Conservation of Wildlife
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The Hills and commons represent the largest area of semi natural land therefore it is not surprising that there are a number of rare animals, plants, birds and butterflies are to be found. In an increasingly conservation minded era, more and more time is given to the management of these areas to ensure the continued existence and well-being of a number of species. There is a Wildlife Advisory Group whose membership comprises people eminent in specific fields of natural history who advise the Conservators. Apart from the more common species of mammal, rarer species such as the lesser horseshoe bat, the dormouse and the polecat are found on the Hills, and some 130 species of bird have been recorded, 70 as breeding species. The Breeding Birds of the Malvern Hills by Ian Duncan.
Over 25 species of butterflies have also been recorded, including the high brown fritillary, and parts of the Hills are carefully managed to protect these.
A variety of rare plants is also found and the management of the Hills has to take into account the need for their conservation. Detailed reference to the wildlife on the Hills is made in the 1998 review of the Malvern Hills Conservators' management plan. The Wildflowers of the Malvern Hills by Keith Barnett.
Trees and Woodland
There is little scope for commercial forestry on the Hills and the existing trees and woodlands are managed for their amenity value. Some areas of woodland, particularly towards the south of the Hills, are relics of ancient woodlands and have a substantial ecological value. The Conservators undertake a certain amount of planting both to create screens for such places as disused quarries and car parks and also to maintain areas such as the various approaches to Malvern which are marked by distinctive avenues of trees. Other areas such as Malvern Link Common and parts of the Old Hills are managed to give a parkland effect. The Conservators receive donations from time to time specifically for the planting and maintenance of trees on their land.
Management of the Hills and Commons
The Malvern Hills and Commons have been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of their national importance as a wildlife habitat.
Much of the special wildlife on the Malverns is associated with the open hilltops and slopes. However, the wildlife is as varied as the habitats that the Malverns provide; not only is there grassland, but bracken-covered slopes, gorse, scrub, recent woodland, ancient woodland and ponds. This mosaic of wildlife habitats cannot be maintained by nature alone, because it was created by man - the hills and commons would be covered by woodland if they had not been grazed by sheep and cattle for many hundreds of years. Today, the Malvern Hills Conservators manage the landscape by grazing their own flock of Cheviot ewes, along with a small herd of Galloway and Belted Galloway cattle. Commoners also graze animals in the area. Together, the sheep and cattle will ensure that the Malvern Hills and Commons continue to provide habitats for important species.
A small, streaky brown bird, with a white-sided tail and small crest, the Skylark is known for its spectacular song flight, when it rises almost vertically, hovers and then parachutes back down to the ground. It is still possible to see and hear Skylarks around the Malvern Hills, but their numbers have halved in the last decade, largely because of the loss of the open grassland they need to feed and nest.
How you can help? Disturbance by dogs and walkers is also thought to play a part in the Skylark's decline; please help to conserve Skylarks and other ground-nesting birds by staying on the paths and keeping dogs on a lead on the hilltops and commons between March and July (the nesting season).
The mix of woodland and grassland on the Malverns provides a good habitat for bats, including two rare species - the Barbastelle and the Lesser Horseshoe bat. The Lesser Horseshoe bat is one of the smallest British species. At rest, it hangs with its wings wrapped around its body and is about the size of a plum. Horseshoe bats have a circular flap of skin surrounding their nostrils and it is the horseshoe shape of this "nose-leaf" that gives them their name.
The Barbastelle is one of Britain's rarest and least known bats. It has a highly distinctive appearance, with sooty fur and ears so large that they touch in the middle and seem to surround its eyes. Barbastelles feed almost exclusively on moths and use old or storm-damaged trees to roost and hibernate.
How you can help: Like all British bat species, the Barbastelle and the Lesser Horseshoe are protected by law; it is illegal to disturb bats or the places where they roost.
High Brown Fritillary Butterflies
These are one of Britain's rarest butterflies and rely on violets growing on sunny bracken slopes to feed their caterpillars, which bask on dead bracken in order to get warm enough to develop in cool spring weather. The best conditions for violets and therefore the butterflies are areas of bracken kept open by animals trampling through.
How you can help: Avoid disturbing bracken between April and July, when the larvae are developing. You can help monitor High Brown Fritillary and other butterflies by letting us know when and where you see them on the Malvern Hills and Commons.
The ancient semi-natural woodlands and hedgerows around the Malvern Hills provide a much needed habitat for the increasingly rare Dormouse. The Dormouse's main food sources are hazel, honeysuckle, bramble and oak, with hazelnuts being a particular favourite. Dormice eat the hazelnuts when they are still green and on the tree, leaving the ground littered with distinctively opened shells. These shells are the best indicator of a Dormouse population; Dormice themselves are much harder to spot as they are very small, nocturnal and forage high up in trees.
How you can help: if you would like to take part in the next Dormouse survey on the Conservators' land, then please contact the office.
Great Crested Newts
Almost black, with a yellow-orange belly and "warty" skin, the Great Crested Newt is Britain's largest newt species, measuring up to 17 cm long. In the breeding season, males have a distinctive jagged crest running along their back. Great Crested Newts are largely nocturnal, spending their days on land hidden under logs and stones or in burrows; from October to February they hibernate in hollow trees or stone walls.
On Conservators' land, the biggest threat to Great Crested Newts comes from the invasive pondweed Crassula (Australian Swamp Stonecrop), which chokes the ponds the newts breed in, but pollution from road run-off is also a major factor.
How you can help: Never dispose of plants, fish or animals from garden ponds in natural ponds; even quite small fish eat newt larvae and you may also inadvertently introduce Crassula. Avoid disturbing piles of rocks and dead wood around ponds, as they may be hibernation sites for Great Crested Newts.