A large volcanic border hill overlooking Shropshire and Montgomeryshire, famed for its rare and interesting flora and the unusual mix of calcicolous and calcifugous plants on the cliff ledges. The botanist George Claridge Druce proposed the site to the SPNR as containing scarce plants and being of special geological interest.
(Above) the original SPNR survey documents for Craig Breidden
The unusual mix of plants at Craig Breidden results from the chemical properties of the dolerite rock and the veins of calcite and other minerals running through it. The hill remains in the ownership of a private estate, but the large part of Craig Breidden is occupied by a large multinational aggregates company and a vast quarry has removed significant part of the hill and its natural crags. The product is some of the highest quality road stone in the country.
The northern wooded crags and summit grassland is leased from the estate by the Forestry Commission. Critically, the most important west and south crags of Craig Breidden (within the active quarry site) were safeguarded from quarrying in the 1977 through a section 52 legal agreement, which prevented these areas from being quarried. Despite whole of the hill being first notified as an SSSI in 1953, the quarrying permissions predate this by 7 years, and quarrying continues. A recent review of the mineral planning conditions under which the quarry operates has ensured that heavy duty fencing is in place to reduce the risk of rocks and debris showering down on the crags damaging the vegetation, as the quarry gets closer to these areas. Other conditions have been incorporated to the permission to help safeguard the nationally important flora and fauna as the quarry expands towards its final footprint.
Under the current development plan a further 17 million tonnes of rock is still to be won, which will likely see the quarry remain for approximately another 30 years. It must be said that certain species have done badly from the quarrying – The moss Bartramia stricta is thought to have been lost for example – whereas others may well be doing well out of the regular disturbance of the site – the endemic shaggy mouse-ear hawkweed Pilosella peleteriana sbsp. peleteriana seems to colonise newly exposed areas fairly quickly. The three rarities often cited as Breidden’s specialities – Rock cinquefoil Potentilla rupestris, Spiked speedwell Veronica spicata and sticky catchfly Lychnis viscaria remain as native populations on the crags, albeit in lower numbers and tighter distribution than were known historically. That said, an equally if not more significant impact on the rare plants (particularly Potentilla rupestris) was not the quarrying, but overcollecting by zealous botanical collectors.
The recently taxonomic split of whitebeam trees has resulted in Sorbus stirtoniana being described from the site – it is thought endemic to Breidden. Despite the long standing natural history interest of the site, Craig Breidden still retains a sense of the unexplored, with new findings being recorded in recent years, including the moss Schistidium helveticum (new to Wales), clustered clover Trifolium glomeratum and locally uncommon plants such as hairy violet Viola hirta. The may be due to the access issues surrounding the working quarry, or just the inaccessibility of some of the crags.
The invertebrate fauna of the hill has yet to be explored in any real detail. CCW work closely with the quarry company to achieve what gains we can, and recent work to remove trees from the crags has created more sunlit conditions for the notable plants as well as providing good habitat for populations of Grayling and Dingy skipper butterfly. More works are needed to remove the Scot’s pine from the remnant natural cliffs to reduce shading and pine needle litter and CCW are working closely with the local authority and the quarry company to attempt to achieve this. The above organisations are also working collectively to ensure that an appropriate restoration and aftercare plan is in place for the quarried areas of the hill.
(Thanks to Alastair Hotchkiss at CCW for the information on Craig Breidden)