After the last Ice Age some 12,000 or more years ago an oak woodland and the typical plants found in such woods began to cover these hills. Today there are very few trees owing to the farming practices over the years. Farmers have felled the trees to encourage a pasture that would feed their animals. The hills are now grazed by sheep (up to 3740 in summer, down to 1314 in winter) and a few wild ponies(20). The heathland is mainly a mixture of heather, bilberry different types of grass, gorse and bracken. Trees do not often regrow where sheep are grazing (they eat the tiny saplings) and so native species are planted here and there by The National Trust to continue the randomly sparse covering. In November 2009 27kgs of Hawthorn berries were gathered by volunteers to send off to a seed merchant and nursery so that in a few years we can plant saplings (protected by wire cages) to replace the hawthorn trees on the hill which mostly date from the 1870s. You can also find patches of white flowered wood sorrel on the hill, a proof that it was once a woodland.
The plateau (the flatish area on the top of the hill, some 500 metres high) contains large areas of heather with bilberry, bracken and gorse occurring in many places. Other large areas are covered by rough acid grassland comprising mainly Sheep's Fescue and Common Bent. We also have areas of U1 designated grassland. The eastern valleys often contain a variety of trees in the lower parts with rough grassland and bilberry dominating the upper sections. Marshy areas and banks near streams contain many small but interesting plants. For example Butterwort and Sundew are two insectivorous plants that need to catch small insects to help feed themselves because the soil and water here is not rich enough. They can trap insects on their sticky leaves and as the insect decays it will nourish the plant through its leaf.
Heather. The main reason for National Trust purchasing the hill - because about half the heather uplands in England have disappeared over the last 50 years. This is mainly due to farming practices. An example of this is to be found at Robin Hood's Butts where the heather was ploughed up to create grass fields for sheep and cattle to graze. Whole heathlands have disappeared around Britain. National Trust now works hard to conserve this heathland. Funny as it may sound, patches of heather are burned here and there each year. Sometimes they are cut instead. Each patch will grow back with bilberry and then stronger heather plants than before. These bushes then create better grazing for sheep and are a better attraction for wildlife. Red Grouse for example prefer the dense cover of younger heather to the long leggy old plants. Not all old plants are burned because we are unsure about what sort of wildlife these too can be good for. We want a mixture and variety of wildlife to flourish on the hill (biodiversity). A burned site would be reburned after about 15 years. 142 hectares have been cut or burned in the last 10 years. The improvements can already be seen in our conservation work. Around 25% of heather shoots flowered in 1997, in 2008 it was around 90%. The amount of heather considered to be in poor condition has gone from around 60% in 1998 to less than 10% in 2009.
Bilberry. Is locally called wimberry. It only grows ankle high and the leaves can have a red tinge. Little berries grow on the plant and these can still be pcked in late summer just as they have been in days gone by, to eat raw or make into jam, pies or wine. Delicious!. They were also once used for their dye, colouring the rough woollen blankets once made in Carding Mill Valley (the factory is now converted into the block of flats).
Gorse. These are the larger, dark green prickly bushes that cover some hillsides. Their yellow flowers have an almond scent. There are two types of bush. European Gorse and Western Gorse, flowering at different times. Sometimes you may be lucky enough to see Green Hairstreak butterflies sitting on their highest branch. When you look up at the south facing slope in lower Carding Mill Valley, you can see how the bushes have been puposely burned to regenerate younger bushes. There are places too where they have been cut to prevent them taking over important grassland areas.
Bracken. Over half the hill is covered by bracken and it its spread is a problem. This is the plant that looks like ferns and can grow as tall as you, so it can shade out most of the other plants on the hill and kill them off! 734 hectares have been sprayed by helicopter over the past ten years and 400 ha cut. The cut bracken has been used to make compost and is sold at our Carding Mill shop. We encourage gardeners to use this to condition their soil with instead of peat based materials. Peat moorlands such as those in Ireland are a valuable habitat that we want to also see conserved.
The Forestry Commission has a large plantation of conifers at the southern end of Long Mynd.
Heather Survey 2010
View the results of the Long Mynd Heather Survey 2010