50 years of Brandon Marsh

Monday, June 27, 2005

Let's forget about the thousands of years when sand and gravel were laid down beneath Brandon Marsh Nature Reserve by ice ages. Lets just look back over the past 50 years.

Birdwatchers first became aware of the site's potential around the time that the excavation of sand and gravel commenced in 1955. The quarry, and subsidence from the old Binley Colliery galleries which had recently closed, resulted in the development of wetland habitats where previously there had been farmland. For the next dozen or so years a few birdwatchers were given permission to visit the site by the quarry company.

The Brandon Marsh Conservation Group was formed in 1968 and management began in areas within the flood plain away from the quarry workings. The diversity of the wildlife, particularly the bird life, resulted in the site becoming a SSSI in 1973. Over the next few years efforts were successful to have the original planning remit changed and to develop the site as a nature reserve rather than restore it back to farmland after quarrying ceased. Warwickshire Wildlife Trust took over the management of the reserve in 1980, giving it a long-term future, especially when short-term licenses were replaced by a 99-year lease. When the BMCG became the Trust's Brandon Marsh Voluntary Conservation Team in 1984 the development of the reserve accelerated with the building of the first two hides overlooking East Marsh and Teal Pools and the creation of a scrape on the East Marsh.

Quarrying ceased after 34 years in 1989 and several years of site restoration and tidying had to be done by the company.

The excavation of a second scrape on East Marsh Pool in 1990 was in conjunction with the restoration of the old lorry wash area. Soon afterwards the Trust HQ moved to Brandon, incorporating a small visitor centre during 1991.

The removal of several old buildings associated with the quarrying activities and the restoration of the old barn, along with new buildings, culminated in the opening of the new Visitor Centre by David Attenborough in 1998. Brandon was well and truly on the map by now with thousands of visitors each year, including school children.

Management of the site continued apace with the excavation for the first phase of the Newlands reedbed in 1999, which was followed by four years of reed stem planting and willow scrub removal before the second phase started during last year and will continue for the next few summers.

The large reedbeds, which are a feature of the northern parts of the reserve near the Visitor Centre, were the result of the many years of slurry settling during the quarrying era. These have been subject to many years of management work by the Voluntary Conservation Team to avoid the uncontrollable development of willow scrub. The installation of a wind pump during 2002 to transfer water from the lower areas of the reserve to this reedbed helps to maintain its interest.

So the past 50 years have seen many changes on the site: the pastoral farmland scene has been transformed by the hand of man and nature into one of the finest nature reserves in the region, with diverse habitats including wetlands, woodlands and meadows overlooked by seven observation hides, and a fantastic variety of wildlife.

Alban Wincott and Ted Jury

Article taken from Warwickshire Wildlife Trust Magazine, Spring 2005, Issue 119