Dudley Council
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A mixture of world-class geology, bluebell covered Ancient Woodland and nationally important heritage, Saltwells National Nature Reserve is one of the UK's largest urban nature reserves and very proud to be at the heart of the Global Black Country GeoPark.

What to see

  • The biggest woodland in the borough, carpeted with bluebells and home to probably the largest sculpture park in the West Midlands, located just across the road from the Merry Hill Centre
  • A globally important National Nature Reserve with two Sites of Special Scientific Interest for Carboniferous and Silurian geology which are explained in the leaflet that can be downloaded below
  • Well-marked trails for all abilities, whose maps can be downloaded below
  • A nationally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument of Medieval coal workings
  • An old clay and coal mining landscape now transformed with orchids and butterflies
  • Ponds and wetlands with 16 species of dragonflies

History

Saltwells’ earliest history is told in its rocks. The story starts 420 million years ago when Dudley was covered with a warm tropical sea and was as far south as Buenos Aires is today. Then, as the earth’s land masses slowly moved northwards, by 310 million years ago we were about where Rio de Janeiro is now and Dudley was covered in the lush tropical rainforests of its day. This amazing period left us with the coal for which the Black Country was renowned. Then 307 million years ago molten rock from the centre of the earth pushed up and almost broke the surface leaving its trace in our rocks.

Medieval Saltwells was covered by heathland and woodland. This spread west and was known as Pensnett Chase. At the time it was used to hunt and collect materials from. Coal workings may have started as early as Roman times at Saltwells, but it was definitely being dug out by this period.

It’s fair to say for the landscape, the Industrial Revolution started early here. In 1600s our 10m thick coal seam (the biggest in Britain) was already being heavily mined. As areas were excavated, they often became planted with woodland or reclaimed by nature. In other areas, once the coal had been removed they uncovered other useful rocks, like ironstone and shales, underneath that could be used.

As the horror of cholera took its toll on the families of the rapidly growing Black Country, in the 1880s Doulton’s Claypit was opened up to supply clay to make the sewer pipes for the region. These indeed saved countless lives and the extraction continued until about 1940. The clay was taken to the canal, which cuts through the middle of the nature reserve, by tubs on rails
Coal working continued into the 1970s, including open cast mining on Netherton Hill. However, when it was proposed to open cast mine Saltwells Wood for coal the local people said “No!” and in 1981 it became the first Local Nature Reserve in the county.

From there it won the first UNESCO UK Man and the Biosphere’s Urban Wildlife Award for Excellence in 1992 and remains one of only a handful of places to have achieved this accolade. Since then the nature reserve has continued to grow to almost 100ha and 2½ miles long. In 2020 much of Saltwells Local Nature Reserve became designated a National Nature Reserve to celebrate its world-class geology.

Did you know?

There were once plans to make Netherton the Cheltenham Spa of the Black Country.

This was due to the brine spas that Saltwells takes its name from, which used to exist near Saltwells Inn. Using this spa was advertised in the early 1800s “for the healing qualities of its medicinal spring waters”. It was known by various names, including Cradley Spa, Pensnett Spa, Lady Wood's Spa and Saltwells Spa.

Areas of interest

Saltwells Wood and Doulton's Claypit

Saltwells Wood is the largest woodland in the area. Parts of it are designated as Ancient Woodland meaning they have been around since at least 1600. Today it is home to many species of wildlife, sculpture and our famous carpets of bluebells.

Within the wood is Doulton's Clay Pit with its spectacular cliffs, showing a section through the rocks of the Middle and Lower Coal Measures. Abandoned in the 1940s, the clay pit has been reclaimed by nature and now has unusual plants including hundreds of common spotted and southern marsh orchids.

Netherton Hill and Cinder Bank

North of Saltwells Wood is the grassland and scrub covered Netherton Hill, opencast for coal until the 1960s, but now home to Linnets and Reed Buntings. Further north still is another area of restored coal mining known as Cinder Bank. Sixteen species of dragonfly are found here on the Daphne Pool, making this one of the best sites for these insects in the West Midlands.

Mushroom Green and Mousesweet Brook

Following the Black Brook south out of Saltwells Wood, around the chain-makers' hamlet of Mushroom Green, is an area of woodland and grassland. Along the Brook are wetlands which provide a safe refuge for water birds.

The nature reserve continues further south, past where the Black Brook joins the Mousesweet Brook. The Mousesweet Brook was dammed in the 17th Century to create Cradley New Pool. This provided a regular source of water to power Cradley Forge, which stood just over the road where the Brook joins the Stour. Dud Dudley built this forge in the 1600s and it is thought he used it for his first experiments to smelt iron using coal, which eventually led to the Industrial Revolution.

  • Saltwells Local Nature Reserve, Dudley, West Midlands DY5 1AX

  • Saltwells Local Nature Reserve, off Coppice Lane, Quarry Bank, Dudley, West Midlands, DY5 1AX

    General Enquiry - Saltwells Nature Reserve

  • Saltwells Nature Reserve is located two miles south of Dudley. To travel to the nature reserve proceed on the A4036, then turn left at the Merry Hill traffic lights (signposted) and continue for half a mile along Coppice Lane. Turn left at sign for Saltwells Inn.