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Potteries Orienteering Club

West Midlands Orienteering Association

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First published in The Potter May 2007
Text © Copyright John Heaton 2007

Ladderedge Country Park

Introduction

The park lies on the western outskirts of Leek, straddling the A53 just before it reaches the River Churnet.

The Map

The map was produced at end of 2006 by Dave Peel of Peel Land Surveys with a grant from the National Lottery funded Awards for All. John Pigott has updated the map and is working with the Council to create a permanent course on the area. The Local Event on 16th June 2007 will be the first use of the area for orienteering.

Description of the park

(Based on Staffordshire Moorlands District Council information.)

Ladderedge Country Park comprises 30 hectares (70 acres) of fields and woodland, with ponds, marshland and streams, lying in two contrasting sections. A main hilly section of the park lies to the west where there are commanding views over Leek and towards the Peak District. To the east there is a flatter Barnfields section of the park, lying alongside the River Churnet. This eastern section is of little use for orienteering apart from training for school groups; it would be unsafe to connect to the main part for an event. The Park has been named a 2006 Green Flag Award winner{} {}– one of only 22 parks and open spaces to be handed the award in the West Midlands in that year. The Council Site Management aims to maintain and improve access facilities and wildlife.

The Fields

The fields contain a wide range of interesting and attractive wild flowers and grasses. The time of mowing and amount of grazing are critical to conserving the grassland interest. The fields are unusual as a relic of once widespread traditional farming practice in the Moorlands, which gave rise to a diversity of grass and flower species. For these interesting wild grassland flowers and grasses to remain, they must be given chance to flower and set seed before they are cut or grazed. For this reason, mowing will not normally be until after the 17th July, no artificial fertilisers are used and pesticides are avoided.

The Woodlands

The woods, and also the ponds and marshland, form a more naturally stable environment which has developed where less intervention is needed. Dead wood in trees near paths has to be cut back to reduce risk of injury to visitors but ideally all dead wood should be left in place as it is as vital to the natural ecosystem as living wood. Dead wood is the home of many of the invertebrate animals that are the food of woodland birds such as tree creeper and woodpecker. Absence of dead wood also reduces the range of nest sites for birds that prefer holes in tree trunks and branches. To redress this, the Council maintains more than 50 nest boxes in the wood suitable for tits, redstart and pied flycatcher. Nesting populations of these species are found to increase dramatically when nest boxes are available.

The woodland, part of Longsdon Wood, has probably existed here since before 1600. Because of this continuity it is regarded as ‘ancient semi-natural’ woodland. An ancient ditch and low embankment can be seen at the woodland edge, its function once to keep livestock out of the wood. The woods have a limited but no less attractive range of delicate flowers. They appear in early spring in order to benefit from sunlight before the trees leaves create shade. Look particularly for bluebells, wood sorrel and wood anemone.

Marshland and Ponds

The Park‘s east marsh contains the most spectacular show of wild flowers beginning in early spring with a mass of golden yellow marsh marigold mixed with brilliant white bitter cress. Later come the taller and scented meadow sweet and wild angelica. You can also find ragged robin, hairy willowherb and yellow flag iris as well as many less obvious species. The East Marsh is also an excellent place to listen for birdsong in spring from the clear repetitive and delightful song thrush to the more subtly varied songs of several interesting warbler species. Water hens, mallard, frogs and newts can all be found at one time or another in the several small ponds around the park. Great crested newts, one the most protected amphibians are found in this area.

Caldon Canal

The Caldon Canal stretches from Etruria to Froghall lower down in the Churnet valley. This was opened in 1779. The Leek Branch was opened in 1802 and was built both to extend navigation to the town of Leek and to improve water supplies to the main line of the Trent and Mersey Canal, the Caldon Canal being owned by the Trent and Mersey Canal Company. The branch continues up the Churnet Valley to a turning point where it ends just on the eastern tip of the Barnfields part of the map.

Rudyard Lake (really a reservoir) was built to supply the canal system with water. Joseph Rudyard Kipling's parents first met here and later used the name for their son, who then used this unusual middle name in preference to Joseph. The lake is connected to the end of the canal by a narrow feeder watercourse. This forms the southern boundary of the main part of the Country Park and runs through the middle of the Barnfields site.

John Heaton