The parish of Astley and Dunley is an area of predominantly agricultural land extending south from the edge of the town of Stourport on Severn. Its eastern boundary is formed by the gorge of the River Severn; its southern edge is marked by the muddy valley of Dick Brook which separates it from Shrawley Wood. To the west the land rises steadily towards the Abberley Hills, ending in the steep cliff of the disused Shavers End Quarry.
The underlying rocks are mostly desert sandstones of the Triassic period, laid down over two hundred million years ago, right at the start of the age of the dinosaurs. The resulting soils are reddish and often light and sandy.
The region bordering the River Severn is marked by three layers of river terraces, areas of fossil river bed left behind by the dramatic changes in the river level which occurred during the ice ages. The most noticeable of these is on Astley Burf. To the south of the Burf is an area of water meadows. Despite its regular flooding - a major issue regarding planning applications - the grassland is of an "improved" type and poor in wild flowers. At Larford a former gravel pit has been converted into a fishing lake, and this has created an interesting new habitat for bird life. Cormorant, Common Tern, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Goosander, Divers, rare Grebes and Little Egret have all been reported there.
There are two areas of woodland in Astley and Dunley parish. In the north Areley Wood is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is an area of ancient, semi-natural oak woodland made damp by numerous springs which drain into the Gladder Brook. The waterlogged parts are rich in alder while the drier areas contain scattered yews. It contains a number of uncommon plant species.
In the south of the Parish Lower Astley Wood borders the River Severn, while Upper Astley Wood follows the Dick Brook . A depressed area of Lower Astley Wood, the Osier Beds, remains waterlogged and even flooded for much of the year. It contains numerous coppiced willows which in the past have been used for basket weaving. This area does not seem to have been investigated but it is likely to contain unusual plants and insects.
Upper Astley Wood provides a glorious display of Bluebells and Wild Garlic in the spring. Another interesting flowering plant common there is Toothwort, a root parasite which does not have green leaves and takes its food from the roots of trees and shrubs.
The West of the Parish - taking in Shavers End and Areley Wood - is designated an area of "Great landscape value"
Abberley and Malvern Hills Geopark
In 2003 a region extending from Bridgenorth to the Severn estuary was designated a European Geopark, one of only three in the country, marking it out as a region of international geological importance. Astley and Dunley parish is included in the Geopark, and the disused quarry at Shavers End has been designated a Regionally Important Geological Site (RIGS).
The rocks of Shavers End are limestones and shales, rich in marine fossils such as trilobites. They date from the Silurian period, about four hundred and thirty million years ago, a time when mountain-building was particularly active and life was just beginning to emerge from the sea onto the land. The presence of limestone at Shavers End encourages the growth of uncommon plants and insects. Peregrine falcons sometimes nest there, and Wood White and Dingy Skipper butterflies, both listed as UK priority species, have been reported from the area. Information about the Abberley and Malvern Hills Geopark may be obtained from the Bewdley Museum. More complete information about the Geopark is available from Geological Records Centre, University of Worcester.