We first went through Winnington, near Northwich, Cheshire, in 1970 in our first car – a split-windscreen Morris Minor affectionately called ‘Creeping Moses’. I have a vivid memory of the grey ash that covered everything in Winnington – bushes, trees, terraced houses – in the vicinity of the enormous Imperial Chemical Industries chemical works with huge industrial buildings and smoking stacks. It was like an abandoned land at the end of some SciFi catastrophe.
It was only a few miles from our destination of Marbury Country Park, a former country house and WW2 prison camp which had even then become quite a pleasant park between Budworth Mere and the Trent and Mersey Canal. It was bordered by a huge stretch of lightly used industrial land belonging to ICI, spanning several miles between Winnington and another huge ICI factory at Lostock Gralam. Apart from the country park, this was definitely an area to avoid.
Over the intervening years, things have changed. The great ICI conglomerate was broken up and much of the chemical work has, I believe, moved elsewhere (perhaps that pollution is now in China?).
The boat lift at nearby Anderton, linking the canal with the much lower River Weaver, was refurbished in 2002 and made into a visitor attraction, complete with cafe and boat trips. As part of the Mersey Forest initiative, Anderton Country Park and Northwich Community Woodlands were established on the former ICI land linking the two sites – now fully connected with Marbury giving a much larger country park, and also linked by footpath to central Northwich.
There is a fine set of well-maintained footpaths criss-crossing the entire area, and we find it ideal for a Sunday walk, as do many dog walkers and cyclists. The area is still home to old industrial pipes, some apparently still in use, but they do not intrude. The only problem I could find was the succession of dog waste bags that have been attached to or thrown into bushes, rather than the provided bins – now what is that all about?
The settlement ponds have become nature reserves for birds, with bird watching hides. On our visit yesterday we saw swans, coots, tufted ducks, moorhens, shelducks, crested grebes, a buzzard and the ubiqitous canada geese, mallard and gulls, also a clacking of rooks. Only a grebe came close enough to capture on our small travel zoom camera. Neumann’s Flash is usually a good place to see hundreds of lapwing, flying in formation with those lazy flapping wings, but yesterday we were restricted to a token flyby of around twenty.
What a transformation of this area over 45 years from industrial wasteland to a haven for wildlife and recreation. It does show what can be done, and we should never despair at the depradations done to our environment. It will recover, but slowly, and I suspect that the biodiversity of this area is still somewhat limited – at least in terms of butterflies, bees, hoverflies and the like. But nothing can recover the lives that were undoubtedly blighted by that pervasive pollution.
It was interesting to drive home through Winnington. The grey ash is long gone. The (now) Brunner Mond chemical works are still there. Some of the old industrial buildings are obviously derelict but still standing, some are in process of being dismantled, and new housing estates are rapidly expanding into the area being freed up. There is even a garden centre. This area truly is being renewed, bit by bit.