Woolhope Dome Project

The Woolhope Dome Project was a pioneering concept in Herefordshire, and was one of 15 pilot projects in the UK, that sought to bring about large-scale biodiversity gains at the landscape level. The project strived to support the Woolhope Dome’s special landscape by combining wildlife gains with socio-economic interests.

The Dome is an area of distinct hills to the south-east of Hereford. A predominantly pastoral and wooded landscape, part of it lies within the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The area - more than 5000 hectares - takes in the parishes of Brockhampton, Dormington & Mordiford, Fownhope, How Caple, Much Marcle, Pixley, Putley, Tarrington, and of course Woolhope itself.

 

The Dome has a unique geological background and for the most part, its eroded hills and valleys have not been intensively farmed. As a consequence, the Dome is a rich mosaic of ancient oak and mixed woodlands, species-rich hedgerows, wildflower meadows, traditional orchards and streams, all supporting a wealth of wildlife.

Ahead of mainstream thinking, the project operated successfully for more than four years, working both directly and with key partners, farmers, and smallholders to help maintain and restore this high density of important habitats. The project looked at protecting existing high value areas by introducing suitable habitat management, and then developing links and corridors to join these prime habitat areas, allowing species to move and spread.

With funding from the Herefordshire Rivers Leader + programme, Natural England, the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and Herefordshire Nature Trust, the project was intended to be used as an example of best practice in other areas with similar high biodiversity value.

The project’s partnership approach involved landowners and managers, smallholders, rural business owners and members of the community by providing information, expertise, advice, guidance, facilitation and incentives. Benefits have been achieved for the local economy and ecology by focusing on linking local produce, producers and consumers and encouraging environmentally friendly production methods. Some of the woodlands within the area are now better managed, with charcoal production and timber sales from them increasing, and traditional breeds introduced to graze key grassland sites within the area are marketed for their meat or as pedigree breeding stock.

Exploring the Woolhope Dome

The project also fostered sympathetic tourism opportunities, making the most of the area’s natural attractions and its popularity as a walking destination. For example, it has supported the Fownhope Residents Association in the production of three walking leaflets “Woolhope Dome Walks” 

You can download these from our Wildlife Walks page.

 

 

 

Other activities included:

  • A socio-economic scoping study of the Woolhope Dome to identify potential new markets and skills gaps
  • Training days and individual assistance for Rural Enterprise and SMEs
  • Workshops on Orchard, Woodland and Grassland management
  • Training days for the local farming community including Cross compliance, Environmental Stewardship and Waste regulations
  • Establishment of a Deer Management Group, with training for stalkers and woodland owners

The range of topics covered by training and workshops, from woodland grants and environmental stewardship schemes, orchard management and cider making, to renewable energy, shows the breadth of issues the project was dealing with.

Woolhope Dome Local Food and Craft Market

To support rural enterprise, promote local produce – particularly that of rare breeds - and to keep the area thriving, the project also worked with local producers and craftspeople to develop a Woolhope Dome Local Food and Craft Market. 

Working with Farmers and Landowners

The project has also tried to keep the farming community up to date with increasing and ever changing grant funding.

As well as giving land management advice and practical help to landowners, the project set up a Natural England Sheep and Wildlife Enhancement Scheme (SWES) across 50 hectares of species rich grassland. The SWES provided payments for landowners for work such as stock proof fencing and water supplies to be installed, to allow grazing to occur. It has also provided payments to enable a contracted grazier to buy-in Dexter cattle for conservation grazing on valuable grassland sites on the Dome. It continues to look for further suitable sites that will benefit from this. Dexters are widely used by many Wildlife Trusts throughout the country for reserve management, as they are ideally suited for tackling coarse grasses and scrub, and have a low impact on delicate sites.

The project also secured funding to assist in the sustainable management of priority orchard sites within the area. Grants were available for fencing and to help with orchard restoration and wild flower meadow creation. Volunteer conservation tasks have involved work parties in clearing scrub on sites on the Dome.

Woolhope Dome Green Directory

Another initiative was the publication of the Woolhope Dome Green Directory, a useful guide to managing land and living in an environmentally friendly way. Full of helpful contacts for those responsible for the Woolhope Dome’s grassland, orchards, and woodland, plus information about land management grants, it also promoted ways of supporting local food producers and embracing renewable energy.

 

This project was part-financed by the European Union (EAGGF) and DEFRA through the Herefordshire Rivers LEADER+ Programme.