Conservationists delighted by plan for first Wigan woodmeadow

The first example of the wildlife-rich habitat in the borough will be created next to the former Pemberton Minewater Treatment Works in a project led by Wigan Council and City of Trees.

Friday, 2nd April 2021, 1:33 pm
Updated Friday, 2nd April 2021, 1:36 pm

Conservation student Tommie Harte had originally raised concerns about a tree-planting project earmarked for the site in Winstanley on behalf of local residents.

After some discussion with ecologists and conservation bodies the town hall agreed the site should become a mixture of open grassland and trees around the edges of the meadows.

It is hoped to replicate some of the success of the pioneering Three Hagges Woodmeadow near York, which is now a haven for wildflowers and grasses, insects and birds.

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The site where the woodmeadow will be. Photo by The Notre Society
The site where the woodmeadow will be. Photo by The Notre Society

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Tommie, who is studying at Myerscough College, said: “I’m absolutely delighted. The idea behind this was to preserve one of the last public access open grasslands.

“It is better for biodiversity compared to the woodland that was going to be planted. The trees could potentially have destroyed the grassland habitat.”

Around 200 people signed a petition against the tree planting and local people formed the Elizabeth Meadow Project Community Group, with Tommie writing to the authorities on their behalf.

The name commemorates Elizabeth Hey, who had land there in the 19th century, and Tommie says he would like to see a restoration of the pastures and meadows that were there more than 100 years ago.

He says he would also like to see the site’s name changed to reflect that chapter of history rather than the current link to the industrial past.

Discussions about creating a woodmeadow involved ecologist Josh Styles, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust (LWT) and the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit, with the scheme receiving positive feedback.

In a letter to Tommie announcing the decision Greenheart Project Officer Martin Purcell said: “The revised plan has been amended to woodmeadow as a proposed approach for this project, providing a mixture of wooded areas and open grassland in order to provide a rich mosaic of habitats without adversely impacting the recreational value of the site.

“The alternative proposals for woodmeadow have been well-received by both ecologists and local residents.”

Conservationists and wildlife experts have talked up the potential value of the project.

Mr Styles said: “I didn’t think it would be good for the site to be either all trees or wildflower meadow, whereas a woodmeadow is the most diverse sward of habitat in the whole of Europe.

“It is marvellous that this is happening and great that the council has taken the advice on board. This doesn’t stop people from using the site, so you’ve got the benefits for residents, the benefits for carbon capture and the benefits for biodiversity.

“The Yorkshire site was a farm field and now over 1,000 invertebrate species have been recorded. Hopefully we will see the same kind of results at this site.”

Dr Mark Champion, LWT Wigan projects manager, said: “It will look like a network of trees and open grassland. It’s a great success we’ve got everyone on the same hymn sheet and it will be interesting to see what happens. It will definitely add to the habitats for willow tits.

“It will help to create a green corridor between Orrell Water Park and that end of the borough and places like Wigan Flashes and Amberswood. It should also be good for both grassland and woodland butterflies and bees.”

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