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Birds and Botany

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Birds of the Malvern Area

The Malvern Hills area is exciting from a birdwatching viewpoint because of its wide variety of habitat concentrated in a small area.

The hilltops are generally of open grassland verging on moorland and the hillsides have areas of mixed woodland and of scrub. The many quarries provide suitable cliffs for certain nesting birds. There are a few small reservoirs, lakes and ponds on and around the hills, while the surrounding areas contain heathland, commons, pasture and arable land.

Each of these habitats attracts a different set of regular bird species. In addition, the hills, rising from the Severn Vale, are visible from a great distance and thus attract species on passage in spring and autumn that are not seen in such numbers in the surrounding areas. You will come across many different birds in a day's walk.

Some birds can be seen almost anywhere, of course, such as Blackbirds, Wrens, Dunnock, Chaffinch, and the Blue, Great and Long-Tailed Tits. So can the aerial birds like Swallows and Swifts and the hunting and scavenging birds such as Carrion Crow, Magpie, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard. Buzzards in particular have increased in numbers here in recent years and can be seen daily, often being harried by crows. Peregrines are seen from time to time at any time of year and another falcon, the Hobby, has been more common in recent summers. Red Kites are seen occasionally as they expand their territory from their strongholds in Wales or the Chilterns. Goshawks, too, can be seen sometimes.

The hilltops have a good number of resident Meadow Pipits and a few Skylarks, but both of these species are reducing in number as scrub encroaches up the hillsides. Ravens nest from time to time in the quarries and can then be seen soaring overhead. Each year, the hilltops attract passage migrants such as Wheatear and Ring Ouzel to rest for a few hours. From time to time, a Dotterel has been seen and, in some winters, a group of Snow Buntings may spend a few days on the tops.

  Images are of Copyright - Melvin Grey
Redstart (male)Pied FlycatcherSnipe
Redstart (male)Pied Flycatcher (male)Snipe

The wooded hillsides contain good numbers of breeding Blackcap and Garden Warblers, Redstart and Pied Flycatchers each summer, together with Chiffchaff and Willow Warblers. Willow Warblers prefer the higher lightly wooded slopes and Chiffchaff the lower woodlands. Until recently a few Wood Warblers could also be heard in summer, but none has been seen in the last few years, except for one lone male who did not succeed in attracting a mate in the spring of 2001. Tawny Owls and the three UK woodpeckers are all present, the Green Woodpecker in the greatest numbers (and variety of habitat), followed by the Great Spotted Woodpecker. The Lesser Spotted is uncommon and very difficult to spot! Nuthatches and Treecreepers are widespread, but not in large numbers. Jays are fairly common and frequently seen, especially in winter. Marsh Tit, Goldcrest and Bullfinch are present in small numbers all year, with Brambling, Siskin, and Redpoll passing through in spring and autumn. A few Hawfinch may be found in one or two places. Some Woodcock are present in the damper areas. Tree Pipits can be seen at the woodland edges and in more open areas.

The scrubby areas on hillsides and commons attract Meadow Pipit, Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and small numbers of Stonechat to breed. Linnets breed in such places and more Linnets and Meadow Pipits arrive in autumn. The lower heaths have small numbers of breeding Lesser Whitethroat each summer and, in a good year, the Grasshopper Warbler can be heard. Little Owls are not uncommon. Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings breed, but numbers of both are declining. The dampest areas have Snipe and a few Jack Snipe present in winter. Cuckoos, while still present in summer, have suffered a marked decline since the 1980s. The Malvern area is one of the most northwesterly places in the country where Nightingales can be heard each summer, but only in very small numbers, usually in overgrown scrubland.

The larger ponds have good populations of Canada Geese, Mallard, Moorhen and Coot with smaller numbers of Cormorant and Tufted Duck here and there. Herons can be seen anywhere. Sometimes a Kingfisher may be seen flashing past.

The surrounding farmland has Rooks and Jackdaws everywhere, but few Lapwing flocks nowadays. Fieldfare and Redwings are abundant in winter, with smaller numbers of Mistle Thrushes all year round. Skylarks still breed in small numbers. Woodpigeons infest every copse and some Stock Doves can be seen here and there. The Collared Dove is common in residential areas but its country cousin the Turtle Dove is becoming less and less common. Goldfinch and Greenfinch are fairly common in hedges, trees and gardens.

House Sparrows and House Martins are common in the built-up areas with Pied Wagtails well represented, but Starlings are not seen in massive flocks anymore. The Song Thrush is still quite common in gardens and woodland and Spotted Flycatchers are thinly spread. Grey Wagtails can appear in parks and gardens near water in small numbers in autumn and, less frequently, in spring.

For a well-populated area, Malvern is lucky to have so many different good places for birdwatching within easy reach. There is a wide choice of places to go and any birdwatcher will enjoy a walk around Castlemorton Common or a climb up Midsummer Hill at almost any time of year. Get out there and see for yourself!

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Botany on the Malvern Hills

All information supplied by Keith Barnett & from his book - "The Wild Flowers of the Malvern Hills". Photographs by David Hollis ARPS and Keith Barnett.

Wild Flowers of May

BlinksBLINKS Montia fontana (L.): Blinks is so called because its tiny greenish-white flowers rarely open fully, fancifully as if they were reluctant to face the sun. It is a small (up to 20 cm high) rather fleshy and often reddish plant. It often grows in abundance, forming dense pale green moss-like patches beside springs and rivulets, all kinds of damp grassland including lawns, and sometimes dry open places. It may be found on bare places on the Malvern Hills and Castlemorton Common "A curious but not conspicuous plant" (Edwin Lees, The Botany of Malvern 1868)




CrosswortCROSSWORT Cruciata laevipes Opiz: " John Gerard's The Herball, or Generall Historie of Plants (1597) described Crosswort as a 'low and base herbe, of a pale green colour, having many square, feeble rough stalks full of joints or knees, covered over with a soft downe'. It is hard to improve on this, except perhaps to add that it is a perennial found growing in grassy places and scrub, mostly calcareous, with tiny yellow honey-scented flowers densely clustered in the angles of the leaf and the stem. The flowers have an unusual structure, and it is only the outer (bisexual) flowers that produce seeds, whilst the (male) inner ones soon fall off. The egg-shaped leaves, in whorls of four around the stem, are also odd. Only two of the 'leaves' in each whorl are in fact true leaves: the other two, although looking the same, are actually leafy stipules lacking auxiliary flower buds. This species formerly had a reputation as a wound-herb and a cure for ruptures. It is present in small quantity on Castlemorton Common and near Swinyard Hill.


Ground IvyGROUND IVY Glechoma hederacea L: Ground-ivy was formerly planted in cemeteries where its long, rooting runners creeping along the ground were ideal for covering graves, but in the wild it is a commonly encountered plant of moist hedges and woods. There are whorls of 3-6 small, two-lipped, bluish-purple (rarely pink) flowers. The long-stalked, kidney-shaped, softly hairy leaves are bitterly aromatic: from Anglo-Saxon times up to the Middle Ages and beyond these were used to clear and improve the flavour of beer, for which reason the plant was also known as Ale-hoof. Another use for the leaves was as an early veterinary medicine: if the owner of a cock that had been wounded in the eye during a cockfight chewed the leaves, and then spit into the damaged eye, it was believed that a rapid recovery would follow! Ground-ivy's name seems to have arisen from an ancient comparison with the true Ivy (Hedera helix), both are certainly very vigorous but are not related.

Yellow CorydalisYELLOW CORYDALIS Pseudofumaria lutea (L.) Borkh: Yellow Corydalis is very commonly seen on the old walls of Malvern, a native of the limestone scree and rocks of the central and eastern Alps that since the early 19th century has become thoroughly naturalised in Britain in urban areas. It was first recorded in the wild in Britain in 1796. It is a branched perennial with yellow flowers and leaves that are green above and blue-green beneath. It is related to the native (and scarce) Climbing Corydalis (Ceratocapnos claviculata) with white flowers which grows on some of the bracken slopes of the Malvern Hills


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Wild Flowers of June

Ivy-leaved ToadflaxIvy-leaved Toadflax Cymbalaria muralis P. Gaertn., B. Mey. & Scherb: Ivy-leaved Toadflax is a native of Southern Europe that was introduced into British gardens before 1602. Records from the wild (Hertfordshire) date from 1640. It has snapdragon-like whitish-purple flowers with a yellow centre and trailing, often purplish-tinged, stems with long-stalked more or less ivy-shaped leaves. It is now thoroughly at home in Malvern on old stone walls and in other stony places. After fertilisation, the plant's reaction to light is so altered that instead of its stem growing as before towards the light it bends away from it, to bury its seeds in some dark cranny. An old Worcestershire name is Mother of Thousands.


Oxford RagwortOxford Ragwort Senecio squalidus L: Oxford Ragwort is a native of southern Italy and Sicily including the volcanic cinders of Mounts Vesuvius and Etna. It was recorded on walls in Oxford as an escape in 1794 from the Oxford Botanic Garden where it had been cultivated since the 17th century. Since then it has made phenomenal progress, spreading along the ballast of the old Great Western Railway, first becoming established in Oxford and Bideford, and also by some other means in Cork in Ireland. Thereafter its fluffy seeds caught readily on the wind led to its arrival elsewhere in Britain. Its bright yellow daisy-like flowers can now often be seen on and at the foot of walls in Malvern, as well as in some old quarries.



Pellitory-of-the-wallPellitory-of-the-wall Parietaria judaica L: Although not particularly colourful, Pellitory-of-the-wall is a feature of many of the old garden and church walls of Malvern, and is also found in other rocky places and shady hedgebanks. It is a much-branched plant with slightly glossy and softly hairy leaves and clusters of tiny greenish-pinkish-brownish flowers with yellow anthers. Under the sympathetic magic of the old Doctrine of Signatures, its presence in stony places suggested a remedy for kidney stones and other urinary complaints, and also gallstones. Ben Jonson was referring to this widely held belief when he wrote in The Alchemist (1610)


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Wild Flowers of July

BrooklimeBROOKLIME Veronica beccabunga L: Also known as Water Pimpernel, Brooklime is a common plant of shallow streams, ditches and other wet places. It is a fleshy, often reddish, perennial with prostrate rooting stems, erect branches and spikes of white-centred bright blue flowers (rarely pink or white). Brooklime was mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon leechdom (healing) books, where it was called brokelempe, meaning 'growing in the mud of brooks'. Rich in Vitamin C, the edible pungent leaves were formerly sold on the streets of London to sailors as an early form of dietary supplement to prevent scurvy.

Common Spotted OrchidCOMMON SPOTTED ORCHID Dactylorhiza fuchsii (Druce) Sos: The Common Spotted Orchid is the county's most common orchid, often found in large numbers in damp woods and meadows, which can be found on Malvern Common and in some quantity on Castlemorton Common. Growing up to 50 cm high, it has dense spikes of pale purple or lilac flowers, spotted or streaked with deeper purple, although pure white ones are occasionally seen. The largest leaves usually have a dark elongated spot. The name Orchis comes from the Greek orkhis, a testicle, alluding to the pair of tubers from which the flower stem arises. About this, Vernon Rendall in his 'Wild Flowers in Literature' (1934) amusingly wrote ''All the Orchises were regarded as aphrodisiacs. Shocked at this coarseness, Ruskin in his 'Proserpina' proposes to banish the word 'Orchis' and substitute 'Wreathewort' instead. This delicacy made no impression on the Victorian world, and certainly has no chance today''


Red CloverRED CLOVER Trifolium pratense L: Red Clover is a perennial of fields, grassy places and waysides which has many other attractive country names including King's Crown, Sweet Kitty Clover, Sleeping Maggie and Bee-Bread. Because of the very sweet honey in the flowers it is also known as Sugar Plums. The flower colour is actually more a pinkish-purple than a true red, although (rarely) flowers may be cream or white. The trifoliate leaf typical of the clovers is the origin of the black 'club' on a playing card. More spiritually, trefoil leaves have pre-Christian associations with the triad goddesses of the Greeks and Romans and the sacred sun wheel of the Celts, and the Druids venerated them as a symbol of earth, sea and heaven. Later, they were often carved in church architecture, and living plants representing the Trinity used in decorations on Trinity Sunday. The 'lucky' four-leaved clover is also a Christian symbol, representing the form of the cross. A two-leaved clover was supposed to enable a maid to foresee her future lover. A five-leaved clover, however, was thought to be unlucky.

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Wild Flowers of August

Dwarf ThistleDWARF THISTLE Cirsium acaule (L.) Scop: The perennial Dwarf Thistle, or Stemless Thistle, the bane of picnickers, is found in short, dry, usually calcareous grassland, as for example on parts of Castlemorton Common. It has a basal rosette of shiny prickly leaves from which springs a usually solitary pinkish-purple flower 2-5 cm, typically thistle-like, 2-5 cm across, but, unlike other species of thistle, with no stem or only a very short one. Although it mostly hugs the ground ~ in Worcestershire it is also known as Ground Thistle ~ it can sometimes reach as much as 30 cm high. In 'British Flowers in Colour' (undated) the plant was evocatively described by its unknown author as having' a splendid prickly green rosette, with a large fat pink star sitting stalkless in the centre, like a semi-precious stone in a n old-fashioned setting'.


Self HealSELF-HEAL Prunella vulgaris L: Self-heal is an old wound-herb that under the Doctrine of Signatures suggested its efficacy as a healer of cuts, because each individual flower looks in profile like a small billhook. Other country names include Hook-heal, Sickle-wort and Hercules' Woundwort. Although apparently unknown medicinally to either the ancient Greeks or the Romans, it was widely used in Europe in the Middle Ages. It is a short, creeping perennial of grassy, preferably fairly damp, places including lawns where to survive it is forced by the mower's blade to grow very closely to the ground. There are dense cylindrical heads of dark purple (rarely lilac, white or pale blue) flowers on a square reddish stem. The generic name Prunella probably comes from German braune, meaning quinsy (an inflammation of the mouth, nose and tongue) which was common at one time among soldiers cooped together in garrisons, and which self-heal was once thought to cure. Braune then became corrupted, first to bruyne, the 'browns', so-called from the brown coating of the tongue associated with quinsy: then to brunella and then to prunella.

YarrowYARROW Achillea millefolium L: Yarrow is a common perennial of meadows, road-verges, lawns and grassland of all kinds. Its numerous creamy-white (sometimes pale or dark pink) flowers, smelling vaguely of musk, are in flattish heads 3-6 mm across. The leaves are long, pungent and feathery. It was an old vulnerary herb, formerly also known as Soldier's Wound-wort, Carpenter's Herb and Knight's Milfoil, and was used specifically in the treatment of wounds made by iron. But physicians also treated patients suffering from headaches with Yarrow, or Nose-bleed as it was also known: taken in large doses it relieved pressure by causing the nose to bleed. In Herefordshire, it was believed that the stem of Yarrow picked in a churchyard by a girl would, when cut across, reveal the initials of her future husband, and the inclusion of Yarrow flowers in the wedding bouquet would ensure at least seven years of marital bliss. But it was also called Devil's Plaything and Devil-nettles, and placing the leaves over the eyes was reputed to instil in anyone, not just unmarried ladies, the gift of 'second sight', that is, the ability to foresee the future.

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