An outstanding landscape

Why are we an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty?

Cannock Chase AONB was designated in 1958 for the natural beauty of its elevated heaths, forests and historic parklands, presenting an unspoilt wilderness that contrasts with the surrounding built-up conurbations of the West Midlands. At just 26 sq miles / 68 sq kilometres, it is the smallest mainland AONB in England. 

The natural beauty of the AONB can be expressed as the relationship between the area’s geology, landform, soils, climate, wildlife and ecology on the one hand, and its rich history of human settlement and land use, archaeology, buildings, cultural associations, and the people who live in it, past and present on the other. It is this relationship between people and place which makes the area distinctive and valued. 

The special qualities of Cannock Chase are described below beside the factors of natural beauty that are set out in Natural England’s Guidance for assessing landscapes for designation as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England. 

A measure of the physical state or condition of the landscape.

A largely intact landscape, particularly in its heathland and wood pasture, providing a historical and spatial continuity of scale, openness, semi-natural land cover, public ownership and access which is in marked contrast to the more urban and fragmented landscapes that surround it. 

The extent to which the landscape appeals to the senses (primarily, but not only, the visual senses).

A varied landscapeof heathland, woodland, wood pasture, parkland, mixed pastoral and arable farmland and traditional farmsteads. The large blocks of heathland and woodland in the centre of the AONB contrast with the smaller scale farmed countryside, bisected by thick hedgerows and narrow lanes, around its fringes.  

A domed plateau landform, created by ancient faulting and folding of the rocks, which has been eroded by rivers and streams, particularly on its northern edge by the River Trent. 

Inspiring views, both to the elevated plateau of the Chase from surrounding areas and from the high ground of the Chase across the farmed vales and countryside of the Midlands. 

The degree to which relatively wild character and tranquillity can be perceived in the landscape.

A haven of tranquillity and wildness, compared to the busy towns and roads that surround it, providing popular spaces for informal recreation such as Marquis Drive and Birches Valley, as well as less visited spots for quiet contemplation and watching nature. 

The influence of natural heritage on the perception of the natural beauty of the area. Natural heritage includes flora, fauna, geological and physiographical features.

An underlying geology of red sandstone containing sand-cemented pebbles that was formed 220 million years ago, over coal measures formed 300 million years ago. This geology has contributed to the economic prosperity of the area, through a long history of coal mining (now finished) and quarrying (which continues).

Rivers, wetlands and waterways, including the Trent and Sow rivers, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal and the spring-fed mires and wet heaths of the Sherbrook and Oldacre Valleys.

Ancient broadleaved woodland and wood pastures such as Brocton Coppice, containing veteran oak trees, woodland flowers, birds, bats and insects.

Wildlife species which are nationally rare, protected and/or strongly associated with the Chase. These include birds such as the nightjar and woodlark, reptiles such as adder and common lizard, plants such as Cannock Chase berry, invertebrates such as the small pearl-bordered fritillary and bog bush-cricket, and the herds of deer which are recognised as the emblem of the Chase.

The influence of cultural heritage on the perception of natural beauty of the area and the degree to which associations with particular people, artists, writers or events in history contribute to such perception.

A rich historywhose layers in the landscape can be experienced first-hand, including at the Iron Age Hillfort at Castle Ring; the remnants of a medieval hunting landscape; historic houses and parkland; historic field patterns; the rich heritage of iron and glass working and coal mining; the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal; and military camps and cemeteries from the two World Wars.  

Historic parkland, ornamental landscapes, and the relationships between them, often associated with fine houses and landed estates, such as those at ShugboroughBeaudesertTeddesley, Wolseley and Hatherton. 

Common land, which has an ancient history providing grazing for local farms and smallholdings, including the commons of Cannock Chase, Haywood Warren, Brindley Heath, Penkridge Bank, Shoal Hill and Gentleshaw. 

These apply to public understanding and enjoyment of natural beauty.

Local communities and interest groups who cherish and help care for the Chase and its designated status.  

A network of well-maintained rides and paths through woodland and heathland providing opportunities for stimulating exercise and exploration. 

Understanding why the Chase is so special and the reasons for its designation, is central to ensuring it is looked after and continues to be special for generations to come. 

You can find out more about the special qualities of Cannock Chase AONB in our latest State of the AONB Report. 

More information