Society Visit to Blithfield Reservoir

Water. It has not taken very long - after a few days of very hot weather - for there to emerge breakdowns in water supplies and threats of hose-pipe bans in some parts of the country. In is not very likely to happen to us in Lichfield. Who says so? No less a person than Patrick Waldron, the Estates Manager of the South Staffordshire Water Company, who was the guide for the sixteen or so members of the Civic Society visiting Blithfield Reservoir on June 21st. It was a beautiful sunny summer's evening. The sailing dinghies were out on the water; the fishermen were on the shore; a large number of herons stood on the grassy banks and the little black flies were out in force on the causeway.

There are those of you who are interested in facts and figures. Blithfield Reservoir is an important source of drinking water. Each day 16 million gallons of water are drawn off for this purpose. A further 5 million gallons goes to top up the River Blythe, some of it passing through the Company's fish farm. In 1947 the Company began to acquire some 1930 acres of land in the valley of the River Blythe; construction began in 1949/50 and flooding started in 1952. Most of the land affected was agricultural and only one building, a mill, was submerged. The new reservoir was officially opened by the Queen Mother in October 1953.

The water area of the Reservoir is 790 acres and the catchment area covers 31,000 acres and extends to Stoke-on-Trent. In the vicinity of the dam the top water level is 47ft 6ins. Water levels vary enormously; the lowest was recorded in 1976 when the reservoir was only 37% full. The water which is drawn off flows by gravity through two pipes to Seedy Mill Pumping Station from where it goes to Burton-on-Trent, Gentleshaw and Barr Beacon.

On our visit we didn't have to walk far. We went across the dam to a relatively small intake building to look at pipes and meters of various diameters and types. We negotiated endless steps down below the water level before climbing more steps to emerge in the vicinity of the fish farm. The farm consists of over 26 tanks ranging in diameter from 17 ft to 40 ft. Month old Rainbow trout are purchased by the company and they are nurtured in the farm until they are two years old when on average they weigh 2 lbs. Few of the fish are destined for the market place, nearly all go to the Blithfield Angling Club which releases them into the reservoir - hopefully only to take them out again! The abiding memory for many of us will be the frenzy of the fish at feeding time, thrashing the surface in their tanks and splashing us all with water.

The most regrettable feature of Blithfield Reservoir is that it is virtually inaccessible to the public. The company owns 600 acres of farmland and woodland but most of this is leased out to farmers, the fishing club and the sailing club. There are also 200 acres of woodland now being managed mainly for nature conservation. At the northern end of the reservoir in the valleys of the River Blythe and Tadbrook there is an area to which only West Midlands Wildlife Trust have access. How nice it would be if a walkway for the public could be created at Blithfield. It is physically possible but politically unlikely. The riparian owners, especially the fishermen, jealously guard their interests.

An enjoyable and interesting evening, thanks in no small part to the informative and humorous tour by Patrick Waldron and his colleague.

Mike Tole
June 1995