The Welsh Marches

A unique patchwork of fields rolls over the valleys around Church Stoke. The farms are mixed; winter wheat, rye grass silage fields, and pastures grazed by sheep, and dairy and beef cattle, but the overriding impression is of fields of green. The intensive agriculture means the fields no longer hold many curlews and lapwings but the hedgerows and woodlands are full of birds; warblers, tits and where there are old oaks and ashes, redstarts. Narrow valleys are wooded with deeply shaded streams; here spotted flycatchers sally for insects. Conifer plantations also support a rich diversity including wood warblers under the mature stands and willow tits in clear fells that are colonised by birches and willows.

Adjacent to Roundton Hill, Brithdir and Cwm Mawr SSSI holds flower rich grasslands. A remnant of the way agriculture was done across the hills and uplands prior to the improvement of pastures by such measures as draining the wet corners, the addition of nitrogen and reseeding with rye-grass. The meadows are full of buttercups, betony and devil’s bit scabious, while pink and white spotted orchids, great burnet and ragged robin fill the wetter flushes. In late June, the small fields at the bottom of the valley are both stunning and understated. In the thick hedges of hazel and hawthorn, bullfinches pipe quietly and chiffchaffs call loudly. On a drier slope of spreading bramble and patches acid grassland filled with heath bedstraw and thyme, dark green fritillaries are emerging and warming themselves under the weak sun.

A trip west to Cors Caron and the tiny rhos pastures at Fulbrook Mill finds just a single tatty marsh fritillary but also butterwort in the base rich flushes and bog bean, marsh cinquefoil and bog asphodel in acid flushes.

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