Historical Usage by Man

Bodbury Ring hill fort

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Bodbury Ring hill fort

Bronze Age man was the first to leave a permanent mark, with the track known as The Portway probably being established about 3000 years ago. Leading members of their society were buried singly beneath earth and stone mounds (tumuli or round barrows) that were stripped of their contents long ago. The route was a trading one, which crossed the tops of the hill to link Shrewsbury with the ports of South Wales.

During the Iron Age and dating from about 500 BC are the ditches and ramparts of Bodbury Ring hill fort. Here in the summer months sheep were grazed on the hills and a small settlement on the top of the hill could keep watch for raiders and drive the sheep into the confines and safety of the stockade when necessary. Up to this time most of the hills were an oak forest and just glades were used for grazing animals. As time went by trees were burned, ringed or felled to create more pasture until the present landscape which has very few trees in it.

The Romans left no marks but passed through the Stretton Valley on their journey between Uriconium (Wroxeter) and Caerleon giving us the "Street" (Watling Street) from which Church Sretton gets its name. Caer Caradoc hill (major stronghold of The Cornovii tribe) carries the legend of being another hillfort on which the last British King Caractacus made his last stand against the Romans before being captured and taken off to Rome.

Saxon farmers settled in villages on the flanks of the Long Mynd and began the practice of common grazing. The Norman monks from Haughmond Abbey also exercised this right which carries on to this day and is largely responsible for the present day open moorland. In other words the hills look like they do because of hundreds of years of grazing.

Agriculture

Sheep on the Long Mynd

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Sheep on the Long Mynd

The sole agricultural use of the Long Mynd is sheep farming. All of the open hill is common grazing land, which means that although the National Trust owns the soil it does not own the grazing rights. Instead these are held by the COMMONERS who are owners of agricultural land in the parishes surrounding the Long Mynd. 88 people have registered rights to graze on the hill, of whom about 17 actually exercise them. In the past the National Trust considered that the hill was severely overgrazed. In the 1980's as many as 13,000 sheep (5.5 ewes per hectare) were grazing on the hill.

As a consequence of over-stocking, the heath land vegetation was in decline. The over-grazing problem was aggravated by supplementary feeding throughout the year, creating localised areas of extreme grazing and trampling. This has now stopped.

The National Trust has no power to control sheep numbers but with the assistance of the Long Mynd Commoners Association, English Nature and DEFRA a phased reduction over a period of years has been agreed. There is at present (2006) a total of 3,350 sheep (1.5 ewes per hectare) grazing on the hill (dropping to about half this number in winter).

A desired stocking level of less than 1 ewe per acre has recently been calculated using current information on the vegetation cover and age structure of heath land vegetation.

Vegetation Management

Burning Heather

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Burning Heather

a) Heather: the heather covered plateau of the Long Mynd is of great importance both for its landscape and wildlife value. To preserve the heather it has to be managed by burning or cutting on a rotational basis, allowing regeneration from the remaining rootstock and seed. Because of the past grazing pressures the National Trust stopped all burning and cutting because regeneration of young heather was so poor and acid grass and bracken were invading these areas. Now the grazing pressure has been reduced the Trust is aiming for a 16 year management cycle, burning or cutting in 0.5 acre plots to create a mosaic of different ages all over the hill. In 2009 after a ten year ESA(Environmentally Sensitive Area) scheme came to an end another new scheme began. This HLS(Higher Level Scheme) will ensure another 10 year period of reduced grazing so that good conservation practices can flourish. The heather is a wonderful sight now in summer, with large swathes of hill a bright purple.

b) Bracken encroachment: this is a problem throughout the uplands of Britain, but particularly so on the Long Mynd where 60% of all the hill is now affected. The problem is being tackled in two ways:

  1. where bracken grows amongst acid grassland e.g. the northern and eastern side of the hill, the bracken is mown on a regular basis, this does not eliminate the problem but reduces its vigour and prevents further encroachment.
  2. where it is growing amongst heather it is not possible to mow so a chemical treatment is being used (applied in larger areas by helicopter) which does not affect any other vegetation or wildlife.

c) Gorse also needs management and because so much of it is very old, where it grows in dense patches it could be a fire hazard (it burns very easily). For the first time in many years, fire breaks were be cut between sections and some areas were burned during 2003. New growth comes from stems of the burned bushes. In 2008 and ongoing you can see various blackened areas of hillside in Carding Mill Valley where these larger areas are being reduced.

Industry

Carding Mill Derelict c1900

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Carding Mill Derelict c1900

The first industrial usage dates back to the 13th Century with the location of a corn grinding mill in Carding Mill Valley.

In 1812 a carding mill was built to process local fleeces. The carded wool was then spun at home as a cottage industry.

In 1824 George Corfield bought the mill and expanded, building a factory and installing Spinning Jennies and Hand Looms to become a cloth manufacturer. Being sited away from the heart of the woollen industry in Yorkshire proved difficult so further expansion in 1851 took them into clothing manufacture employing sewers and dressmakers. The business remained under threat so diversification was attempted.

By 1881 part of the factory was used for ginger beer and soda water manufacture and another part as a tea-room. By this time many people had new-found wealth and increased leisure and Church Stretton was developing as a spa town known as "Little Switzerland".

Two reservoirs were built, one in 1865 in Townbrook Hollow and 1902 in New Pool Hollow. The old mill was demolished in 1912 and the factory turned into an hotel and cafe. By 1920 the factory had been converted to flats and the Chalet Pavilion had been imported from Scandinavia to be used as a tea-room for the day trippers.

Tourism

Carding Mill Valley - A Honeypot Site

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Carding Mill Valley - A Honeypot Site

Tourism developed during late Victorian times with the fashion of "taking the waters" at Spa Towns. Church Stretton continued to develop this through Edwardian times into the age of the motor car and charabanc trips. Lifestyles and expectations changed with World War II and it was with the increasing affluence and mobility of the population as a whole, together with increasing leisure time that the pressures of tourism grew rapidly.

Tourism on the Long Mynd is concentrated in the Carding Mill Valley which has all the facilities the average visitor requires, namely parking space, toilets, shop, information centre, ice creams and a cafe. By attracting visitors to one HONEYPOT site such as this, pressure is taken off other valleys and the summit allowing them to be enjoyed by visitors seeking more peace and solitude.

The recorded number of cars visiting Carding Mill Valley is 23,000 each year. Allowing for an average of 3 people per car and taking into account visitors that walk into the valley unrecorded we can estimate a rough annual figure of 250,000 visitors a year. It is reckoned about another 100,000 people make use of the rest of the hill.

To encourage tourists not to use the road over the hills a shuttle bus is used at weekends in summer. It is now possible for visitors to arrive by train at Church Stretton, be transported up the hill where they can then walk and be collected from certain points to be returned to the station or tea-rooms.

Many visitors come to enjoy the scenery but many are dedicated walkers getting exercise, naturalists are another group. In one area there is a golf course in another a gliding club. Mountain bikers and horseriders also make use of the bridleways.

There are nearly 30 miles of footpaths crossing the hill. This requires substantial work in upkeep e.g. Mott's Road Bridleway was repaired at a cost of ?20,000 in 2002.

Overgrazing

This is also a major cause of erosion. Some twenty years of overstocking meant that the precious heathland, which is so valuable for wildlife, was being grazed out. There should also be scrubby tree cover on the valley sides, but any natural regeneration that occurs is hampered by sheep eating young shoots. The present number of sheep is now at a sustainable level but for twenty years the hills were overgrazed. In March 2001 the sheep north of The Burway road were culled and the area fenced off because of "Foot & Mouth disease." This meant that the flora of that area had a real chance to recover and several species of wild flowers were seen which are not usually obvious, many young heather plants grew in Carding Mill Valley. The present conservation practices also now mean that the outlook for the hills is a healthy one. The National Trust actively plant and protect trees to ensure a succession for the future. Most trees to be found in the valleys are old and often new natural saplings are grazed out by sheep. However with 10 years of reduced sheep numbers there are now some parts of the hill where Rowan in particular is beginning to regenerate.

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