Sutton Park will be restored to its former glory as Victoria Farncombe discovers
It has changed beyond all recognition since the day Henry VIII almost died there after being charged by a wild boar while out hunting with his confidant Bishop Vesey.
But a £1m grant from Natural England is set to restore Sutton Park back to its former 16th century glory.
The 10-year improvement programme will dramatically change the landscape of the 2,400-acre park which is one of the largest urban parks in Europe and attracts more than two million visitors a year.
Birmingham City Council’s biodiversity officer, Dr Stefan Bodnar, who secured the mammoth grant, says: “It will be far more open. People will see more open vistas and they’ll see more heathland, rather than scrubland.”
What makes the park special – and why the grant was given so readily – is that it’s the finest example of a compartmental medieval deer park.
“It’s divided into two areas,” explains Dr Bodnar. “You have the enclosed woodlands used by the aristocracy for hunting and then you have the heathlands and wetlands which were where the common folk would graze their stock.
“It’s a very old fashioned medieval landscape. You can’t really think of it existing anywhere else. It’s been continually grazed for hundreds of years. That’s shaped the habitat and the plant species. It’s a very unusual area.”
The unusual conditions have given birth to a number of rare species of plants including carnivorous communities like butterwort and sundew and the rare crowberry shrub, which is more often found in uplands.
The park is also home to a herd of 160 grazing cattle and about 40 Exmoor ponies who will be expanded in numbers and moved around the park to play their own part in changing the landscape.
Meanwhile, heavy specialised machinary will also be used to clear scrubland, repair an old orchard and control non-invasive plants.
“It’s absolutely critical that we undertake this work. Sutton Park is one of our rarest and most important habitats. That’s why we’ve been able to get this very large amount of funding,” says Dr Bodnar.
Birmingham City Council, which manages the park, has also been given Forestry Commission Woodland grants and additional funding from English Heritage.
To secure the grant, leisure bosses had to produce a 50-year community vision for the park; a heritage management agreement; a farm environment plan and a new site management plan.
Birmingham City Council leisure chief, Coun Martin Mullaney says: “This is a terrific boost for one of our major parks and helps fund our vision for the future of the park.”
The first main birch control work will be undertaken in late February and early March 2010, targeting areas to the north of the railway.
“Although the work may look drastic, the biological and landscape benefits are immense and the open vistas that emerge are the landscapes that Henry VIII would have enjoyed,” adds Dr Bodnar.