The Malvern Hills habitat is a semi natural land where a number of birds, rare animals and butterflies are found.
Managing these areas to safeguard the Malvern Hills habitat means conservation is really important and there is a Wildlife Advisory Group comprising of people with eminent experience in specific fields of natural history. Aside from the common species that we will cover, there are some rarer species such as:
- The Lesser Horseshoe Bat
- The Dormouse
- The Polecat
These rare species can be found on the Malvern Hills, together with some 130 species of bird, 70 as breeding species. There are over 25 species of butterflies including the High Brown Fritillary, and areas of the Malvern Hills are focused to protect these. In addition there is a variety of rare plants and the management of the Malvern Hills takes into account the need for their conservation too.
Trees and Woodland
The woodlands, particularly around the south of the Malvern Hills are all relics of ancient woodlands so offer great ecological value, and a certain amount of planning is undertaken by ‘The Conservators‘ to create screens for places such as:
- Disused quarries
- Car parks
- The distinctive avenues of trees on the approaches to Malvern
Areas such as Malvern Link Common and the Old Hills, are managed as parkland that require donations from time to time to help with special planting and maintenance of trees on that land.
Management of the Malvern Hills and Commons
Once covered by woodland, over grazing of sheep and cattle over many hundreds of years has slowly destroyed that habitat, but today, the Malvern Hills Conservators carefully manage the landscape by grazing a small heard of Galloway and Belted Galloway Cattle with their own flock of Cheviot Ewes, and together, the sheep and cattle will ensure that the Malvern Hills and Commons continue to provide habitats for important species. Commoners can also graze animals in the area
The Skylark is a small brown bird with streaks and a white-sided tail and small crest, known for its spectacular song in flight as it rises almost vertically, hovers and then parachutes back down to the ground. Although their numbers have halved, it is still possible to see and hear Skylarks around the Malvern Hills. Their decline in the last decade is mainly due to the loss of the open grassland that they need to feed and nest on.
We can certainly help this decline by discouraging dogs and walkers to not disturb the Skylark and other ground-nesting birds during the breeding season. Staying on the paths and keeping dogs on a lead when walking on the Hilltops and Commons between March and July (the nesting season) would be a great help.
Lesser Horseshoe Bats
The woodland and grassland found on the Malvern Hills habitat is the ideal 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, that has a highly distinctive appearance of 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.
All British bat species are protected by law; it is illegal to disturb bats or the places where they roost.
High Brown Fritillary Butterflies
This butterfly is one of Britain’s rarest and requires violets growing on sunny bracken slopes so they can feed their caterpillars. The best conditions for violets and therefore the butterflies are areas of bracken kept open by animals trampling through.
To help this rare breed, avoid disturbing bracken between April and July as this is when the larvae are developing.
The Malvern Hills habitat supports the increasingly rare Dormouse through the ancient semi-natural woodlands and hedgerows. Their main food sources are hazel, honeysuckle, bramble and oak and a particular favourite;hazelnuts. Dormice like to eat the hazelnuts when they are still green and on the tree, so opened shells on the ground is 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.
Great Crested Newts
These Newts are almost black, with a yellow-orange belly and “warty” skin. The Great Crested Newt is Britain’s largest species of newt, measuring up to 17 cm long. In the breeding season, males have a distinctive jagged crest running along their back, they are largely nocturnal, hiding under logs and stones or in burrows during the day and from October to February they hibernate in hollow trees or stone walls.
The Malvern Hills habitat offers great birdwatching opportunities in a concentrated small area. The top of the hills are generally open grassland verging on moorland and the hillsides have areas of mixed woodland and scrub. The many quarries give suitable cliffs for certain nesting birds with a few small reservoirs, lakes and ponds on and around the hills. The surrounding areas contain heathland, commons, pasture and arable land.
Each of these different habitat attract regular bird species, so you will come across many different birds during your walk. In addition, the hills are visible from a great distance and so attract species on passage in spring and autumn and are not seen in such numbers in the surrounding areas.
You will of course see common birds such as; Blackbirds, Wrens, Dunnock, Chaffinch, and the Blue, Great and Long-Tailed Tits, along with aerial birds like Swallows and Swifts and the hunting and scavenging birds such as Carrion Crow, Magpie, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Buzzards. The Buzzard in particular has increased in numbers in recent years and can be seen daily, often being harried by crows. From time to time you may see Peregrines at any time of year, the Hobby and Goshawks. Red Kites are seen occasionally as they expand their territory from their strongholds in Wales or the Chilterns.
Meadow Pipits and a few Skylarks are both species that are reducing in number as scrub encroaches up the hillsides. Ravens nest from time to time in the quarries and can then be seen soaring overhead, and each year, the hills attract passage migrants such as Wheatear and Ring Ouzel who may rest for a few hours. The Dotterel has been seen from time to time and sometimes in winters, a group of Snow Buntings may spend a few days on the tops.
You will see a good number of breeding Blackcap and Garden Warblers, Redstart and Pied Flycatchers each summer in wooded hillsides together with Chiffchaff and Willow Warblers. The Willow Warblers prefer the higher lightly wooded slopes and Chiffchaff the lower woodlands. Tawny Owls and the Green and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers can be seen along with the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which is more uncommon and very difficult to spot!
Nuthatches and Treecreepers are widespread, but not in large numbers, Jays are fairly common and frequently seen, especially in winter and Marsh Tit, Goldcrest and Bullfinch are present in small numbers all year round. Brambling, Siskin, and Redpoll pass through in spring and autumn and a few Hawfinch may be found in one or two places. Some Woodcock are present in the damper areas and Tree Pipits can be seen at the woodland edges and in more open areas.
The scrubby areas attract Meadow Pipit, Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and small numbers of Stonechat and Linnets. The lower heaths have small numbers of breeding Lesser Whitethroat in summer and sometimes the Grasshopper Warbler can be heard. Little Owls are not uncommon, along with Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings, but again numbers of both are declining. In damp areas Snipe and a few Jack Snipes might be present in winter and the Cuckoos is still present in summer, having suffered a marked decline since the 1980s. The Malvern area is one of the most northwesterly places in the country where Nightingales can be heard each summer, but only in very small numbers, usually in overgrown scrubland.
In the larger ponds there is a good population of Canada Geese, Mallard, Moorhen Coots and Herons with smaller numbers of Cormorant and Tufted Duck and the odd Kingfisher.
While walking around surrounding farmland you’ll see Rooks and Jackdaws everywhere, and a few Lapwing flocks. Fieldfare and Redwings are abundant in winter, with smaller numbers of Mistle Thrushes seen all year round. Woodpigeons infest every copse and Collared Doves are common in residential areas. Goldfinch and Greenfinch are fairly common in hedges, trees and gardens.
House Sparrows and House Martins are common in the built-up areas with Pied Wagtails well represented, but Starlings are not seen in massive flocks anymore. The Song Thrush is still quite common in gardens and woodland and Spotted Flycatchers are thinly spread. Grey Wagtails can appear in parks and gardens near water in small numbers in autumn and, less frequently, in spring.
The Malvern Hills habitat offers a great place for birdwatching, from Castlemorton Common to the top of the Malvern Hills, at almost any time of year. Get out there and see it for yourself!
When you come and visit the area, there are plenty of unique and welcoming places to stay and Orchard Side Bed and Breakfast offers everything you need to enjoy the Malvern Hills and surrounding countryside.