Tile Hill Wood Nature Reserve - a brief history

(Provisional - page still under construction)

        Tile Hill Wood was included in some 946 hectares of land purchased by the City in 1926 from the Stoneleigh estate. It was set aside as a 'Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve' in June 1930 by Coventry City Council, following a resolution by the Estates and Parliamentary Committee. The City owned a number of small areas of woodland and after visits to them by members of the City Council and Coventry Natural History Society to assess their suitability, Tile Hill Wood, on the western boundary of the City, was selected for development as a nature reserve. This wood, of about 29.5 hectares (73 acres) in extent, was largely of oak standards with hazel but also had areas of conifer (scots pine and larch), birch and an area of mixed poplar, ash and sycamore. The habitat value of the wood was enhanced by several ponds, some within the wood (three of these were sphagnum bogs, or mires) and others along its northern boundary. The history of these ponds is uncertain but it is believed that some may have been dug for clay for the manufacture of tiles, as it is known that tiles were manufactured locally - from whence the district of Tile Hill probably derived its name.

        The Society was given the task of carrying out a survey of the wood. Official 'Watchers' and 'Recorders' were appointed and issued with permits and keys by the Town Clerk. The work carried out by members of the Society in recording the flora and fauna of the wood since it became a nature reserve has been well documented in the Society's annual Proceedings, and continues. Within recent years additional recording work has been carried out in the wood by the staff of the Natural History Dept. of Coventry's Herbert Art Galley and Museum as part of a survey of the biodiversity of the Coventry district.

        During the 1930's, following an initial botanical survey, a list was compiled of plants not found in the wood but which, it was considered, might be introduced. An attempt was made to introduce some of these, but with limited success. Another introduction to the wood was that of fish to some of the ponds - for various reasons these did not survive.

        A large number of nest boxes were put up by the city's Parks Department and these were maintained and their usage recorded by the Society's ornithological group. Members of this group also carried out regular trapping and ringing of the wood's birds, tasks which continued until the early 1960's when vandals burnt down the hut in which the traps and ladders were stored. Later, the bird boxes themselves were dismantled or deliberately made unusable, as many were being vandalised during the nesting season and the young birds left to die

        As part of the study of the wood's insect population regular night meetings were held to record the night-flying moths. Two methods of attracting the moths were used: "sugaring" the tree trunks with a mixture of black treacle and rum and by shining the headlights of a car onto a white sheet suspended between two trees (this was before the aquisition of a portable generator and mercury vapour lamp).

        The wood is sandwiched between Hawthorn Lane on its eastern border and Banner Lane to its west, and up until the late 1930's was surrounded by agricultural land. At this time large "shadow" factories were built on the west side of Banner Lane, opposite the wood, for the production of materials for World War II (1939-1945). In 1941, to avoid the possible risk of the wood being set on fire by incendiary bombs in the event of the factories being targeted, the entire wood was coppiced and the ground cleared of all flammable material - a devastating blow to the wood's wildlife

        In the years following the war many houses were built around the City and by the late 1950's a large council housing estate had extended westwards to Hawthorn Lane, and other, private houses were built along the eastern end of the wood's southern boundary. The marshy pasture on the north side of the wood was drained and became playing fields for the newly built Woodlands Comprehensive School for boys. A second school, Tile Hill Wood Comprehensive School for girls, was built on fields on the south side of the wood.

        Prior to the encroachment of the housing estate, when entry to the wood was restricted to permit holders, trespass and vandalism was minimal. However, with the great increase in the number of people now living in the immediate area of the wood, trespass and vandalism soon became a problem and a nest-box programme which had been running for many years, had to be discontinued. The wood had become a short cut between the housing estate and the Banner Lane factories and in an attempt to reduce trespass the City Council erected a 6 feet high chainlink fence, topped with barbed wire, along the whole of the wood's eastern boundary. However, the fence was repeatedly cut through and tunneled under in various places and after numerous attempts at repairing it, only to find the damage repeated almost immediately, council workers finally abandoned the task.

        In 1952, on the basis of the quality of its fauna and flora, Tile Hill Wood gained SSSI status, the first of three sites within the City to be given this designation. In 1986 the continued value of the site was confirmed when the wood was renotified as a SSSI under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

        In some respects, during the past 40 years, the quality of the wood has gradually deteriorated. It is unfortunate that holly has been allowed to take a stranglehold on the wood; it is rapidly becoming the dominant component of the under-story in many compartments. The holly, a highly competitive species, is of particular concern as its year-round heavy shading is gradually destroying the hazel lower canopy and the ground flora that has probably survived there for centuries; bluebells and wood anemones are two species at risk. The holly will also prevent the successful natural regeneration of the oaks and hazel. Additionally, the woodland's paths are being subjected to very heavy usage. For the most part they are rather fragile, poorly drained paths which in wet weather become seas of mud. This has resulted in much of the flora bordering the paths being trampled out.

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