After many years of supporting Warley Woods and its Trust and attending events.  Keith Cotter decided to volunteer.  He shared his experiences on facebook and we found his take on this new aspect of life so entertaining and insightful we wanted to share it with a wider audience.  Thank you Keith for your permission to share this and thank you for all you have done.

18th August 2022

I had my first go at litter picking in the Woods this morning, and while it may seem a strange thing to say that I thoroughly enjoyed picking up other people's rubbish, I actually did.

Being an early riser I parked up on the car park at 6.30ish and arming myself with my allocated litter picker and black bags I set on my way.

Following a suggestion Kathy made when I collected my picker and black bags from the office that the area from the office to Abbey School sometimes got overlooked and perhaps would be a good place to start, I made my way there. Except that I didn’t, I just wandered aimlessly round for a few minutes trying to get my bearings. Standing on the edge of the golf course in front of the Pavilion I gathered my thoughts and put my Boy Cubs map reading skills to good use. I knew Lightwoods Hill was behind me and Barclay Road, where the Woods ended, was to my right, so if I walked to my right I would end up by the woods boundary at Barclay Road. It would have been easy peasy except there was no way through from the practice golf driving nets. Ah well retrace my steps to the car park and try from there. Success! I was now on a path and could start my hunt for litter.

Lesson number one learnt; I wasn’t as au fait with the layout of this part of the woods as I thought I was. Mind you, I suppose it could have changed since I was a regular here as a young lad in the mid 1950’s.

I decided to go off the obvious path as I thought it more likely to come across litter thrown away. It was lovely walking through the greenery even though I did get snagged up on occasions by brambles. Strange really but after about five minutes winding my way through without finding anything to pick up I felt a little disappointed, when really I should have been delighted. Then my heart leapt as I spotted a piece of litter lying three or four metres away. Picker at the ready I made my way over to it, only to find it was a light coloured leaf. After this happened a couple more times lesson number two was learnt; wear your spectacles next time.

This first venture took me from the Pavilion to Abbey school, along Abbey Road and then along the main path back to the car park, taking me an hour and three quarters.  An hour and a half if you take off the time I spent faffing about at the start.

My first haul was one and a half bags, consisting of 10 bottles, both glass and plastic, a couple of drinks tins, numerous flattened plastic bottles, lots of tissues and paper, a cat food box and four small black bags which were thankfully tied at the top so I can’t say what was in them. Strangely these bags were all found at the base of the same tree off the obvious pathway. Sad I know that I should remember what I had picked up but it was after all my first time.

It was while I was on this walk that I learned lesson number three; there are some lovely people who walk through the woods.  I was greeted with a cheery ‘morning’ by almost all of the folk I passed on my way round, and it was a lovely start to my day.

My first pick is over and I look forward to seeing different parts of the woods on my next one. At least I now know how to get off the car park.


21st August 2022


I made my second litter pick on Saturday morning, and it was even more enjoyable than the first one on Thursday. I now had an idea of what to expect and I also discovered more of what the Woods has to offer.

Even at the early hour of 6.30 the car park had started to fill up with golfers. Their chatter mingling with that of the birds as I made my way to start my picking.  This time I turned left from the Pavilion and walked clockwise round the woods. I did this so I could become more familiar with this part of the woods, and also because I wanted to visit The Wilderness after reading Doug Barber’s article on it.

Following the path I made my way round and through the line of trees that border the golf course and Lightwoods Hill, finding here and there a piece of litter to go in the bag. I did manage to spot a golf ball in the undergrowth, which I found to be in very good condition and was able to pass on to one of the golfers. It must have been an excellent sliced shot to have got it to where I found it. I made my way to the gate on Harborne Road and thanks to Doug’s directions managed to locate The Wilderness, which was lovely to walk through and, I am pleased to say, was litter free.

It was after leaving here that I faced my biggest challenge so far, a large piece of tissue like paper, which possibly had been carried by the wind, was caught in what looked to me to be a large patch of Blackberry brambles.  I struggled to reach and remove it as I didn’t want to damage the brambles or myself and had visions of falling headfirst into the brambles and having to be rescued, but I eventually did manage to get it in the bag. I was not going to be beaten by a piece of tissue.

I am still learning though, and a twinkling of light from the ground that a week ago I would have thought nothing of, I regard now as possibly being reflected light from a bottle or a foil wrapper and is to be investigated. On the down side I am still walking to and checking a good number of fallen leaf false alarms.

Carrying on I met a man walking his dog who stopped for a chat during which he passed a nice comment about the volunteers who collect the litter. I was quick to tell him I couldn’t be included in that compliment as today was only the second time I had done it. It was nice to hear that he appreciated what was being done, and I am sure others feel the same. Bidding the gentleman good day I made my way back to the Pavilion to deposit my litter haul in the bin. Not so much today, only half a bag, but that is I suppose half a bag less on the floor of the woods.

Thinking back I would guess I haven’t taken a proper walk round the Woods since the late 1960’s.  A long time ago, and these couple of litter walks have made me realise what I have been missing.   During the early days of the pandemic I was working from home and one of my exercise routes was a walk from home to the main gate in Abbey Road and then a walk around and across the meadow, never venturing into the wooded areas. These walks were purely to get my heart, lungs and limbs working again, walking as quickly as I could with my head down to make sure I didn’t trip over fallen wood or step into a dip and come to grief, and I didn’t take in any of the surroundings at all.

The litter walks have been totally different. To ensure I don’t miss anything these have been done at a much slower pace, even slower than a leisurely stroll I would guess, and this has certainly opened my eyes to the beauty of the Woods, especially on this second walk.

After checking them for litter, and where it has been possible, I have loved leaving the tarmac paths and taking the less obvious ones through the wooded areas. While scanning for litter comes first I was able to take time looking at the trees and wonder at the variety of shape and size of their trunks and branches and the shape and colour of the leaves, all these being things I have not taken much notice of before.  I also looked closely at the undergrowth, the felled trees and the areas round them to see if I could see signs of insects or wildlife and although I wasn’t lucky enough to see anything other than one squirrel, I will keep looking.

All in all another pleasant couple of hours spent litter picking, along with the added bonus of being able to admire the beauty of the Woods. I reckon there is still at least a quarter of the wooded area plus the Meadow I have not yet covered and I am looking forward to doing so next time. Once this has been completed I intend to arm myself with my camera and spend a day or two taking walks round to photograph some of the lovely things I have seen.

I can’t leave without passing on lesson four, which I learnt on my visit Saturday: Don’t park the wife’s car under the trees in the car park. There are some messy birds about, and from what I found on the car they seem to be large messy birds.

24th August 2022

 I was up with the lark again this morning, eager to start another litter pick at the Woods. In fact I was so eager the gates were still locked when I got there. I parked up opposite to ensure I was ready once they were opened and my thoughts went back to the sad and disgusting sight I had seen on my way. In the layby opposite the Water Tower someone had dumped a load of rubbish, at least a large van full. I just hope someone can find something amongst it that will give a clue to whose rubbish it is and these people are dealt with.

I was soon on the car park, kitted myself out with picker and bags and went on my merry way.

My intended route today was to turn right out of the Pavilion and take the main path up towards the Meadow and when I reached the end of that part of the golf course turn left into the wooded area. As I have said before I love walking off the main tracks and meander along the smaller tracks within these wooded areas.  It gives you chance to see the trees and undergrowth close up. One squirrel was once again my only wildlife contact but the beauty of the trees made up for that.

Litter wise it was quite productive. I came across an area that had obviously been used for a party. While some of the partygoers had thrown their beer cans into the undergrowth others had thoughtfully tied them up in a carrier bag. Not so thoughtfully they had then left them there.

It is very peaceful walking through these areas of the woods early morning, there is very little traffic noise and whilst I could hear one or two people out walking their dogs, I couldn’t see them.  I recently read that trees are suffering from early leaf fall, or ‘false autumn’ due to the heatwave. This certainly appeared to be the case as I walked on a rich carpet of leaves during my journey through this area. I hope there will be no long lasting effects for trees due to this.

Totally unaware of my exact position in the woods I was glad to see the gate to The Wilderness appear a short distance ahead, I was ok now as I knew where I was. Sadly a walk through showed it was not litter free as it had been on Saturday. Cider cans and crisp packets had been thrown around, so more food for my bag.

Exiting The Wilderness I carried on, picking up a fair amount of litter as I went, and it was due to walking through this part of the woods that I learnt lesson five: If it is possible for a human being to walk along a track, no matter how difficult, there is a good chance litter will be found.

I continued until I met up with the path that led to the Meadow, a place I was keen to see and work on this visit.

As I had mentioned in my previous post although I had walked across the Meadow many times, especially during my pandemic exercise walks. I had not thought much about it. I now decided to take time to properly take in my surroundings.

I stood on the grass just to the right of the children’s play area and surveyed the scene before me. In my mind I started to see pictures of events which started when I was a young lad of 7 or 8 in the early 1950's and restarted as a teenager a few years later. These memories have always stayed with me but now I was standing where they had happened they were more vivid. Two of them stood out, both involving winter snow.

I lived in Stony Lane, Smethwick and at the time among my playmates were my cousin Roy who lived next door, and his friends. Roy and his friends were four years older than I was so I regarded it as a treat when I was with them.  There had been a snowfall and on the Saturday my cousin told they were all going to the Woods with their sledges and did I want to go with them. Even though I had no idea of where the Woods were my answer was yes.

In those days most youngsters had a home made sledge, and I was no exception. The quality and durability of your sledge was dependant on what materials your dad could obtain, and his wood working skills. My dad worked in a foundry and was able to obtain some good wood and also some steel to make the runners, so my sledge was a decent one.  Resplendent in our big coats and wellies our party trudged the couple of miles to what I now know to be the Abbey Road side of the woods.

I remember following the others to the start of the slope and being petrified how long and steep it was. I was used to sledging down Green Street, a short hill close to our houses, and was not prepared for this.  I also recall being amazed at how many others were waiting their turn to go down it. It seemed to me that half the population of Bearwood and Smethwick were there. Egged on by my cousin I eventually sat on my sledge and bravely, to me anyway, started on the long way down. I can't remember much about the ride down but I obviously survived and enjoyed it as I willingly went down a good number of times after that.

These trips to the Woods with my cousin carried on for a couple of years whenever there was a decent fall of snow until he and his friends found better things to do and I was left to my own devices.

One good thing came out of this first trip to the woods. I was able to tell my schoolmates about it and the woods became a fairly regular visiting place for us thereafter. Cowboys and Indians and war games amongst the trees being our favourites.

My memory fast forwarded a few years to when me and my friends were teenagers. We had again had a good snowfall and so on the Sunday decided to take sledges to the woods for some fun. Although we had bottles of water we had nothing to eat. On our journey we passed a shop that was open and bought a sliced loaf, which was to be our food for the day. No McDonalds or Costa in those days.

For me this day was even better than those I had experienced before. Not having a sledge each we doubled or trebled up which made it harder to steer and usually resulted in a crash and bodies rolling down the slope. Even if you managed to make it to the bottom you inevitably came a cropper when you hit the ditch.  People were also holding onto the sledge in front to make long strings of sledges before setting off down the slope which resulted in many sledges tipping up and even more bodies rolling around. Can’t ever remember anyone being badly hurt though.

Snapping out of my daydream I thought I had better do some more picking so made my way along the edge of the Meadow and atoned myself by finding a fair amount of litter which undoubtedly had been blown into the undergrowth by the wind. Feeling a bit better because of this I made my way back through the drizzle to the car park, dumped my almost full bag of litter in the appropriate bin and made my way home to a much needed cup of tea.

Worst thing I saw today was the number of cigarette ends thrown onto parched grass areas. It is frightening to think there are people stupid enough to do this.  But for every negative there is a positive, and today’s positive was brilliant. During my walk I saw four Pixie Houses at the base of trees, three of them being at one tree. It was lovely to see these as I have always enjoyed seeing the photos of them on these pages.

With another enjoyable litter pick over I look forward to the next one. Maybe spend more time picking than reminiscing though.

If you would like to know more about what volunteers do at and for Warley Woods and how you might get involved - have a look this page and please get in touch.  Practically everything that happens at Warley Woods has started because a volunteer had an idea and suggested it.  What might be your contribution?