“ Nature reserves in Rotherham managed primarily as a haven for wildlife. „
Firsby Reservoirs lie approximately 4 miles (7 Kilometres) to the north east of Rotherham town centre in South Yorkshire. They consist of two separate bodies of water that were created between 1874 and 1880 to provide a supply of fresh drinking water to Rotherham and the surrounding area. Their secondary purpose was to also to act as holding reservoirs for the nearby Thrybergh Reservoir.
However, it seemed that the odds were stacked against these reservoirs right from the start. It soon became apparent that both reservoirs leaked badly and despite numerous repairs the problem was never really solved. In the early 1970's the M18 Motorway had been built close to the site and by 1974 the whole area was so heavily polluted that Firsby Reservoirs were no longer viable as a source of drinking water and they became redundant.
For the next six years they lay neglected but during this period local conservationists realised their importance as a wetland habitat. Plans to turn the area into a nature reserve were discussed and in 1980 Yorkshire Water, who owned the site up to that point, sold it for a token sum of money to Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council.
Today, Firsby Reservoirs are a site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) as defined by English Nature and they are also a Local Nature Reserve (LNR).
The setting of these reservoirs is incredibly idyllic. Despite my earlier mention of the M18 Motorway nearby this is actually far enough away for the sound of traffic from it not to be heard, although it can be seen from here in the distance. Access to the reservoirs is via a small country lane from Ravenfield. As there is no sign to indicate the presence of these reservoirs at the end of this lane , Firsby Reservoirs have often been referred to as "one of Rotherham's best kept secrets".
Access to this land is free and it is open at all times, although visitors must keep to the designated footpaths as the farmland that surrounds the reservoirs is privately owned. At the end of the access lane there is a small car park and close to this several wooden benches and the odd wooden picnic table.
I have visited this area several times and I have never seen more than a couple of cars in the car park, even on a Bank Holiday weekend.
From the car park the reservoirs are not actually visible but the grassy banks of them are. It is a short scramble up to the top of this bank where there is a good quality footpath that goes around three quarters of the eastern (lower) reservoir and along the eastern edge of the western (upper) reservoir. For disabled visitors there is an alternative footpath from the car park to the top of the reservoir bank, this winds around to reduce its steepness and though much longer in distance than the quick route, this way is suitable for wheelchair users and the less able bodied.
At the top of the footpath one of the first things that you see is a conduit with a sluice gate at the top of it. This impressive structure resembles a series of steps cut into the grassy banking and was originally used to transport the water from these reservoirs to the one at Thrybergh. Whilst it is no longer used for this purpose, water still trickles down it and following periods of heavy rainfall there can often be a rather impressive cascade.
The next thing that you will see is the wide expanse of water, surrounded by rich arable farmland and scatted woodland and trees. From here you will also notice a grand whitewashed building close to the water's edge. This private dwelling has its own private area of the reservoir, complete with a boat, and this is the reason why the footpath around the lower reservoir does not go all the way around it, visitors have to turn around and walk back the way that they have come. I am sure that I am not the only person that has visited here to have commented that if I ever won the lottery this would be the sort of place that I would want to live.
Firsby Reservoirs provide an important habitat for wildlife. The water attracts large numbers of wildfowl (ducks, geese and swans) whilst the surrounding fields hold Roe Deer and reputedly one the largest local populations of Britain's only poisonous snake, the Adder. In fact this is the only place that I know that has a sign warning visitors to watch out for snakes. I am sure this sign must have freaked a few visitors out and sent them scurrying back to their cars. Personally, I would love to encounter an Adder here, but the truth is, on my visits I have never even caught a whiff of one so I guess that the chance of coming face to face with one is just a little bit more likely than my lottery numbers coming up, and me moving into my dream house here.
Overall I think that Firsby Reservoirs are a fantastic place. They are tucked away, off the beaten track so a lot of people have never discovered them, but those that have hope that it stays that way.