Gravel has long been extracted from along the river Tame, in Staffordshire, and a string of leisure and nature facilities put into place as the quarrying finishes. The latest of these is the new RSPB reserve, Middleton Lakes. The 400 acres of land was bought in 2007, and a lot of hard work by staff and volunteers enabled it to open this year. Quarrying left a mosaic of deep lakes, reed beds, marshy meadows, and woodland. Diggers, earth moving equipment, and earth infill was used to create shallow lakes with scrapes suitable for waders. Willow scrub was removed and hundreds, if not thousands of reeds planted to make reed beds, which in time might attract bitterns. The woodland area was planted with native trees and cattle allowed to graze the meadows. Volunteers have had a wide range of tasks, work teams help on the site from managing the vegetation to helping build broad walks and viewing platforms.
Frequent guided walks and talks bring in income and raise people’s awareness of the site. Work has been put into education facilities and programmes of study for both primary and secondary children. The weather was fine, warm and sunny today, so we visited the reserve this afternoon, the first time for awhile. We entered by the official route, which was the old quarry road, and very pit holed. It was a good job that RSPB notices kept reassuring us we were on the right road! Having reached the cark park, it was obvious that the money had been spent there rather than access. The first area is the play meadow. This area tries to recreate the opportunities for exploration and fun, which we oldies had as children, but sadly are not available to most youngsters today .There is a huge tree truck with branches (horizontal), known as the tangly tree, bales of hay, wooden stepping stones on the edge of a pond, a grassy mound and a large area of grass. Picnic benches are scattered around. A series of poles have the word to tell children to run, squelch, explore, climb, bounce, play etc. A 500m trail goes round this meadow. A notice to adults of little people asked them to keep an eye on little people. It was all very positive a made a refreshing change to the politically correct attitude which frowns on such activities in case of law suits! Unfortunately, we didn’t have any little people with us today, so no excuse to linger.
We passed the boardwalk which overlooks a heronry,( the heronry holds more than 25 nests in mature oak trees and is a hive of activity from January to July), skirted a farm and went down the woodland track. A 700m trail passes through ancient woodland,(full of bluebells in the spring), pausing to look over an old silt bed pond, before crossing Langley brook. There is a large rookery in the wood, very noisy in spring. The path comes out at the Birmingham and Fazeley canal. From there, a choice of two walks are well signposted. The first is the wetland trail. This winds through reed beds and lakes and at times follows the river Tame, 3km long, but flat and grassy. We saw teal, shoveler, and wigeon today, as well as swans and coots. There are benches to sit on, but no hides – the reserve ran out of money. The final look out is over the Northern lake and the best place to see waders. Unfortunately, our stamina gave way before we got that far today! This lake is probably the best for birds as it is the least disturbed by humans only the keen and fit get that far! The full 3km is a circular walk. The third area, which we didn’t visit today, was the Meadow trail. You can pass around the perimeter or wander through the grasslands. The meadows are home for docile English Longhorn cattle, who maintain the area for skylarks and wildflowers. This is a 2.25km route and returns along the surfaced canal towpath. I’d recommend the reserve for families. The keen birders can wander off round the Wetland or Meadow trail. Children will enjoy the play meadow and Woodland walk. Adjacent to the reserve (but not part of it) is Middleton Hall. Those who have not discovered the joys of wildlife could look round the Hall (but check opening times and look for special events), have coffee and a snack and visit the small shops in the Courtyard centre (not always open in the winter). A little further, there is Drayton manor theme park, home of Thomas the Tank engine and a variety of scary rides, and a little zoo. (expensive to get in though). A little further, there is Ventura shopping area for the shopaholics but difficult to park there at weekends. The cheapest and most pleasant option is the RSPB reserve for all!!