Map Ref:SJ 926 248
Astonfields Balancing Lakes Local Nature Reserve (LNR) is an important wildlife haven in Stafford. In October 2004 the site became the second new LNR to be declared in Stafford Borough as a result of the 'Wildspace!' project.
The Ecological Value of Astonfields Balancing Lakes
Astonfields Balancing Lakes LNR is situated on the north-eastern edge of Stafford. The primary purpose of the balancing lakes is flood defence, but over the years a series of important wildlife habitats have developed on the site.
The northern lake (marked 'main lake' on the map) is mostly open water with a small amount of emergent vegetation. In contrast, the southern 'lake' contains little open water throughout most of the year. At one end is an extensive reedbed that is dominated by common reed, whilst at the other there is a small area of saltmarsh community flora.
The saltmarsh is of particular botanical interest because this type of habitat has been found at only one other location in Staffordshire. Notable saltmarsh species include reflexed saltmarsh grass, lesser sea spurrey, grey club-rush and buttonweed (a species that is not found anywhere else in the county).
There are records of the lakes being used by numerous species of bird including snipe and lapwing (both Staffordshire Biodiversity Action Plan species), teal, heron, water rail, redshank and species of warbler.
The steep, dry banks of the lakes support grasslands containing a variety of species such as false oat-grass, common knapweed, creeping cinquefoil and meadow vetchling.
The Local Nature Reserve covers an area of approximately 4 hectares and is also identified as a grade 1 Site of Biological Importance (SBI).
As part of the Local Nature Reserve (LNR) declaration process a habitat management plan was developed, which describes how the site will be managed over the next five years to protect and enhance its important wildlife value, and to promote it as a valuable area of community greenspace.
Various management tasks have been identified, including:
The area of land where the balancing lakes are located was once wet meadowland, which flooded regularly. Despite the subsequent changes to the area, evidence can still be found of the access routes that were used to move cattle onto the meadows. In particular, a tunnel in the embankment of the old railway line (at the northern edge of the site) can still be seen clearly today. This old railway line, which used to run to Uttoxeter, is now a picturesque cycle route.
Much of the Astonfields Industrial Estate that lies to the west of the balancing lakes was the site of a salt works until the 1960's. The large poplar trees on the eastern edge of the LNR were originally planted by Sandon Road householders to hide this 'eyesore' and to cut out the smoke the works produced.
The salt works extracted natural saline groundwater and heated this to produce salt. The salt-rich waste materials were then deposited nearby. These deposits, together with the saline groundwater itself, are considered to be the reason for the presence of saltmarsh vegetation on this site.
The northern balancing lake was constructed in the late 1970s to help protect Stafford from flooding. In 1990 this lake was dredged and the southern balancing lake was constructed to increase the flood retention capacity of the site.
During 2003 local residents and other site users formed the 'Friends of Astonfields Balancing Lakes'. This group is working with Stafford Borough Council to help protect and enhance this important site. The group are taking part in a variety of site management tasks, including litter-picking, access improvements, practical conservation workdays and other events, which will help to implement the objectives of the site's habitat management plan. New members are always welcome!
If you would like any additional information about conservation work on Astonfields Balancing Lakes LNR, or other biodiversity initiatives, please contact us.