The Knapp is a nature reserve tucked between Winslade Road, Station Road and Peaslands Road. It is nearly 10 acres in size and is a haven for wildlife due to the mosaic of different habitats and the “fuzzy edges” between them, which are particularly good for bats, invertebrates and bird species. It is owned and managed by the Sid Vale Association.
The meadows are full of wildflowers which support pollinators. They are hopping with grasshoppers and full of the sound of stridulating bush crickets on long summer evenings. The rare Long Winged Conehead was found in 2010 and Roesels Bush Cricket in 2020. They are remnants of an ancient habitat that once covered the Sid Valley – now just a few pockets of rich meadow habitat survive. You will see butterflies, swallows and swifts and Green Woodpecker by day, and bats and owls by night.
Part of Station Road meadow has a good population of waxcaps, which are rare fungi and indicative of old grasslands. In the same area, in the summer there is a stunning show of orchids. Peaslands meadow is full of anthills, created by yellow meadow ants, which provide micro-habitats in themselves, as well as a larder for Green Woodpeckers. It is managed by grazing each autumn with sheep, who can munch their way carefully round the anthills, unlike mowers and scythes.
The woodland near the cemetery was planted in the 1990s but looks much older; it needs thinning and coppicing to provide thick nesting habitat for birds, such as Bullfinch and Blackcap which can often be found there. It is a home to badgers, foxes and even the rare Hazel Dormouse which clings to the ancient hedgerows around the edge of the woodland. Dormice depend on hazel, bramble, honeysuckle, elder, ash and even insects from the surrounding meadows. They need plenty of space, so probably make their way through the hedges and gardens that surround the Knapp.
The ancient hedgerows are where we find the oldest trees, which provide rich habitats, including dead wood, supporting beetles, woodpeckers and bats. Pipistrelles, Serotines, Noctules and even the rare Lesser Horseshoe Bat regularly hunts across the Knapp.
Apples, pears, plums and mulberries have been planted in the orchard. The blossom in spring is a fantastic habitat for pollinators and the standing dead wood in the fruit trees is great for beetles and other invertebrates. There is a seasonal pond full of newts, frogs and toads, which is alive with dragonflies in the summer.
Although the Knapp is only about 10 acres in size,the cemetery next door provides another 10 acres for nature and the surrounding gardens over 10 acres again. That makes 30 acres of space for nature to recover in our town, and only 200m away from the Byes, another 100 acres of space for nature. It also lies directly across the road from Balfour Park and from there to the wider countryside.
By thinking of our gardens and public spaces as part of a bigger network, joining the dots, changing our perspective on the value of “tidy” versus “messy”, and leaving or planting a few key features, we can help wildlife survive and even thrive.