Natural England - Stiperstones: what makes it special

Stiperstones: what makes it special

The Stiperstones is a spectacular 10km ridge in south-west Shropshire, its unmistakable rugged outline rising to 536m above sea level. The Reserve provides a fantastic combination of geological, landscape and wildlife features, along with wild, dramatic scenery and a wealth of stories about local myths and folklore.

The reserve retains a wild and unspoilt character that has been captured by writers such as Mary Webb, D H Lawrence and Malcolm Saville.

The NNR covers 485 ha and lies within the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Parts of the reserve are protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and the area is also a Special Area of Conservation under the European Habitats Directive.

Geology and geomorphology

The Stiperstones is important for rocks deposited some 480 million years ago, during the Ordovician period, including Stiperstones Quartzite, which forms the ridge.

Severe and prolonged frost during the last ice age (more than 15,000 years ago) produced today’s shattered, boulder-strewn landscape. The jagged tors, including the Devil’s Chair which rises some 20m high, are outcrops which proved more resistant, while below them, water, frost and gravity combined to form natural stone striping, and stone circles.

Lead has been mined in the area since Roman times and more recently zinc, barytes and calcite have been extracted, too. The legacy of mining is still much in evidence, although extraction finally ceased in the 1950s.

Managing Stiperstones

Much effort is devoted to managing the heathland, the most important feature of The Stiperstones. The key to encouraging a high diversity of wildlife is to maintain a range of conditions. The heather plants need to be of varying age and structure – from tender young shoots to large, mature clumps with tough, woody growth.

Carefully controlled rotational burning and cutting of mature areas during the winter months promote vigorous new growth. This provides a supply of young heather on which both red grouse and livestock can feed. The older growth provides important shelter for wildlife.

Parts of The Stiperstones NNR are registered common land and are grazed by both sheep and cattle. Burning, cutting and grazing all help to prevent the encroachment of trees which would otherwise swamp the heathland.

Back to purple: conserving and restoring

The Stiperstones used to be an unbroken ridge of purple heather heathland running for 10 km. Since the 1940s, conifer plantations and grassland have progressively broken this continuity. The Back to purple programme aims to restore some of this land to heath. The project also involves working to maintain and enrich the wildlife and landscape of the surrounding area, and to encourage recreational uses that are both sustainable and compatible with the wildlife, the landscape and local communities.

Back to purple started in 1998 as a long-term project but already, through the work of Natural England, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, the Forestry Commission and private landowners, and with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and others, 80 ha of heathland are being re-created. This new heathland is being grazed by Hebridean sheep and Exmoor ponies.