Take a stroll along the western bank of the River Tame at Tamworth and you might make a surprising discovery.
Hunkered down in the grass by the edge of the riverbank, in the shadow of Tamworth Castle, is a squat, hexagonal, concrete bunker. This pillbox dates from the early 1940’s, one of around 28,000 similar defensive structures built at strategic locations across the country to slow down a potential German invasion force during World War II.
Follow the river and canal network and you will encounter several more of these fortifications, stark reminders of a dark time in our history.
▸ Read more about anti-invasion preparations during WW2 at Wikipedia.
Whitacre Heath nature reserve is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The 44 hectare site features pools, woodland and wet grassland and is formed from old sand and gravel workings.
The reserve is important for breeding water birds. The pools support species including little grebe, tufted duck, water rail and teal. Waders such as lapwing, redshank, curlew and snipe are also regular visitors to the large areas of wet grassland.
Other frequently seen birds include great spotted and green woodpeckers and numerous species of warblers, finches, tits and thrushes.
Dominated by alder and willow, the wet woodland areas are important for fungi, mosses and liverworts which thrive in damp, shaded conditions. Deadwood provides a home to a number of important beetle species.
Frogs and toads thrive in the moist habitats and pools on the reserve. Grass snakes can be seen in March and April basking in the spring sunshine.
A walk along one of our self-guided trails may reveal some interesting plants including southern marsh orchid and the rare blue fleabane, which is only found at a handful of locations in Warwickshire.
Keep an eye open for the rare white-letter hairstreak butterfly and watch for emperor dragonflies and broad-bodied chasers in mid-summer flying over the open pools.
Look out for…
Open to members of the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust only.
There is good car parking facilities on the Birmingham Road, 0.5km south-east of Lea Marston.
The reserve has fairly flat informal paths (after an initial steep slope up from the car park) with a way-marked route to 5 bird hides. Paths are prone to flooding and are muddy in winter.
Just south of Tamworth lies Middleton Lakes, one of the RSPB’s largest nature reserves.
This 160ha reserve was a gravel quarry until 2007, since when it has been transformed into a haven for wildlife and people.
Situated adjacent to Middleton Hall (owned by Middleton Hall Trust with a craft centre and tea room) and between the River Tame and the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, the site contains lakes, pools, reedbeds, meadows and woodland and is a haven for wading and woodland birds, otters, dragonflies and butterflies.
There are footpaths, viewpoints and an events programme. The reserve is open every day from dawn to dusk.
Look out for…
Open to members of the public (£3 charge for non members).
There is a good network of surfaced and unsurfaced paths, benches and bird hides.
To find out more about access and opening times, as well as the events programme and volunteering, visit the RSPB website.
Common darter dragonfly at Tameside Local Nature Reserve
Tameside was historically pasture land and is now a valuable site for wildlife and people.
The reserve was created following the building of the A5 bypass, when material was extracted from the site for the construction of road embankments.
Tameside covers 18 hectares, with a 3.2 hectare lake as the most prominent feature. The lake has four small islands, and is a great place to spot little egrets, herons and lapwings. The River Tame passes through the reserve and a small link to the lake enables fish to take refuge from the fast water and spawn. Kingfishers are regularly seen feeding along the river bank and barn owls may be observed hunting for small mammals over the rough grassland.
The reserve is a mix of grassland, scrub, ponds, and scrapes, and new areas of woodland have been planted across the site. All of this encourages many different species, from foxes and other small mammals, to an abundance of birds, insects and plants. Look out for dragonflies, marsh frogs and grass snakes.
There are a number of trails around the site that link to the River Walk into Tamworth and up on to the towpath of the Birmingham and Fazeley canal, which crosses the river on an aqueduct at the southern end of the reserve.
The LNR is managed by Tameside Wildlife Conservation Group through the ‘Wild about Tamworth’ project, a joint initiative between Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and Tamworth Borough Council.
The 61-acre Broad Meadow is sited on an island between the two channels of the River Tame at Tamworth.
It is an example of lowland meadow – a floodplain grassland habitat which is becoming increasingly rare in Staffordshire and across the UK. Broad Meadow is also one of only two sites in the county where the rare Snake’s Head Fritillary can be found growing wild.
Broad Meadow is a Local Nature Reserve and is managed under the Wild About Tamworth project, which aims to make the site more accessible to people by opening it up and more valuable to wildlife by allowing the fritillaries to spread.
Look out for…
From Oxbridge Way, via the bridge over the weir to the west of the site.
During the 1920s, the City of Birmingham began constructing the first of three giant power stations at Hams Hall.
When completed, the Hams Hall site was the largest power station in Europe, with a combined generating capacity of over 900MW. Together the three power stations burned around 1.25 million tonnes of coal a year.
Watch a British Pathé news reel of the opening of Hams Hall power station in 1929.
The site was nationalised in the 1940s and continued generating electricity up until the 1990s.
By 1993 all three power stations had been closed and demolished, and the site was sold for redevelopment. The only building to escape demolition is the sub-station control building, with its magnificent domed ceiling. The building has a new purpose as a bat roost and is home to brown long-eared bats.
The site is now the Hams Hall Distribution Park and is home to many large companies, including E.ON, Sainsbury’s and BMW.
This unusual Gothic-style footbridge was probably built in the 1830s by the celebrated architect Sir Robert Smirke, while constructing nearby Drayton Manor for local MP Sir Robert Peel (later to become Prime Minister). The manor house was demolished in 1929 and later became the site of the Drayton Manor Theme Park.
The Grade II listed footbridge is located near to the entrance of the Drayton Manor theme park and is among the most ornate bridges anywhere on Britain’s canals.
The bridge has been restored by the Canal & Rivers Trust as part of the Tame Valley Wetlands Scheme. Read more…
The pumping station at Whitacre Heath waterworks was built around 1860 to supply fresh water to Birmingham.
The magnificent red-brick building was built in a Venetian Gothic-style and supplied up to six million gallons of fresh water per day, extracted from the River Blythe and the River Bourne. The building originally contained two large beam engines, designed by James Watt.
In 1904 Birmingham’s water supply was switched to the Elan Valley reservoir. The pumping station was then used to supply Coventry and Nuneaton.