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The Stepping Stones Project in the Shropshire Hills

Stepping Stones project area winter Shropshire
View across the Stepping Stones project area | © Faye Claridge

Stepping Stones is a landscape-scale nature conservation project 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 is Stepping Stones about?

Charlie Bell, Project Officer 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 AONB Partnership, 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:

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.

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 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 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.

This part of the programme is led by Stepping Stones Project Officer Charlie Bell.

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.

This part of the programme is shared between Project Officer Charlie Bell, Project Manager Andrew Hearle, Countryside Manager Peter Carty, and colleagues from partner organisations.


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

Sign up to the Stepping Stones Project mailing list for all the latest updates and volunteer opportunities.

Volunteer opportunities and events

Email Charlie for more info on volunteer opportunities and events, or to book.

Stepping Stones project


Species Recovery Funding Awarded

The Stepping Stones Project has been awarded nearly £290,000 in funding from Natural England's Species Recovery Grant to restore patches of wildlife-friendly habitat (‘stepping stones’) and wildlife corridors such as hedgerows, verges and streams which link areas of habitat.

£14.5 million has been awarded to conservation projects across England. One hundred and fifty threatened species are being targeted to benefit from the funding which runs until March 2025.  

A small pearl bordered fritillary butterfly on flowers
Small pearl bordered fritillary | © Stephen Lewis

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.

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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 Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

The Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) 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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