A personal view by Derek Bolton, Community Liaison Officer with Groundwork Stoke on Trent
I have known Berryhill for over 30 years. It’s a place I have bird watched regularly, particularly in the winter when I link it with walks to Park Hall Country Park to see the wintering owls. There are 5 British owl species and on one magical Sunday I actually saw all 5 in this area! Park Hall is well known for its roost of long eared owls, has a breeding population of little owls and on this day I found a roosting tawny. I then went to Berryhill and saw 2 short eared owls hunting low over the Fields and, just as dusk was descending, close to Eaton Park I found the one remaining species, a barn owl!
With my association with the Fields I became heavily involved with the Open Cast Action Group, assisting with the wildlife surveys. Losing Berryhill to a black hole in the ground meant more to me than just the effect on the wildlife. I live in Hartshill, 3 miles from the site, and can see Berryhill from my garden, to take away that view would have been devastating. In fact, the whole site has a dramatic impact on most of the City with it dominating the skyline. One of the best views of Berryhill is from the side of Hanley bus station
So I came to the Millennium Project with a feeling for the site and, after 4 years of being directly involved, this has turned into a passion! The ecology is of greater importance than I realised with protected species like great crested newts and water voles and nationally threatened species including skylarks, grey partridges and brown hares. The flora includes one of the best sites for orchids in North Staffordshire. Link this with the fascinating history and the importance of the Fields to the local community then the Berryhill Fields Millennium Project, that has taken the site from the threat of open casting to the community facility we now have, has been a major success. Something we should all feel proud of.
UPDATE: Sad to report that Derek passed away in August 2015. As well as helping to save the Berryhill Fields (and forming the Friends of Berryhill Fields group), The Sentinel reported that his other achievements included creating the nature gardens around the New Victoria Theatre in Basford.