More than 16 years ago, Storeton Woods were in a sad state. Used for motorcycle and four-wheel-drive rallies and war games, they were suffering badly from erosion. Who would have thought these neglected woods hid a wealth of wildlife and a fascinating history - including their very own dinosaur.
It took the dedication of local people near the woods in Bebington, Wirral, to uncover their potential. They approached the landowner and raised £25,000 towards the purchase price, then asked the Woodland Trust to take on the long-term ownership and management of the woods, which it did in 1989.
But the story did not end there. The local group organises regular workdays and events, such as an annual Christmas carol concert in the woods.
On the face of it, the 12.5-hectare (31-acre) woods may not seem anything special, a patch of secondary woodland in an urban fringe area. But former chairwoman Garnette Bowler, one of those who headed the original fundraising campaign, says that is just what makes the woods so special to people living nearby: 'The Wirral is one of the least wooded places in the country. Storeton is right on the edge of a densely populated area, and is the nearest thing we have to a natural and wild walk.'
And Storeton Woods are full of surprises. They are on the site of an old sandstone quarry, dating back to Roman times and still 60 metres (197 feet) deep in the early 20th century. In the 19th century, a tramway was opened to take the stone down to the docks. This went downhill by gravity and was then pulled back up by horses.
The tramway embankment still exists as a footpath, and stone from the quarry can be seen in many major buildings, including Birkenhead Town Hall and the Sankey Viaduct in Lancashire. In the 1920s the quarry was filled with spoil from the first Mersey Tunnel, and the woods grew up on top. You can still see the top of the cutting face of the quarry in places.
Storeton Woods also boast something far older. When fossilised dinosaur footprints were found in the quarry, they were attributed to an upright raptor-like dinosaur which was named after the site: Cheirotherium storetonia.
The woods are now a tranquil spot, a pocket of wildlife interest in the surrounding, increasingly built-up, landscape. When residents walk there and see butterflies such as large skipper, red admiral and small copper, and birds such as jay, lesser spotted woodpecker and even kestrel, they know all their hard work has been worthwhile.
It was May 1986, during the campaigning for the Election of Councillors to Wirral MBC, that Wirral Green Party’s candidate found that residents in Higher Bebington, especially around Mount Road, Mill Road and adjacent roads, were alarmed about the neglected state of Storeton Woods and worried about its future. They complained of the noise and stink of organised motor bike scrambles, “ War Games” as well as shooting of birds. As far as the motor bike and the War Games events were concerned these were completely legal as the organisers had the permission of (the then unknown) owners of these woods who charged for these facilities
(Events can be held on private land up to a maximum of 28 days annually
without having planning consent from the Local Authroity regarding “change
These woods were clearly being eroded and local people as well as wild-life were being seriously disturbed- boundary walls and fencing were being damaged and rubbish of all kinds was accumulating. An important outcome of this situation was the fact that local people were no longer walking in the woods – they were keeping away as they felt it was no longer a safe place to visit.
Green Party members began to make enquiries with MP’s, local Councillors and Officers which was virtually fruitless. However, in a way this left them to freely go ahead and continue with enquiries. Some months later the owner of this land was found, as well as discovering the area Country Ranger, David Mitchelson (deceased 1991) who had a deep feeling and knowledge of these woods. Some meetings were arranged at his office – ironically in 1987 at The Lodge of Bebington Cemetery and ideas started to become reality. At this time rumours were circulating throughout Wirral about likely sites for the establishment of super-markets such as Sainsbury’s.
Wirral Green Party designed a simple leaflet which was circulated around the locality – about 1000 were delivered to invite people to a public meeting. This took place at The Lodge and was chaired by a well known Green Party member. Attendance was very encouraging - to such an extent that a Committee was formed immediately to pursue a strategy towards buying the land. David Mann volunteered to chair a working group to coordinate plans and to begin fund-raising. Many months of enquiries followed to find the owner with some difficulty to then establish a relationship to allow negotiations to become constructive. Eventually a price was agreed at £1000 an acre – in all about £32, 000 for the 32 acres between Marsh lane and Red Hill Road, bounded by Mount Road.
Meanwhile, behind the splendid fund-raising work, a Constitution was drafted to properly administer a Committee of the Friends of Storeton Woods and written in such a form that would achieve registration as a Charity and to attract people to become members of the FOSW. One piece of good luck was to have the professional help of the Charity Commissioners through one of its staff, on a voluntary basis,who was a friend of a member.
By this time a Committee had been formed under the Chairman ship of David
Mann, with Garnette Bowler as Deputy, A Secretary , and Treasurer..
Protracted debate took place about the role and responsibility of FOSW as a likely landowner of a community wood with virtually free access of the public. It was finally agreed at an AGM to approach The Woodland Trust to help in the short term with professional advice and funds to back what we were raising and for the long term to accept legal ownership of the land.
Important milestones were then reached with FOSW becoming a registered Charity, reaching our match funding target of about £20,000 and then establishing our partnership with The Woodland Trust. In effect this meant that FOSW would provide the day to day management and care of the Woods on behalf of the W.T. In 1989 the Woods were purchased by the W.T. with half of the purchase price provided by the funds of the FOSW.
David Mann continued as Chair until August 1994 when he retired and later moved to Scotland. For the next six years Garnette Bowler took over to be followed by Ken Whittle as Chair from March 2000.
It may be important to note that at the end of 1993 the Committee of FOSW nearly obtained a long lease on the adjacent 25 acres of woodland, known as Hancock,s Wood owned by the Leverhulme Estates. At the last moment this arrangement fell through. However, regular enquiries continue backed with a regular letter to the Leverhulme Trustees with the offer to buy the freehold.