Where the Woozle wasn't
Wildlife in the Stiperstones Area

The wildlife on the Stiperstones is allegedly very diverse ranging from lizards to Skylarks, and Emperor Moths to wild ponies. Unfortunately I have to take other people's word for most of these. Wildlife watching is something that requires time, patience and silence. For me the hills are all about stomping around with an oversize rather ineffective retriever at my side. I can recognise the sound of a squirrel disappearing into the undergrowth, a grouse flapping its ridiculously stubby wings or a grumpy badger growling from under the hedge. But these are all heard and almost never seen.

During the summer months the hills are used as common grazing land by several of the local farmers. Both sheep and cows wander over the hillside cropping the whinberries, heather and grass. Whilst Highland Cattle and Shetland ponies often inhabit some of the fields adjoining the area. Under their “Back to Purple” campaign, Natural England are using Exmoor ponies and Hebridean sheep to help turn what was until recently coniferous plantation forest back into heather clad heathland.

In the late autumn the farm animals return home and the most commonly spotted animal on the Stiperstones is the escaped pheasant on the run. Born and raised in captivity these bird brained convicts have the trained reflexes of a coiled sloth coupled with the survival instincts of the dodo. They are known for hurling themselves either at passing cars, or into the jaws of unsuspecting dogs whilst making fabulous helicopter sound effects. They do however make great winter fodder for the foxes which gives the village chicken coups a welcome respite.

The one time I can vouch for animal activity is when walking in the snow. The tracks of small animals criss-cross the fields and woodland paths providing the dog owner with some insight as to their pets erratic behaviour when they manically quarter the ground unsure of which animal to chase first. In the morning the tracks of mouse, shrew, rabbit and hare can all be seen, often shadowed by the tracks of a keenly hunting fox! Unfortunately I've never found tracks for any big cat however the ones I once mistook for a werewolf ended up belonging to a friends golden retriever with ridiculously oversized feet!

At dusk the dingles are often visited by bats who nest in the abandoned mine shafts which pepper this area, and through the moonlit nights the werewolves which live in the hedgerows between the Stiperstones Inn and the Blackhole keep travellers company as they wend their way home (well what else could be making all those strange noises?). For more information please visit the Natural England and Shropshire Wildlife Trust websites.

Food for Free!

The Shropshire hills produce a plentiful crop of wild berries every year. The best known is the whinberry. Growing wild across the Stiperstones these small purple berries have long been a key factor in the local economy. The berries taste great fresh and if you manage to bring any home with you they are wonderful in pies and crumbles and we also use them to make jams, coulis, ice-cream etc. The Whinberry crop ripens in July and is plentiful throughout August, the berries are quiet hardy however and it is common to find a few late berries through to the end of December.

The second crop on the Stiperstones hills are mountain cranberries or Lingonberries. These hard red berries ripen in November and whilst they are far less abundant than the Whinberry they can be gathered to make rich sauces.

Additional wild fruits growing along the paths include Alpine Strawberries, sweet Wild Raspberries and succulent Blackberries. Sloe Berries grow in many of the old overgrown hedgerows and a few Damson trees still remain in some of the older gardens attached to the tumbledown cottages dotted around the old mine sites.

According to many sources the ripe Rowan Berries which grow all over the lower slopes of the hills are edible, but I've tried several times with different recipes and all I can say is that they don't kill you and apart from a slight gag reflex they don't even seem to have any harmful side-effects. On the subject of side effects, there are many mushrooms growing over the hill but you'll need a much more thorough guide to these if you wish to forage for fungi.

In the later months there are crab apple trees on the lower slopes of the dingles which can have good crops, and if you get lucky you might even manage to gather a few hazelnuts before the squirrels hide them all. With all of this free food available on your walk, it is important to remember that the sheep and cattle are off limits, even if you could squeeze one into your backpack!