Eco Comment – The First Ever ‘Purpose Built’ Nature Reserve

29 September 2023

Some of you might already know this but there is a Leeds Diocesan Eco Book Group. Sadly, I can’t attend it as it invariably clashes with our own Wakefield Cathedral Book Group (which incidentally is reading Daniel Finkelstein’s memoir ‘Hitler, Stalin, Mum and Dad’ for its next meeting on the 17 October. Please ask me for more details if you’d like to join us.), but I digress. So, although I can’t attend and take part in the online discussions, I do try to read the book.

Fortuitously, one of the books to be read arrived today and on looking through it I quickly spotted a link to my prospective Eco Comment for this week. The book is ‘Places of Enchantment – Meeting God in Landscapes’ by Graham B. Usher. The link (however tenuous) is on Page 47.

“St Thomas Aquinas in his teaching about creation saw that every creature, in its own unique way, has the ability to reflect the goodness of God. God cannot express himself fully in any one creature: and so he has produced many and diverse life forms, so that what one lacks in its expression of divine goodness may be compensated for by others’ … I suggest that the destruction of eco systems is both a loss in their intrinsic value and a loss to humanity.”

Eco systems, as we know, are ‘biological communities of interacting organisms and their physical environment.’ So, how can the world’s first ‘purpose built’ (the clue is in the word ‘built’) nature reserve protect an eco system if it is, by its very nature, excluding others? Initially I don’t suppose that the builder was considering this. Our builder had returned from travels in the Guianan jungle and was ‘dismayed by the effects of poaching on his land.’ This, combined with the prevalence of foxes, led him to create a nature reserve with the protection of birds as a priority. He did so by building a wall around his parkland. The wall was crucial if he was to exclude the fox. The Wall and banning the gun allowed wildlife to flourish. The builder was a local man now famed as Charles Waterton, friend of both Sir Joseph Banks and Charles Darwin. Over the years Waterton recorded one hundred and twenty three species of birds and would be pleased to know that 200 years later both buzzards and kites have been seen in the skies above Walton Hall Estate.

Although I’ve walked in the Haw Park woods and the surrounding park trying to find Waterton’s grave, it was only on a visit to the visitors’ centre at Anglers Country Park (ACP) that I started to find out the full significance of the wall. I knew of Helen Riddle’s work from my visits to the Art House but was amazed by the work that she displayed at ACP. (Photos kindly provided by Helen.)

It was fascinating! The many different artistic and crafting techniques used to portray the wall which, when built over a five-year period and varying in height from between nine to sixteen feet “The height over which a fox cannot jump,” is colourful and varied in texture. The wall of around 5kms which cost approximately £9,000 in the 1820’s is, in places, in a sad state of repair. Helen recently gave a talk at the museum about how her project came into being, how she uses her felting techniques and the new skills she had to acquire to portray the different features of the wall. Present at this talk were representatives of the Friends of Waterton’s Wall (email:, a group which was established to identify and preserve a section of Waterton’s Wall in time to celebrate its two hundredth anniversary in 2026.

October 04 is the feast of St Francis of Assisi. His ministry inspired us to work to the common good and to remind us of the beauty of God’s creation. He is forever associated with patronage of animals and the environment. Charles Waterton was a staunch Catholic and would be familiar with the stories and teachings of St Francis. His works on behalf of nature and its eco systems will be, in part, remembered because of this wall.

Susan Morgan
Eco Group

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