By Dick Bryant and Peter Bridges.
For well over a decade, a successful partnership has existed between the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust (EHT), the Malvern Hills Natural Landscape (NL, formerly AONB), and the Malvern Hills Trust (MHT), to carry out a programme of geosite maintenance. This work is focussed largely on designated Local Geological Sites (LGS). The principal aim has been to keep important earth science locations in a condition suitable for demonstration to the public, students and enthusiasts as well as for possible research by academics.
Although the programme is organised and managed by EHT – and for many years ably led by John Payne – it is sustained by annual grants from both the NL and MHT, amounting in all to about £2000 per year. This money is used primarily for the support of volunteers, the purchase and maintenance of field equipment, and a contribution to the organisation and oversight of the project. Financial support for work of this nature is, like all funding, hard to obtain but at least in this case a little money does go a long way. Material support from the National Landscape and the MHT acts as a considerable incentive to volunteers to participate regularly in the programme: they know that their hard labours are ‘officially’ recognised and valued.
Since 2014, successive annual seasons of fieldwork have resulted in positive intervention on about 50 sites, of which over half are within the Malvern Hills SSSI (largely confined to the rocks of the Precambrian Malverns Complex) and the rest are Local Geological Sites (LGS) elsewhere within the National Landscape. The volunteer team working on the project is drawn not only from EHT, but from other local geological groups: particularly Malvern U3A Geology section, the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club, and the Teme Valley Geological Society. A typical working party for any one site normally consists of 10/12 people, drawn from the larger team. Two regular volunteers come from about 25 miles away. In addition, the group is joined for some sensitive biodiversity sites by volunteers from the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust.
The main threat to many of the exposures in the Malverns area (and undoubtedly elsewhere) is rapid vegetation encroachment, particularly on the softer strata. In order to address this, one key element of the project has been to establish in conjunction with the NL and the MHT, a regular schedule of supported maintenance, especially for key sites which are visited on an annual or biennial basis. Too often in the past, geological maintenance of sites has taken place at long and irregular intervals, and the continued ambition in the Malverns programme is that this current partnership will enable sustained management of priority local sites well into the future. However, such is the richness of the local geodiversity, the number of LGS means some are rarely subject to clearance. An additional challenge for EHT is maintaining those sites in Herefordshire and Worcestershire which lie outside the National Landscape. Currently there is no national funding through DEFRA for geosite maintenance of designated Local Geological Sites, and any intervention by EHT elsewhere in the two counties, tends to rely on intermittent local initiatives or specific requests for help.
Gaining permission for access to work on geosites within the Malvern Hills SSSI footprint is usually not a problem, although all of the work here is undertaken between October and March to minimise interference on wildlife. Not all is necessarily plain sailing outside this area. Some private landowners are reluctant to grant access largely because of fears, largely unfounded, of future public encroachment, and on the same basis one parish council has steadfastly refused access for geosite maintenance work on their land. However, the good offices of the National Landscape have been crucial in a number of other instances in negotiating access and for this EHT is grateful.
Sites are chosen primarily, but not always, for their geological interest but other interests can prevail. In the southern Malvern Hills, there are some sites with outstanding examples of submarine volcanism but these are left untouched as they also sites of biological and botanical importance which could be damaged.
Notable sites tackled during the past ten years have included Dingle Quarry at West Malvern; Gullet Top Quarry with its famous unconformity between the rocks of the Precambrian complex and the shoreline deposits of the Silurian sea; Quaternary scree sites; and the large exposure of the major East Malvern Fault next to North Quarry. Within this particular quarry, the exposure by industrious volunteers of much bare rock met with great approval from local butterfly conservationists. It appears that the rare Grayling butterfly likes this type of surface, and the hope is that the fresh exposures will encourage it to colonise new ground.
During the current year (2023/24) geosite clearance/maintenance has been completed at three sites: Gardiners Quarry off Jubilee Drive, Brockhill Quarry next to the B4232, the road from Colwall to Mathon and Little Malvern Quarry (aka Berington’s Quarry) on the eastern slopes of Black Hill. The recent work at the Brockhill site is typical of the programmes undertaken and is described in some detail in a separate post here. Similar clearance exercises in the 2023/24 programme are planned for Middle Hollybush Quarry or Westminster Bank Quarry, North & Tank Quarries and an area south of County Quarry. New volunteers are welcome; please contact Peter Bridges at firstname.lastname@example.org.