DEDICATED volunteers who helped transform a once-derelict stretch of land into a thriving nature reserve have looked back on the trials and tribulations of an almost five-decade-long struggle to improve the area.

While work at Carlton Marsh didn’t officially begin until 1976, the site was in the minds of its wildlife group’s founding members, Cliff Gorman and Keith Bannister, five years before.

In 1971, the pair formed a friendship over their mutual love of wildlife - with the aim of transforming the area off Shaw Lane into a place where wildlife could thrive.

“I became really interested in nature when I was living in Sheffield and my friend asked me to walk his dog,” said Cliff, 74. “I saw a robin and I remember thinking how beautiful it was and then it was like a light bulb went off in my brain.

“When I came back to Cudworth and saw the marsh, I got put in touch with Keith and from there we set to work.”

The land was bought by Barnsley Council in 1976 after previously being part of the Hull to Barnsley rail network.

Cliff, Keith and a group of volunteers helped to get the land scraped - which removes the top layer of soil, allowing a natural reservoir to form.

Cliff revealed that this process helped to clean up the polluted water which ran through Shaw Dyke.

This encouraged insects and birds to return to the site - and populations have since boomed.

“Keith and I began recording the populations of birds and other wildlife we could see on the site from day one,” said Cliff. “Since we became an official nature reserve in 1978, we have been officially recording every bird, insect, and other wildlife that we find in the grounds.

“Not only does this form a really great local record of what we have here, but it contributes to national data about species decline.

“I love seeing the birds in the water. Back when we first started, the water was that contaminated with diesel that it actually didn’t freeze in the winter.

“It was that bad that we didn’t get our first dragonfly until 1981, but now we have 18 species of them.”

In 1977, the reserve played host to a rare bird - the Dartford warbler.

The bird usually prefers warmer climates but rested in Carlton while on its travels.

“It was marvellous really because I wasn’t expecting one to be here.

“Its presence stirred up quite a fuss and it was described as the ‘bird of a century’ which I thought was really interesting.

“Normally the warbler doesn’t migrate so to see one so far north was really amazing.”

Cliff, Keith and other volunteers now visit the site almost every day and have been bolstered by their recent Proud of Barnsley win.

The volunteers won in the Love Where You Live category and revealed they hope the marsh will act as their legacy for generations to come.

“I’m really proud of what we have achieved at the marsh,” added Cliff. “It’s gone from being a disused piece of land to a great area to have some peace and quiet and observe nature.

“It’s nice to think that it’ll be here for generations to come - makes it all worth it.”