How things have changed

Today I woke to a hoar frost, my front hedge thoroughly rimed.  My thermometer had recorded an overnight minimum of minus 5 Celsius (that’s 23F across the pond).  Soon, I was hatted, fleeced and booted and on my way up the street.

Too late for me to be bothered to go back, I realised I could have taken with me a print of how Brownhills Common looked thirty five or so years ago.

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Then:  A frosty Brownhills Common, maybe around 1980.

I found what I thought was about the same spot, pointed and pressed.

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Now:  A frosty Brownhills Common in 2016.

Okay, that is just half a lifetime, but this is a world apart from the place my grandfather and his father knew.  They would have been familiar with all of these locations, but their character was very different in their day.  The view from this spot would have had perhaps the odd spindly tree, set in a sea of heath, sometimes blooming purple, at others blackened by fire.  I imagine they would hardly believe that the area could be anything like it is today.  The Common is as it is today thanks to planting by Aldridge-Brownhills Urban District Council in the early nineteen seventies as it awaited amalgamation into Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council.  Before that it had been open heath for some hundreds of years.

Although some heather remains on this part of the common it is mainly grass and trees today; including my favourite oak, which cannot be much more than forty years old.

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Scots pine encroaching on the heath.

Some time back the Council announced that they would be clearing Scots Pine, not native to the area, as part of the management plan for the Brownhills Common SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), a nationally important conservation designation.  This aroused a certain amount of local protest, but opinion is divided.  Some thinning was carried out, but, so far, only one stand of pines had been completely removed.  Bat roosting boxes have been installed in another.

The trees in the central image were on the higher ground behind the logs.

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Scots pines.  Sharp-eyed folk might spot the buzzard top right.

When these stands of pines were planted in the early ‘seventies they were whips surrounded by wooden fencing.  This outraged some locals, who said it infringed their right of access.  To some degree they were right, but a compromise was reached when the Council committed to removing the fencing after a number of years, when the trees no longer needed protection.  Planting such alien species would not be permitted today.

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Scots pine near the old Midland Railway.

I agree that the pines don’t belong, but I do like walking through them.  On occasions gold crest can be seen.  Today, however, the fine weather had brought out dog-walkers in force and there was little wildlife to be seen, so I headed for Chasewater Country Park.

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Red deer, not more than ten feet away.  They have become more accustomed to people, but I doubt granddad would have got so close.
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A party of little grebe.
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A bird of a different feather.  If you could bring back your Tudor ancestors, they would think it witchcraft!
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Grey wagtail.

Pied wagtail have been plentiful this year, but grey wagtail scarce and yellow wagtail even more so.  This quite bright bird foraged along the water’s edge on the south shore.  While I watched and tried to get a half decent shot, twenty or more people passed by without noticing.

I don’t say that granddad or great granddad, or even his father, didn’t see any of these things, except for the pines and the aircraft, but they would have been rare.  Today these things are commonplace, there for all those who take the time to see.  All of these pictures were taken within a fifteen minute walk from my great grandfather’s house, but, as I wrote above, they are a world away from the places he knew.  And thank goodness for that!

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