Our vision for Blakeshall Common and Kinver Edge
Within Kinver Edge is a pocket of wilderness that buzzes with life. It hums with bees and butterflies by day, lizards bask in the sun, and at night bats swoop through the air hunting moths whilst woodcock forage on the ground.
These remnant pockets of heathland are rich in wildlife, but they are only a few small islands of it left; a fraction of the healthy habitat that until very recently used to spread across much more of the landscape here.
We are working to restore Blakeshall Common as an area of traditional lowland heath. The gains for wildlife of restoring the heathland would be huge, and in particular for animals that are increasingly rare in the UK.
Currently a conifer plantation, this area offers an opportunity to deliver an ambitious heathland restoration project that will not only provide a home for wildlife but also ensure that it can continue to be accessed and enjoyed for recreational purposes .
Why are we doing this?
Lowland heath supports a great variety of wildlife, but is increasingly rare in the UK. Connecting the current fragmented pockets of heathland on Kinver Edge will benefit a number of threatened species such as adders, which are facing potential extinction.
Hopefully we may also see the return of iconic species such as nightjar and woodlark, formerly abundant here but no longer present in part due to loss of habitat.
The National Trust has received the support of local Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, and Natural England, amongst others, for this important nature restoration plan.
How will we do it?
To create the heathland the Trust will fell some of the current non-native conifer plantation, which was planted as a crop and is reaching the end of its life. We aim to fell approximately 33 hectares (82 acres) of conifer plantation in over 10 years and in 3 separate phases. This equates to just under half of the conifer plantation.
Many trees, like oaks and silver birch will remain, as will some of the conifers such as Scots pines, to provide diversity of habitat, for example to create corridors for bats. Keeping some of the conifers will also provide woodland walks and screen the surrounding views and allow more space and light to help young native trees to grow. Any proceeds from the sale of the timber will go straight back into caring for Kinver Edge and Blakeshall Common.
The heath will be grazed by traditional longhorn cattle at certain times of the year, a docile breed (as noted by the British Horse Society when referring to mixing grazing with horse-riding), to maintain the heath and create a rich habitat structure, similarly to other areas of heath on Kinver Edge .
Why is lowland heath so important?
Lowland Heath supports a diversity of specialist wildlife including reptiles, acid grassland plants, specialist invertebrates and birds of open habitats. Some of these species only occur in heathland and their populations have declined with the loss of heathland. Some species now only exist in isolated populations that are prone to extinction and the UK has a special obligation to conserve this habitat, given that it supports about 20% of the lowland heath in Europe (JNCC).
Fragmentation has also become a huge issue for heathland species particularly for those immobile species such as reptiles, the adder is currently suffering widespread decline especially in areas of the midlands due to a number of factors including heathland fragmentation.
How much land will be restored to heathland?
We are looking to restore around 33 hectares (82 acres) of the landscape to lowland heath, which equates to just under half of the area of conifer plantation on Blakeshall Common.
Why is it necessary to graze cattle?
Native cattle breeds, such a Longhorns, are traditionally used to graze heathland and wood pasture because they create a dynamic, mosaic habitat with differing layers of fauna as well as removing scrub and enhancing the heathland habitat. They also reduce the need for mechanical intervention in the landscape and help to control invasive species such as Himalayan Balsam.
Will this affect the bridleway / horse access ?
The majority of the horse access routes will not enter the heathland restoration area. Following feedback from local horse riders the legal bridleway that crosses the land will not enter the heathland area and there will be a full off-road circuit that riders can do without passing through any gates or grazing.
Two short stretches of the permissive horse trail will enter the heathland area for those riders who want to use it, and there will be a gate at each end for riders to use.
The British Horse Society, Worcestershire Bridleways Association and Staffordshire Bridleways Association have been consulted on the proposals and the gates and mounting blocks to be installed will be according to their guidance. Through this proposal we are increasing the amount of permissive horse access.
Will this affect the bike track/ Freeride Park?
No. We will retain the trees in the Freeride track and will fence the perimeter to prevent cattle from crossing the features.
I walk my dog / ride my horse here regularly and I‘m concerned about the cattle being present?
The longhorn cattle are owned by the same grazier who already grazes a large area of the land we look after on Kinver Edge. There will be a low stocking density and no calves or breeding males, and whilst we’d always advise people to be vigilant around any livestock, this breed of cattle is usually docile. This herd in particular spend their lives around the public and are very used to being with people, dogs and horses.
There will also be plenty of woodland trails that don’t enter the grazed area at all – some that are permissive horse tracks and others that are just for walkers.
Will I be able to run my dog off a lead?
Where there are other people, horses, dogs and livestock we would expect people to keep their dogs under close control, and by keeping dogs to the path this also minimises the disturbance to sensitive wildlife such as ground nesting birds. There are many areas on Blakeshall Common and Kinver Edge where dogs can run more freely and stretch their legs, for example on the open grassland areas.
What about the current wildlife that lives in the conifers?
The majority of species that live in the conifer plantation will thrive in the heathland, and many will benefit from the creation of several kilometres of 'woodland edge' habitat that particularly supports animals such as owls – who nest in the trees but hunt over the open heath. We are however leaving in over half of the conifers to provide corridors for bats. Overall we will see an increase in biodiversity and the number of species that live here, and fellow conservation organisations such as RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, and Butterfly Conservation are supportive of these plans for wildlife.
Why are you cutting down trees when we are experiencing climate change?
As an organisation we are planting trees and reforesting large areas across the country, but at Blakeshall Common there is a rare opportunity to restore wildlife-rich heathland to improve biodiversity. By improving biodiversity we create more resilient ecosystems that can better withstand the impacts of climate change, ensuring that a wide variety of plants and animals have room to thrive.
Public consultation outcome
We've recently undertaken a period of public consultation and are currently reviewing the findings before sharing our final proposal.