“ Up until the mid 90's the park was a derelict site for rubbish and has now been transformed, after much work and dedication, to a haven of wildlife and nature lovers. „
Sugar Mill Ponds are located just outside the village of Rawcliffe Bridge, about five miles to the west of Goole, in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
This site covers an area of approximately twenty five acres and is one of the finest examples that I have seen of a former area of unsightly industrial wasteland transformed into a tranquil, picturesque haven for wildlife.
This site is now a designated Local Nature Reserve (LNR) but it is owned by a local company called Croda Chemicals Ltd. Access to the site is completely free and there are good footpaths around the ponds and also along a section of the canal.
The site is quite compact and dominated by two large ponds. There is a car parking area situated between these two ponds and an area set aside for picnickers, with wooden tables and benches.
Croda Chemicals Ltd transformed this site under a Government led initiative called Changes Places, which aimed to change industrial eyesores into attractive recreational areas.
Until ten years ago this site was an industrial wasteland with a history dating back to 1838 when the Rawcliffe Bridge Brickwork's Company first set up here. In those days the clay that was used to make the bricks was dug by hand from two large pits that stood adjacent to one another.
In 1873 the company was taken over by The Rawcliffe Steam Brick and Tile Company, which was owned by an historically important local family called the Creykes. It was around this time that a 30 metre high chimney was erected which soon became a well known local landmark.
Shortly after this date these two original pits were abandoned for a new pit elsewhere and these two hollows quickly filled with rainwater. There is actually a local legend that states that these Ponds were created overnight on a date in 1875, but historians believe that the date was nearer 1875, and the hollows would have taken a couple of years before there was permanent water here.
In 1890 The Rawcliffe Steam Brick and Tile Company closed and sugar refining began on the site, using locally grown sugar beet and water from the ponds within the production process. A massive slump in world sugar prices in 1900 however sealed the fate of this company within a decade.
For decades the factories remained empty and the buildings slowly began to crumble. The ponds became stagnant and filled with rubble and rubbish. In 1963 Croda Chemicals Ltd bought this land to build storage units, but the area around the ponds remained untouched, although it was now on private land and out of bounds to the locals.
In the early 1990's Croda decided to reclaim the ponds to create a recreational area for the local community. The project quickly escalated and the local schoolchildren came on board with their ideas to create a nature reserve.
In 1996 the Sugar Mill Ponds Project, as it had become known received a grant from the local council. This money was used to plant hundreds of trees. This project has subsequently received funding from several other sources including the National Lottery.
Today, Sugar Mill Ponds are a green, tranquil oasis. There are over 70 resident species of birds here, including breeding Mute Swan, Great Crested Grebe, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Barn Owl.
When I was last here a couple of weeks ago I watched a Cuckoo performing its display flight and calling loudly from its perch on a tree only a few weeks earlier I also saw a Bank Vole and a Grass Snake.
There is a footpath that goes all of the way around both of the ponds and this is a good quality path that is both wide and flat. I would suggest that it would be suitable for wheelchair users, especially the paths closest to the car park.
Sugar Mill Ponds are now used by a local angling club and there were several people fishing here during my last visit.
Directly adjacent to the ponds is the former Goole & Knottingley Canal, now known as the Aire and Calder Navigation. This section of the canal has undergone a transformation of its own in recent years and this is a lovely place to sit and relax on one of the benches at the side of the canal, watching the barges sail by. It is easy to forget that the busy M62 motorway lies only a few metres across the water.
In my opinion I think that the Sugar Mill Ponds are a fantastic place to visit and a perfect demonstration of just how much a local community can achieve when they all work together. Access to the site is completely free.
If you wish to visit then access from the M18 north is via junction 6. From here take the A614 to Rawcliffe, then turn right to Rawcliffe Bridge. As you enter the village, the ponds are located on the right, immediately before the Rawcliffe Bridge Hotel. The access road is single track, but it can accommodate both cars and coaches. From the M62 leave at junction 36 and travel towards Rawcliffe on the A614. At Rawcliffe turn left towards Rawcliffe Bridge.
If you do a get a chance to visit here then enjoy!