Surprising beauty in the heart of the industrial midlands
The Clayhanger Marsh complex is situated in the north-east corner of the West Midlands County (formerly a part of Staffordshire) one mile west of Brownhills and a similar distance from the Staffordshire county boundary.
Finding Clayhanger Marsh and Ryders Mere
It can be accessed from Clayhanger village by parking near to the village shops and walking just over one hundred yards to the junction of Bridge Street and Church Street. Here you will find an access to the community recreation ground, enter this following the hedge-line to the right until a point where you can cross onto a set-aside field which is bordered on its north side by the Ford Brook. After two hundred yards or so you will find a metal bridge and a stile that will give you access to the S.S.S.I
The old mineral line will then lead you to another stile on the north east corner of the site, this will in turn allow access to Ryders Mere, a landscaped lake with two islands. From this point you can do a circuit of the lake or access the Timberland Trail which will take you through the farmland on the south side of the complex and lead you to Coppice Woods (sometimes known locally as Grange Farm Woods) and another public footpath which will allow you to complete a circuit back to the village in aproximately one and a half hours.
Alternatively, the sites can be accessed by public Footpath from High Bridges (on the main road from Brownhills to Bloxwich) and Ryders Mere can also be accessed by taking an obvious track from Ryders Hayes Lane, Pelsall and parking on the track bed of the old Railway Line.
Dog Walkers please note - Dangerous Blue-green Algae commonly occurs at both sites so please do not allow your dog into the water if there is an algae bloom. This substance can result in the painful death of a dog within twenty minutes if consumed!
The heart of the complex is the S.S.S.I that was designated in the 1980s after a successful campaign to get its regional significance recognised. The Marsh itself is a post-industrial wetland on the site of the original Clayhanger Colliery, a 'Gin Pit' which was opened in the early twentieth Century and closed after a fatal accident occurred. The mining locally was undertaken by the Jones Brothers who dug shafts to access the workings that originated from the near-by Walsall Wood Colliery which had difficulty accessing the minerals because of a major geological fault. The pit was eventually closed after a fatal boiler explosion that left at least one miner dead and allegedly launched a steam boiler across the main road and into the fields at High Bridges!
The obvious pit mounds at the north and south ends of the site certainly originate from this period of the sites history and there is reason to believe that it is principally the break down of large amounts of pyrites in the colliery spoil that was responsible for the acidification of the site and which in turn is a major factor in the occurrence of many regionally scarce species of plant which make up the flora of the site
The underlying 'Etruria' (Blue Brick) marls facilitate the sites ability to retain high levels of moisture, often when other sites dry-out. This can mean that on occasion Clayhanger may pick up species on passage that may otherwise have used other sites such as Chasewater and Stubber's Green. In fact those three sites combined make up a chain of excellent habitats on a south-west/north east baring which is ideal for both spring and autumn species on migration. The importance of Clayhanger and Ryders Mere as a displacement refuge for those other two sites should not be understated and it is reasonable to assume that each site has an important inter-relationship with the others when measured on their significance for wildlife.
One of the most significant features of the site is its division by a local water-course called the Ford Brook however during the late 1990s Ryders Hayes farm was demolished and the site open-casted before being landscaped into a large lake with two islands called Ryders Mere. In the intervening years the eastern island has been colonised by Oystercatcher, Common Tern and Black Headed Gull, the numbers of which have given the site a regional significance which is long overdue for recognition.
To put the records into context it is necessary to define the recording perameters. The eastern boundary commences immediately behind the residential developments in Clayhanger Village and the western side of the village recreation ground. The southern boundary is defined by the northern towpath of the Wyrley and Essington canal, allowing the southern paddocks to be treated as a part of the complex. This also allows the Sewage Farm to fulfil a role in supporting breeding and wintering species. Coppice Woods, adjacent to Green Lane incorporates impressive Oak/Holly woodland while the western and northern perimeters are delineated by the track bed of the old London & North Western Railway line (the tracks of which were finally removed in 1986). For convenience the exception to this is a slight extension along the route of the footpath to high bridges so that the two pools adjacent to the main road can also be monitored.
In summary, the areas for which records relate includes Grange Farm, the remaining areas of Ryders Hayes Farm, Ryders Mere, farmland and set-aside areas adjacent to the southern boundaries and the S.S.S.I. this gives a good range and diversity of habitats within a locally significant area of green belt land providing potential for an excellent range of local-breeding, migrant and vagrant species to occur.
Why not come along and check it out for yourself ?
Roll of Honour
The Five rarest/most significant species to be recorded at the Clayhanger Marsh/Ryders Mere complex are (in reverse order based on rarity):
5) Hoopoe - Anita Scott 2010
4) Wryneck - Pete Newman 1995
3) Black Winged Stilts - Tony Stackhouse/Steve Hill1) Bufflehead - Unknown finder ? 2004
2) Savi's Warbler - Chaz Mason 1995 *
2) Savi's Warbler - Chaz Mason 1995 *
--The Glossy Ibis of December 2013 is also worthy of mention (K.C. - G.C. - C.M.)