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Potteries Orienteering Club

West Midlands Orienteering Association

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First published in The Potter January 2005
Text © Copyright John Heaton 2005

Swynnerton Old Park

Geography

The woodland lies on a escarpment shaped hill rising 60m from the NE in about 300m then falling 90m in about 1600m to the SW. Both slopes are broken up with re-entrants, but there is no surface drainage all over the hill. There is one ditch cum stream near the north end flowing out of a small pond, but this does not merit inclusion on the 1:25000 OS map.

History

A map from 1891 reveals an outline to the forest almost identical to that of today. There is one small patch of woodland adjacent to the council car park that was open fields and which made Harley Thorns look almost detached from the main body of the forest. At that time the lane did not run all the way through the middle of the area, from the NE it ended at the cottage at the top of the hill next to the current car park entrance and on the SW it ended a short distance past the Keepers Cottage next to Harley Thorns. The water tower and reservoir have been built since that date and looking carefully at the map the word Stone appears at the point in the present day car park where there is the large boulder.

The C19th map was also at that time calling the area Swynnerton OLD Park. Swynnerton Park lies 4km to the south next to the village of Swynnerton and is the grounds of Swynnerton Hall, the home of Lord Stafford. The bulk of the area is owned by the Forestry Commission. Lord Stafford owns the small area referred to in the next section on which the first map was produced. The area of woodland adjacent to the car park which was not woodland in the C19th is owned by Staffordshire County Council.

The Forestry Commission was created in 1919 and, although I have found no documented evidence, it seems likely that the area was all formerly part of Lord Stafford's Estates prior to this. The First World War depleted much of Britain's timber reserves and the F.C. and the 1920s saw an extensive acquisition and planting programme being undertaken. Since nearly all of the trees here are of the same age it would seem that this was when they were all planted. From 1997 the F.C. began an extensive programme of clear felling which by 2031 will cover nearly all the area. The felling is being completed in 4-year cycles with about 6-12 months of working in each period. The felling programme is designed to produce a forest of differing ages of trees.

Event and Map History

From old orienteering maps I have in my possession, the first map of Swynnerton was produced in 1976 by Roger and Marie Smith and was called Hanchurch Woods and only covered the small strip of woodland on the escarpment to the SE of the car park. The first event was held there on the 14th March. In 1979 Tony Smith produced a 1:10000 map of the Swynnerton Old Park section and it was used for the BOC Relays that year.

In 1984 Neville Mitchison produced a new map of the entire area. In 1988 he completed a re-survey and produced both a 1:10000 map and a new 1:15000 map. I had the honour of planning my first major event on this new map. In 1994 a further revised and reprinted map was produced for a Badge Event in May. This event attracted a record 1145 competitors, only ever surpassed by the National Event at Weston Heath in the previous year. Unfortunately since that date no major event has been held there.

For the 2002 New Year's Day Score Event Austin Farr converted the map to OCAD, a digital version, and produced a map which shows the clear felled areas bordered by bold red lines as map corrections. It is this map which can be easily updated on the same basis we use for our local events. It may be possible in the future in a break in felling to produce an up to date map that will last for a reasonable period, but it would probably not be good enough for a Badge Event, whoops, I mean Regional event!

Wildlife

Roe deer regularly roamed throughout, whether recent thinning and felling has kept them away I cannot say. On the southern fringes of the area I have seen buzzards on numerous occasions, and have seen one very recently from the main road at Beech, 1km SE of Harley Thorns.

John Heaton