Llanymynech Hill Nature Reserve
For many years Llanymynech rocks was an active quarry producing lime which was used to increase fertility on farmland. When quarrying ceased, the quarry floor and spoil heaps were bare limestone with no soil or vegetation.
Over time a thin layer of soil has developed allowing plants to slowly colonise the area.
The soil remains thin and lime rich and this limits growth of more vigorous plants particularly grasses. This provides an ideal opportunity for less competitive plants and wild flowers to flourish creating the varied and colourful grassland of today.
The greatest botanical treasures are found in the short grassland and old spoil heaps directly beneath the cliff. Bee and Pyramidal Orchids grow here, along with the bright yellow Rock-rose and a whole herb garden of aromatic herbs – Thyme, Marjoram and Wild Basil.
Bee Orchid – Photo Christine Corfield
Llanymynech Rocks is home to an array of butterflies, each of which depends upon a specific food plant for its survival. These plants have thrived in the thin quarry soils, but management is needed to maintain the conditions which allow both the plants and the butterflies to flourish.
The old quarries were designated a nature reserve nearly 50 years ago, shared between the Shropshire and Montgomery Wildlife Trusts. Today, much of it is woodland, with ash trees twined in Wild Clematis, or Old Man’s Beard, as it is also known, on account of the smoky wreaths of seed-heads that turn bushes and trees frosty white here in autumn.
Managing The Site
Scrub and woody plants are beginning to encroach into the grassland. Careful management is needed in order to maintain the conditions which help to make this a special place.
In areas where scrub has developed some of it has been cut back creating open glades which are an ideal habitat for violets, the food plant of the Pearl bordered Fritillary
Scrub Clearance at Llynclys Common – Photo Tim Walter
Coppicing at Llanymynech Rocks
Cutting down a small area of trees each year allows the light to reach the woodland floor. This benefits the wildflowers and the numerous insects and other wildlife that depend on these flowers. As the trees grow back, different species will benefit such as nesting birds. Many woodlands used to be managed on a coppice cycle/rotation as we used the timber products such as materials for hedging, bean-poles, fencing, charcoal and firewood. As we became less reliant on woodland products, coppicing became less frequently practiced and the wildlife that thrived in coppiced woodland declined.
A classic example is the Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterfly which was re-introduced to Llanymynech Rocks (Welsh side) about 10 years ago. This was historically a butterfly of woodland coppice but then moved out into Bracken covered hillsides as the woodland habitats declined.
The Bracken canopy simulates the woodland canopy in that it provides just the right sort of cover for the violets (which the caterpillars feed on) and the dead Bracken litter provides protection for the over-wintering caterpillars (which used leaf litter in the woodlands). This species has declined by more than 70% in the UK in the last 40 years. By coppicing the woodland on a cycle between the inclines at Llanymynech, we are creating a suitable habitat for the Pearl-bordered Fritillary, should the population on the Welsh side thrive and expand.
The most efficient, natural and effective way to maintain the open grassland habitats is by grazing with livestock. For a number of years, the reserve was grazed by SWT’s flock of Hebridean Sheep. However, owing to the level of dog walking on the site, the sheep spent too much time up on the rocks (which became over-grazed) and not enough time in the lower areas (which were under-grazed). SWT is currently trialling alternatives such as a small number of rare breed cattle.
Dexter Cattle trialled during winter 2018-19
4 Week Old Peregrine Chicks – Photo Jeff Marais
The high cliffs provide safe nesting sites for a number of birds including jackdaws and swifts and most notably a pair of Peregrine Falcons.
The more developed woodland further down the hill is home to many common woodland birds such as Blue Tit and Great Tit and this will be maintained and managed to help the native trees and wildlife flourish.
Much of the scrub cutting and removal and working to keep the open areas of grassland which maintain the reserve is done by volunteers. These include wardens who are dedicated to a particular site and a team of people who work in the area regularly.
The Trust has a number of volunteering opportunities across the county. We have people devoted to particular reserves and a number of regional work parties who carry out tasks including hay cutting, coppicing, stile and wall construction. We also have various activities at our headquarters in Shrewsbury.