Stepping Stones Project
Stepping Stones is a programme of environmental projects within the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The programme covers an area of 220km² and includes two major sites of importance for nature conservation: Long Mynd and the Stiperstones.
At its core the Stepping Stones programme is seeking to restore a healthy and wildlife-rich environment within the Shropshire Hills landscape by understanding and influencing the main drivers for change within area.
This project is being developed with a range of partners including the NFU, CLA, Natural England, DEFRA, Shropshire Hills AONB Partnership and Shropshire Wildlife Trust. Most importantly we have the support of a reference group of local farmers who are highly engaged with the project.
What's the problem?
A centuries old tradition of livestock production and low intensity pasture management in the Shropshire Hills fashioned 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 on the landscape.
The core wildlife sites of the Long Mynd and the Stiperstones have become isolated. Hillside habitats linking the open hill tops with enclosed farmland in the valley bottoms have been lost. Formerly extensive areas of heathland, flower-rich grasslands, and wetlands are now restricted to a small number of locations.
The effect of these changes is that many species characteristic of the Shropshire Hills, such as dormouse, curlew, mountain pansy and the small 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 which take care of the landscape.
We are working with farmers to explore ways of managing the land that creates a healthy natural environment, restores the characteristic landscape of the area and increases 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 are also commissioning two pieces of research work into decision making in farming, and the local tourism economy. We are also trialling approaches to community volunteering on farms as well as in the wider landscape.
To be successful the programme also needs to work closely with other communities who live and work within the project area as well as with those who visit to enjoy and benefit from the wide range of opportunities for outdoor recreation.
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 survey and practical management that enhance the quality of wildlife habitats as well as increase habitat connectivity within the Shropshire Hills. Stepping Stones is keen to extend the reach and impact of these groups across the programme area.
Everyone can do their bit for Stepping Stones
A key aim of the programme is to connect wildlife habitats by strengthening or creating stepping stones and corridors of habitat between the two core sites Long Mynd and the Stiperstones and beyond these sites connecting with Stapeley Hill in the west and with the Stretton Hills in the east.
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.
Everyone can do their bit for Stepping Stones, whether this is by the creation of new or maintenance of existing wildlife habitats, large or small, or by supporting local groups to record and monitor wildlife as well as to help with the practical management of sites. If you would like more information or would like to be involved please contact Stepping Stones Project Manager Andrew Hearle: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our 50 year vision is for the natural habitats in the Shropshire Hills to be restored, healthy and connected and for people who live, work and visit, to understand, appreciate and support our combined efforts to rejuvenate this remarkable landscape.