Clee Hill Survey

To understand more, Ian Wells conducted a survey of Clee Hill on 20th April 2016 covering a route of about 25km around Titterstone Clee Hill between 300m-533m, most comparable to Malvern Hills (Worcs Beacon =  425m). The goal was to compare habitats that held larks with those that did not. The Clee Hill Nature group surveyed the area in 2015 and counted around 50 larks. The area covered the territory of 30 of these and there were plenty of larks to observe. In summary:

  1. Lark presence was very specific with some areas crowded and adjacent areas neglected
  2. Patches of rough tall – 8” plus – vegetation held most larks.
  3. More tightly grazed areas held no larks
  4. However, tightly grazed areas with substantial patches of tall rough vegetation including grass and bracken also  held larks
  5. No matter the vegetation/sward height, wet or even damp patches held no larks
  6. In addition to dry rough pasture, larks were only present on flatter open areas – the high tops and the flat bottoms – not the hill sides. There were few trees but no larks close to the few there were (within 200m)

The results were discussed with Leo Smith, Shropshire Bird Recorder (also author of Birds of Shropshire) His comments are in italics – essentially supporting the observations and confirming similar situation on the Long Mynd. The detail and Leo’s comments are below.

All the area was grazed by sheep with varying levels of intensity. No other livestock were present, as usual

  • Lark locations and numbers seemed consistent with the 2015 survey results, though my goal was not to make a count but look at differences in habitat – good news for the Clee Hills larks!
  • Larks concentrated in clearly favoured areas where they were vocal and active, chasing and displaying to protect territory in close proximity rather than saving the energy by moving to adjacent areas where there were no larks. This patchiness of distribution was very interesting. It suggests particular territorial needs important enough to fight over. Yes – they have fairly specific habitat requirements – no point in having a territory that doesn’t meet requirements
  • Elevation and slope: lowest 300m highest 450m. This covered the flattish rough meadow land on the lower slopes and higher fairly flat slopes east of the big working quarry. Slope was more important than elevation. Yes – on the Long Mynd all the skylark territories are on the flattish plateau, none on the valley sides There were no larks on the steeper slopes. The highest concentration was at the highest elevation – just south of Clee Hill and East of Hoar edge. I suspect that’s because the habitat is least improved, because the weather makes it least useful pasture, so it’s indirectly related to altitude, not directly related
  • Pasture type:  There were no larks on close cropped pasture even where it had some tussocks or rushes on it. This semi-improved pasture was avoided even when it was in other ways the same as adjacent rougher pasture holding larks. Most of the territory was rough grazing and the areas that held larks had abundant patches of 6-8 inch plus rough grasses or, interestingly, dead bracken – the lower slopes North of Titterstone Clee hill held good populations in areas that had been sheep grazed close in some areas but with substantial patches of bracken in dry areas. You need to distinguish between scattered bracken and dense bracken. The latter is avoided. One of the reasons for Skylark decline in lowland arable is the switch from spring to autumn cereals – the latter has grown too tall by the time they would normally lay their third clutches, so they have lost a breeding attempt per year. Think bracken has the same disadvantages
  • Moisture: I was puzzled to find no larks in the lower slopes north west of Doddington which looked perfect in terms of pasture and slope until I descended the slope to find how wet it was – lots of damp spaghnum and boggy rushes. Around the wide rough meadow of the lower slopes north of Titterstone Hill the larks were concentrated in dry areas. This fits what I had read about larks avoiding water where they nest. On Long Mynd the larks avoid the wet flushes on the plateau.