The Whins is an area of common land bounded by Far Bank, Shelley First School, Park Avenue, and Westerley Lane. It is a steep, south facing area of land, part meadow and part woodland.
Old photographs show that early last century it was mostly meadow with few trees on the site. As common land it had been extensively grazed by cattle. There is a ruined spring fed cattle trough near the Far Bank entrance. The steeper parts are covered in gorse which flowers continuously throughout the year. Some people, in fact refer to the area as “The Gorse” but it is more commonly known as “The Whins” which is an old Scandinavian word for gorse. A hedge running down the meadow at the top divides the area into two parts, the eastern end is slightly lower than the western end, suggesting that there may have been mineral extraction at one time, possibly coal, as a thin seam is near the surface which was exposed when Westerley Way was built and when the wall on Far Bank, below the Village Hall was rebuilt in 2018.
The Whins was actually owned by a property developer for a time but came into the ownership
of Kirklees Council as part of a land swap when the Shelley Park estate was built.
As the estate developed footfall to the rear of Shelley First School increased dramatically.
The footpaths from Far Bank to Cleveland Way and from Westerley Lane to the back of the
school became very muddy and unpleasant for accessing the school. However, in June 1998
Shelley Community Association took an interest in the site as part of the Millennial Challenge.
A year later a separate group, the Shelley Conservation Group was formed to look after the
site in partnership with Kirklees Leisure Services, (currently Kirklees Council Parks and Green spaces).
Through the efforts of Shelley Community Association, the path between Far Bank and Cleveland Way was tarmacked and lights installed.
The muddy path down the Whins to the school presented serious problems because it was so steep. Following a series of successful bids by Shelley Conservation Group to various funding bodies, Millennium Awards for all, Kirklees Environment Unit, and Kirklees Parish Council, the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers were able to put in a path of crushed stone, with a boardwalk across a boggy area at the bottom of the site in time for the Millennium celebrations. The path worked well for many years before being badly eroded. In the meantime, the Conservation Group approached Kirklees Council to have the footpath adopted as a Public Right of Way. This was a lengthy process but the Council finally adopted it recognising it as a Safe Way to School, i.e. off road. In 2015 Kirkburton Parish Council replaced the path surface with a modern hard wearing compound of resin, rubber from old car tyres and gravel.
Kirklees Council mows the upper grassland area once a year In late summer when the wild flowers have finished dropped their seeds and throughout the year they clear vegetation growing over the footpaths. Before the Millennium members of the Conservation Group started to encourage people to plant daffodils and different species of trees to encourage butterflies and birds. In 2010 students from Sheffield University, with the permission of Kirklees Council, planted a patch of heather. First they had to remove all the top soil in a selected patch. Then they strewed heather branches bearing seeds over the rough stony ground. It took one and a half years for the first heather to appear but now it is a very healthy dense patch! The Conservation Group over years have also planted a variety of trees to attract birds and butterflies. Some trees that thrive in wet conditions were planted near the bottom of the Whins where it is very wet.
The Whins has been recognised as a nature reserve because of the variety of butterflies and birds which visit the site on their migration routes. Experts have organised walks at various times to spot them. On one special evening, a group of moth trappers arrived to see how many moths they could trap andidentify. There are over 2,500 British moths. These people were experts and could predict the times that the larger moths would arrive. They were very accurate in their prediction like air traffic controllers. They predicted that the first elephant hawk moth would arrive at midnight and it was spot on. It was spectacular, large and colourful! Its caterpillars eat rose bay willow herb, so it was a welcome visitor.
The Whins is, and always has been a wild area. It functions as a nature reserve, an area for wild play for children, and a pleasant area to walk and admire the wonderful views of the northern end of the Peak National Park. So close to the centre of the village, it was a good decision of the planners to do the land swap, leaving us with an amenity that we can all enjoy, protect and cherish.