The Reserve has now been returned to Solihull Council after achieving Local Nature Reserve (LNR) status on 18th September 2004.
The two small boggy meadows and Alder copse bordering Purnells Brook beyond Jobs Close Park are all that remain of Burton’s Dairy Farm, now a Bryant Estate. The site was saved by Dr Bower, Chairman of the Knowle Society in 1971 and has since been managed by the Society as a nature reserve on behalf of Solihull Council.
The bog meadow to the south-west held Knowle’s last remaining population of the lovely Common Spotted Orchid, the other to the north-east was carpeted each springtime with golden Marsh Marigolds (over 150 counted in 1990) and lilac Lady’s Smock. It was a hidden and unique survival of old pasture within the medieval Forest of Arden. The equally ancient Purnells Brook was ‘The Merebroc’ (Boundary Brook) in Saxon times when it divided the old manors of Knowle and Longdon. Small-leaved Lime headed the list of no less than 15 relic tree and shrub species counted along its banks in the reserve, where ancient woodland flora included Dog’s Mercury, Wood Anemone, Yellow Archangel and Bluebell, with bog grasses and rushes, woodland butterflies and birds, which, together with a crowded spawning backwater for toads, frogs and newts amply justified the tiny reserve’s inclusion in MacMillan’s Guide to Britain’s Nature Reserves.
Hundreds of slides were taken by Max Ellerslie throughout 1976, notable for its heat wave and longest drought of the 20th Century, before official recognition in 1977. In the 25 years following. there have been annual Open and Haymaking Days and Guided Walks, visits each term by Dorridge School and by Brownies and Cubs, many work parties to mow, rake and continually repair the post and wire fencing that had been splendidly renewed for us by the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and to clear rubbish – for instance the latest litter blitz on January 27 2002 netted 6 sacks full of mainly bottles, cans and wrappings, plus a rugby football and a stepladder!
Sadly, drainage for the Starbold and Hillmorton estate has caused drying-out of the reserve – and of the frogspawning backwater – with total loss of the orchids (except for just one specimen replanted from outside the reserve into the Jarman garden for safe keeping and which has in its 30th year – perhaps to celebrate Stella’s retirement? – miraculously produced four flowering spikes!). Marsh Marigolds too are down from over 150 clumps to just four in 2004, but the fragrant Meadowsweet thrives in their stead.
Cowslips survived only until 1979. Miss Wootton (author of the The History of Knowle) remembered an abundance of them in these fields running up to her home at 144 Station Road – belonging to Burton’s Dairy Farm, now St Lawrence Close – before compulsory ploughing in the 2nd World War 1939-45. Fortunately the boggy strip alongside Purnells Brook was unploughable, leaving intact the whole of its special bog flora together with the orchids and Marsh Marigolds.
The Brook lost its springs (see LNR History) in 1972, to be replaced with storm water from the surrounding estates, which has often been contaminated with washing machine effluent from wrongly connected waste systems, causing public outcry, and major problems for Solihull Council.
For many years our Hon. Warden kept the coarse tussock grasses in check with a strimmer donated by Esso, but with his departure vandalism has been more noticeable and the reserve’s rare and fragile habitat is being systematically laid bare, along the brook banks where almost every small tree and shrub has been hacked down or pushed over. Bramble has been allowed full rein in the Alder copse to afford added protection to the Alders but we are now very optimistic that the Reserve’s new Local Nature Reserve status will inject a new sense of responsibility into a precious wildlife asset that Knowle surely cannot afford to lose.