Plans to improve, promote and protect the wildlife, heritage and natural beauty of Wolverhampton’s Smestow Valley Local Nature Reserve have received initial support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Development funding of £217,000 has been awarded by the Heritage Fund to help City of Wolverhampton Council progress its plans to apply for a full grant of around £2 million for the delivery phase.

Under the initial development phase, existing users of Smestow Valley will join forces with others who are less familiar with the site to share their views on the plans for the project.

Officers will work with schools, community groups and residents to find out how people would like to get involved and encourage them to take part in ecological surveys and heritage discovery days to help protect the nature reserve for the future.

Plans to be considered under this phase include improving access by upgrading pathways and entrances onto the nature reserve, renovating structures linked to the disused railway line and introducing measures to promote biodiversity and protect wildlife including water voles and otters.

Signage and information will also be improved, highlighting the unique heritage of the site.

If the application for the full delivery phase grant is successful, a renovation of the well known Meccano bridge to its historic appearance is planned, as well as the protection and renovation of other structures linked to the disused railway line which forms the main path through Smestow Valley.

The project has been made possible by National Lottery players and will be managed by the council in close partnership with a range of local organisations including the Canal and River Trust, the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust, Wildside Activity Centre, Friends of Smestow Valley and Waterside Care with opportunities for other local groups to get involved. 

Other works at Smestow Valley will be carried out during the development phase. These have been funded by £200,000 received from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and include canal towpath improvements, development of water vole habitats, the creation of a wildflower meadow, hedgerow restoration, reinstating a historic pond and the creation of a community orchard.

Smestow Valley and rail network is a 4.5km long site, which forms part of the Black Country UNESCO Global Geopark and has a rich history dating back to Anglo-Saxon times. It provides visitors with opportunities for healthy activities including walking, cycling and boating.

Over time, the whole project aims to increase engagement through school visits, heritage focused volunteering opportunities, community events, an online presence, videos and artwork.   

Councillor Craig Collingswood, cabinet member for environment and climate change, said: “I want to thank The National Lottery Heritage Fund for providing the council with this funding, which marks the first step in some really exciting work at Smestow Valley.

“The improvements we are planning will not only improve this historical open space for a wide variety of plants and wildlife but will also mean we can improve access for local residents and open up the site for everyone to enjoy.

“Smestow Valley has a unique place in the region’s industrial heritage, but this is virtually unknown to many visitors. We are delighted to have the opportunity to work with a range of committed partners and local people to shine a light on this hidden gem.”

Robyn Llewellyn, Director, England, Midlands and East at The National Lottery Heritage Fund said: "We are delighted to support the City of Wolverhampton Council with the conservation and promotion of Smestow Valley Local Nature Reserve. Made possible thanks to National Lottery players, this project aims to improve habitats, restore local heritage, and expand community engagement so that more people can access and appreciate this treasured green space."