Sutton Park is described on the City of Birmingham’s webpage as “delivering a sense of wilderness with an urban environment.” Sutton Park, in its size and natural qualities, certainly conveys a wildness, but is also a landscape that reflects thousands of years of human alteration and habitation. It is an unusual mix of history and archaeology and abundant present nature. It is an National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Significance (SSSI), but also has been designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument (something the park shares with Stonehenge!).
At approximately 2400 acres in size, Sutton is said to be the largest urban park in Europe. Located only 6 miles north of the city center, it is remarkably near to where many urban residents live. It is a remarkable landscape with a mix of ancient oak woodlands, heathlands, wetlands and ponds that provides opportunities both for remote contemplation and more active recreational activities. The heathlands are quite impressive, a remnant of what much of the British midlands looked like. It has been a working landscape and for many years supported cattle and sheep. In more recent years Exmoor ponies (a shy and rare breed) have been introduced, in part to keep non-native trees and plants in check.
The park is home to diverse and abundant wildlife. There are foxes, hedgehogs, Common Lizards, twelve species of dragonflies, and many species of birds, for which the park serves as a significant breeding area for a number of species (such as redstarts, warblers, and woodpeckers). There are several species of orchids found in the marshy parts of the park and a diverse plant community. There are 29 species of butterflies, including the notable Holly Blue Butterfly (Celastrina argiolus), associated with the Holly forest understory and chosen as the emblem of Friends of Sutton Park Association (FOSPA), a group that has actively guarded over the park since 1950.
The park was originally a royal forest and then a deer park. As an early example of a natural area set aside for the enjoyment of the public, King Henry VIII deeded the park to the village of Sutton Coldfield in 1528 (now within the City of Birmingham). There is much ancient history present here, including pre-historic “burnt mounds” and a section of a major Roman road (circa 80 AD) running through the park.
The park is heavily used and highly prized, and sees more than 2 million visitors each year. From dog-walking and strolling, to fishing and rowing, a number of different activities are accommodated within the boundaries of the park. On the day I spent rambling and exploring in Sutton, there were mostly others doing the same. It is a park that permits one to escape the sights and sounds of the city, and other people if one chooses. While there are pathways and pre-established walks, it is a park that accommodates launching off in any direction that looks intriguing. Getting lost was a worry (for me), but losing track of time (and becoming lost in time) were more likely outcomes.
Post by Tim Beatley