  Oak and walnut saplings are encroaching on the meadow, their seeds distributed by jays. These young trees are then lovingly nursed by a local volunteer group and moved to a wooded area on top of the hill to help maintain the unique ecology of the site.

The story of the Shireoaks Meadow is that of a wild landscape converted into an industrial one for over a century, and ultimately reclaimed by nature in the most remarkable and beautiful way.

Catherine Boggild is Communications Officer for the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts