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The ProgrammeFuelling a Revolution

The Woodlands of Chapeltown

A continuous sweep of woodlands dominates the skyline along a five kilometre stretch of the west facing slope on the boundary between Sheffield and Barnsley between Tankersley and Thorpe Hesley. It provides an extremely important landscape feature and shelters Chapeltown from the intrusion of the heavy traffic on the M1 and the Stocksbridge bypass. Three sections of this woodland, Newbiggin Plantation, Thorncliffe Wood and Chapeltown Park Wood, are managed as heritage woods under the Fuelling a Revolution project. There could be no more appropriate candidates for inclusion in the project for they have been integral in the industrial developments of the area since the earliest times.

With its long history of iron working and coal mining the whole area was subject to high levels of pollution of all kinds. Spoil heaps and pits scarred the landscape, railway lines crisscrossed the historic woods, aerial ropeways clattered overhead with spoil or coal and the air was choked with the smoke and emission from the coking and chemical works. With the closure of the pits and the demise of heavy industry, however, the woodlands are recovering and areas which were once heaps of black spoil are covering with regenerated vegetation and are becoming valuable wildlife habitats. Unfortunately the pronounced humps and hollows which characterise the coal workings in the local woods are very attractive to motorbike and BMX cyclists whose activities tend to wreck the ground flora and churn the woodland floor into thick black mud.

The area boasts a great variety of habitat types. There are wetlands beside the Charlton and Blackburn Brooks and ponds which were former industrial reservoirs and millponds, including an extremely unusual area of mature willow carr beside Thorncliffe Pond. These areas could have high amenity value to local people but much restoration still needs to be done to bring them to an acceptable standard. Since the major primary industrial activities of coal mining and iron working ceased some thirty years ago the Chapeltown area has changed considerably with much new house building, so that it is fast becoming a major dormitory suburb serving Sheffield and Barnsley. There is no doubt that the regeneration of the woodland environments around Chapeltown will be an extremely important factor in improving the standard of living for the local community.

CHAPELTOWN PARK WOOD

Chapeltown Park Wood forms part of Chapeltown Park. It stretches along the western facing slope of the valley of the Blackburn Brook. Towards the southern end the wood merges with the more formal setting of Chapeltown Park, with its exotic trees such as cedar and acacia. It is composed of mixed broadleaf trees with groups of beech, oak and sycamore with some ash. There are some large mature beech trees, over 200 years old. All these trees are regenerating vigorously throughout the wood, with beech being prevalent. The wood presently has a neglected air and there is evidence of fly tipping, vandalism and fires. The wood, however, is well used and provides an important amenity for the local community. This is reflected in the recent creation of the ‘Friends of Chapeltown Park’ group

HISTORY
The wood was originally part of the nearby Hesley Wood, which was amongst the woods listed as coppice woods in the inventory of the Earl of Shrewsbury around 1600. This evidence suggests that this is an ancient woodland. On the Ecclesfield Parish Map of 1790 Chapeltown Park Wood appears as part of Hesley Wood.

A number of features in the wood betray the industrial nature of its past, including old trackways, quarry pits and mineral prospecting pits. An overgrown railway track marks the division between Chapeltown Park wood and Hesley Wood. Spoil from the Smithy Wood Colliery was dumped in Hesley Wood throughout the early 20th century, obliterating much of both Hesley and Chapeltown Park Woods. A heap of spoil next to the main path in the centre of the wood is used as an unofficial bike course for scramblers and mountain bikes.

ECOLOGY
An ecological survey was carried out in the summer of 2001. This classified the wood as being of moderate importance for nature conservation as an area of ancient woodland but the low species richness and the dominance of sycamore and beech regeneration limits its overall value at present. In spring there is a good show of bluebells. Dead wood is especially important in providing habitats for invertebrates, birds and bats. There is already some standing and fallen deadwood but one of the management tasks will be to increase the amount of deadwood in the wood. Selective thinning over the next three years will aim to let more light through the canopy to encourage the growth of woodland plants and flowers

ACCESS
The wide tarmac path which runs right through the wood from the north to the south provides excellent access and should, in future, provide opportunities for all to enjoy the benefits of the developments. There is a car park at the northern entrance to the wood.

MANAGEMENT
Restoration and access improvement work is taking place to restore the woodland to its former glory and to maximise its potential as a recreational and educational resource. Some thinning of trees will be carried out in order to create a more varied woodland structure dominated by oak and other native trees. Sycamore, a non-native but highly invasive species, will be particularly favoured for removal. The basic aim will be to utilise the abundant present regeneration to maintain a diverse species and age mix within the wood. Felling will be phased over three years to reduce the visual and ecological impact.

There is an opportunity to harvest some of the timber from the site. This will be stacked and loaded at the car park off Station Road.

Steps will also be taken to control rhododendron, Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam, non-native and highly invasive species, which are spreading and beginning to shade out native plants.


Access to the woodland will be improved by upgrading the path system, a particular focus of this work being to open up the woodland to people with limited mobility.

Finally, the potential of the site as an educational and recreational resource will be developed through guided walks, events relating to the natural history and historic interest of the site, children's events and practical management tasks.

AN AREA OF NATURAL REGENERATION and SUCCESSION

There are a number of unofficial footpaths leading into the woodland at the top of the park which lead onto the disused spoil heaps of Hesley Wood. Surprisingly these are some of the most beautiful and fascinating landscapes in the area! These old black tips show the effect of the natural succession of vegetation on these thin acid soils for they are rapidly becoming covered with birch woodland which is, in turn, providing cover for oak saplings to flourish.

The wildlife here is especially interesting with a wide variety of birds and insects on the rich plant life, including sparrowhawks and hares. There is even a wet area with a patch of phragmites reeds. The views from the top are stunning and the footpaths dry.

Jays and grey squirres are important agents in spreading acorns to extend oak woodland.

A COLLECTION OF UNUSUAL TREES

Whilst the ancient woodland area of Chapeltown Park Wood has suffered from a lack of management over the years it still preserves a remarkable variety of native trees. In fact virtually every one of the native trees characteristic of the ancient woodlands in this area can be identified on a walk through this short stretch of wood.

What makes a walk through this park so special, however, is the extraordinary collection of exotic trees from around the world which grow in the park, some of which are quite rare and occur only in specialist collections. These include a large tree of heaven and an unusual vine leaved maple. See if you can spot them.


Other nearby Heritage Woodlands are:

To download an education pack on the woodlands of Chapeltown click here.

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Birch regeneration on the old coal spoil heaps Looking towards High Green from Hesley Wood. Looking over Chapeltown from the park. Birch regeneration on spoil heaps.