Not-quite-natural wetland: a sneak preview at Hirst Wood nature reserve

The other day I was treated to a guided tour of Hirst Wood Regeneration Group‘s new nature reserve area (next to Hirst Lock at the bottom of Hirst Lane) by the group’s secretary Pauline Bradley Sharp. The reserve has its official opening on Saturday 12th September from 1pm — on the first weekend of Saltaire Festival. (The opening will, we hope, be visited by our promenade performance for the festival, Pleasant Valley Saltaire – which kicks off at 2pm from Saltaire Visitor Information Centre. See festival info.)

DSC_0006Here’s Pauline with most of the reserve area behind her – the more natural, wetland area to the left of the path, and the more orderly areas and fresh planting to the right. The whole thing is beautifully laid out, and while there are some finishing touches to complete before the opening, it’s already a wonderful space to wander around and spend time in.

DSC_0012This welcome board stands at the entrance to the site, providing a map … you can see how the Leeds-Liverpool Canal provides the northerly boundary, to what is essentially a hollow in the landscape, no use for building on, because of the way it collects water.

DSC_0009But as is clearly indicated by this second interpretation board — in the heart of the site, on the approach to the pond area — this area is brilliant for wildlife, in terms of birds, insects, an so forth. A perfect location for a nature reserve: all that was needed was a bit of planning and a bit of love.


Here’s the pond from a bit more of a distance, and a sign indicating all the sponsors and supporters who have contributed to the project (a lot of love, as I mentioned!). The whole thing got going because of a £25,000 grant that Pauline researched and applied for — the Biffa Award scheme (designed to create sites compensating for Biffa’s landfill activities elsewhere!). It’s the latest and most ambitious in a series of area improvement schemes that HWRG has pursued in the last few years. They’re an amazing example of what a community interest group can achieve when they put their minds and wills to something.

DSC_0005Here’s the pond area again from a bit more of a distance. Most of what you see in this shot is land that will be quite boggy in most seasons and weather conditions — although that’s not especially the case just now after a fairly dry summer. One of the things I like best about the nature reserve is how nature is being left to take its course in areas like this — but it never looks scruffy or uncared for.

Pauline tried to show me the French drain that feeds the wetland area. I hadn’t heard the expression before, but apparently its a stone-lined drainage channel that guides surface water in a particular direction downhill. We couldn’t find it amidst the undergrowth, but Pauline then led me out of the nature reserve site and along its northern perimeter…


Here she is walking down the edge of the lock’s bywash, with the nature reserve to the right. A little further along, she showed me the crack in the wall where water runs out of the bywash and down towards the not-quite-natural wetland area! Now, it wasn’t quite clear to me why someone would construct a French drain instead of just repairing the wall, but maybe it’s all about taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves…

That;s exactly what a lot of local groups and organisations have done, in getting involved with the nature reserve scheme. Pauline told  me about a sort of snowball effect that has occurred (more so with this scheme than any previous HWRG initiative): the more people have got interested and involved, the more this has drawn in others…

DSC_0004This little garden area, at the west end of the site, is a good example. It’s planted in the colours of Saltaire Primary School, because the school has adopted it and will take responsibility for it. In the background of the shot, you can see the little outdoor classroom area they’ll also be using. And just below is a mosaic the children have made as a covering for an old manhole cover that was found on the site, and that has to remain in situ. So they decided to beautify it a bit…


Pauline joked that she’s not good with art like this, though the tree, pond and flowers look fairly clear to me (good job kids!). In this short Youtube video the children explain how the made it — and there are also some images of the site before it began to be redeveloped. There’s quite a radical difference.

DSC_0010Everyone is welcome at the nature reserve — even bugs! This is one of two bug hotels on the site. The other one (pictured in this previous blog post with its maker, when it was still in his front garden) is more of a traditional ‘house’ shape, but this one’s more ‘modernist’ — reminds me of a Frank Lloyd Wright building I saw in America once…

DSC_0011And here is Pauline (on her side for some reason – can’t get this picture to stand up straight!) with a log bench that has been made out of one of the tree trunks that, very controversially, were cut down from Victoria Road in Saltaire. It’s good to see that a new use has been found for it, despite the upset caused to some.


And no, this sign isn’t a comment on the Saltaire trees being cut down (!). Posted on the gate of the nature reserve, it records the fact that — a few weeks ago — some “idiots” could apparently find nothing better to do with themselves than smash up parts of a site lovingly prepared by volunteers… I’ve left this to the end of the blog post because I didn’t want to sour the main story, which is one of real endeavour and achievement. And thankfully, nothing was broken that can’t be repaired or replaced. But there’s a salutary reminder here that a place like this can only survive if there really a will from everyone in the community to protect and preserve it. Come September 12th it will be open to everyone, at all hours. Still, I’m confident that, once people see the value of what is on offer here – as a place to visit, hang out, watch the world go by — it will indeed be respected and cared for. Let’s hope so, anyway…

My thanks again to Pauline, for this sneak preview and for her excellent company.






1 thought on “Not-quite-natural wetland: a sneak preview at Hirst Wood nature reserve

  1. we are hoping the Canal & River Trust never repair the leaking wall because that is what feeds our pond with fresh water from the bywash of the locks, our pond if it gets overfull is designed to spill back into the water course

    we now have a resident Gremlin called Griselda that lives on the newly made jungle path through the giant weeds, specially created for the kids

    And being a woman does my bum look big in those pants?

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