FORH at Top Church, Dudley Eco Fair this Saturday!

This Saturday (1st October), Top Church in Dudley are celebrating becoming an EcoChurch by hosting an Eco Fair to mark Great Big Green Week and the Season of Creation. The Friends of Rowley Hills will have a stall at the fair where we’ll be giving out copies of our new trail guide and chatting about the wonderful Rowley Hills to anyone who is interested!

The Eco Fair will also feature:

  • Eco-friendly, gifts and crafts – made from recycled, repurposed, or sustainable materials – including from Top Church!
  • Yummy vegan, locally made goodies.
  • Guerrilla gardening in the church yard.
  • Activities for children – crafts and face painting.
  • A film screening.
  • Information from local organisations promoting wildlife and sustainable living.

Hope to see some of you there!

New Rowley Hills walking trail leaflet published, plus fantastic paintings from local artist!

A new walking trail leaflet has recently been published, detailing some of the fascinating and intertwined geology and history of the Rowley Hills area. Copies of the leaflet are available from local libraries, Bumble Hole Visitors Centre, Lion Farm Action Centre, Dudley Museum and Archives and more. You can also download and print a copy at home – be aware the whole leaflet is A3 sized. The leaflet is a joint venture between the Black Country Geological Society, Friends of Rowley Hills, Sandwell Council and the Black Country Global Geopark, and has been made possible thanks to funding from Grace Mary to Lion Farm Big Local.

We’ve also recently been shown these beautiful paintings by a local artist, Tracey F, of the newly opened up section of Church Walk and a Rowley Church winter scene. We hope to see some more of Tracey’s work soon, it’s wonderful to see our local area depicted with such a good eye!

Narrow miss on Portway Hill

As has been widely reported during the recent heatwaves, there has been a big increase in wildfires around the country, and unfortunately this has included the Rowley Hills. Last month, a large area of felled trees on Portway Hill at the end of St Brades Close caught fire. These trees had been left by contractors who felled them in 2021, and despite the risk (not to mention the right of way that had become blocked by the trees) had not returned to remove them. The contractors were acting on behalf of the owner of that parcel of land.

Fortunately the fire was brought quickly under control by the fire service before it could spread to the nearby houses. Had the fire spread to the fences along the back of the houses where the trees had been cut down and just left in situ, and got a hold, the consequences could have been much worse. Following the fire, contractors are chipping the felled trees so the area will be much safer in the future. The Friends of Rowley Hills will be able to use the chippings to spread along the paths later this year.

Although we’ve since had some wet weather, further warm, dry conditions are forecast over the next week so if you’re out and about in the Rowley Hills and see anything that looks like a fire risk, you can report it. It goes without saying, please don’t use barbecues in the hills or discard lit cigarette butts. Thankyou!

Some recent sightings

Here are a few photos of some recent sightings on the Rowley Hills – a superb male Sparrowhawk photographed by Andrew Cook on his garden fence, a Ring Ouzel on a migratory stop-off en route to his breeding grounds also photographed by Andrew (from his house!!); and a Tawny Mining Bee and newly emerged male Orange Tip butterfly, both photographed by Mike Poulton.

2022 volunteer dates for your diary

Volunteer days with the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country start again in April. If you would like to take part, meet new people, make new friends, get fit, and help to maintain this fantastic wildlife site here on your doorstep, feel free to come along. We meet just inside St Brades Close, off Tower Road at 10:00am. All volunteer days for 2022 are listed below and on our Events page.

Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Friday 22nd April 2022, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment, and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. No need to book, just turn up!

Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Saturday 14th May 2022, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment, and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. No need to book, just turn up!

Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Friday 27th May 2022, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment, and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. No need to book, just turn up!

Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Friday 24th June 2022, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment, and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. No need to book, just turn up!

Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Saturday 9th July 2022, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment, and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. No need to book, just turn up!

Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Friday 22nd July 2022, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment, and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. No need to book, just turn up!

Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Friday 26th August 2022, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment, and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. No need to book, just turn up!

Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Saturday 10th September 2022, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment, and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. No need to book, just turn up!

Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Friday 23rd September 2022, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment, and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. No need to book, just turn up!

Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Friday 28th October 2022, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment, and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. No need to book, just turn up!

Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Saturday 12th November 2022, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment, and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. No need to book, just turn up!

Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Friday 25th November 2022, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment, and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. No need to book, just turn up!

Conservation volunteer day, Portway Hill, Friday 23rd December 2022, 10:00am – 3:00pm. Join the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country at Portway Hill for a fun day out meeting new people, helping the environment, and learning new skills. Meet on St Brades Close; ensure you are dressed appropriately for the forecast weather conditions, and wear sturdy footwear. No need to book, just turn up!

Recent news, including a big achievement

The Friends of Rowley Hills are celebrating a great achievement – the opening up of the lost section of ‘Coaching Road’ on Portway Hill. Over the years this 80m stretch of the old double-hedgerow, which we believe at one time continued all the way to Rowley Church, had been lost to encroaching vegetation. In October 2021 we made a start at clearing it, and the results of our endeavours can be seen in the below photographs.

In other recent news, we warmly welcome Senior Reserves Officer Jake Williams as our new Wildlife Trust representative on the Rowley Hills, and look forward to working with him on future volunteering days which will be announced soon. We also wish Natalie Norton all our best wishes in her new appointment with Butterfly Conservation.

Moth trapping on Portway Hill

We had very successful moth trapping event on Portway Hill last month, with 29 moth species recorded as well as 2 shield bugs – see below for the full list and some photos. Thank you to Richard Orton of Sandnats for organising the event and bringing along his moth traps, and to Dave and Wendy Yale at Portway Farm for giving us permission to use their field for the event.

Wainscot Smudge
Pied Smudge
White-shouldered House Moth
Brown House Moth
Dingy Dowd
Light Brown Apple Moth
Common Yellow Conch
Mother-of-Pearl
Yellow Shell
Grey Pine Carpet
Phoenix
Common Marbled Carpet
Green Carpet
Double-striped Pug
Brimstone
Dusky Thorn
Spectacle
Copper Underwing agg.
Vine’s Rustic
Lunar Underwing
Centre-barred Sallow
Common Wainscot
Flame Shoulder
Large Yellow Underwing
Lesser Yellow Underwing
Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing
Square Spot Rustic
Setaceous Hebrew Character
Yponomeuta sp.
Hawthorn Shield bug
Red-legged Shield bug

Photos from recent events

With lockdown restrictions easing, we’ve been lucky to be able to start holding events again on the hills. First up, here are a few photos from our dawn chorus walk last month when, although we had a good range of sightings, the conditions were not all that great for photography:

And here are many more photos from the Wildflower Society-funded identification event from this month, when conditions were a little more favourable for photography! We spotted many wildflowers and insects, with Flower Crab Spider and Lime Hawk-moth being new records for the site; the spider was only the 2nd record for Birmingham and the Black Country. This spider is spreading up from the south so be on the lookout for it in your area.

Some recent sightings

On a recent walk from Warrens Hall Nature Reserve, up across Dudley Golf Course, and onto the Portway Hill site, Mike Poulton, Matt Hadlington and Tom Hartland-Smith had several interesting sightings. A regular dog walker stopped to tell them that at about 7pm on a previous evening, as he was returning from a walk, up on his neighbour’s roof was an Eagle Owl! Matt said that there had also been a recent Eagle Owl sighting at nearby Sheepwash Lane in Oldbury – it’s likely that these sightings were of the same individual, possibly an escaped pet or falconry bird. And if that wasn’t enough, on the way back to his car, Tom watched a Red Kite fly across. However the group’s first two sightings were of a tiny Common Toad, and a Pygmy Shrew. The toad was very much alive; the shrew was sadly deceased, but this is not unusual for these incredibly tiny mammals as the following information from Mike explains.

Pygmy Shrews are found throughout the UK; their habitat is woods and hedgerows and they can be seen all year round. They are our smallest mammal, up to 55mm from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail. The tail can be up to 45mm long, around three quarters the length of the body (unlike the larger Common Shrew, whose tail is only half the length of it’s body). The average weight is about 4 grams, the same as a one penny coin. 

Shrews superficially resemble mice but with a longer, pointed snout, and even when fully grown are only around a quarter of the size of a House Mouse. The thick fur is brown on top and greyish-white below, and grows thicker in the autumn to help maintain body heat during the winter months.

Pygmy Shrews needs to consume food every two hours or so in order to maintain their body temperature. Their diet consists of spiders, beetles, woodlice, slugs and other small invertebrates. Active day and night searching for their next meal, the Pygmy Shrew literally lives its life in the fast lane. This unmarked specimen could have died of starvation because it hadn’t eaten for a few hours! 

The breeding season runs from April through to August, and female Pygmy Shrews produce between two and eight young per litter, in an underground nest. The gestation period is a little over three weeks, and a female can produce up to five litters in one year. The life span of this tiny mammal is approximately 15 months.