Natural England - Cannock Chase

Cannock Chase

Although the second smallest of the AONBs, Cannock Chase, with its doorstep conurbations and coveted mineral deposits, is potentially one of the most threatened of the protected landscapes.

As its name suggests, the Chase was once the expansive sweep of a great medieval royal hunting forest. Today it is a surprisingly remote area of high sandstone heather and bracken heathland with birch woodland and extensive pine plantations. Dissected by secluded valleys and framed by a gentler landscape of fine parklands and attractive villages, the AONB encloses the last oak remnant of the ancient Cannock Forest. Its unenclosed, semi-natural landscapes provide a valuable contrast to the ordered agricultural landscapes dominating the Midlands region.

Wild deer still roam the Chase, which is an important oasis in the urban Midlands. Its heathland, woodland and valley wetland habitats are protected as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and large extents are local authority owned. The heaths are the largest surviving area of heathland in the Midlands and are transitional between the high altitude moorlands of the north and lowland heaths in the south of the country. They are valuable habitats for invertebrates along with the rare nightjar, lizards and adders.

1,214 hectares of the AONB are conserved as one of Britain's largest country parks. Its motorless zone, nature trails and reserves focus strongly on landscape and wildlife interest. Castle Ring, an Iron Age fort, has wide views over the Trent Valley. The AONB is ringed by towns such as Cannock and Rugeley and is within commuting distance of Wolverhampton. Land use includes mixed agriculture on the lower slopes plus significant sand and gravel extraction. The Forestry Commission has sizeable commercial plantations.

Cannock Chase is an important recreation area, both as traditional Midlands daytrip country and for the growing population on its immediate fringe. 1.9 million people live within 30 kilometres of the AONB and although not a holiday area as such, peak season sees an ad hoc demand for camping and caravan pitches. The Chase is crossed by many footpaths and bridleways, including Forestry Commission trails and the Staffordshire Way. The variety of the landscape with enclosed woodlands and open views over the hills makes it feel larger than it actually is, which helps in its ability to accommodate the many thousands of visitors attracted by its scenery.