Answers to objections
“The Malvern Hills cannot be managed for one species and that recreating short acid grassland is the top priority”.
- Tight grazing does not seem to be controlling weeds especially bracken
- Coarse species are invading the sward so making it shorter is not making it better and certainly not turning it into short acid turf present in some areas on the hills. Deschampsia Flexuosa is the natural grass of the high hills and it settles at 30cms or so left alone as it did 1992-2002 during the period of no grazing
- Species diversity and number in the tight sward seems to be much reduced along with skylark disappearance
The 2015 Malvern Hills Management Plan suggests factors other than grazing as causes of decline:
- “Habitat changes and an increase in visitors are factors in these declines, but they are set against a background of decline nationally as recorded by the BTO.” Increased visitors will be a factor but Bredon, less than 15 miles away, has more than tripled populations by good habitat management whilst ours have crashed against the same national decline.
- “The decline is likely related to a shrinkage in open habitat forcing Skylark into the busiest parts of the Hills.” Not true for skylarks on the high hills – skylark territory is no less open than it was before or during 10 years of no grazing from 1992. The photos show there was no scrub encroachment from the mid to upper slopes in the 10 years of no grazing from 1992
- “recent publicity campaign on guarding against disturbance to ground-nesting birds coupled with temporary ‘keep to paths and dogs under close control’ signs worked well” At the moment Trust officers dutifully put out warning signs with pictures of skylarks where there aren’t any.
It also suggests that grazing is beneficial to skylarks
- “The existing grazing schemes and works to maintain open habitats are of benefit to these species.” Not true – grazing on the high hills is year-round and too tight for skylarks – and the grasshoppers, brown butterflies and many other species that used to be there when the grass was longer. Granted there has been some benefit at Castlemorton but the larks are only in the rough grass – and that could easily be lost too if grazing intensifies.
Objections pointing to other causes
- “Predation from increased pheasants and crows, jackdaws, foxes” Bird predators have not increased according to Malvern Hills Bird Group surveys, predation is present on sites with skylarks including the Malvern commons and tellingly at Bredon which has seen dramatic rises in skylark numbers
- “Increased visitor numbers and dog disturbance” is most likely a factor but we used to have skylarks on slopes with good habitat in the busiest part of the hills eg Worcester Beacon. It was busier there when we last had skylarks than it is now in the quieter former territories. The common factor is short grazing.