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'Sandscapes' Heathland restoration in the Midlands

View of Heathland Kinver Edge Staffordshire
A view over the heathland at Kinver Edge | © National Trust Images/Annapurna Mellor

Sandscapes is a nature recovery project which aims to restore and reconnect areas of sandy habitats across the three counties of Shropshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire. Heathland, once a widespread and common component of the landscape in the Midlands, is now isolated and fragmented. More than eighty percent of this rare and special habitat has been lost in the last 200 years, through agricultural change, conifer planting, development pressures and neglect. Wildlife that rely on this type of habitat, including many insects, reptiles and ground nesting birds, are endangered or under threat of extinction.

History of heathlands

Heathlands are wide, open landscapes, dominated by scattered trees and low-growing shrubs, such as gorse, heather and grasses. Most heathland in England was created from the late Stone Age onwards through woodland clearance on naturally thin, acid soils, which allowed heathland plants, suited to the poor soil conditions, to thrive.

Heaths were kept open through human activity, primarily grazing, with some burning, timber harvesting, as well as bracken and scrub cutting for fuel or animal bedding. Without management, heathlands return to scrub and woodland - with the loss of culturally rich and rare landscapes.

The state of heathlands today

A number or surviving heathlands are managed for nature conservation, but they are disparate and small in size which makes them vulnerable to climate change. Those managed as nature reserves, including the area of heathland at Kinver Edge, are in intensive care. Rangers and outdoor teams are working hard to keep them in good ecological condition to support rare species associated with warm, sandy soils.

A view of the Sandscapes project area at Mose Farm, Dudmaston
A view of the Sandscapes project area at Mose Farm, Dudmaston | © National Trust James Lawrence

The project area

Sandscapes is working to restore and reconnect areas of heathland across the three counties of Shropshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire. This includes two places cared for by the National Trust; Dudmaston, near Bridgnorth and Kinver Edge, near Stourbridge.

Dudmaston, South Shropshire

Approximately half of the three thousand acre estate at Dudmaston, sits on sandy soils. Historically, these soils have been eroding into the River Severn. Siltation (sediment build-up) and eutrophication (the over-enrichment of water by nutrients) affects the Picturesque landscape pools on the estate.

Mose Farm on the Dudmaston Estate

The sandy soils at Mose Farm, which lies at the north end of the estate, provide an ideal habitat for lots of wildlife, including many ground nesting birds, bees, butterflies and other insects.

Working alongside the tenant farmer, two hundred and forty-two acres of farmland are planned to be restored to heathland over the next ten years. Currently, this area of the farm is used to grow and harvest arable crops.

Kinver Edge, South Staffordshire

Kinver Edge is within a sandstone district associated with the Severn Plateau and includes much former heathland and common land. The project aims to restore heathland and wood pasture to improve habitat connectivity for wildlife.

Blakeshall Common on Kinver Edge

We are working to restore Blakeshall Common as an area of traditional lowland heath. The gains for wildlife of restoring the heathland will be significant, particularly for animals that are increasingly rare in the UK.

Currently a conifer plantation, this area offers an opportunity to deliver a 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.

The National Trust has received the support of local Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, and Natural England, amongst others, for this important nature restoration plan.

Longhorn cattle grazing at Kinver Edge, Staffordshire
Longhorn cattle grazing at Kinver Edge, Staffordshire | © National Trust Images/Rob Coleman

Plans for the project

To create the heathland, the Trust plans to 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 19 hectares (47 acres) of conifer plantation in over 10 years and in two separate phases. This equates to just under a third of the conifer plantation on Kinver Edge.

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, allowing 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, to maintain the heath and create a rich habitat structure, similarly to other areas of heath on Kinver Edge.

Pink-flowered heather at Ludshott Common, East Hampshire
Heather flowers in late August on Kinver Edge | © National Trust Images/Rachael Warren

Frequently asked questions about Blakeshall Common

Latest news

March 2024

Sightings of Black Oil Beetle increase at Kinver Edge

The population of this rare species of insect continues to grow thanks to successful habitat management.  

National Trust Countryside Manager Ewan Chapman said: “I’m so pleased to see that these beetles are colonising more and more areas on the Edge. Last year, we spotted them for the first time in an area of restored heathland. This spring, they’ve spread throughout the landscape to make their home in areas of bare earth, which our team of rangers and volunteers create as part of their on-going management of this special habitat.”  

Andy Perry, National Trust Conservation Advisor said: “Oil beetles are great indicators of good quality habitat; for part of their life cycle they are dependent on ground nesting solitary bees which feed on wildflowers.” 

A shiny black beetle climbs heathland plants
Sightings of Black Oil Beetle at Kinver Edge | © Alex Murison

Contact us


If you've got a question about the project or you'd like to give us some feedback, please get in touch.

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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