Following the cutting of the Sankey Canal in 1757, the Sankey Valley became an ideal location to establish industry as raw materials could easily be imported and goods exported. The canal was the catalyst for the major industrial development of the area.
Mucky Mountains are a heap of chemical waste, the by-product of soda making from the 1830s. Using the inefficient leblanc process, Muspratt’s Vitriol Works produced two tons of waste for every ton of soda. Large volumes of hydrochloric acid were discharged into the Canal or nearby streams. Solid wastes were simply dumped on nearby land forming large mounds. It was said that conditions in the alkali works, which closed in 1851, were so poor that die escaping gases caused men’s teeth to rot and burn their clothes.
Hidden in the vegetation small mammals such as shrews and field voles scurry, seeking out food and evading predatory weasels and foxes.
The importance of the site for nature and the cultural heritage of the Borough is recognised by St Helens Council, which has designated Mucky Mountains as a “Site of Community Wildlife Interest”.
Given enough time, nature masks the worst scars man inflicts on the landscape and slowly, as the waste material weathered, it began to be colonised by plants not normally found in the area. Lime-loving vegetation such as Quaking Grass, Red Fescue and Carnation Grass began to dominate the site with Blue Fleabane, Common Centaury and Pyramidal Orchids adding further interest and colour.
In places, grazing by rabbits helps to keep the grass sward open, helping to maintain the grassland diversity important for insects such as Meadow Brown and Red Admiral butterflies. Elsewhere, hawthorn scrub complements the grassland, providing shelter and nesting cover for the Blackbirds and Wrens, whilst the berries provide vital winter food for Thrushes and Fieldfares. In spring and summer, the male Yellowhammer can be recognised by its prominent yellow coloured throat and head. Listen out for the distinctive call which sounds like “little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese” with the penultimate note higher than the rest of the song.
The Mucky Mountains in the top right of the photograph