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Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Little Wenlock Parish Council

The parish contains a relatively large number of designated nationally and locally important areas and sites of landscape, wildlife and historical value, together with many listed buildings.

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)

The Wrekin and adjoining Ercall hills, together with Gibbons Coppice, Wenlock Wood, Maddocks Hill, Limekiln Wood, Black Hayes and Birch Coppice on the edge of New Works are included within the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The whole parish is, further, included within the AONB Advisory Plan, recognising the importance that the setting plays in preserving the Area itself.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

The parish contains three SSSIs - the Wrekin, the Ercall and Lydebrook Dingle.

The prominent ridge that is the Wrekin and Ercall has a combination of geological and biological importance that justifies its designation as a SSSI. The deciduous woodland flora varies with the underlying geology and levels of drainage. Sessile oak dominates on the thin acid soils overlying the Wrekin Quartzite, accompanied by holly, downy birch and rowan.

The ground flora includes wavy hair-grass, heather, bilberry, creeping soft-grass and the uncommon climbing fumitory. Oak and hazel occur on the more fertile soils whilst ash and wych elm are found on the damper, richer, less acidic land. Where the ground is permanently wet alder dominates. In the more fertile areas ransoms, yellow archangel, woodruff, dog's mercury and sanicle make up the ground flora. Towards the summit of the Wrekin there are areas of heather and acidic grassland with wavy hair-grass, early hair-grass, sheep's sorrel and heath bedstraw.

The bird population includes sparrowhawk; woodcock; all three woodpeckers; seven species of warbler; redstart; and, pied flycatchers.

The Wrekin ridge provides the best and most varied exposures of Uriconian rocks in England and is of great historical importance as the place where the uncomformable relationship between the Uriconian and Cambrian and the volcanic nature of the Uriconian were first demonstrated.

Lydebrook Dingle is a narrow, steep-sided, wooded dingle on coal measures and basalt, through which flows the Lyde Brook, a tributary of the Severn. It is valuable as one of the best examples of ancient, relatively undisturbed woodland in this part of Shropshire. Lower down it merges into the equally valuable Loamhole Dingle - originally a source of loam for the Iron foundries of Coalbrookdale - which emerges by the Museum of Iron and Abraham Darby's first furnace.

The woodland vegetation consists of three distinct stand types - ash and wych elm; oak and birch; and alder - depending upon the underlying geology. The oak/birch stands are characterised by a flora of abundant great woodrush, wavy hair-grass and bilberry. The areas of ash/wych elm (the latter badly affected by Dutch elm disease) have dog?mercury, tufted hair-grass and woodruff. The alder stands have pendulous sedge and giant horsetail together with opposite-leaved golden saxifrage.

The lime-rich water from the springs along the valley sides have caused the accumulation of large deposits of tufa. Other particularly interesting plants in the Dingle include uncommon species like wood barley, wood horsetail and the moss Hookeria lucens. Small-leaved lime, yew and field maple trees are present too.

Nature Reserves

The Wrekin is also designated as a Telford and Wrekin Council Nature Reserve, while the Ercall is a Nature Reserve run by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust. The other official Nature Reserve in the parish is Limekiln and Black Hayes Wood which is a extensive area of mixed ash and hazel woodlands on alkaline soils with particularly rich ground flora and grassland around old limekilns.

Wildlife Sites

The entire area surrounding the Wrekin nature reserve from Wrekin Farm at Cluddley to the north, including Neves Castle to the south west, Morrells Wood, Gibbons Coppice and Wrekin Farm to the south is also designated as a Wildlife Site. This is effectively a buffer area around the Nature Reserve which, in part, reflects the habitats found within the SSSI.

Several of the woodlands are on the Ancient Woodlands Register. Limekiln Wood and Black Hayes - including the bulk of Maddocks Hill quarry is a Wildlife Site too. The disused quarry with some geologically interesting exposures was previously a SSSI but remains on the Wildlife site register pending re-assessment.

The two further wildlife sites in the parish are Marmers Covert (on Spout Lane) and the north western arm of Lydebrook Dingle stretching towards Little Worth.

Marmers Covert is an area of scrub (primarily hazel, wych elm, hawthorn and elder) which is very bare below with patches of common nettle. It also has areas of open, less dense scrub with much silver birch and dog rose which is grassy below and grazed. There are small tufa formations. The arm of Lydebrook Dingle represents a species-rich continuation of the SSSI considered worthy of Wildlife Site status.

Ancient Monuments

The Wrekin has long been designated an Ancient Monument as one of relatively few local examples of a large, prominent hill fort. It has evidence of domestic Iron Age occupation over several hundred years up to the 1st Century AD.

More recently English Heritage has also designated an area of historic coal mining remains to the north and northwest of New Works village (primarily New Works Wood) as an Ancient Monument. This is designed to preserve an area which has been worked for coal intensively but on a relatively small scale over a period of at least 500 years as a representation of the coal industry's development up to the 20th Century.

Other Areas of Historical Interest

Although most of the historical features to the east of Little Wenlock village have been destroyed by open-cast mining, a particularly interesting area of land remains on the eastern slope of the at Spread Eagles.

A field survey of this site identifies three bell-pit mounds likely to be survivors of late 17th to mid-18th century mining and suggests that it is probably the last place in the parish in which remains of the 1728 Little Wenlock to Strethill timber railway may be found.