The Malvern Hills are home to a diverse range of British wildlife, with the hills mainly open grassland and moorland towards their summits and wooded on their slopes. Quarrying in the past has resulted in some cliffs and water pools that provide a differing habitat from the exposed windswept slopes.
Increasing efforts in conservation are being taken by the Malvern Hills Conservators who own and manage the hills on behalf of the local people and other local land managers supported by the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Find out more information at the Malvern Hills GeoCentre, a visitor centre on the Malvern Hills which has wall maps and lots of other information about the conservation, flora and fauna of this area. Details of the Conservator's conservation projects can be seen here.
Birds are prevalent with many regarding the birds of prey as the highlight - such as kestrels, buzzards and peregrine falcons. Herons can also been seen visiting nearby water sources for food. For a more detailed discussion see the Malvern Hills Conservators' resource.
The grassland is often awash with wild flowers, including harebells, heath bedstraw and bilberry during the summer months. However, in the early spring there are vast swathes of bluebells and wild garlic in some of the surrounding woodland. All of these flowers attract bees and butterflies, with watercourses and ponds attracting dragonflies.
Butterflies and Moths
There are a large variety of butterflies and moths on the Malvern Hills, including an extremely rare butterfly called a "Grayling". Although this butterfly was quite common across England and Wales until the 1950s, it has since declined at an alarming rate and only lives in costal areas on rocky cliffs. Now the Malvern Hills are one of the few inland areas where this butterfly can be found, although its number has declined here too. The Grayling caterpillars depend on fine grasses growing on the rocky outcrops and thin soils. When the sheep grazing of the hills stopped, the bracken and scrub overshaded these delicate grasses and woodland also spread over the open areas reducing the habitat suitable for this butterfly. The Malvern Hills Conservators have reintroduced grazing on the northern, central and southern hills in an effort to protect the habitat of this butterfly and use this in conjunction with clearance of the most sensitive rocky areas.
There are other butterflies of special interest in the area including the Dingy Skipper, Green Hairstreak, White-letter Hairstreak, Dark Green Fritillary, Silver-washed Fritillary, Pearl Bordered Fritillary and Marbled White.
Snakes and Lizards
Although snakes and lizards are notoriously shy creatures, they can be seen in and around the Malverns on warm, overcast spring and summer days. Early mornings or late afternoons in the height of summer are the best time to see them.
With its bold zigzag pattern down its body, one of the rarest snakes in the UK is the Adder, also the only venomous UK snake. It was estimated in 2011 that there are about 9 small colonies of Adders on the Malvern Hills, but this has been declining rapidly because they need open grassed areas to keep warm and hunt. The encroaching woodland has been reducing the Adder habitat. Hopefully the land management programme now being undertaken by the Conservators will open the grassland back out again and allow these snakes to flourish.
Adders are extremely shy and do not usually bite people or dogs unless surprised. Often the poison on the back of Toads can cause a dog's face to swell if they "mouth" them and are misdiagnosed as adder bites. There are usually about 100 Adder bites in people each year in the UK, and although very painful are rarely serious. Only 14 people have died from Adder bites since 1876, with the last reported death in 1975.
There are 80 Black Poplars, Britain's rarest trees, on the Malvern Hills Conservators' land, along with another 200 pollarded trees of various types. Pollarding is an ancient traditional practice that helps to produce strong, straight timbers and also prolongs the life of trees. Nowadays it is mainly used by conservationists and farmers to preserve important and impressive specimens of trees. The Hills Conservators have a pollard plan that is carried out in rotation to help preserve all these trees.