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Published April 30th 2020
Get up close and personal to nature during town walk
It may not look anything special at first glance, but Broad Meadow Local Nature Reserve in Tamworth has earned the status of a valuable wildlife site, thanks to the snakeshead fritillaries which grow there. It is said to be one of the few sites in the country that has a population of naturally occurring snakesheads, which were first recorded in Britain in the 18th century and were pretty widespread until the 1930s when the loss of wetland meadows through drainage and development destroyed much of its ideal habitat. Unfortunately, the much-admired fritillaries, which help give Broad Meadow its status as a designated Site of Biological Importance, proved elusive on my visit, but it is still easy to see why this 61-acre site - squeezed between two arms of the River Tame - is regarded by locals as a wildlife haven in the heart of an urban area.
Until the mid-1960s, the fields that now makeup Broad Meadow were used for grazing by a local farmer's dairy herd, starting in June and continuing through until the first frosts of winter. This practice stopped when local conservation volunteers took over responsibility for keeping the grass short. However, given the size of the fields, it wasn't long before the decision was taken to re-introduce cattle to the site. They are normally allowed to graze on the public open space from late spring to mid-winter, both to keep the grass short but also to help the vital fritillaries flower and seed. The cows also eat the larger, more vigorous plants on the site, preventing them from becoming too dominant and therefore also allowing a wider variety of flowers and other plants to grow. And their dung comes in useful as well. There are signs on the site from the local cattle farmer involved, who assures visitors to Broad Meadow that he has chosen some of his "most gentle" cows to graze on the site, but still asks people to keep dogs on their lead, remove dog waste as it can contain harmful parasites, and not approach or feed the cows.
Broad Meadow, which is a long, fairly narrow site, is best accessed from Oxbridge Way at the Coton end of the nature reserve. This is where visitors can admire the splendid weir, with a footbridge running over the top, and also wander through the adjoining copse of woodland. From here there are several footpaths that visitors can follow, either alongside the waterways, or through the field meadow itself. The river running alongside Oxbridge Way is particularly delightful, given the reeds and water lilies which attract a variety of birds such as coots. On a previous visit, I was fortunate enough to see a heron at the opposite end of the site, close to Tamworth Castle and the town centre. Much of the site was formerly part of a paper mill until the local Tamworth Borough Council took ownership and developed it as a nature reserve, encouraging wildflowers such as the fritillaries as well as cowslips, red campion, wild geraniums and red clover to thrive.
While keeping an eye out for these floral delights, as well as any wildlife, visitors are urged to stick to the footpaths as a network of ditches run throughout the site to maintain water levels and enable the wetland meadow flowers to flourish. Broad Meadow LNR is supported through the Wild About Tamworth project, which is a partnership between Tamworth Borough Council and the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.