WALKERS have been left angry and saddened at work being undertaken on the Clent Hills that has left the beauty spot looking like a building site.

The National Trust has fenced off a large section of grassland on top of the hills, on the Adam’s Hill side, diverting walkers to paths that have become mudslides following heavy rainfalls.

Diggers have also been seen on the hills and have churned up an area that, in the springtime, turns into a sea of bluebells.

Halesowen News: Digger pictured on the Clent Hills on January 8Digger pictured on the Clent Hills on January 8 (Image: Bev Holder / Newsquest)

The trust says it is part of a conservation project to help reverse the erosion of acid grassland and increase habitat for wildlife, but hikers and dog walkers have told of their shock and sadness at seeing the changes at the beauty spot.

Concerned nature lover Susan Jones, from Belbroughton, said the work has left the beauty spot looking like a “construction site” and that walking up from Adam’s Hill during the Christmas break “became very treacherous as the path there was pure mud, lots of people were slipping”.

She added: “I've never seen it so unsafe. The new fencing is also very unsightly and again meant people had to struggle through the mud. It's a shame so much landscaping is being done to our hills. We feel like our hills have been taken off us, excessively fenced, managed and controlled.

“People come here to see nature, not fences. Why hasn’t the trust put up information panels about the work?”

Halesowen News: Paths have become very muddy as walkers have been prevented from deviating onto the grassPaths have become very muddy as walkers have been prevented from deviating onto the grass (Image: Bev Holder / Newsquest)

Dog walker Bethany Venross, from Hagley, said she was concerned about the impact of the work on wildlife, and she added: “It’s really sad. I feel like they’re trying to confine us to a small area.”

A poster on the trust’s Facebook page for Clent Hills said: “What on earth is going on with the newly fenced-off enclosure on The Fountain pub side of Clent? It has forced everyone on to the same path and created a muddy swamp.”

A spokesperson for the National Trust said of the situation: “We have started a conservation project at Clent Hills, from the toposcope down towards Adams Hill, to help reverse the erosion of the acid grassland and increase habitat for wildlife.

“As part of the project, we are planting new hedgerow in this location. This will be a mix of hawthorn and berry hedges, providing food as well as homes for wildlife such as birds and other pollinators. The first step has been to install a fence, which will protect the hedgerow as it establishes, and over the next few weeks we’ll start to plant hedgerow along the fence line. “Once the hedgerow is established, the fence frame will be removed.”

The trust said improving the grassland and hedging will help to control water drainage off the hill, encouraging it towards ponds and reservoirs, rather than the village, and the spokesperson added: “It’s important for visitors keep to the footpaths and bridleways, so the grassland is not eroded. We have made improvements to the pathway, however, the recent heavy rainfall has created a lot of mud. Once the ground has chance to dry, the mud will clear.”

Bluebell walks are planned in the spring, the trust said, and in preparation the ranger team has been clearing away low shrubs to help the bluebells grow.

Halesowen News: The area at Clent Hills known for its bluebells in the springThe area at Clent Hills known for its bluebells in the spring (Image: Bev Holder / Newsquest)

The trust’s spokesperson said: “This clearing or ‘flailing’ is done to mimic grazing, which would naturally remove shrubs to make space for the bluebells to spread.

“We appreciate interest and feedback from our visitors, and we’re preparing some on-site signage that will provide more information about the conservation work taking place. We thank all visitors for their patience and understanding while the work is being carried out.”

Councillor Karen May, Worcestershire county councillor for the Clent Hills division and cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: “We all love the Clent Hills and want to see them preserved and enhanced for future generations.”