Wild and Wonderful

Shropshire's wildlife constantly surprises. Buzzards and rare Red Kites wheel through the border valleys and bright blue Kingfishers startle shoppers in Shrewsbury. Many of the county's hotels, pubs and B&B's display Shropshire Wildlife Trust's Badger signs, which means the proprietors will gladly introduce you to their local flora and fauna and nature reserves. Shropshire has 50 designated "wild places".

Television naturalist David Bellamy is well versed in all their delights.

"I have walked Shropshire's hills, woodlands, hedgerows and fields, and dabbled in its rivers, canals, mires and mere's. It was in this fair county that I served an important part of my apprenticeship and I invite you to share in the wonderful natural heritage that Shropshire has to offer.

It is a fabulous county, whose botanical heritage, though not as famous as some, is nonetheless very, very rich. It is above all a county which has, as least in the past, been well used, and it is still blessed today with many farmers and landowners who understand the importance of that heritage.

Shropshire is well-worn, patchworked with small fields, hedgerows and copses. This tapestry has nearly 30 nature reserves which you can visit, some of national significance, like the glories of the Stiperstones Nature Reserve, or the unique diversity of Wem Moss. Others are less well know, like Llanymynech Roacks, where nature has done a wonderful job healing old sores left by industry and creating new beauty.

David Bellamy

I love plants and I love Shropshire, and I hope you will share my joy in this beautiful part of the world and enjoy the magic of its wildlife." David Bellamy

"To watch a dragonfly struggle free of it papery shroud and see its wrinkled wings dry and stretch in the sunlight is an experience to cherish."

So it was for Prue Sarn, Mary Webb's heroine of Precious Bane, a story partly set in the Ellesmere district of North Shropshire.

Butter's no substitute for seeing things with your own eyes - to stare into the huge unblinking eyes of an owl, to stumble on a family of stoats rolling about on a footpath and to discover and identify wild flowers yourself - these are the encounters which stick in the memory.

Wild Orchids

And there's no better place for all this than Shropshire.

Shropshire has a huge variety of wildlife, and this is no mere accident of nature. Geography reveals the character of a place. For here northern Britain merges with the south; here we have upland heather moors - the Stiperstones, the Long Mynd - and also fertile lowlands networked with hedgerows; a sweep of carboniferous limestone to the north-west, the river Severn snaking its way in from Montgomeryshire and out through Worcestershire, and a wonderful wetland complex of meres and mosses created by a colossal ice sheet at least 300 metres thick which crept over north Shropshire 18,000 years ago.

Wild plants reflect the character of a place. It could be sweet cicely with its fernlike foliage and nibblesome sniseed-flavoured seed heads, growing prolifically around one village and absent in the next. Or bog asphodel, a starry golden-flowered plant growing on Shropshire's relic lowland peat bogs. It was known as bone-breaker, because sheep grazing places where it grew developed brittle bones. The sheep's problems stemmed not from the plant through, but from the calcium-poor, starveacre ground on which beasts suffered and the plant thrived.

Surprisingly, some of the best wildlife areas in the county are those which have been radically disturbed. Abandoned limestone quarries, such as that at Llanymynech, provide perfect conditions for a huge variety of plant species, including hoary ragwort, yellow-wort, with its unmistakable grey-green leaves fused around the stem, marjoram and thyme, common spotted and bee orchids.

Butterflies are drawn to the sheltered sunny clearings and the abundant flora - hard-won from the determined woodland springing up every whereabouts and the traveller's joy (conservationist's nightmare) which twines itself round them and riots over the ground where there's nothing to climb.

When exploring new places, or revisiting old ones, it isn't necessarily rarities which give the most pleasure. Abundance of familiar, well-loved flowers, birds, bats, red and black froghoppers or whatever, is wonderfully cheering.

Almost anywhere in the county the back lanes in spring are crammed with primroses, bluebells, campion, wood anemones and stitchwort.

One place where wildlife thrives beyond the margins in Melverley Farm, 47 ace working farm of traditionally managed hay meadows and grazing pastures, bought by Shropshire Wildlife Trust in 1995. Its fields are divided by billowing hedgerows, its swards dense with variety of species and humming with insects. Melverley Farm has survived by a quirk of fortune.

Kingfisher

For Shropshire's wildlife is under pressure just as it is everywhere in Britain. Some of it is safeguarded by Shropshire Wildlife Trust, some by Shropshire County Council and some is in sympathetic private ownership. Tourism might seem to pose further threat - but it doesn't have to be that way.

If people choose to spend their holidays in Shropshire because of the richness of its wildlife, this strengthens the hand of conservationist mightily.

Some tourist facilities are so well integrated into their environment they can actually enhance it.

A caravan site on Wenlock Edge skillfully conceals itself amongst trees nailed with bird boxes, wildflower meadows and hedgerows. Many tourism businesses in Shropshire take wildlife conservation very seriously.

A Shropshire Otter

And if visitors feel so inclined, they can help in a practical way by sending in records to Shropshire Wildlife Trust of what they have seen. Reports of hares, ravens, red kites even an otter - all these and many other provide much needed information on distribution and population. So if Shropshire's visitors take pleasure in wildlife, they may also help safeguard it.

First Published: 1998

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