Our long-term aim is to ensure the Country Park remains as a diverse and ecologically rich landscape available for all to enjoy, consisting of areas of heathland with scattered scrub and trees merging into mature woodland.
Following the success of the lottery 'Saving Cannock Chase' project, we are now reviewing the management of the Country Park with a view to establishing a long term and sustainable plan for its future. The wider Cannock Chase AONB Management Plan highlighted the need for further research into sustainable management methods, including that of grazing. These results, along with consultation with local people, will lead to the preparation of a new Country Park Management Plan.
Cannock Chase has been subject to some form of 'management' since at least Domesday times, when it consisted of vast areas of forest, grassland and land referred to as waste, much of which was heathland. The forest was used for hunting game and timber production, whilst open areas were either cultivated or grazed by livestock.
The subsequent fate of the site rested on human activities, which included the loss of much of these areas to mineral winning, the iron industry, agriculture and development. Grazing continued on the remaining open areas however, expanding into areas of forest as they were cleared. Together with the activities of the commoners and Lord of the Manor, grazing with cattle and sheep helped create and sustain the heathland landscape of the Chase. In the 1920's, there was a return of significant areas of woodland in the form of conifer plantations, resulting in the mix of open heath, trees and forest that survive today.
Grazing played a crucial role in supporting local communities around the Chase until the Great War. Used for military training and encampment during this and the following World War, all pastoral activities on the Chase appeared to cease, with the last known record of the now extinct Cannock Grey Face sheep being around 1904. The advent of the forest plantations after this time changed the face of the landscape once again, with two thirds of the open land being replanted.
Parts of the Chase war camps continued to be used by the local communities long after the end of both wars. A large proportion of the Chase had become used by local people for informal access, and in 1957 the Earl of Lichfield granted the remaining areas of open land in his possession to Staffordshire County Council, to manage for nature conservation or public access. From this time, we have attempted to employ the most appropriate and up to date management practices for the benefit of both wildlife and people.
The Need for Management
Recognition of the value of heathland nationally has led to much research, along with sound management approaches to its conservation. We have been able to benefit from this wealth of experience from other conservation bodies and land managers, and also been undertaking surveys and monitoring key habitats and species on the Country Park to ensure best practice is employed. Conservation management on the Country Park began on a small scale, but it became clear that more effort would be needed if we were to maintain these valuable wildlife habitats. Aerial photographs taken in 1964, compared to more recent pictures, indicated a dramatic change in the nature of the remaining open areas, where heathland and grassland were giving way under the steady march of invading scrub, trees and bracken.
With more than ten times the area of woodland to heathland in the county there were already good reasons for protecting remaining open heath. The designation of much of Cannock Chase Country Park as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1987 made the conservation of its wildlife habitats even more imperative. The subsequent designation of most of the same area as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in 2005 meant it was now also recognised internationally for its rare heathland habitats.
Under the recent Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000, local authorities owning SSSIs have a new statutory duty to further the nature conservation interests of these sites, guided by a series of conservation objectives set by English Nature. Local authorities also have a duty to protect and conserve sites of European importance, such as SACs. As much of the Cannock Chase Country Park is both SSSI and SAC, we are continually looking at ways to conserve and enhance this area, including undertaking a number of practical management tasks.
Though the wildlife interest of Cannock Chase is of special importance to us, our management must take account of other key interests. These include the history and archaeology of the Chase, its important landscape appeal and its amenity value. Work to improve access and public amenities has run in parallel with conservation tasks, whilst landscape impacts are regularly assessed and monitored during the progress of heathland restoration works.
The Land Management Options page|| lists a range of operations undertaken in recent years and additional options for sustainable management that could be considered in the future.