Several hundred ancient holly trees can be found scattered on the north-east edge of the Stiperstones. Some are thought to be three or four centuries old; perhaps no great age for an oak, but amazingly long-lived for holly. Cracked and gnarled, each of these trees has developed highly individual characteristics over their long lives.
You might wonder how these trees have lived to such a ripe old age, especially somewhere as exposed as the Stiperstones. The answer lies in the traditional tree management practice of pollarding. Although the Stiperstones is renowned for its wildness, it also has a long history of people living on its heath and hillsides, attracted here by the lead mining industry. Work in the mines did not deliver the best of incomes and people kept livestock to help feed their families. And when the snows came in winter, holly provided a wonderful source of winter fodder - nutritious and evergreen. The leaves above browsing level lack prickles, making them perfectly palatable to a hungry cow. The right to cut holly is mentioned in local records dating back to the 16th century.
The survival of the Stiperstones hollies is unique. While there is evidence that holly pollarding was practiced in other areas from the Pennines to Hampshire, the holly forests have all but vanished. When turnips replaced holly as winter fodder, the old trees were no longer valued. Most were grubbed up; others lost through neglect.
The Hollies is part of the Stiperstones SSSI and is also right next to our own Brook Vessons nature reserve, it is very much part of this ancient, wild landscape.
Listen to the story of The Hollies
Layers of history are peeled back in this 15-minute audio about the Trust's nature reserve on The Stiperstones. Find out about its ancient rocks, the mining industry that thrived on its rich veins of lead, silver and zinc and the people who lived here. Find out about the ancient holly trees growing here and how cattle and winter thrushes have influenced the trees we see today.
The story is narrated by Genevieve Tudor of BBC Radio Shropshire, with contributions from John Box, Tony and Sybil Cook, Liz Etheridge, John Hughes, George Peterken, Tom Wall and Andrew Wood. It was recorded by John Harding and directed by Dan Box
One of the best ways to get around the Stiperstones is to use the Shropshire Hills Shuttle bus. The Shuttle stops at Snailbeach Village Hall car park.
The Shuttles are 16-seater mini-buses which provide easy access into the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for walking, sightseeing, pub lunches, picnics and more. They operate every weekend and Bank Holiday Monday from Easter to September. For more information including Shuttle routes, timetables, ticket prices and walks from the Shuttles see www.shropshirehillsshuttles.co.uk.
Directions: From Shrewsbury follow the A488 through Minsterley. Turn left to Snailbeach. At the brow of the hill is a car park. Leave your car here and walk up the road above left, past the old leadmine buildings and up a steep hill. At the top, take a track to your left which leads you to Lord's Hill chapel. Go through the gate, following the right fork of the track. The Hollies is on your left.
Ownership: Shropshire Wildlife Trust (2008)
Postcode: SY5 0NS
Grid ref: SJ 383 016