Doncaster beauty revealed next to busy motorway

Across the road was a major out-of-town B&Q store. Just a few hundred yards away was a busy motorway.

When she visited for the first time, shortly after moving to Doncaster with her husband, Rosemary Millican was not expecting much.

Potteric Carr nature reserve volunteering development officer Jennifer Few, with volunteer Rosemary Millican, of Wheatley Hills . Picture: David Kessen

Potteric Carr nature reserve volunteering development officer Jennifer Few, with volunteer Rosemary Millican, of Wheatley Hills . Picture: David Kessen

But when the 66-year-old from Wheatley Hills took a look at Potteric Carr Nature Reserve, her jaw dropped.

Sandwiched between the big superstore and the motorway was what she found to be a beautiful oasis of peace and tranquility, that she loved so much that both she and husband Andrew signed up to work there as volunteers.

She joined a list of around 80 volunteers who work in their spare time to ensure the reserve is in the best condition to fulfill a list of functions ranging from preventing Doncaster from flooding and helping endangered species, to teaching Doncaster children about nature.

And she is now the latest in a long list of people who have enlisted to help out at the site - which was set up 50 years ago this year, by a previous generation of volunteers.

Potteric Carr nature reserve volunteer Andrea Nicholls, 49, of Tickhilll 'Picture: David Kessen

Potteric Carr nature reserve volunteer Andrea Nicholls, 49, of Tickhilll 'Picture: David Kessen

Rosemary and Andrew moved to Doncaster just a few years ago, after the couple retired from the property business they ran together in Cheshire.

"I wanted to find an activity I could do after I retired," she said: "I came to look around at the reserve initially. It was an amazing to find something as special as this just opposite a B&Q. My husband and I decided to come down and see what there was that we could do to support what's going on here."

Now they both work as 'welcome' volunteers, helping people in the main visitor centre and helping out in the shop and cafe.

Rosemary sometimes comes in early so she can walk around the reserve and take in the peace and quiet. "I don't know much about birds, but the peace and tranquility is beautiful," she said.

Volunteers Robert Bennett, Keith Tomlinson and Chris Cull, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley

Volunteers Robert Bennett, Keith Tomlinson and Chris Cull, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley

Andrea Nicholls, aged 49, of Tickhill has similar sentiments.

She started helping out at the reserve two years ago, at the recommendation of a tutor on the environmental science degree she is studying for at Sheffield University.

Even though she had lived in Doncaster for years, and her now grown-up son had visited the site with cubs as a boy, she had never been herself until she got in touch.

Now she loves the place, and takes school groups around the site.

"My son used to come here for nature trips, but I had never been until I volunteered," she said.

"The site is amazing, and I think it's so good for your mental health.

We teach groups how to get out and love nature."

She had just taken a nursery group around the site. "Today was all about colours, and and they had a colour palette to find items of each colour," she said. "We hid cuddly toys for them to find too. It finished with a story, a drink and a chat round the fire."

Others do work outdoors on the site. Some work on the reed beds. Some care for the paths, and some cut back shrubs. There are even volunteers who look count the livestock, which includes a flock of sheep and a herd of cattle, and keep an eye on their welfare.

Volunteering development officer Jennifer Few said they were following a tradition dating back to 1968, when a team of volunteers set up the reserve in the first place.

They now help attract around 33,000 visitors a year to the reserve, or nearer 40,000 taking into account visits to the cafe in the visitor centre, built two years ago.

Jennifer said: "These days a typical visitor is anyone in Doncaster - it used to be people with an intense love of nature. People with an intense love of nature still come here, but since we have had the new visitor centre over the last two years, that has broadened.

"We want all of Doncaster to be able to come here and connect with wildlife, and for it to matter to them.

"People come here and they can see marsh harriers and bitterns, which were nationally endangered not long ago. We've restored the reed beds which are their habitat and they are helping bring them back.

"People also get excited if they see a grass snake or a water vole. It is about walking with the sound of birdsong, seeing wildlife ranging from deer to butterflies."

Celebration

Plans are being drawn up to mark Potteric Carr's 50th birthday this year.

The first celebration was earlier this month, when a party was held for the volunteers who do the work to keep the site in good condition and man its visitor centre and cafe.

That will be followed big public celebration event, scheduled to take place on July 21 and July 22.

History

The reserve as it looks due today has largely been created by volunteers over the 50 years since it was created, says the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

The trust says that in the 16th century the area was a small part of the Hatfield Royal Deer Chase but it eventually fell out of favour due to being continuously flooded. Over a period of 150 years various attempts were made at draining the area, the final successful attempt being in the 1760s. In the 1950s coal seams from Rossington Colliery ran under the site. Over the next 15 years, as subsidence occurred, the fen conditions returned together with the associated wildlife.

In 1968, a small area , 13 hectares, was declared a nature reserve by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. Over time site grew as more land was bought or leased, and in 2005 it was extended to 200 ha when a further 75 ha of former farmland was added, with major developments to improve habitats and visitor facilities .