Yorkshire wetlands designated as SSSI


A cluster of wetlands along the Dearne Valley in South Yorkshire has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Natural England.

The area, which covers a swathe of RSPB-managed land, such as the famous Old Moor reserve, has been awarded SSSI status for its nationally important birds including the rapidly declining Willow Tit, as well as wetland species such as Eurasian Bittern, Northern Lapwing, Avocet and Garganey.

The SSSI links different pockets of valuable habitat in the Dearne Valley area between Pool Ings near Royston in the north, a large area between Worsbrough in the west, and Adwick Washlands in the east.

In many respects Old Moor RSPB is the jewel in the crown of the Dearne Valley Wetlands, which have just been designated as an SSSI (David Wootton / rspb-images.com).

Natural England worked with a number of organisations on the SSSI proposal, including the RSPB, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Garganey Trust, Environment Agency, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster councils, together known as the Dearne Valley Green Heart Partnership.

Paul Duncan, Natural England Area Manager, explained: "Much of the land within the SSSI was formerly used for coal mining. The brownfield land of disused railway lines and spoil heaps has developed important scrub habitats while other land has been used to create new wet grasslands, wetlands and open water sites.

"Many areas of the Dearne Valley Wetlands have public access including the RSPB reserve at Old Moor, so it not only protects valuable habitat but it also gives opportunities for local people and visitors to experience and connect with the rich wildlife of the valley, as well as provide economic benefit to the area.

"The designation as an SSSI ensures the national importance of this place for nature and people can be fully taken into account in future decisions regarding its use and management.

"A key factor in achieving the SSSI status was the stronghold of Willow Tit, a species which has declined by 94% since the 1970s and is now this country's most threatened resident bird species."

Willow Tit is Britain's fastest-declining bird, and the Dearne Valley is recognised as a national stronghold for its remaining population (Jack Bucknall).

Anthony Downing, Environment Agency catchment co-ordinator for the Don and Rother, added: "In the 1980s, the Dearne Valley was a post-industrial landscape including the bulldozed remains of the pits, spoil heaps, coking plants and railway marshalling yards, known locally as 'Hell's Kitchen' because of the frequent fires that broke out there.

"The transformation of the Dearne Valley following the closure of the coal mining industry and coke works to this remarkable landmark of SSSI notification is a truly fantastic achievement, and it is thanks to the tireless efforts of a partnership of organisations and dedicated individuals.

"One of the key drivers of the habitat regeneration was combining nature with flood risk solutions – the washlands still provide the flood risk protection but also wider benefits not only for wildlife but also create a 'green lung' for the people of the Dearne Valley."

Following reed planting in the early 2000s, when the RSPB took over management of Old Moor, one of the principle aims was to attract Eurasian Bitterns. This spring, the area supported three different booming males. And, for the second year running, Western Marsh Harrier is nesting.

Following reed planting almost two decades ago, Eurasian Bittern has now colonised the Dearne Valley (Jack Morris).

RSPB Yorkshire and Humber Area Manager Richard Barnard explained: "The restoration and improvement of the Dearne Valley into the nationally important home for wildlife that it is today is one of the great success stories in UK nature conservation.

"The history of the Dearne shows how investing in nature is vital for addressing the nature and climate emergency and can help bring wildlife back to the nature-depleted environments from which it has been lost.

"In the Dearne Valley, investment in sites like RSPB Old Moor has led to wetlands that help protect homes and businesses from flooding, provide jobs for local people, and offer amazing, nature-rich recreation opportunities, as well as homes for wildlife."

Natural England has notified landowners and occupiers, and statutory bodies of the designation of the Dearne Valley Wetlands SSSI. There is now a four-month consultation period in which people can give their views. For more information, see here.