When people talk about The Wrekin being a ‘double hill’ or having a ‘twin peak’ the smaller of the two landmarks they are probably referring to is in fact a separate entity altogether. Shoehorned between Wellington and its larger sibling, the origins of The Ercall lie in the same cataclysmic period of mountain building that featured so prominently in the creation of its near neighbour some 542 to 635 million years ago.
Like The Wrekin, The Ercall has a complex geological profile, comprising outcrops of igneous Ercall Granophyre, Wrekin Quartzite and windblown sedimentary sandstone that formed in ancient shallow seas long ago. On the hilltop itself, the thin soils overlying these strongly acidic and coarse-grained rocks have potential for the same heather and bilberry dominated lowland heath found on The Wrekin. However, there are only a few fragments of this precious habitat to be found here and it has largely been overtaken by Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea) woodland. Taller, straighter and generally more stately than English or Pedunculate Oak (Quercus robur), its acorns are carried on twigs rather than the stalks, the ‘peduncles’ from which its cousin’s formal name is taken. In summer, you maybe lucky enough to encounter a trio of African migrant birds that are closely associated with western upland oak woodlands like these. Pied Flycatcher, Wood Warbler and Redstart all visit The Ercall, while Lesser-spotted Woodpecker is a nationally scarce tree top resident that has become very hard to find elsewhere in Shropshire.
The Ercall’s extensive collection of rocks made it, until very recently, a focal point for the activities of the extraction industry — a remodelling process that has drastically altered the south face of the hill. Besides exposing its inner sanctum, this brutal assault has also revealed something extraordinary and it would be no exaggeration at all to say that there are few places on Earth where the story of our planet is recounted so graphically. At the foot of the quarry, an internationally significant unconformity marks a change in the colour from the pink tinge of Ercall Granophyre to grey rock, signifying the transition from the pre-Cambrian to Cambrian era when life became more numerous and varied.
While not as epoch defining, the greening of this area is also noteworthy. Natural reclamation of old industrial sites is a very common feature across The Wrekin Forest and beneath The Ercall precious regenerated acidic grasslands now provide a haven for countless plants, insects and animals. Due to the often wide variations in terrain, soil type and drainage, brownfield sites like these quarries can mimic a range of natural habitat features in very close quarter, allowing many species to complete their life cycles in a way they could not in the wider countryside (where such features tend to be more fragmented). In addition to their varied ground flora, the open rock faces of the quarries are valuable for reptiles, such as Common Lizard (Zootoca vivipara) and Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) and butterflies like the Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages), which all bask on bare ground in sunny weather.
Due to the incredible geological heritage of its quarries, The Ercall is an officially designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). However, the accreditations do not end there because, together with Limekiln Woods, The Ercall forms part of a Local Nature Reserve managed by Shropshire Wildlife Trust.
Reptiles: Common Lizard, Slow Worm.
Lepidoptera: Purple Hairstreak, White-letter Hairstreak, Green Hairstreak, Dingy Skipper.
Plants: Wavy-hair Grass, Common Heather, Bilberry, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Ribwort Plantain, Oxeye Daisy, Meadow Buttercup, Common Mouse-ear, Common Hemp Nettle, Hard Rush, Sessile Oak.
Birds: Pied Flycatcher, Wood Warbler, Redstart, Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker.