Cannock Chase () is a mixed area of countryside in the county of Staffordshire, England. The area has been designated as the Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Chase gives its name to the Cannock Chase local government district.
Cannock Chase is located between Cannock, Lichfield, Rugeley and Stafford. It comprises a mixture of natural deciduous woodland, coniferous plantations, open heathland and the remains of early industry, such as coal mining. The landscape owes much to the underlying Triassic bunter formations. Cannock Chase was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) on 16 September 1958 and is the smallest area so designated in mainland Britain, covering . Much of the area is also designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Despite being relatively small in area, the chase provides a remarkable range of landscape and wildlife, including a herd of around 800 fallow deer and a number of rare and endangered birds, not least migrant Nightjars. A feeding station at the Marquis Drive Visitors' Centre, sponsored by the West Midland Bird Club, attracts many species, including Brambling, Yellowhammer and Bullfinch. Efforts are underway to increase the amount of heathland on the chase, reintroducing shrubs such as heather in some areas where bracken and birch forest have crowded out most other plants. The local flora also includes several species of Vaccinium, including the eponymous Cannock Chase Berry (Vaccinium intermedium Ruthe). In January 2009, an outbreak of Sudden Oak Death disease (Phytophthora ramorum) was discovered on the chase, at Brocton Coppice. Various restrictions were put in place in an attempt to prevent its spread.
There are a number of visitor centres, museums and waymarked paths, including the Heart of England Way and the Staffordshire Way. There are also accessible trails to enable people with barriers to experience the health benefits of Cannock Chase, such as The Route to Health. Additionally, there are many unmarked public paths. On the Chase's north-eastern edge can be found Shugborough Hall, ancestral home of the Earls of Lichfield. At its southern edge are the remains of Castle Ring, an Iron Age hill fort, which is the highest point on the Chase. Several glacial erratic boulders are also found on the Chase, remnants of glaciation. One is mounted on a plinth.
The Chase has several war memorials, including German and Commonwealth war cemeteries. A memorial to the victims of the Katyn Massacre was unveiled by Stefan Staniszewski, whose father Hillary Zygmunt Staniszewski (a high court judge) died in the massacre. Preserved below the memorial are phials of soil from both Warsaw and the Katyn forest. Freda, the Harlequin Great Dane mascot of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade (Earl of Liverpool's Own) is also buried on the chase marked with a memorial marble headstone.
The Katyn Memorial at Cannock Chase.
The Chase is popular with cross-country mountain bike users. The purpose-built XC 'Follow the Dog' trail is an technically challenging route, opened in 2005, starting and finishing at the Birches Valley Visitors/Cycle Centre. It is open to all, however it is not recommended for beginners. A new section of XC trail was opened in April 2010. The 'Monkey Trail' (7 mile) is a more technical trail that splits from 'Follow the Dog' at about the halfway point, then rejoins slightly further on. There are several features mountain bikers can look out for when riding on the chase, such as Kitbag hill, Rabbit hill, Quagmire bridge, Roots hall and Brocton shorts to name just a few.
Since 2006, the forest has been used as an open air music venue as part of the Forestry Commission nationwide Forest Tour, with acts such as The Zutons, The Feeling, Status Quo and Jools Holland playing in a forest clearing.
The area gained national notoriety in the late 1960s when the Cannock Chase murders made national headlines; the remains of three young girls were found buried on the Chase after going missing from areas along the A34 road between there and Birmingham. Raymond Leslie Morris, a motor engineer from Walsall, was found guilty at Stafford assizes of one of the murders in 1968 and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He is still in prison over 40 years later as one of the country's longest serving prisoners.
In popular culture
Since the nineteenth century, sightings of Black Dogs, Werewolves, British big cats, and UFOs have appeared in the local press. However no conclusive evidence has ever been produced verifying these claims, and they may best be thought of as forming part of local folklore.
The 1972 Labi Siffre album Crying Laughing Loving Lying features a track entitled Cannock Chase.
Cannock Chase has also achieved national notoriety for its association with the sexual practice of dogging. This occurred in March 2004 when the ex-England footballer Stan Collymore was revealed in a News of the World investigation, to have regularly engaged in the activity at a car park near Anson's Bank.
- Cannock Chase German war cemetery
- Castle Ring