FTNCG and the purchase of Spa Ponds

Period: 2011 to 2017

Andy Lowe from Notts Wildlife Trust (left) and local residents (right) on wildlife walk to Spa Ponds organised by the newly formed Forest Town Nature Conservation Group in 2011. Over the course of a 2-hour gentle walk we saw a water vole, heard many birds, and pulled some Himalayan Balsam. See account from Our Mansfield and Area.

Now we’re getting into the history that I can speak to from first hand experience…

The Inaugural Meeting of the Forest Town Nature Conservation Group (FTNCG) took place on the 1st of February 2011. Back in 2011 the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust had a Service Level Agreement with the Wildlife Trust, and one of the key outputs was the formation of new Mansfield District Council ‘Friends Groups. As recorded in the minutes of the meeting, the creation of the group was spearheaded by Andy Lowe of the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust who had been in contact with “residents of Forest Town and Mansfield Woodhouse who had expressed an interest in forming a local Friends Group to protect and enhance Spa Ponds and other local sites with nature conservation value”.

We divvied up the roles between us, which resulted in Alyson Ciborski as Membership Secretary, David Oliver as Vice‐Chair, Lorraine Dowen as Chair, Shlomo Dowen as Secretary, and myself (Josh Dowen) as Treasurer. Andy knew the Dowen family because we had worked with the Wildlife Trust to jointly (and successfully) oppose a proposal to build a waste incinerator at the Former Rufford Colliery in Rainworth which was (and still is ) an important nature site for woodlark and nightjar.

For a few years we acted primarily as a Friends Group for Spa Ponds and Rushpool Open Space. At that time Spa Ponds was owned by a local farmer, but was under a long-term lease to the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. Our work at Spa Ponds mostly included balsam pulling and nature/surveying walks.

And then in 2013 the Spa Ponds Site came up for sale. The Wildlife Trust decided that they did not have the resources to bid for it. However, the Trust did agree to offer a Memorandum of Understanding with FTNCG to provide back stop support running the site, and this gave FTNCG the confidence to buy the site ourselves with the support of the community. We put in a £1 bid which was rejected, and could not afford the original asking price, but ended up working out a price that was more reasonable.

Mansfield CHAD article on the Spa Ponds appeal, January 22 2014

As our 2014 review of the year put it: “…we went from making bids to holding our breath to having our offer refused – twice. We finally reached the moment of truth when the land agent told us that an offer of £15,000 would be likely to be accepted, but failing that the site would be taken off the market. This was in January 2014, after we had raised more than £2,000 in donations during 2013 – including the money raised at Pie & Pea fundraiser put on for us by the Forest Town Community Council. We had also received £9,000 in pledges. The Committee decided to go for it, and our Urgent Spa Ponds Appeal was launched. As you know, thanks to the generosity of many people, we raised what we hope will be enough to cover the purchase and associated legal costs.”

After this, FTNCG became a registered charity and we lodged the deeds with the Official Custodian for Charities as part of the Charity Commission’s Landholding Service.

In 2015 we held a toad count which indicated that Spa Ponds had one of the highest toad populations in Nottinghamshire. We were making good inroads into the Himalayan Balsam, and were wanting to undertake more serious work. But by that point we were no longer just a friends group, but a custodian of a site of historic interest.

We didn’t want to do anything as part of our management of the site that harmed any heritage significance, and it just happened to be the 700th anniversary of the creation of Clipstone Peel that might have corresponded to the original creation of ponds at the site. As such, we undertook research into the heritage of the site. This included both the ancient history and the more modern history. We did a lot of looking through documents, map regression, and so on.

Our work showed that while the site has historic connections, the work after the subsidence in the mid-1980’s was so significant that work we did at Spa Ponds would not be harming pristine medieval ponds. This has encouraged us to get funding to improve the site to improve it for wildlife and visitors, informed by both the history of the site and the more recent memories of the area as more open. Our work has also allowed us to provide information boards on the site to share its history with visitors, and helped me to produce this 10 part history.

History of Spa Ponds: