Site management

Our countryside team carries out conservation and habitat management works across approximately 500 hectares across Lichfield District.

The funding to provide this management comes from grants awarded to the countryside team from a number of different bodies. The countryside team also works with local partners and volunteer groups to manage these sites and extend the network of habitats across the Lichfield District.

The countryside team manages a number of designated and non-designated sites. These include sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) which are the country's very best wildlife and geological sites, sites of biological importance (SBIs) and local nature reserves (LNRs).

Find out more by clicking the below headings.

Gentleshaw Common SSSI  

Gentleshaw Common is located in the southern part of the Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is the sixth largest area of lowland heath in Staffordshire covering 86 hectares.

Lowland heathland is rare across the world with the UK having about 20% of the global total making it even more endangered and scarce than rainforests and therefore a priority habitat for nature conservation.

The common was designated as a SSSI by English Nature in 1981 and it is also a grade one SBI.

Gentleshaw Common SSSI forms part of an ongoing programme aimed at restoring part of the critical heathland link across Staffordshire and to prevent further fragmentation of the existing heathland sites that are managed by Lichfield District Council. These sites provide an important link to larger areas of heathland including Cannock Chase and Sutton Park.

The countryside teams that work at Gentleshaw focus primarily on restoring the habitat through a range of management practices, progressing to a level where a more sustainable form of management can be successfully introduced and maintained.

Higher Level Stewardship 

To assist in meeting our ongoing heathland management obligations, in early 2010 the countryside team was successful in securing higher level scheme (HLS) funding under an environmental stewardship administered by the Natural England for Gentleshaw Common.

HLS aims to deliver significant environmental benefits in high priority situations and areas. This will provide a further 10 years of funding for habitat management at Gentleshaw Common.        

As the owner of the SSSI, we are obliged to manage the site and maintain its special scientific interest.

A key component of this is work is increasing local awareness, understanding and involvement in the importance of Gentleshaw's heathlands and the need for active management of them.

The current ongoing management works include:

  • The felling of regenerating scrub (birch, pine and oak saplings) across Gentleshaw.
  • The treatment of areas infested with bracken.

The work is essential as the trees and bracken endanger the survival of rare heathland plants such as bilberry and cowberry, and prevent uncommon birds and reptiles from breeding on the heathland.

Such heathland management practices (the felling of trees and the gathering/grazing of bracken) have been enacted on Gentleshaw for thousands of years. Without their continuation, the low-lying heathland plants would soon be killed off by the trees and bracken overshadowing them and enriching the soil (heathland plants, such as heather's and bilberries, can only grow on nutrient poor soils).

Although these works may initially look like scenes of devastation they will be well worth it when the results start to reveal themselves. As can be noted from the ongoing works it is not our intention to remove all of the trees from Gentleshaw Common as they act as an invaluable source of food and cover for the many birds and mammals that are found on the site.

A large proportion of mature birch and rowan have been retained for the significant landscape value that they hold. Work in the nearby vicinity is already proving to be successful with uncommon birds such as short eared owl, woodlark and nightjar gradually returning to the area. Works are limited to between November and the end of February due to birds nesting in the trees during the spring and summer months.

Pipe Hill Common SBI 

Pipehill Crossroads, known officially as Pipe Marsh Common, is a small remnant area of heathland, approximately 3.3 hectares in size, located south-west of Lichfield at the junction of the A461 Walsall Road with the A5190 Lichfield Road.

The site is now isolated from other areas of heathland, the closest site of any significant size and quality being Gentleshaw Common, located 4.5km to the west.

The problems experienced by this isolation are compounded by the fact that the site is fragmented into three distinct sections by being situated at the road junction.

The recorded rights of the commoner give further evidence of the site's past use. The grazing of animals (common of pasture), and the collection of minerals (common in the soil) and vegetation (estovers) was permitted.

The site has been classified as a county SBI for its biological importance. The site supports a range of heathland habitats typical of the Midlands Plateau, though the site suffers from the same problems as many of the other heathland sites in the area such as afforestation and lack of grazing.

To combat these problems the countryside team actively removes areas of scrub, bracken and bramble growth each year and has instigated a course of cutting and reducing the grass sward level across the site. Such work should enrich the biodiversity value of Pipe Hill Common by allow the relic pockets of heathland to improve expand again.

The conservation work at Pipe Hill is assisted by a large group of enthusiastic volunteers who are led by members of the countryside team on practical conservation work events at the site.

Christian Fields LNR 

Christian Fields is an area of approximately 6.5 hectares, situated to the north of Eastern Avenue on the north western border of the city of Lichfield. The site consists of a mixture of semi-improved grassland, tall ruderals, scrub, woodland and hedgerows. The history of site is long and colourful and its name is indelibly linked to the history of Lichfield.

History 

The site attained its name Christian Fields through being the supposed site of the massacre of 1000 Christians (St Amphibalus and his 999 followers) under the order of the Roman Emperor Diocletian in between 284 and 305AD.

However, this tradition is a development of the medieval fabrications of scholar Geoffrey of Monmouth. The story of the Christian martyrs of Lichfield continued and was exaggerated upon throughout the 12th century when Lichfield became an important location on the pilgrimage route but had largely been forgotten by the 1500s.

However in 1548, Lichfield was incorporated as a borough and its newly created civic body required an image. Anxious to break with the Catholic image of St Chad the corporation elected to use an illustration of the 999 Christian martyrs as its coat of arms and so rekindled public interest in this false history.

In the 17th-century the antiquarian Robert Plot declared that the area, now known as Christian Fields, had been the site of the martyrdom and it has born the name ever since. Needless to say Robert Plot's claim has never been substantiated and no archaeological evidence has ever been presented in its support.

The site does however retain some note worthy archaeological features in the Dimbles that defines the eastern boundary of the site.

The Dimbles is the remains of a Saxon walkway (a dimble is defined by a raised earthen walkway flanked on either side by a ditch) that ran from the village of Elmhurst to the north into Lichfield .

Although the exact date of the Dimbles construction is unknown it can be assumed to of been constructed after the Saxon conquest of the area in 600AD. The pathway is still in use today and is a BOAT (byway open to all traffic).

In more recent history the site was used as a landfill site until it was capped and restored during the late 1980s. The site was then restored for outdoor leisure provision and maintained by Lichfield District Council (LDC) with assistance from the North Lichfield Initiative (NLI), who's environmental group has enacted numerous site works and litter picks over the previous years.

During an on-site consultation day in early 2009 (which was attended by LDC officers, the NLI, member of the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and other groups), local public opinion was gauged and support for transforming Christian Fields into Lichfield's first Local Nature Reserve was found to be very strong.

The local population's desire to see Christian Fields find new life was reflected by the LDC Cabinet when in late 2009 they put their full support behind declaring the site a Lichfield's first Local Nature Reserve and the site was declared in early 2011.

However, even before Christian Fields declaration was completed the work to turn the area into a haven for the local community rich in wildlife began in earnest.

In the winter of 2009-2010 the countryside team led conservation groups and local residence on a number of fun practical conservation days at Christian Fields were overgrown brash and bramble was cut back and thin a sickly hedges were laid (a traditional countryside practice) to improve the habitat.

Volunteer work continued throughout 2010 and 2011 whilst the countryside team and its partners applied for grants and raised funding to improve the infrastructure and habitats on the site. After raising over a hundred thousand pounds, the countryside team and Forest of Mercia started work in mid 2012 on installing over 500 metres of new footpath, new ponds and boardwalks, reinstalling sleeper steps, creating new entrances to the site, installing information panels, installing sculptures, planting a new woodland and seeding to create new wildflower areas. This work will be completed by mid 2013 providing Lichfield with a nature reserve designed, supported and maintained by its local community.

Muckley Corner Common 

Muckley Corner Common, or Wall Butts Common as it is officially known, is an area of former heathland lying south of the A5 Watling Street at Muckley Corner, between Wall and Brownhills, approximately 7.5 hectares in size. The site is divided into two by Cranebrook Lane, which extends from Watling Street towards Stonnall.

Whilst the site has no special designations, such as SSSI or SBI, it is still important local to wildlife due to the diverse array of habitats present on the site.

The Wyrley and Essington Canal ran through the site from 1797 until its closure in 1954. The canal was purchased by a private owner, while the rest of the site is owned by Lichfield District Council.

Sand and gravel extraction on the site was extensive from the 1880s to 1920s, possibly later. The site later became the county ash tip, when the ash from local household fires was dumped.

The old quarry in the south east corner of the site became the county highway's salt store until only recently. The area was affected by an extensive fire approximately 50 years ago, after which it became degraded. Tethered goats and ponies were still grazing on the site up to 45 years ago.

Over time, the former canal route has been filled in with rubbish and plant matter and Japanese knotweed, bracken, nettles and thistles spread across much of the site. These factors contributed to the heathland areas at Muckley Corner shrinking to two patches on the eastern part of the main site.

Scrub clearance works began on the site in 1998 and the relict heathland was enhanced by a turf stripping and Ling heather seeding in the following year. Muckley Corner then entered into a period of extensive re-interest as part of the Tomorrow's Heathland heritage Project.

Whilst this project has now come to an end, the countryside team's management of the site continues up to the present day. The countryside team still works to expand and improve the heathland areas at Muckley Corner through annually removal of birch scrub and treatment of the Bracken which would otherwise smother the fledgling heath.

The extensive Japanese knotweed infestation was also brought under control with the countryside team's programme of treatments starting in 2002. Now only two small area of infestation remain at Muckley Corner and the treatments will continue until those are eradicated.

The woodland areas of Muckley Corner were brought back into active management with selective coppicing to allow light to penetrate the canopy and allow for the regeneration of forest understory plants and flower glades.

This forestry work was supplemented by the planting of hundreds of native trees on selected areas of Muckley Corner to add to the diverse array of habitats already on the site.

This work is aided by the local volunteers called the Friends of Muckley Corner group who work closely with the countryside team to improve the value of the site to both wildlife and people. The Friends of Muckley Corner's constant enthusiasm and frequent turnout to practical conservation events has undoubtedly played a major part in rapid pace of habitat improvements across Muckley Corner in recent years.


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Phone our contact centre: 01543 308 000
District Council House, Frog Lane, Lichfield, Staffs, WS13 6YY

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