Natural environment of Beauchief
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The Beauchief area contains a wide variety of natural and semi-natural habitats in which wild flowers flourish – ancient and secondary woodlands; unimproved old meadows and other open grassy areas; ponds, watercourses and wet land; hedgerows; open scrub; and pockets of land on the golf courses where mowing is restricted. The diversity of plant species found in the area reflects the variety of habitats within it.
Birds in Beauchief
Beauchief has a wealth of birdlife especially in its woodlands and the diversity of natural habitats attracts a great variety of species. Amongst the species you may find are:- all three British species of woodpecker, tawny owl, tree creeper, nuthatch, sparrow hawk, wood and garden warbler, chiffchaff, blackcap, long-tailed, blue, great and coal tit, chaffinch, greenfinch, grey wagtail, kingfisher and dipper on River Sheaf, heron, mallard, coot, mandarin duck, moorhen on Beauchief ponds. Large numbers of rooks, jackdaws and some carrion crows roost in the nearby woods and can be seen flying over at dawn and dusk in winter.
Sheffield is blessed with large areas of woodland a substantial proportion of which is ancient woodland. An ancient wood is one which, from documentary and other evidence, is known to have been in existence since at least 1600 AD. Because of their antiquity ancient woods are likely to contain the highest diversity of wild plants. Some species of woodland flowers, such as bluebell and wood anemone, are slow colonisers and therefore often indicate that the woodland is ancient.
Beauchief has three areas of ancient woodland: Ladies Spring Wood/High Wood, Parkbank Wood and Gulleys Wood. Other woods of much younger age are Old Park Wood and Little Wood Bank. The ancient woods have a long history of being managed to provide timber and fuel for local industry – charcoal and whitecoal.
Streams and Ponds
The Shene and Abbey Brooks cross the Beauchief landscape to join the River Sheaf from which Sheffield derives its name. The Abbey Brook has been channelled across Beauchief Golf Course and many wild flower species grow close to the water. The River Sheaf runs along the bottom of Ladies Spring Wood, and is a good place to look out for dipper and kingfisher. Two of the three ponds seen today by Beauchief Abbey are probably fishponds of medieval origin.
There are many hedgerows in Beauchief, four of which have been planted by Beauchief Environment Group members. They contain native species – hawthorn, blackthorn, beech, holly, hazel, field maple and rose with occasional ash and elder. Wild flowers thrive by the hedges – you may find garlic mustard, violet, bittersweet, white bryony, dog’s mercury, arum lily, foxglove and many others.
The Yorkshire Drystone Walling Association has helped us to protect existing walls around Beauchief Abbey and further afield. A long stretch of wall was re-built along the edge of Gulleys Wood Meadow and down the slope to the stream. Alongside the Holly path the remains of a walled haha can be seen. Originally built to keep animals out of the gardens of Beauchief Hall, these walls provide habitat for plants and small fauna, especially insects and toads.
Joining Beauchief Environment Group
Membership is open to all households. An annual subscription (see News & Events page) covers membership for all the family, and regular newsletters.
Download a subscription form and send the completed form with your fee using one of the specified payment methods to the Honorary Treasurer.
Main areas for wildlife
Ladies Spring Wood (and High Wood) – Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) 4 (see map on page ‘About Us’)
The Sheffield Round Walk passes through this woodland and is worth a visit in spring. The wood covers a steep slope with the River Sheaf flowing along the bottom edge. Soils are shallow and acid on the slope with deeper alluvial soils at river level. Oak is the main tree species with holly and birch; bluebells carpet the slopes in April and May. Other species indicative of ancient woodland, wood anemone, dog’s mercury and wild garlic are abundant by the river. Ferns, common cow wheat and great woodrush are frequent with occasional bilberry. Extensive work by members to control non-native rhododendron resulted in the wood’s SSSI status being upgraded in 2007. An information panel about the wood, funded by the Local Heritage Initiative grant, is located on the Round Walk path.
Parkbank Wood 7
This wood contains fine examples of oak and beech, also holly, birch, sycamore and hawthorn, mountain ash and honeysuckle. It is also a lovely bluebell wood with creeping soft grass and wavy hair grass abundant. Here 20 tree and shrub species and 47 herbaceous species have been recorded.
Gulleys Wood 8
This is best seen from Beauchief Drive, as there are no paths. Ash, beech and sycamore are more abundant here than oak, and there are large areas of bluebells. Dog’s mercury, yellow archangel, wood anemone, wild garlic and arum lily and several less common grass species are also to be found. Overall 10 tree species and over 50 herbaceous species have been recorded.
Old Park Wood 6
Although Old Park Wood is not ancient it has a good display of bluebells and has a good path – well worth a visit.
Shene Field 10
Named after the little Shene Brook which flows along its edge into the ponds at Beauchief Abbey, Shene Field is an area of unimproved meadow on acid soil with a rich variety of plant and fungal species. Funding from a Countryside Stewardship agreement between DEFRA and the City Council enabled the Group to install stock-proof fencing so that the field can be effectively managed by grazing at appropriate times by highland cattle from Graves Park. Grazing restricts growth of vigorous grasses allowing smaller, less dominant wild flowers to thrive including devil’s bit scabious, harebell, tormentil, greater and lesser bird’s foot trefoil and brooklime. Surveys have identified 111 species so far – 72 wild flowers, 17 grasses, 10 rushes and sedges, 12 trees and shrubs. There is also a rich variety of fungi (over 40 species recorded so far) including waxcaps (8 species), which are typically found in old undisturbed meadows.
Gulleys Wood Meadow 9
This pleasant open space is located near the entrance to Beauchief Hall. It is managed under a Countryside Stewardship agreement with DEFRA by annual mowing and hedge cutting to the required height. Beauchief Environment Group planted the hedges in 1997. It is an unimproved meadow with acid soil containing at least 11 grass and 30 other wild flower species including pignut, bluebell, yarrow, cow parsley, harebell, heath bedstraw, buttercup, bird’s foot trefoil, tormentil, field wood rush, yellow rattle, meadow and creeping buttercup.
Little Wood Bank 3
Somewhat off the beaten track, this is an area of mixed habitat for both birds and plants containing gorse scrub, woods and open grassy glades. There is a management plan that aims to maintain this variety by preventing the whole from succeeding naturally into woodland. The wooded parts are of fairly recent origin where neglected open pasture has already been colonised by trees. Little Wood Bank is the only location where substantial gorse scrub occurs and its open nature encourages birds such as goldfinch, blackcap and wood and garden warblers. Gorse is managed by rotational cutting to stimulate new growth and saplings and bramble are cut back. Grassy areas are mown annually and adjacent trees coppiced, keeping glades open and full of light. Encroaching brambles, bracken and rosebay willowherb are regularly cut back. Alder buckthorn shrubs, planted to attract the brimstone butterfly, are flourishing. The holly on the Bank has increased considerably over recent years, and this has been thinned outing a few places. Broad Helleborine occurs close to Beauchief Drive and is the only member of the orchid family found in the Beauchief area. Overall 13 tree species, 4 shrubs, 16 grasses and approximately 50 wildflower species have been recorded so far on Little Wood Bank.
The Shene Brook flows into tangled willow carr and then into the top pond where a large area of reedmace grows. The dominant plants in the lowest of the three ponds are reedmace and yellow flag iris. Other species include brooklime a water-loving member of the speedwell family.
Sites of historical interest
Industrial Heritage of Beauchief
Throughout Ladies Spring and Parkbank woods there is evidence of charcoal and white coal manufacturer in the form of charcoal hearths and Q pits. Beauchief Abbey was not just a monastic centre, but had a smithy in the area, probably based near Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, and there is still evidence of a pathway running from the Abbey down to the Hamlet. The monastery was also involved in iron smelting, mineral extraction, woodland industries and mills on the River Sheaf.
Beauchief Abbey 1
Founded in 1176 or 1183 – the date is uncertain – the Abbey is Sheffield’s oldest standing building. The tower is mostly intact, and attached to a chapel which is still used for regular services. The foundations of the chapter house, dormitory, refectory and cloisters can still be traced from ruins visible in the grounds. The canons belonged to the Premonstratensian Order and had control over large areas of land. This meant they had influence over much of the economy of the region, owning many water mills and granges for farming on lands stretching as far as Chesterfield, Fulwood and Hathersage. The lands were disposed of when the Abbey was dissolved in 1536 by order of Henry VIII, and the area around the Abbey was sold to Sir Nicholas Strelley. One of the information panels funded by the Local Heritage Initiative grant is located in front of the Abbey.
Beauchief Hall 2
The land on which the Hall was built was owned by the Strelley family, and the house was built in the late 17th century using stone from the ruins of Beauchief Abbey. The lintel of the main door bears the date 17th May 1671. After Gertrude Strelley married Edward Pegge they settled in the Hall and the House stayed in the family until the early 20th century. The grounds surrounding the Hall are included by English Heritage on its list of historic gardens.
Sheffield Round Walk
In 2003 the Group undertook a major project to construct a safe footpath through the Ladies Spring Wood section of the Sheffield Round Walk. A grant of £20,000 was received from the Local Heritage Initiative (National Lottery) to fund materials and plant hire for the footpath, improved signing at various locations and provision of two information panels designed by Group members.
In 2008 a grant of over £4,000 was received from Viridor (Landfill Tax Credits) to fund major improvements to the Round Walk through Parkbank Wood. Ten per cent matched funding was also received from Sheffield City Council.
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Beauchief Nature Park
This mixed habitat and amenity area has recently been developed on the former Council nursery site off Beauchief Drive. It comprises allotments, an orchard with top fruit (apples, pears, plums, cherries) and nut trees (walnut, hazel), a wildflower meadow, scrubland and woodland, as well as a surfaced car park and wood store. There are also three small ponds. A woodland walk runs around the perimeter of the park, a large part of which is accessible to wheelchairs. The site is still under development and requires regular maintenance. A tree nursery is being developed, ragwort, and docks are uprooted before setting seed, a hibernaculum has been built, and native tree ‘whips’ have been planted at the margins of the woodland, and to form a screen around the car park and wood store. Seeds of yellow rattle, an annual species semi-parasitic on grass roots, have been sown on the meadow and orchard intending to reduce vigorous growth.