The rich and varied landscapes of the Shropshire Hills, including its diverse woodlands, low intensity farmland and extensive upland heaths, make the area a great place to watch wildlife. Indeed, there are no fewer than 126 Sites of Special Scientific Interest within the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. More than ten per cent of the AONB has some additional form of landscape recognition and the Stiperstones and Hollies are a European Special Area of Conservation.
This both reflects and supports the area’s conservation successes, including the return of significant numbers of red kite and very exciting discovery of England’s first fully evidence colony of elusive pine martens.
Among the smaller animals that thrive here are dormice – found in the Clun Valley woodlands, Hope Valley and Wenlock Edge – great crested newts, in the many ponds and butterflies, including grayling, and small pearl-bordered fritillary.
The uplands and farmland are home to a variety of moorland and river birds, including curlews, dippers, snipe and lapwing, but it is the birds of prey that are perhaps most to be celebrated.
At the top of the list is the red kite, which returned to the area in 2005, after 130 years. These days it’s rare to take a walk the Hills without seeing this graceful bird, with its distinctive triangular tail, soaring in thermals above you. Other successes include the hobby, the goshawk, and peregrine falcon, all of which have healthy numbers of breeding pairs in the area.
But the most exciting success story is that of the pine marten, long believed to be extinct throughout England. The first confirmed sightings in England for more than a century of this quite large, but shy nocturnal predator came when an amateur naturalist captured this footage on night vision cameras. Additional motion footage was captured subsequently by Shropshire Wildlife Trust around the Trust’s nature reserve at Clunton Coppice, in the Clun Valley.
The chances of actually seeing a pine marten may be fairly slim, but you may well catch sight or roe or muntjac deer, or badgers.
These reserves are also two top locations for listening to the dawn chorus in April and May, and Clunton in particular is one of the best places to listen out for wood warblers when they begin to arrive back in the UK in the Spring.