Desiccation and damage threaten wildlife at Shropshire Council’s Eco Park in Ludlow

I visit Ludlow’s Eco Park almost every day. It should be Ludlow’s flagship business area but I am growing angry about the lousy way that Shropshire Council manages the site for safety and for wildlife.

The main ecological problem right now is the drying out of the main flood water retention pond. Shropshire Council is making water retention worse by mowing around the pond as though it is in a suburban housing estate. The next problem may sound minor. It’s a hole in the fence surrounding the pond. But that allows dogs into the wildlife area.

Readers will know by now that Mel the collie and I are frequent visitors to the Eco Park. We get to observe the growing neglect. Broken manhole covers, collapsed rainwater butts and damage to the surface of the park and ride are commonplace. But this year, three problems with the wildlife areas have taken prominence.

This morning at the Eco Park

There are two ponds on the Eco Park. They retain water in heavy rainfall, easing river and flash flooding pressures in Ludlow and downstream. (These are known as SuDS, sustainable drainage systems.) They are also micro wildlife reserves.

At the north end of the site, there is a large compound surrounded by six-foot high fencing with a locked gate. It surrounds a pond that catches runoff and attenuates the flow of water. I have always been a fan of SuDS because they “slow the flow” and reduce flooding. Just as important, they provide a haven for wildlife in areas that would otherwise be ecologically barren. And without the two ponds, the Eco Park would be ecologically barren.

I have never seen the main balancing pond on the Eco Park so dry. The bottom is showing. It is a metre below its winter levels and at least 30cm below a normal summer level. Nothing can be done about this other than calling in the fire brigade to refill it. Our fire teams would have to pump the water a huge distance from the Ledwyche Brook and that is never going to be a good use of resources.

My main complaint is the way that Shropshire Council manages this “wildlife area”. It mows the grass surrounds of the pond with the same obsession of homeowners that are convinced their grass lawn should be no longer than a crew cut. (That’s a No. 1 cut to modern readers.) This is unacceptable. It is a waste of money and damaging to biodiversity. It should be managed as a wildflower meadow. If the compound area was cut twice a year and the grass was longer, it would retain more water. And save council money.

The third of the problems is a hole in the fence surrounding the pond. A minor issue? I doubt it.

How is this affecting the ecology of the enclosed area? There are a pair of moorhens picking around and they have been there since the spring. But the herons that have been around in the early mornings for the last few years haven’t been here this year. They have moved on. The compound has been breached and dogs run in. That is not good for large slow moving birds. Or any wildlife.

The hole in the fence

What frustrates me is that this is “easy solution” territory. Shropshire Council faces huge challenges on finances. If one department talked to another, it could save money.

It is down to the council’s estates department – I think it is now called “asset management” – to plug the hole in the fence. It is down to the same department to call off maniac mowing of an area that should be a wildlife haven, through the work is carried out by another department, highways. And the council’s ecologists should visit and insist on higher standards on an “Eco” Park, where the trees have never been maintained let alone the biodiversity enhanced.

Shropshire Council could save money by adopting higher ecological standards but it seems unprepared or too disorganised to do so.

This is going to be dangerous in winter