Nurturing nature at Kinver Edge

Rangers Edwin Blunt (left) and Ewan Chapman sharing stories at Kinver Edge

It takes decades of knowledge and care to look after a landscape. Rangers Edwin Blunt and Ewan Chapman met to share their part in the long history of Kinver Edge, 100 years after it came into our care.

Kinver Edge was one of the first ‘open spaces for all’ to come into our care, championed by our co-founder Octavia Hill. It was donated by the Lee family in 1917 in memory of their parents. For the past 100 years, first the Kinver Committee and then our rangers have looked after the Edge, balancing its needs with those of the people who come to enjoy it.

Edwin Blunt was a ranger here for almost 30 years, from 1986 until his retirement in 2015, when area ranger Ewan Chapman took up the baton.

Edwin's story

Before coming to Kinver Edge in 1986, I worked in country parks in the north and in a local reserve in County Durham. I have a wife and two children – they were five and three when we arrived. All they remember is this place. We lived in the lodge the Trust built in 1926 for the warden, and we stayed for nearly 30 years.

The rock houses and the landscape in general were a wreck when we arrived. The rock houses were abandoned and had been vandalised. Wild all-night parties were common on the Edge – there was always a lot of clearing up to do, and I had to watch out for fires.

Cleaning up

The hill fort, which is now a scheduled monument, was overgrown with gorse four or five metres high, and birch and oak covered the escarpments and blocked the views. It’s always been the case that if you allow secondary woodland to grow on heathland you lose a lot more than you gain.

By restoring the heath, you might lose a few trees, but you could take any patch of ground and put in some trees and get the same wildlife. When your lowland heath goes, everything’s gone that’s related to it, whether that’s insects, bugs, other plants, fungi, lichens – the whole biodiversity of the site.

Myxomatosis outbreak

In the 1950s a myxomatosis outbreak annihilated the rabbit population.The rabbits came back, but by that time the seedlings were above rabbit height. They grew into trees, which meant the lowland heath suffered and the woodland marched up the scarp slope and the open areas down the other side. There was very little heathland left when I started.

To restore the heath, the volunteers and I built the first fence and brought cattle on to graze down the scrub. The heathland benefited immediately because the cattle kept the long grass down, and their weight and hooves started to break up the turf.

Positive changes

Even at that time there were a lot of big trees up there. It was more like woodland with big patches of heather than heathland with a few trees. So I bit the bullet and cut some more patches of woodland out from the top among the heather. Things have improved dramatically since then.

I can see the changes we have made over 30 years. There’s still a lot of scrub that grows up, but that’s not totally bad – you want a proportion of scrub for birds and other wildlife. You’ve just got to keep on top of it, which is a constant winter project. It’s nice to have left something in a better condition – in all aspects – than when I started.

Nanny’s Rock, a five-room cavern where wise woman orhealer ‘Meg O’ Foxholes’ once lived
Nanny’s Rock, a five-room cavern where wise woman orhealer ‘Meg O’ Foxholes’ once lived

Ewan's story

I moved from Cumbria in 2003 to the Midlands, just about five miles from here. Kinver Edge was the place I’d come to visit to get my fix of countryside and wildlife. So when the job came up, I had to get it! I’ve managed heathland before, mostly on a voluntary basis. I’ve managed woodland, grasslands and some 18th-century designed landscape as well, always with an emphasis on nature conservation. That’s where my background is and where my passion lies.

It’s great to be able to come in and continue Edwin’s work. It’s always nice to have somebody who has been here for all those years to use as a bit of a sounding board, too.

Rare birds

The Edge is a wonderful place for rare heathland and woodland birds. I particularly love the woodcock, and we get wood warblers and crossbill here too. Cuckoos and tree pipits are beginning to return. In the past, woodlarks and nightjars were found, but the last breeding nightjar was recorded the year Edwin started.

One of the biggest challenges and joys of this job is striking a balance between our fragile habitat and our visitors who come to enjoy it. We’re both a conservation and an access organisation, which is a bit like spinning plates sometimes.

Centenary plans

Something that will really help, now and into the future, is that in this centenary year we have acquired Blakeshall Common, formerly known as Kingsford Country Park. It’s just over the border into Worcestershire and directly joins onto our existing land. Its additional 86 hectares brings our total to 229 hectares.

In line with the Trust’s strategy for bigger, better and more joined-up habitats, we plan to expand and improve the heath, connecting it to the area we already manage. Rare species have a much better chance if they can roam a wider area through ‘wildlife corridors’ and the new land also offers space for people to spread out instead of focusing on only the more sensitive areas.

To help more people to access and enjoy Kinver Edge we’ve started a Centenary Pathway, a 3.5-mile network of accessible footpaths. We’re improving the surface of existing pathways and creating new ones, linking the various rock houses on the site to make it easier for
visitors to explore.

A version of this article was first published in the National Trust's autumn magazine 2017.  

" Rare species have a much better chance if they can roam a wider area through ‘wildlife corridors’"
- Ewan Chapman, area ranger
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