Stepping Stones Project

Sheep grazing on the Long Mynd in South Shropshire

Stepping Stones is a programme of landscape-scale environmental projects in the Shropshire Hills. Our 50-year vision is for natural habitats in the Shropshire Hills to be restored, healthy and connected, and for the people who live, work and play in this remarkable area to understand and support our efforts.

What we do

The programme area covers a total area of 220km² within the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and includes two major sites of conservation importance: Long Mynd and the Stiperstones.

The Stepping Stones programme takes an innovative, landscape-scale approach to conservation. The aim is to connect wildlife habitats by strengthening or creating ‘stepping stones’ and corridors of habitat between the two core sites of Long Mynd and the Stiperstones and beyond. In practice, this means linking areas of heathland, flower-rich grasslands and broadleaved woodland by a network of wildlife-rich hedgerows, road verges, hillsides and streamside wetlands.

At the moment there are two mains strands: working with farmers, and working with wider local communities and volunteers.

The project area covers 220km² of the Shropshire Hills
The Stepping Stones project area covers 220km² of the Shropshire Hills
The project area covers 220km² of the Shropshire Hills

Who we are

Stepping Stones has been developed with a range of partners including the NFU, CLA, Natural England, DEFRA, Shropshire Hills AONB Partnership, Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Middle Marches Community Land Trust. Most importantly in this agricultural landscape we have the support of a reference group of local farmers who are highly engaged with the project.

The Stepping Stones programme is led by the National Trust, who employ two project staff:

Andrew Hearle, Stepping Stones Project Manager, andrew.hearle@nationaltrust.org.uk

Charlie Bell, Stepping Stones Project Officer, charlie.bell@nationaltrust.org.uk

Why is the project needed?

For centuries, traditional, low intensity livestock farming in the Shropshire Hills created a beautiful landscape with a wealth of natural features and wildlife.  However, the difficulties of farming with poor soils and harsh weather conditions, in combination with challenging market conditions and the current system of grants and subsidies, have brought about changes that have negatively impacted the landscape and its wildlife.

Some areas of heathland, flower-rich grasslands, and wetlands have been lost completely; others have been damaged or reduced in size.  Many linking features such as hedgerows, road verges, field trees and streams have also been destroyed or degraded, isolating the remaining habitat patches. The Long Mynd and the Stiperstones have become cut off from each other.

The effect of these changes is that many species characteristic of the Shropshire Hills, such as dormouse, curlew, mountain pansy and the small pearl bordered fritillary butterfly, are in decline or have been lost.

Working with farmers

The future of the Shropshire Hills depends on thriving farms which produce high quality food and take care of the landscape.  We are working with local farmers to explore ways of managing the land that create a healthy natural environment, restore the characteristic landscape of the area and increase wildlife as an integral part of a profitable farm business.

If the approach is a success, it will influence Government’s thinking about future approaches to payment schemes and farm planning that support farmers in delivering sustainable environmental outcomes.

As part of the Stepping Stones programme we have also commissioned research into decision making in farming, and into the local tourism economy.

This part of the programme is led by Stepping Stones Project Manager Andrew Hearle. 

Working with local communities

To be successful the programme also needs to work closely with the communities who live and work within the project area, as well as with those who visit to enjoy the wide range of opportunities for outdoor recreation.  We are trialing approaches to community volunteering on farms as well as in the wider landscape.

Volunteers work on a roadside verge project
Volunteers work on a roadside verge project
Volunteers work on a roadside verge project

The Stepping Stones programme is exploring ways to support and build upon the good work of established local community groups such as the Marches Meadow Group, Restoring Shropshire’s Verges, Caring for God’s Acre and four local community wildlife groups.These local community and volunteer-based groups are undertaking environmental work that enhances the quality, quantity and connectedness of wildlife habitats within the Shropshire Hills.  Stepping Stones is keen to help these groups extend their reach and impact across the programme area. We also work closely with the Middle Marches Community Land Trust, who are hoping to acquire several key 'stepping stones' within the project area.

This part of the programme is led by Stepping Stones Project Officer Charlie Bell. We are grateful for support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

Ways you can help

Everyone can do their bit for Stepping Stones. Here's how...

  1. Join our volunteer taskforce. If you’d like to get involved with our monthly volunteer group please email Charlie.

  2. If you’re a farmer or landowner who would like to learn more about the project and the opportunities to get involved please email Andrew.

  3. Make your garden into a Stepping Stone!Gardens of any size can form vital patches of habitat.  Many gardens together can form networks or corridors which help wildlife move through a landscape. Even window boxes can provide a much-needed drink of nectar or a place to shelter for a passing insect. Find tips on wildlife gardening online here.

  4. Sign up to the project newsletter to keep up to date with our news, events and opportunities to get involved. Email Charlie to request to be added to our project mailing list.