This feature is about the developing Bold Forest Country Park.
But before we start this feature its worth remembering why such local places, and more of them, in future need to exist
With the expanding population in the UK the need for growth and development there is a danger of uncontrolled and excessive urbanisation of our communities. Without careful planning of green belt, rural corridors and urban green space on a wider scale, then undoubtedly , that is what the final outcome will be.
Wild connectively and green corridors are critical, without which any country parks or reserves will not develop naturally and will in effect be no more than localised gardens.
Most forms of wild creatures roam or migrate or both. This is an essential element of the natural world and without the means to do so much of our wildlife will cease to exist in the future as urbanisation encroaches on the finite wild areas.
It is therefore not enough to develop such areas in isolation but part of an integrated strategy linking many areas of habitat accross our region. Fortunately such planning does, to an extent, exist with the work of the Mersey Forest, the forestry commission and local authorities along with UK and EU legislature.
But very much more needs to be done with the aggressive pressure to urbanise and industrialise. Green space is finite and with this pressure much should be done to not only protect but to enhance and improve the quality of those areas that remain.
Forest Parks and corridors very much have a part to play in this. When considering this we often think in terms of rural areas and connecting with urban areas however urban areas also have a part to play. Garden Cities and towns have come to prominance in recent years with the drive to promote green areas within towns allowing biodiversity to corridor urban areas. Gardens and Parks do have a part to play as do roadside areas in terms of plant and insect life an integral part of the food chain.
Our Local Voice are active members of CPRE (Campaign for Protection of Rural England) as such our default position is that green belt should be preserved and industrial or house building should only be developed on previously developed land (Brown Belt). Green Belt is there for a very good reason to protect against towns joining and creating unbroken urbanised sprawl and to protect our heritage and landscape. There is not much of it and what there is we need to hang on to.
We see it as being critical Bold Forest Park and others like it in the region are not the “end state” but the begining of an integrated strategy to maintain our environment as an area people would want to live in, an area businesses would want to relocate to because of skill attraction and retention a place of health and well being.
Therefore we hope there are more examples of this type not only in all areas of the St Helens Borough but Halton, Wigan and Warrington and that these are integrated by green corridors throughout our region.
At the end of this feature we also look a little at some of the agencies that facilitate this vision and what you can do to help and support.
Bold Forest Park
Having got this out of the way we have pleasure in introducing this development in St Helens, to the south of the town, that appears to conform to all these requirements.
The proposed Bold Forest Park is within the planning and strategy of St Helens Council. The council are inviting public comment on this development to invite members of the public to express views and offer opinions of the future development of the park. Link to the consultation and the website of Bold Forest Park is at the end of this article together with the AAP (below) from St Helens council.
The Bold Forest Park is what is called an Area Action Plan” (AAP) which is the term used for a council to develop a planning framework seen as an area of opportunity for rural investment in the visitor economy. Once adopted the action plan will form part of St Helens core strategy.
The Park covers an area of 7 square miles or 1800 hectares and there are two watercourses flowing through, Pendlebury Brook and Union Bank Whittle Brook.
There are four wards in the St Helens area of the Park, Bold, Parr, Thatto Heath and Sutton with a population of around 47,000 people. Part of the Park is also in the Warrington borough in the parish of Burtonwood and Westbrook with a further population of 11,000.
A total of nearly 60,000 people therefore live around Bold Forest Park.
Within Bold Forest Park there are three Scheduled Monuments, six Grade II Listed Buildings and 11 sites of archaeological interest. Much of this concerns the medieval Bold Hall with a number of moated areas and manor house. The remaining areas are concerned with industrial heritage related to mining and sites connected to world war two including a prisoner of war camp.
There are a number of small car parks surrounding the park but the park has two main access points are parking areas these are
Sutton Manor – from M62 Junction 7 via Warrington Road to access the south of the Forest park, particularly Bold Heath, via Jubits Lane to access the north of the forest park, particularly the open space sites such as Sutton Manor and Dream
Burtonwood – from M62 Junction 8 via Clay Lane, Gorsey Lane (Burtonwood) to access the north of the forest park area
The scheme would involves the development of several recreational green space hubs from an extremely large area of interconnecting green belt in the south of St Helens town centre to its boundaries with Warrington and Halton authorities.
From the south the Forest starts in the borough of Warrington at the edge of Burtonwood at the Wheatacre Park crossing the boundary into St Helens at the magnificent Colliers Moss Common onward connecting in St Helens with clock face country park, Maypole, Griffin wood, Brickfields and onto Sutton Manor where the dream statue is located.
Much of this land is on disused Colliery Sites such as Sutton Manor, Clock face, Lea green and Bold Colliery. Nature has re-taken these areas and created rich habitats, forests, meadows and wetlands. The old colliery spoil heaps are now grassed over and form vantage points with breathtaking views across Lancashire, Cheshire and the Sefton coastline.
This is an evolving long term partnership project started in 1994 with the launch of the Mersey Forest long term plan and in partnership with the forestry commission, St Helens Council, Bold Parish Council, St Helens Chamber and the Pure Hubs project an EU funded project which aims to reconnect urban and rural countryside.
In addition to creating managed areas of green space for people to enjoy the scheme also intends to facilitate outdoor activities. Segway riding, dog sledding, mountain biking, boarding, paintballing, clay pigeon shooting, archery and angling.
An equestrian centre is also being considered bringing riding lessons, pony trekking and show jumping.
Although we would hope these are reserved for areas not sensitive to biodiversity habitats.
Planners say the scheme would make the most of the boroughs natural resources boost leisure tourism and create health improving opportunities plus hundreds of jobs.
Councillor Richard McCauley the St Helens councils cabinet member for regeneration is quoted as follows
“The plan is fantastic ! it will do so much for the area not just economically but also in terms of liveability”
Mr McCauley in our view is absolutely correct the word “Liveability” being noteworthy.
Our members have not explored the whole of the forest park although we walked an extensive area of several miles from Burtonwood playing fields entering Whiteacre woods and then exploring colliers moss common some miles to the north.
The habitat is developing much of the woodlands are emerging but it’s clear in time these will be beautiful natural woodlands. Because the most of the area is ex colliery the coal shale can be seen in the soil however this is is not necessarily negative it has pros and cons. Many wildflowers thrive on ex colliery sites and can adapt very well to the shallow soil and there are many examples in the North of England. This in term promotes insect life which nurtures the natural food chain.
Bold Forest Park is still young and in many places the ex colliery workings are evident but as years pass this will negate ever further as tree, meadow, water table, insect, plant, bird and amimal life establish and enrich the land.
It is astonishing natures ability to create a transformation of an area and how quickly flora and fauna that have been absent for decades even centuries return and restore to what was once or to what should be in the prevailing climatic and environmental conditions.
As well as woodland, grassland there appears to be expensive wetland throughout possibly due to legacy from mining or underground workings or the natural marl. Much of the area of the north west of england was natural mossland at one time. There is much scope for this wetland to be developed further either lakes, large ponds or general wetland habitats. Many of these exist already many could be created over time.
These wetland areas are the natural home of Dragonflies, Damselflies and other aquatic life in addition to amphibians. Bold Forest Common is the most suitable habitat for these species and 17 species of dragonfly have been recorded. We would expect this to increase over time and we also expect similar counts for damselflies.
Butterflies are likely to be abundant with fast flying springspecies such as Brimstone doing well with the open country and the woodland areas have scope for White Letter and Purple Hairstreak Butterflies although this would require Elm and Oak as host trees.
The Ringlet butterflies is also moving north rapidly with species seen in Warrington in 2014 and this is suitable habitat for these newcomers to the north west.
The site is perfect for grassland species, Coppers, Blues and Skippers particularly Colliers Moss Common but throughout the whole area has potential also.
We would expect well over 20 species of butterflies are possible possibly more with global warming and species migration northwards and with the potential for migrants such as Clouded Yellow which are sometimes found in the North West Region in areas of open country such as this area.
For the insect enthusiast be that Dragonflies, Damselflies or Butterflies the scope is excellent with almost limitless areas to explore.
Bird life should thrive in these areas particularly birds of prey, Barn Owl, Short Eared Owl, Little Owl, Tawny Owl, Buzzard, Peregrine, Merlin, Kestrels, Sparrow hawks. In addition to ground dwelling birds, woodland birds and grassland species.
The area of open water available is not on the scale of Pennington Flash so should not have the extent of wildfowl however nonetheless there is some open water available (and scope to create more) and so in general terms bird count should be at similar levels to other reserves in the area Wigan and Warrington.
In terms of Woodpeckers the common Greater Spotted will be abundant there is a slight possibility of the very rare lesser spotted which is found with the Warrington / Halton region this area adjoins. The grassland and open heath aspect with close proximity to trees gives this site a great potential for Green Woodpeckers which are reasonably common in similar habitats in the Warrington and Halton areas.
For mammals certainly Roe Deer, Foxes, Stoats, Weasels and although the shale ground is not ideal potentially also badgers which are spreading in range locally and are very adaptable to new environments. With the potential insect life and wetland the potential for several species of bats is outstanding, as the park matures.
There are four species of bat so far recorded in Bold Forest Park, Noctule, Soprano Pipistrelle, Common Pipistrelle and Daubentons.
With all species we would expect the numbers of mammals to be found in the park to be in the mid double figures.
For the nature lover a very exciting new prospect locally both for wildlife observation and conservation with scope for species action plans.
Species action plans are where members of the community, special agencies or interest groups are able to plant specific trees or plants or manage habitats in such a way as to improve outcomes for certain species either endangered or to allow them to extend their range.
This also has prospects for educational and research purposes.
For humans the prospects are equally as good for outdoor leisure time and the good people of St Helens are very fortunate to have such an outstanding facility on their doorstep.
There are many pathways and bridleways where horse riders or mountain bikers can enjoy many miles of unbroken countryside without coming across a road.
Newton Angling association have obtained the angling rights to Colliers Moss Common Lake.
Eddie Marcroft Secretary of Newton AA explains.
The intention is to develop the water into a specialist carp fishery and improving access eventually via Bold Lane with a car park next to the lake as the association has a lot of members who are either of pensionable age or with disabilities. We will be developing the fishing around the natural surroundings and not be disturbing any of the already established reed beds or other natural features and we will be creating fishing pegs around the water for our members to fish from and again as naturally as possible This is a long term project and until this comes to fruition our members will have to use the car park to the rear of Bold business park and walk to the fishery as a temporary measure.
And finally for the walker be that short stroll, dog walking or the more serious long distance rambler the potential is outstanding. There are good quality shale pathways throughout and the site has many areas of complete solitude. Many of the forest areas could be in Scandinavia and on the high ground many of the views are breathtaking, particularly on a clear day.
Some of the areas are quite remote and so bear that in mind and take the normal sensible precautions.
Although still subject to further development, including the consultation, Bold Forest Park is very much open to business and many locals have been enjoying the lovely open space for some time.
Our members have made a number of visits and the site is clearly popular with local people and visitors alike whether ramblers, pony trekkers, bird watchers, dog walkers or people out for a stroll in some fresh air and solitude. Its true some of the areas are remote but many are not and there are people about, you pick and choose like anywhere.
To return to the opening section of this article we could hope Bold Forest Park is part of a wider initiative to create similar places and to connect them by green corridors both from within the boundaries of the Borough of St Helens but also in partnership with neighbouring authorities. The Mersey Forest and Red Rose Forest projects and strong facilitators to help this process.
We laid out at the outset our vision of our region that can be summed up simply as we want to live in a pleasant, healthy environment where biodiversity and heritage and green spaces are protected. To recap we said the maximum green space should be preserved brown belt build on as default and the green spaces to be interconnected via wildlife corridors.
Not only does this make it a nice place to live but it also creates jobs and employment.
Country Parks and the rural visitor economy does employ people in its own right but crucially it’s a big enabler of economic growth which creates thousands of jobs. There are few significant employers who want to relocate to an area of pollution or unbroken urban sprawl. They want to attract and retain talent, particularly in the knowledge economy where the economic growth potential is Such people want to bring up their families in a healthy and pleasant environment or before long they would take their talent elsewhere.
And therefore it is no accident places such as Bold Forest Park are springing up around the UK.
This is all well and good but what can be done about it ? and more importantly what can I personally do?
Assuming you share our vision you could lobby your elected representatives, you councillors and your member of parliament and let them know how you feel.
You can support the agencies that are aiming to bring this vision about. You can join environmental organisations of which Our Local Voice is one of many. We urge you to read Our Local Voice vision “The Green between the grey” you will see a link at the bottom of this feature.
But let’s have a quick look at some of the agencies that are helping to bring about this vision.
Mersey Forest - this covers more than 500 square miles of woodland between North Cheshire and Merseyside its equivalent in Lancashire is the Red Rose Forest. The Mersey Forest is created by partnership of seven local authorities, Cheshire West and Chester, Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens and Warrington. The major landowners are the forestry commission, local authorities, natural England and businesses including United Utilities. Look at their website at the end of this feature there are many ways you can get practically involved from a community perspective. At the bare minimum you can register to get updates via email which only takes seconds on the website.
Atlantic Gateway Parklands - The Atlantic Gateway is the most significant project to be undertaken in the North West of England since the industrial revolution for more information see the development section of the Our Local Voice website. This is very much as we have described above creating the environment for economic growth by developing the natural environment alongside economic development attracting talent and developing the knowledge sector. This is very much in the news recently with the talk of re-balancing the economy and the northern powerhouse.
The Atlantic Gateway project is managed by Peel Holdings here is the description of the vision in their own words.
“The transformation from grey to green is the main focus of the Atlantic Gateway Parklands – the Landscape for Prosperity. The ambition is for the whole area to be a high quality environment attractive to investors, visitors and businesses alike. This is a generational task, following on from more than 25 years of water quality improvements and addressing the new challenges of sustainable development that is resilient to our changing climate”
The parklands project will develop more places like Bold Forest Park with the support of agencies like Natural England and the Mersey Forest / Red Rose Forest.
Does this mean all this is happening around us and we can await the development of the vision?
Absolutely not much of this is strategic and visionary at a local level communities still have to battle for their local environment and shape their communities within these overarching visions.
That depends and you and people like you taking action.
To find out more about Bold Forest Park where it is and the public consultation “have your say” which closes on the 16th January 2015 click HERE
To find out about the Mersey Forest click HERE
To find out about OLV’s vision the Green between the Grey click HERE
To find out about Atlantic Gateway Parklands click HERE
To see a utube film with one of the rangers Rick Rodgers discussing Bold Forest Park click HERE
To see a utube film made by a member of the public on Bold Forest Park click HERE