It’s very sad to see all the fuss there has been about the habitat restoration. It’s good to see people love the place (even if many don’t seem to know what it’s called, but we have had many people moving to the area I expect). For ease, I will use Kinver Edge for the whole of the escarpment, Blakeshall Common is part of the geographical feature of Kinver Edge.
In managing a special place, it’s important to preserve and enhance what makes it special. Lots of things make Kinver Edge special, its beauty, its wildlife, itss geology, its archaeology and the enjoyment people get from it. Some of these significances are demonstrated by designation (the Site of Special Scientific Interest, the Scheduled Monument, Listed Buildings etc, other significances are explored in management plans and stewardship agreements, others are less easy to pin down, but are still important.
What’s very clear, is that a rare sandy heath, there is considerable or even exceptional significance across the site in natural environment terms. Heathland is in rapid, almost disastrous, decline and the fauna and fauna that live in this environment are under very real threat. Of course, this presents an opportunity to undertake habitat restoration and enhance the most important thing which makes this place special, i.e it’s opportunity for biodiversity.
In biodiversity and ecology terms the conifer crop doesn’t score very highly at all, it has almost no significance and may even be regarded as intrusive. Just because they are trees, doesn’t mean they have more ecological value than heathland, particularly considering the international biodiversity crisis.
In short, in environmental terms, when weighing up options of retaining a conifer crop against a heathland habitat restoration, the conifer doesn’t stand a chance. Simple logic dictates that if there is an opportunity to do something better for nature, it has to be done! The historical and archaeological record (my field) backs this up, conifer plantations are not great for the fragile earthworks and the land was almost entirely open until the 1960s. It was probably heath from the Mesolithic to the 1960s and numerous historical documents confirm this. The whole escarpment was called “Kinver Heath” in the 17th and 18th centuries and in the 19th century there were large sand dunes near what is now Blakeshall Lane car park. In this case therefore, the historic environment case is very much in line with the natural environment one. A restoration of the heath would allow us to see this landscape as it was for centuries and probably millennia and this will add to the overall significance of the whole site.
How people use and enjoy the Edge is part of its significance. It’s by far the most difficult to measure and understand, it changes over time and different groups react to the place in different ways. Its something that needs to be taken very seriously though as enjoyment is the main function of the Edge, but not its main significance.
There is always a reaction against change to a beautiful and loved place, but this does not mean this reaction should be just discounted. The conifer plantation has beauty to it and has the appearance of having always been present. I spent my childhood growing up opposite it and it’s an important place in my memory, I know every inch of it, there will be some sadness to see it go.
Others enjoy the place for riding, cycling, walking dogs, whatever, and the strength of feeling against the habitat restoration has been both surprising and strong. There are concerns about safety and perceived environmental concerns. We have (quite rightly) had decades of people being trained to regard chopping trees down as bad, all trees and this has made putting across an argument for replacing low-value non-native crop trees with something far better in environmental terms a surprisingly tall order.
There are many however, particularly older residents and those from the area who want the heathland back, it was there in their grandparent’s day and to them the case for returning it is overwhelming. There is still anger that former common land became part of an estate and then it was turned into forestry. For many who live next to the forestry, as the trees have reached their maximum it has got darker, there are frequent tree falls and it has lost character and accessibility. There is also resentment that the protesters are presuming everyone is against it and that the horse riders have had a free reign (pardon the pun) since WCC ceased really actively managing the land some 15 years ago.
All these concerns from all sides are genuine, there’s some weird paranoia (horse riders aren’t all entitled townies charging around dangerously on psychotic nags and the NT have nothing to gain financially from this, either as an organization or individuals, that’s just silly modern internet paranoia).
Perhaps there should have been more vision and less consultation? The NT is a conservation charity, they could have just removed the lot in one go, will we be left with something of a fudge just to placate people? I think not, they have taken my concerns about archaeology seriously and I’m happy with the result, I will watch the felling like a hawk though. They are taking the protesters seriously and the locals who want their heath back. What’s clear is that the consultation period should have been a lot longer and a lot more, well, consultative!
The mix of heath and wood will be different, but beautiful and will massively enhance the ecological value. Horses will still stomp around and we will still have to regularly dial 999 when they are spooked by a leaf, or a different type of quadruped and the National Trust will still, occasionally, come a cropper when they go at things like a bull at a gate (again, pardon the pun).
Sorry the post is long, it was originally a comment on another post, but I decided to release it into the wild. The photo is the 1945 RAF survey, note some newly plated trees at the top of the Edge, the rest is open (as it had been since at least the 1650s).