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Industry in Action – Phoenix nature reserve

Johnson Matthey’s Phoenix nature reserve is located on the outskirts of Billingham.  Of all the industrial sites on Teesside, this is probably the one that is closest to residential areas, and in fact the woodland block of the nature reserve directly abuts a street of housing.  

The western end of the Phoenix site was allocated as a wildlife area in 2012.  It covers approximately 2ha and its main ecological interest is based around the open habitats in the cutting of a former railway line that ran under New Road.  It also incorporates a thin strip of semi-mature, mixed woodland which occupies the western embankment.  Although not part of the nature reserve there is also significant botanical and invertebrate interest on the swathe of Johnson Matthey’s land immediately to the east of the cutting.  The 25 butterfly species that have been recorded here make it possibly the most diverse site for butterflies in North East England, but more importantly three of those, White-letter Hairstreak Satyrium w-album, Dingy Skipper Erynnis tages and Grayling Hipparchia semele, are UK Priority Species and until recently it held the only colony of Brown Argus Aricia agestis in the North East.  The importance of the site may well extend to other insect groups and, for example, the site had only the second North East record for each of Green Shieldbug Palomena prasina, Hairy Shieldbug Dolycoris baccarum and Water Stick-insect Ranatra linearis.   

Members of Butterfly Conservation and CIEEM assemble for a “bioblitz” of Johnson Matthey’s Phoenix Site.

From the outset there has been a high level of staff involvement in managing the nature reserve through an annual programme of works, most of which Johnson Matthey staff carry out themselves with help from INCA.  Their efforts were recognised and rewarded in 2017 when they won the company’s 3C Sustainable Communities award, which came with a prize of £5k.  The money was spent on access improvements, installing steps down into the cutting and up into the woodland and providing an interpretation board and route markers.  The long-term aim is to make this a special place that all Johnson Matthey staff can access, but for now a lunchtime walk is arranged on a weekly basis over the spring and summer to observe and record wildlife.  The achievements of Johnson Matthey staff on the Phoenix site received wider recognition in 2017 in winning a “Green Apple” Gold award from the Green Organisation, which recognises good environmental practice.  Rather than resting on their laurels, in 2018 the team created a pond in the cutting (using Bentonite clay as a sealant) and cleared a glade within the wooded embankment to create a literal “hotspot” for insects.  

Fields of gold. Summer brings the best out of a butterfly meadow at
Johnson Matthey.

Johnson Matthey has also started to open up the site to other group’s for accompanied visits.  In 2018 they hosted the first biodiversity exchange visit between members of “green teams” from various industrial companies on Teesside, with the aim of sharing ideas and information on how to bring further benefits to wildlife on each other’s sites.  In 2019 several site visits were arranged for members of the local branches of both the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management and Butterfly Conservation.