Tag: nature reserve

Back to nature

Take a walk up the banks of Barlow Mound this weekend and you could encounter sheep, roe deer, rabbits, falcons, bats and impressive views of North Yorkshire as well as a host of other fauna and flora. What you might not realise is the hill you’re standing on is entirely man-made and is largely made of ash.

That this might be a surprise to visitors is testament to the success of Barlow Mound, a project which was conceived in the 1970s as a disposal solution for the left-over power station product of ash, that has gone on to provide a thriving natural habitat to be enjoyed by wildlife and local residents alike.

Whilst Barlow Mound has a fascinating recent history, it is by no means a thing of the past. Today it’s a unique environment that is continually managed by a passionate team and offers plenty for visitors to see.

The mound under construction

A mound out of a molehill

When Drax Power Station was first opened in 1974 it was the largest coal power station in Western Europe burning around 250,000 tonnes of coal a week. Burning that much coal resulted in a lot of pulverised fuel ash left over as a by-product. Today much of the ash by-product from burning biomass and coal at Drax is sold to the building industry, but before the market for this product emerged, building a mound was the thing to do.

“The Aberfan disaster happened at around the same time as construction began at Drax, so there was a lot of persuading people that it was the right thing to do,” FGD and By-Products Section Head Andrew Christian says. “So it’s an engineered mound to make sure it won’t ever move. There was a lot of engineering that went into it, and the Central Electricity Generating Board (which then ran Drax) were brilliant at engineering.”

As part of the planning permission for building the mound, Drax proposed to turn the mound into a natural habitat supporting trees and a variety of wildlife. Today the mound is continually managed by a passionate Drax team as well as contracted ecologists and tenant farmers to ensure the nature reserve is an environment that supports all those who call it home.

“All of a sudden I’ve got a farmer explaining sheep digestion systems to me and that’s obviously not my area of expertise!” Christian says. “For the ecologists it’s a bit of a dream because not that many people go on there, so there’s not many landmasses like that that have got wildflower meadows, grassland, trees, wet areas, where there aren’t human inhabitants, so things are left to naturally evolve.”

The team of ecologists provide regular advice to Drax, and that advice leads to installations such as the reptile hibernacula which provides a suitable home for grass snakes – “dig a hole, fill it full of rocks and logs, put the grass on top, they love it,” Christian says. Another reason the ecological advice is important is due to the self-contained nature of the habitat – a fence around the entire site means species numbers must be closely monitored.

What you can see at the nature reserve

There are four marked walks for visitors to enjoy that wind through the changing landscapes of the nature reserve, from Fenton’s Pond and its wildlife to the mound-top viewing platform offering panoramic views of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Humberside. Drax have recently improved facilities for walkers by installing new signage, a bird hide, and better identification of the walks. The nature reserve is also home to the Yorkshire Wildlife and Swan Rescue Centre which rehabilitates up to 2,000 birds a year.

Another new addition is the new outdoor classroom next to the Skylark Centre. The classroom is now regularly used by Outdoor Ted, an outdoor learning programme for primary schools in Yorkshire designed and delivered by education specialist Stacey Howard. Children can enjoy the nature reserve and can take part in activities such as archery, shelter building and making campfires.

Photo: Steve Parker

Photo: Steve Parker

And in December 2017 the Skylark Centre is hosting two special Christmas Wonderland events for the public. This year’s events will see the Centre transformed into an elves workshop featuring Christmas traditions from around the world, face painting, Christmas quizzes, arts & crafts and marshmellow roasting around the outdoor fire pit. You can see more information on the Christmas Wonderland events here – everyone is welcome and entry is free with charitable donations welcomed.

A view to the future

It’s part of the original planning condition of Barlow Mound to maintain the habitat and natural resource. But the maintenance of the nature reserve is also about social responsibility. As Christian says, “If you live in Barlow village, when you come in and walk around it, it’s a fantastic place and it’s free.”

The Skylark Centre and Nature Reserve are temporarily closed. The closure is to reduce the risk to business-critical areas of our operation. We are planning to re-open in 2021, but we cannot guarantee this at the present time. Please check our website for the latest information.

Vikings, airships and ash: the history of Barlow Mound

Airship at Barlow Mound

Barlow Mound is a haven for wildlife. More than 100 different species call it home, including kingfishers, roe deer and falcons. It’s an area that looks like it’s never been touched by the industrialisation that surrounds it. The truth is very different.

Barlow mound is manmade. It was built in the 1970s using residue material from its neighbour Drax Power Station. It’s a success story of using what was then considered a waste material to create something natural and beautiful. But it has a long history before becoming what it is today and to explore that history is to track the outlook of the UK over the last millennium.

The military moves in

The area around Barlow and Drax was an important location for the very first Viking explorers who arrived here from the North Sea via the region’s Ouse and Aire rivers. But it wasn’t until 1086 that it received its first recorded mention, when it was listed as ‘Berlai-leag’ in the Domesday Book.

Translating to ‘a clearing where barley grew’, it was named by Anglo Saxon settlers, who established the region as a mix of farmland, fields and woodlands and it remained agricultural until the early twentieth century, when the country was plunged into war.

When the First World War began in 1914 and the need for new war machines arose, Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd, a manufacturing company which had obtained the land in 1913 from the estate of Lord Londesborough, set up an airship factory on the site.

During its lifetime the factory constructed three airships, the 25r, R29 and R33, but when WWI ended and demand for airships sank, the factory shut down and the land passed to the Ministry of Defence (MOD).

During the Second World War the area became an important location in the country’s war efforts once again. The MOD set up an army ordnance and command supply depot manufacturing and storing items like mess tins and kerosene lamps. At one point the site also included a Prisoner of War camp.

By the 60s the UK’s needs for defence manufacturing had subsided. Instead, what it needed was more power. With the rich coal seams of the area and the existing rail network (the Hull-Barnsley line ran through), building a power station in the Barlow area was an obvious solution.

First-of-a-kind solution

In 1967 the land was bought by the Central Electric Generating Board (CEGB) which began the construction of Drax Power Station. One of the early challenges it faced was how to minimise the environmental impact to the surrounding countryside.

In particular, it needed a solution for the tonnes of ash that came from the burning of coal fuel, which included both pulverised fuel ash (PFA) and furnace bottom ash (FBA). The answer was a first-of-a-kind: build a mound using the materials.

Construction on Barlow Mound began in 1974. First the existing top soil was removed and preserved for later use, drains were added and then a layer of FBA was laid.

Next conditioned PFA was added and moulded to suit the original design, never reaching higher than 36 metres. At this height the mound would visually obscure the power station from the neighbouring houses.

The final step was to seal the mound with a polymer and then reintroduce the top soil before grass, trees and hedgerow were planted. The trees and plants had been carefully tested to ensure that their roots wouldn’t interfere with the ash and compromise the integrity of the structure.

Roe deer walking in grass field

An ecologically important area

As time has passed and Drax Power Station has produced more ash, the mound has developed and grown. More than 301 million m3 is stored in the current site – more than the capacity of three million double decker buses.

In addition to the 100 species living on the site, a tenant farmer works 20 fields and a swan rescue and wildlife hospital rehabilitates up to 2,000 birds a year. More recently, the Skylark Centre and Nature Reserve has now opened up the area to the public to explore walking trails and see the nature first-hand.

Barlow is an area that has changed consistently since 1086. From the North’s early beginnings as an agricultural hub and Anglo-Saxon settlement, to the necessity for large-scale power solutions and to the importance of preserving local ecology, Barlow is an area that has been characterised by the outlook of the country.

Like Drax Power Station, to which it is intrinsically linked, Barlow Mound is a part of the Northern Yorkshire landscape – literally and figuratively.