Ecology

The mid Cheshire Sandstone Ridge area contains a variety of habitats reflecting the geological evolution and human habitation over the last 7000 years. The combination of Triassic Keuper sandstones, waterstones and marls and Bunter sandstones covered by a complex series of glacial deposits of boulder clay, sands and gravels at lower altitudes and on the gentler slopes produces a complex pattern of soils and vegetation. The wooded sandstone hills, meres and mosses, heaths, areas of extractive industry and recreation, set within a matrix of intensively productive farmland, support a fragile and vulnerable wealth of different types of wildlife habitats, some of which are of national and international importance.

The key characteristics of the specific ridge landscape tract are:

•  The sandstone ridge itself with outcrops and upstanding bluffs of over 100m, forming a distinctive landmark and providing spectacular long distance views across Cheshire and beyond towards Wales, the Peak District and Shropshire

•  High density woodland compared with the rest of Cheshire comprising ancient woodland and post medieval conifer plantations

•  The largest areas of surviving lowland heath in Cheshire

•  Low density dispersed farms

•  Sandstone buildings, boundary walls and sunken lanes

Woodland Heritage

The Sandstone Ridge is one of the most wooded parts of Cheshire with approximately 2530ha of woodland, 11.5% of the land area. This compares to 5-6% for the county as a whole. The woodlands in the area include concentrations of ancient semi-natural woodland, secondary semi-natural woodland and recent plantations.

Meres and mosses heritage

The meres and mosses of Cheshire form an internationally important series of open water and peatland sites. Most are of glacial origin having developed in natural depressions in the glacial drift left by receding ice sheets. The vegetation of the meres includes beds of floating pondweeds and water lilies, bands of marginal reeds and wet woodland.

The main concentration of remnant peatlands and small meres lies to the east side of the Ridge around Delamere, mostly in Forestry Commission management, with a smaller number of predominately modified meres and mosses to the south-east of Beeston.

Ecological surveys completed by the Habitats and Hillforts Project are available to be downloaded.

Heathland and acid grassland heritage

The vast majority of the grassland found along the Ridge is now species poor “improved” grassland which has been modified by extensive fertiliser use and reseeding. “Unimproved” (species-rich) grasslands, unaffected by agricultural improvement, are rare and threatened both nationally and locally.

Remnant acid grassland is extremely scattered and usually only survives as small patches.

There is one significant area of lowland heath remaining in the area at Bickerton Hill. The site is designated as a SSSI with lowland heath vegetation covering approximately 20ha. Recent management at Bickerton Hill by the National Trust, through the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, has increased areas of open heathland on the top of the hill and some areas of the scarp slope. Vegetation of ling, wavy-hair grass and gorse are maintained through grazing.

The long term aim is to expand the heathland area by returning a 10 acre field from a clover dominated improved grassland to acid grassland/lowland heathland, contiguous with the surrounding Bickerton Hill SSSI.

Field boundaries

Traditional field boundaries, in the form of sandstone walls and hedgerows, have been identified in the Landscape Strategy as an important landscape feature in the LPS area forming field boundaries to both agricultural land and woodland. Both features have suffered from gradual loss and a lack of management.

Feature habitat sites and habitat projects within the Sandstone Ridge include:

•  Helsby
•  Woodhouse
•  Kelsborrow
•  Eddisbury `
•  Beeston
•  Maiden Castle
•  Boothsdale Grassland Project
•  Meres and Mosses 2012
•  Peckforton Mere Project
  The Meres and Mosses of Delamere