It is important that the 3000 acres of land which make up the Malvern Hills and Commons are carefully managed to ensure they maintain the diversity of wildlife, in addition to allowing good access to visitors.
Historically, the hills were grazed by local farm animals and this kept back the bracken and trees, giving the celtic name "Moel-bryn", meaning "bare-hill" which Malvern originates from. Much of the diversity of wildlife and plants in the area arise from this grassland area. More recently, with the poor economics of livestock farming, the grazing stopped and the trees and bracken started covering the hills and eradiating the grassland areas. If you look at old photographs of the Malverns and compare them to the landscape now it is shocking how much the woodland has crept across the hills.
After much debate and consultation, the Hills Conservators embarked on a project with some local farmers to bring back grazing on the hills by supporting local graziers and also keeping their own flock of sheep. The grazing is done through moving extensive electric fences around the hills to different positions to target the grazing animals while allowing them to be moved across the different areas which need them.
For many years the Hills Conservators have been trying to control the encroachment of saplings and scrub into the rare wildflower grasslands by felling many of the trees on the higher slopes of the hills. This is aided by the grazing which then keeps these areas open for the wildflowers by preventing the scrub from re-growing. Other land management works focus on controlling the bracken. This is cut back in cycles and also rolled, which weakens it and allows the wild flowers to grow up.
All these techniques of controlling the tree and bracken growth allow the growth of wild flowers, which in turn allow animals such as butterflies to thrive. For example, the caterpillars of the Grayling an extremely rare butterfly still found on the Malvern Hills, depend upon the short grass growing on the thin soil and rocks. Without management these places can become overshaded by saplings and scrub.
Different landscapes across the Malvern area require different management. For example, Park Wood on the western slopes of the hills is managed by a traditional coppice worker, partly to enable the Dormice to thrive. More about coppicing can be seen here.
The Malvern Hills Conservators
Most of this land is owned and managed by the Malvern Hills Conservators which were established in 1884. the conservators are governed by five Acts of Parliament, the Malvern Hills Acts 1884 - 1995 and legally look after the land for the following purposes:
- to keep for the recreation and enjoyment of the public
- to conserve the Hills and Commons
- To prevent encroachments on the land
- to protect the ancient rights of the registered commoners to graze their livestock on the lands
The Conservators only became a registered charity in 1984 but are funded primarily by a levy on all tax payers in Malvern, Colwall, Mathon and Guarlford. Some additional income is made through the parking charges in the Conservator car parks.
A combination of elected and nominated members make up a Board which runs the Conservators, meeting every two months. The Board then employ a Director and a team which includes a Conservation Officer, Field Staff and Wardens. A significant number of volunteers are also invaluable in the conservation work.
The decisions to follow certain land management projects are not taken lightly. Experts are consulted, conservation groups worked with and many reports written. Many of these make interesting reading and can be downloaded here. Local residents also ensure that most decisions are thoroughly questioned.