Johnny Birks, an excellent and well-known speaker, gave an extremely informative and often amusing talk entitled ‘Mammals of the Malverns’ last week, illustrated with his own beautiful photographs from the field. This was a much-anticipated talk with a turn-out that filled the hall at the Chase 6th Form annexe.
Although British mammals are some of our most loved (and most hated) animals, they can often be elusive and difficult to see. As a true mammal enthusiast, Johnny explained that following their traces through the art of field craft is often the only way to study them. Many species are nocturnal and wary of humans as a result of thousands of years of persecution.
The Malverns have a rich mosaic of rough grassland, scrub and woodland providing important habitats for over forty species of mammal. The woodland around British Camp has recently been found to support one of the largest colonies of lesser horseshoe bats and the even rarer barbastelle. Bat boxes put up as additional roosting sites are helping to boost population numbers and also reveal the presence of other nationally scarce species such as the dormouse.
It is also the presence of some of the most well-known and common mammals that has the most noticeable ecological impact. Rabbits are now doing well after the effects of myxomatosis in the 1990s and have resumed their important role as grazers of rough grassland, keeping the scrub at bay. Grassland is essential habitat for ground-nesting birds, butterflies and other small mammals such as field and bank voles. In these grassland areas, field voles in particular can have very high population densities providing the food source for kestrels and adders, both of which are in national decline.
As part of his work for Vincent Wildlife Trust, Johnny was instrumental in documenting the return of the polecat to the county. As the natural wild form of the domesticated ferret, these nocturnal and historically much maligned carnivores have been expanding their range from Wales, having been persecuted almost to extinction in the early 1900s. Radio tracking and the mapping of road-kill individuals have given fascinating insights into their behaviour. Due to their tendency to live in farmyard haystacks, the accumulation of anticoagulant rat poisons via their rodent prey is an issue for their conservation.
Other larger mammal species such as red deer are found mainly on the Eastnor Estate, with the smaller muntjac being more widespread. It is likely that over the next twenty years deer numbers will increase and it is possible that wild boar will move in from the nearby Forest of Dean.
The next meeting is on Thursday January 5th. Rob Havard, Conservation Officer of the Malvern Hills Conservators, will talk about flora of the Malverns. It starts at 7.30 pm and is held at the Chase Academy Sixth Form Annexe, Geraldine Close, Barnards Green WR14 3PF - we look forward to seeing you there!
Derek, Malvern local group