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Project

The Stepping Stones Project in the Shropshire Hills

Stepping Stones Marsh Violet Planting Paul Harris Shropshire
Planting Marsh Violets at The Hollies near Snailbeach | © National Trust Paul Harris

Stepping Stones is a nature conservation programme covering over 200km² in the Shropshire Hills. It is creating more, bigger and better spaces for wildlife, and linking them with wildlife ‘corridors’. This means working with farmers, landowners, community groups and volunteers to create and connect heathland, flower-rich grassland, woodland and wetland. The project is led by the National Trust but involves a number of partners, including The Wildlife Trusts, Natural England and Shropshire Hills National Landscape.

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What is Stepping Stones about?

Charlie Bell, Project Manager for Stepping Stones at the National Trust, describes the environmental challenges we're facing and looks at the ways that Stepping Stones is helping nature and wildlife in the Shropshire Hills.

What we do

The project area covers over 200km² within the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and includes two major sites of conservation importance: Long Mynd SSSI and the Stiperstones NNR.

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

Currently there are three main strands to the programme: working with farmers, working with the wider local community and volunteers, and managing 'stepping stones' owned by the National Trust and our partner organisations.

Who we are

Stepping Stones has been developed with a range of partners including Natural England, the Shropshire Hills National Landscape, Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Middle Marches Community Land Trust.

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 currently employ the project team:

  • Charlie Bell, Stepping Stones Project Manager
  • Currently vacant - Stepping Stones Project Officer
  • John Adams, Stepping Stones Project Coordinator

Why is the project needed?

For centuries traditional, low intensity livestock farming in the Shropshire Hills created a beautiful landscape rich in 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. Areas of wildlife-rich habitat, including the Long Mynd and the Stiperstones, have become ecologically isolated 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 completely.

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Planting wide hedgerows at Jinlye Meadows, to act as wildlife corridors
Looking after nature for everyone, for ever | © Charlie Bell

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 part of a profitable farm business.

The Upper Onny Farmers Group, facilitated by the Stepping Stones Project, have been involved in a number of Test and Trials of the proposed new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes. We hope this will influence Government thinking about future approaches to payment schemes and farm planning that support farmers in delivering sustainable environmental outcomes.

This part of the programme is delivered in partnership with the Shropshire Hills National Landscape.

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 people who visit the area. We are trialling approaches to community volunteering on farms, as well as in the wider landscape.

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 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.

As well as our work with local farmers, we also offer advice and support to non-farming landowners, from people with smallholdings down to wildlife gardeners. We can support delivery of schemes such as hedge planting and meadow creation via the Stepping Stones volunteer group.

We also aim to engage the wider community through participation in events, evening talks for local groups, and appearances on loacl media and our youTube channel.

Creating and managing stepping stones

The third aspect of Stepping Stones is our work supporting the acquisition and management of 'stepping stones' in the landscape, either by the National Trust or one of our partner NGOs or community groups. For example, Stepping Stones has been heavily involved with the management of the National Trust's 'satellite' sites to the Long Mynd, such as Jinlye Meadows and Fir Tree Farm Meadows, as well as supporting the Middle Marches Community Land Trust in their acquisition and management of several local sites. We also run work parties to carry out important habitat management in support of Butterfly Conservation, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Natural England and on SSSIs owned by private landowners.

Wildlife under threat

Thanks to funding from Natural England, Stepping Stones is helping to protect four key species under the Species Recovery programme.

Otter standing in shallows of stream with fish in its mouth, Stackpole, Pembrokeshire
Can you spot an otter? | © National Trust Images/Jim Bebbington

Otter

Otter is an elusive and largely solitary species. Found across the UK in streams, lakes, wetlands and waterways, otters breed in ‘holts’ or larger covered dens, located in bankside holes, tunnels and vegetation. Populations are fairly high but fragmented due to the quality of riverside/riparian habitat. Across the project area, wet woodland and scrub will be created and existing habitats extended to increase habitat connectivity through the landscape.

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A visit to Fir Tree Farm

We're creating wide corridors of scrub woodland at Fir Tree Farm to connect fragmented habitats and help wildlife move through the landscape.

Keep in touch

For all the latest updates and volunteer opportunities, subscribe to the Stepping Stones newsletter.

Stepping Stones project

April 2024

Planting Marsh Violets at The Hollies

Work is underway to plant out 20,000 marsh violets at sites across the Shropshire Hills this spring and autumn to provide a food-source for the caterpillars of the rare Pearl Bordered Fritillary Butterfly. Planting on this scale has never been attempted before in the UK. With thanks to funding from Natural England's Species Recovery programme and support from partners Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Shropshire Hills National Landscape, the planting will help to connect isolated and fragmented habitats so these butterflies can move and flourish in the landscape.

Stepping Stones Marsh Violet Shropshire Planting Paul Harris
Marsh Violets provide a food source for caterpillars of the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary Butterfly | © Paul Harris

Contact us

Email

Nature needs us to take action. We couldn't do what we do without the help of our amazing volunteers. So, whether it's every week or every now and then, we'd be really grateful for your time. For volunteering opportunities, work days and events, get in touch.

charlie.bell@nationaltrust.org.uk

Our partners

Natural England

Natural England is the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England. They help to protect and restore our natural world.

Visit website 

The Wildlife Trusts

The Wildlife Trusts is an independent charity made up of 46 local Wildlife Trusts in the UK, the Isle of Man and Alderney.

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Shropshire Hills National Landscape

The Shropshire Hills National Landscape covers almost a quarter of Shropshire. It's a living landscape, loved by locals and visitors alike for its quality of environment, rich history, and for walking, relaxation and inspiration.

Visit website 

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