As explained on the Protecting Geosites page, the best geological sites sites have been designated either as nationally or regionally important. These are known respectively as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Local Geological Sites (LGS). However, even the most wonderfully clear geological exposure can be made invisible by a few years of vegetation growth and accumulation of rubble, hence the need for maintenance.
Historically, the Earth Heritage Trust has been asked by organizations such as English Nature and the Malvern Hills Conservators (MHC) to assess whether particular designated sites require maintenance to sustain their value for research and education. However, although this was sometimes followed up by a commission to clear sites, such as in Mortimer Forest in 1999, in most cases it was not. Trust staff and volunteers responded by developing a nationally innovative funded project, Community Earth Heritage Champions. As a result, a series of groups of sites scattered across the two counties were adopted by local volunteers, and their exposures preserved and enhanced. Although funding ceased in 2012, this work continues in several areas. Below we describe a complementary set of activities that have been organized centrally by the Trust.
In 2014, the Earth Heritage Trust was approached by the Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (MHAONB) to carry out maintenance work on at least four local sites each year, the sites to be chosen by mutual agreement. There are many designated sites within the AONB area, so the potential was wide. The start of the AONB contract was soon followed by a similar one from MHC (now the Malvern Hills Trust (MHT)) for three days of work each year. We are grateful to both organisations for the support they give to our geological work.
This annual cycle of site enhancement has been continued in the succeeding years. Typically, eight sites have been dealt with each year, of which some will have been worked on previously, because in some places vegetation regrowth is quick. Most of the sites are easily accessible, often from adjacent public footpaths. The number of active volunteers is currently about twenty-five and these are drawn from several local geological organisations. Professional help has been used for some heavier work when funding has been available. MHT volunteers provide one work session each year. Annual work sessions by a team from DEFRA have been valuable and has enabled some work beyond the area of the AONB (such as in Mortimer Forest and the Wyre Forest). The group can also respond to requests for work elsewhere in the counties such as clearance of a rare limestone pavement in the Wye Valley and temporarily re-excavating an interglacial site at Eckington for a field trip associated with the International Quaternary Association (INQUA), both in 2019. The net effect of all this effort has been a major improvement in the quality of geological sites around the Malverns. Most of the important ones are now in a suitable state for worthwhile geological visits and our aim is to maintain them in this condition.
Most of the sites exhibit hard rock but some geomorphological localities showing Quaternary features have been saved. In cases where the sites are SSSIs, work is done with the permission and active encouragement of Natural England who are the official guardians of this heritage. On many of the sites the current condition is far better than it has been for many years and fresh observations of previously unrecorded features have been made, adding particular interest for the clearance team and allowing fresh interpretation in some cases.
Additional volunteers for this interesting work are always welcomed. Please contact John Payne at the Earth Heritage Trust (care of firstname.lastname@example.org) if you think you might wish to join us. The Trust is most grateful to John Payne for coordinating this group.