Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI): Protecting England's natural treasures Sites of Special Scientific Interest (NE306)

Wren's Nest: history set in stone

The outcrop of limestone near the centre of Dudley, known as Wren's Nest, is world famous for its well preserved Silurian coral reef fossils and has also shaped the industrial and cultural history of the Black Country.

The significance of Wren's Nest was first revealed during the Industrial Revolution when the excavation of huge amounts of limestone left the area honeycombed with caverns. The most impressive of these, known as the Seven Sisters, is considered to be the world's last remaining surface opening limestone mine. In the past 200 years, more than 700 types of fossil have been uncovered here, including 86 found nowhere else on Earth. One particular species of trilobite was so common in the area that it became known as the Dudley Bug and for a time featured on the town's Coat of Arms.

When mining ended in the early 20th century nature took over much of the site and Wren’s Nest has now become an important refuge for flora associated with limestone, including county rarities such as; Autumn gentian, small scabious, common gromwell and bee orchid. Wooded areas support birds such as; sparrow hawk, stock dove, tawny owl, green and great spotted woodpeckers, and nuthatch, while the caverns are a nationally important hibernation site for seven species of bat.

Residents of Dudley take part in a fossil hunt at Wren's Nest.

In 2001, a major rock fall occurred in the Seven Sisters and part of the cavern was subsequently filled in to ensure public safety. Today, while the site is subject to the usual pressures that affect areas of open space amongst dense urban environments, Wren's Nest continues to occupy an important part in the life of the Black Country. A geological trail and interpretation boards help visitors explore much of the site, and wardens arrange guided walks, fossil hunts and visits to the caverns.

In the future, the reputation of Wren's Nest as a unique natural treasure is set to grow. A grant of almost £800,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund is enabling Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council to improve public access to the Seven Sisters, expand its programme of environmental education and develop volunteering and training opportunities at the site. Councillor David Stanley, cabinet member for environment and culture in Dudley, said: "Wren's Nest is steeped in history and thousands of people visit every year. This money will help us celebrate and build on that history and bring even more people to the borough."

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