Nature reserve has come into its own
Reporter Paul Hardman returns to a scenic nature reserve to see how it has progressed since it emerged from an old tip and empty, dug-up ground
The Snaefell Valley Nature Reserve -
Now over a year on since it opened and the nature has been able to flourish, we took a tour of the Snaefell Valley Nature Reserve which lies between Laxey and Agneash.
Work on the 40-acre reserve began last April, and despite seeing initial opposition from Agneash residents who complained about disruption to their village, Ballannette Trust founder Stewart Clague said that virtually all those who first opposed the plans are now happy with what has come to fruition.
It is the second reserve that the trust has established, the first being the Ballannete Nature Reserve in Baldrine.
During the lockdown early last year, the trust began landscaping trails in what was formerly land of the old Laxey municipal tip – and which was polluted with waste, bottles and even a vehicle chassis dating back as far as the 1950s. It took three months of work, with the trust stressing that it was all done by volunteers with no government money involved.
When we last visited, these fields, and the large expanse of land alongside the Laxey River, was virtually all dry, barren earth.
Now, the fields and riverbank are covered in ferns and wildflower meadows – with nothing having been planted, but rather all grown naturally.
‘It’s unbelievable how quickly nature reclaims things, once the wildflowers were able to breathe from underneath the piles of ash that were left over here from previous wildfires,’ Stewart said.
‘And I’ve found from experience that when you disturb ground, foxgloves seem to come out from nowhere,’ he added.
The fields will be cut once a year to keep the flora healthy.
Stewart said that his favourite part of the reserve is by the river, along a scenic path which did not previously exist in the overgrown tip land.
‘I notice that a lot of people, especially old people, come down here to just sit and take it in,’ he told us.
‘Many people in Laxey had forgotten about this whole area [along the river], which was covered with tip rubbish’.
‘And runners like to use the steeper parts up to the fields above, to get a good workout for their heart’.
Boulders have been placed as seats at various scenic spots along the trail – including one that looks out over thick stone walls which cross a neighbouring field.
Stewart explained that after consulting a historian, he discovered that these walls were associated with the Laxey Wheel – having once been used to channel water down towards it from the valley, via an underground pipe.
There are plans to add a picnic area, and notices explaining the history of the reserve – what it used to be, and how it was established during the pandemic.
There are two entrances, the main one behind the Ballacregga Corn Mill and Salmon centre, which opens onto the largest open space in the reserve by the riverbank.
This area includes a number of boulders arranged into a seating area designed for group talks, with the hope that school groups may use it to take trips to and learn about nature.
And the second is a gated entrance to one of the fields up towards Agneash.
The Ballannette Trust has also started a dialogue with Manx Wildlife Trust, who have expressed an interest in promoting the reserve – having not known about it up until now.
Talking about the origins of the reserve, where the land was originally bought to protect the Ballacregga Corn Mill from future river flooding, Stewart commented: ‘Starting work on the reserve was something that one or two of our staff volunteers did during the lockdown, and since then the old tip rubbish, bottles and vehicles and everything, we’ve levelled it all out and sold it or got rid of it, so the land could be walked on.
‘And we found [after purchasing the land] that in the deeds these three fields came with it which went up toward Agneash, and they have now been put back to the way they were in the 1800s when my mother’s ancestors used to farm up there.
‘So it’s nice to feel that we’ve recovered what was a horrible, overgrown piece of land back to nature - and all sorts of stuff is coming through, wildflowers, bluebells and the trees that there are in good condition.’
Stewart continued: ‘And across the valley, on the other side of the river, we own as far up to the [Manx Electric] railway line – that’s been completely left as it is.
‘The neighbours say it’s absolutely wonderful now they can see the hawks and everything coming in and they’re really enjoying that they can see what’s going on.
‘The public are all commenting how they love it, and the people of Agneash have become personal friends, a lot of them.
‘I went through a period of ill health this year, and they’ve been stopping to ask how I’m getting on when they see me around the village.
‘Today, we’re happy that far wildflowers and things that have been buried for years have come to light that we didn’t know about, and we’ve not introduced anything additional – maybe two or three trees, but apart from that - it’s all come on its own and that’s the way we want it.
‘Some people have been worried whether they’re allowed to use the reserve, and definitely anybody who wants to is welcome to use it.
‘The older people love to sit down by the lake or by the river, with their dogs, and they can let them roam a little bit - there’s nothing for the dogs to upset.
‘And other people come down from Agneash, and runners seem to like to run up through the steep parts and round in a circuit – so the whole thing is sort of a community centre that wasn’t here before.
‘And when you think about Laxey Wheel, with it having been closed more or less all this year, it’s been somewhere for people to go - and when the wheel re-opens we’ll have some sort of a do, a celebration here’.