Nineteenth & Early Twentieth Century
According to the Land Registry Property Register the land was formerly copyhold to The Forest of Knaresborough. The first edition of the Ordinance Survey Map (c.1850) shows the site set in open countryside within a patchwork of small rectangular fields. The site itself (including the adjacent amenity open space and Arthur’s Grove) comprises 2 small fields each bounded on three sides by well treed hedgerows (the exception being the south eastern boundary). Of these, the northern boundary (now with the grammar school playing fields) still remains tree-lined.
The next edition OS map (1891) shows the whole site edged within a cutting, within which are apparently three ponds and a slaughterhouse. This may indicate where clay extraction has occurred, possibly associated with brick-making, in the second half of the nineteenth century. Part of the site (now the capped ‘bottle mound’) was evidently a Victorian tip (from which bottles were eagerly sought by collectors in the 1980s). One of the ponds appears to be what is now ‘Oliver’s Pond’, which may have provided a continuously available breeding site for great crested newts for at least 120 years. A water well is shown towards the centre of the site. This, together with the slaughterhouse, appears to have vanished by 1910.
Post War Urbanisation
OS Epoch 5 (sometime post-war) shows a pond in approximately the place where Mellard’s pond is now and marshy ground where Salix Pond and the Seasonal Pond are now. A ditch running to the north east of the site indicates that by this time the drainage system may not have been dissimilar at that time to that which currently exists. By this time the post-war urban expansion of Harrogate was closing in on the site. Housing development had intensified along Pannal Ash Road to the north-east and Harrogate Grammar School had been established to the north. There was a large compound of Government buildings to the west (with a sports field immediately adjacent to what is now the Reserve). To the south of the site a green wedge (which still substantially exists) links into open country beyond Yew Tree Lane. The development of Rossett High and Rossett Acre schools (in the 1970s) intruded into this green wedge. However, the presence of the school playing fields still provides a green corridor, which may help to link the Reserve’s populations of wildlife to the wider countryside.
1980s & 90s Housing Development
By the time that housing development for the site was being proposed in the 1980s, anecdotal evidence was that the site was effectively spare ground, suffering from fly-tipping and neglect, which had been used informally, especially by children, for at least 35 years. The site was notified as a ‘Green Form’ site by the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Trust (now the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust) in 1977. The ‘green form’ scheme was the way that the YNT alerted the authorities to the presence of nature conservation interest, prior to the development of SINCs (Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation).
The site, which lies between Rossett Acre Primary School and Harrogate Grammar School, was sold by North Yorkshire County Council to Crest Homes and a planning application was approved for housing on the site in 1984. Prior to its implementation, however, a local school boy named Oliver discovered Great Crested Newts, a European protected species, in the ponds. This was investigated and the existence of a strong GCN was substantiated by Harrogate & District Naturalists Society and English Nature. There followed protracted negotiations between HBC and Crest homes between 1985-1995. In 1986, a Background Paper to the Harrogate and Knaresborough Local Plan on Nature Conservation recommended the site for designation as a Local
Nature Reserve. This was probably not pursued at the time, as the fate of the site was not settled until 1995, with the signing of an 80 year Management Agreement by HBC under the terms of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. During this period, the first draft management plan to manage the site primarily for Great Crested Newts was drawn up in 1989. Some limited management work was evidently undertaken by Harrogate Conservation Volunteers. It wasn’t, however, until the signing of the management agreement that more formal HBC management in partnership with the local community began to come into effect.
Early Years of the Rossett Nature Reserve Group
In 1996 the Council promoted the involvement of the local community through a ‘Planning for Real’ exercise lead by Lynne Ceeney of Open Country. Over 40 people were involved in 3 community planning events to direct management of the site as a haven for wildlife and for the amenity of local people. This exercise resulted in the formation of the Rossett Nature Reserve Group in 1996, involving members of the local community, local schools and officers from Harrogate Borough Council together with representatives of Open Country and the Harrogate & District Naturalists Society.
A second management plan was drawn up for the site (finalised in 1999). A wide-ranging programme of improvements was implemented. 1997 saw the removal of a great deal of fly-tipped rubbish, the capping of the old tip with inert building material, tree-planting on the northern of part of it and the installation of kissing gates and dog waste bins. 1998/9 saw the clearing out and extension of existing ponds (Mellard’s) and a new pond (‘Slator’s’) was dug. The first Interpretation Board was installed on the site in 2000. In 2001 footpaths were laid and a board walk and pond-dipping were installed. Following this phase of acute activity management settled down to a phase of routine habitat management, litter-picking etc. overseen by the RNRG and employing the services of an honorary community warden.
December 2006 – Reserve Extension
By 2005/6 the RNR Group recognised that the site was beginning to require some major renovation work. The northern part of the site was dedicated as public open space but was seasonally wet and supported Great Crested Newts. The RNR Group was successful in arguing that this part of the site was not suitable as a formal children’s play area, for which it had been ear-marked but that rather it, together with the original nature Reserve site should be brought under integrated management for Nature Conservation and Environmental Education. This was agreed to by the Cabinet Members for Planning and Transport and for Community Services in December 2006.
The northern area had come into the ownership of HBC as POS as a result of surrounding development and Taylor Woodrow Ltd had dedicated £20,000 as a commuted sum for the development of a formal Children’s Equipped Play Area on this part of the site. Following the decision not to develop the site as a play area, the commuted sum would normally revert to the developer. However, Taylor Woodrow Ltd. generously allowed half of the original commuted sum, to be retained exclusively for capital projects, to be undertaken on the newly extended nature Reserve.
2007-10 ‘Breathing Spaces’ Site Renovation
The RNR Group was now working on a vision for a complete renovation of the extended nature Reserve. In order to bid for funds to revitalise the site, The RNRG reconstituted itself in 2007 with a new formal constitution. It was successful in bidding for a grant from Big Lottery’s Breathing Places programme. In 2007 a Hydrological Survey was commissioned from FWAG (Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group). Existing ponds were partially cleared of surrounding scrub and extended and cleaned out. New ponds were dug. Enhanced access was provided, linking wheelchair-accessible footpaths right through the site.
The main interpretation board, which had deteriorated was replaced with a new design and additional ones were placed at the northern entrance and near the pond-dipping platform. In early 2010, the international year of biodiversity, the site was declared a statutory Local Nature Reserve. The site is now a green gem of urban wild-space in a residential area of schools and housing but which still supports a strong population of newts, including GCNs.