Birmingham Erratic Boulders: Heritage of the Ice Age

Visible signs of the Ice Age in south-west  Birmingham and north-east Worcestershire

This project aims to engage the public with visible heritage of the Ice Age that can be seen in SW Birmingham and NE Worcestershire. These are large boulders, up to three metres across, transported by ice – hence “glacial erratics”.

The project has been made possible by an award of £112,800 (95% of project costs) from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and it runs for 18 months from July 2021.

The award is to a partnership of four organisations Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust (lead), the Black Country Geological Society, Birmingham Open Spaces Forum and the Lapworth Museum of Geology. Thse organizations are responsible for maintaining knowledge of landscape features and geology in our region and promoting the use of public open spaces.

Thanks to National Lottery players, the project aims to restore the large boulders brought by ice, most of which are volcanic rocks from the mountains of North Wales, to their rightful place as a prominent feature of Birmingham’s natural heritage and a source of local pride.

Seven walking and cycling trails covering several parts of SW Birmingham and the Bromsgrove District of Worcestershire will be documented and publicised with successive trail launch events during 2022.

Red stars represent the several dozen known boulder locations today. There were hundreds of boulders known in the late 19th century.

There will be added value from moving some boulders short distances in Woodgate Valley Country Park so that the public can see them. The organisers are also excited about finding creative ways of engaging people with a mobility or visual impairment in the project.

At the beginning of the 20th century, hundreds of boulders moved by ice (erratics) were known in the area, mostly volcanic rocks from north Wales, but also including hard rock from Rowley Regis. Now we know of several dozen survivors including clusters in Kings Norton, Bournville, Frankley, Romsley, Bromsgrove and Cotteridge and Selly Oak Parks, and a lone boulder in Cannon Hill Park.

One of the project aims is to engage the public in finding some of the boulders that have been lost and discovering some geology in the process, for example by coming to see displays and a concluding exhibition at the Lapworth Museum of Geology at the University of Birmingham. The Lapworth will also be hosting many school groups, including those with boulders within walking distance.

The Earth Heritage Trust will coordinate the different parts of the project and engage part-time staff to lead the project as a whole and the work with volunteers. We will build on the enthusiasm of volunteers, many of whom belong to local groups affiliated to the Birmingham Open Spaces Forum. They will keep an eye on the boulders and lead groups of all ages on the new trails.

Both the Earth Heritage Trust and the Black Country Geological Society will use their networks to bring geologists in contact with the public to spread the word about the heritage.  They will also decide on the best sites to be protected via the local authorities in the planning process.

A special local group will be set up in New Frankley to design a geological time line along the centre of the district connecting boulders at either end. It will run from 450 million years, when the volcanic rocks formed in what is now Wales, to 450 thousand years, when the ice moved them to Birmingham. Use will be made of 3-D printing and other resources from the Lapworth Museum of Geology, for example to make replicas of fossils that represent different geological time periods.

A large glacial erratic on the Edgbaston campus of the University of Birmingham photographed in the early 20th century and which is still present today.

Commenting on the award, Earth Heritage Trust chair Ian Fairchild said: “100 years ago, the public were excited to learn about these relics of the Ice Age, but the boulders have been disappearing. We’re delighted that, thanks to National Lottery players, our partnership of local organisations has received this support to bring the boulders the prominence they deserve. They are the only visible relics of what happened deep in Birmingham’s history!”

“Thanks to the National Lottery players.”

 

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