Key Features of the Malvern Hills AONB


The key landscape characteristics of the AONB are well documented thanks to Landscape Character Assessments and Historic Landscape Characterisations produced by local authorities in the area. 10 Landscape Character Types and 30 Landscape Description Units (LDUs) have been identified within the AONB.

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  • The prominent steeply sloping principal ridge contrasting with the flat land to the east and south and the gently undulating hills to the west and north.
  • Extensive areas of acid grassland and heath on the hill tops, with rough grazing.
  • Mixed broadleaved woodland often of ancient origin on the lower hills and valleys in the north and west.
  • Fields of pasture bordered by hedgerows and often containing hedgerow trees.
  • Formalised, enclosed commons in the east with regular hedgerow boundaries.
  • Unenclosed commons to the south east with a strong sense of wildness.
  • Arable fields to the south with regular hedged boundaries and straight roads.
  • Scattered settlements and small wayside cottages, particularly by the commons.
  • Far-reaching views from and towards the AONB.


The AONB is made up of many distinct habitat types which support a wide diversity of flora and fauna. The area supports UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority habitats and species as well as those identified as being of local importance. The AONB contains 15 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and over 60 Special Wildlife sites.

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Key AONB Habitats UK BAP priority habitat Key AONB species
Lowland mixed deciduous woodland Yes Dormouse
Lowland dry acid grassland Yes Bats – Lesser Horseshoe Barbastelle Soprano Pipistrelle Bechsteins
Lowland calcareous grassland Yes Bullfinch
Lowland meadows Yes Skylark
Traditional orchards Yes Song Thrush
Wood pasture and parkland Yes Great Crested Newt
Veteran trees No High Brown Fritillary Butterfly
Rivers and streams Yes Black Poplar
Hedgerows and hedgerow trees Yes Polecat
Ponds Yes Barn Owl
Wet woodland Yes Adder
Wet woodland Yes Peregrine Falcon
Wet woodland Yes Noble Chafer


The striking nature of the scenery in the AONB is ultimately dependent on the rocks that lie beneath the ground surface. The shape and orientation of these rocks and the range of mechanical and chemical properties they possess is variable, complex and fascinating. Geodiversity Action Plans help to identify, conserve, enhance and monitor this resource.

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  • Very hard igneous and metamorphic rocks that form the high ground of the Malvern Hills ridge and date from the Precambrian period (460-542 million years ago), including the eastern fault face.
  • Silurian rocks, formed in a marine environment, that underpin the ridge and vale scenery (these include the Much Wenlock Limestone and the Ludlow Bone Bed).
  • A complex and diverse range of soil types, giving rise to the varied habitats of the AONB.
  • Distinctive landforms and river types, including the Leigh Brook, the Leddon and the brook at Gullet Quarry.
  • An extensive network of ice age deposits including the Malvern gravels and lacustrine deposits around Malvern.
  • Geological structures such as fault lines running across and along the Malvern Hills.

Historic Environment

The AONB contains a large number and variety of heritage assets such as iconic hill forts, field patterns and listed buildings. These features make a vital and distinctive contribution to the character of the area. Some important heritage assets are designated but many others receive no statutory protection.

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  • Iron Age hill forts at British Camp and Midsummer Hill.
  • The Shire Ditch – a ridge-top boundary interpreted as having prehistoric origins.
  • Bronze Age burial grounds, for example at Colwall and Mathon.
  • Moated sites representing medieval settlements.
  • Industrial architecture such as limekilns, tunnels and quarry cottages.
  • Listed buildings, including Eastnor Castle, Bromesberrow Place and Little Malvern Priory, as well as listed graves and gas lamps.
  • Conservation areas – including Malvern Wells, Eastnor, Colwall and part of Cradley.
  • Victorian villas of Malvern (Malvern stone and render).
  • Half-timbered buildings.
  • Designed parks and landscape gardens of national historic interest, including their trees and woodlands, such as Eastnor Castle and Hope End.
  • Gardens and parks of local significance, such as Old Colwall and Bromesberrow.
  • The unenclosed landscape and designed elements of the Malvern Hills ridge.
  • Victorian tree plantings, for example lime boulevards In Colwall, and veteran trees.
  • Springs and wells.
  • Artistic associations with poets (Elizabeth Barrett Browning), architects (Voysey) and composers (Elgar).

Farming and Forestry

Farming and forestry represent the significant forms of land use within the AONB, providing valuable jobs and income. Landowners, farmers and tenants are the principal agents involved in managing this land. Permanent grassland accounts for more than 50% of the AONB by area whilst approximately 20% of the AONB is covered by woodland.

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  • Ancient semi-natural woodlands, often small-scale and found on banks, ridges and hill tops.
  • Unimproved and semi-improved grasslands and commons, providing valuable grazing land and important wildlife habitats.
  • Apple, pear and cherry orchards.
  • Hedges and hedgerow trees, forming boundaries to old pastures and arable land.
  • Large wooded estates and parklands with a mosaic of grassland, woodland and cultivated land.
  • Veteran trees in hedgerows, woodlands and fields.

Community - Living and Working

Human activity has contributed significantly to the natural beauty of the AONB. The distinctive character of the area today is as much about the communities who live there as it is the physical form of its landscape. The AONB is home to around 12,000 people with many attracted to the area by its high quality environment.

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  • A reasonably content and cohesive community identity.
  • An attractive environment for low impact industries and a skilled workforce.
  • A desirable place in which to live and work.
  • A relatively high proportion of home workers (15.55% work mainly from home compared with a West Midlands average of 8.94%).
  • A number of highly engaged communities within the AONB who are actively influencing their environment, for example through Village Design Statements and Community Plans.
  • A revival of local skills in traditional landscape management such as hedge laying, coppicing and fencing.

Built Development

Development is inevitable and necessary in the AONB. However, a framework is needed to manage this change effectively and sympathetically. Key elements in this framework include national Planning Policy Statements and Local Development Frameworks. The AONB Management Plan sets out specific statements and objectives that help to maintain the integrity of the AONB.

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  • Protection offered to the AONB through planning law and policy at national, regional and local level.
  • Rural character and scale of settlements contribute to local distinctiveness, landscape character and sense of tranquillity.
  • Views to and from the Malvern Hills.
  • High-quality built environment characterised by numerous distinctive features, such as settlement patterns, landmark buildings, garden layouts, boundary elements, the distance of buildings from highways, and planting traditions.
  • Interested and active local communities engaged in community planning initiatives in the AONB.

Tourism, Recreation and Access

Around 1.25 million visitors come to the AONB each year to undertake recreational pursuits and to enjoy its special qualities. Tourism and recreation make a significant contribution to the local economy, and the outdoor environment of the AONB acts as an important resource to help people stay fit and healthy.

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  • Unspoiled ‘natural’ environment
  • Dramatic scenery and spectacular views
  • Quiet rural lanes for walking, cycling and horse-riding
  • Visitor attractions such as The Malvern Showground and historic buildings and parks such as Eastnor Castle.
  • Open access on foot, unfettered by stiles and gates, across a large part of the Malvern Hills and Commons.
  • The proximity to centres of population, principally Malvern.
  • Villages and market towns such as Ledbury (partly within the AONB boundary).
  • Established trails and routes, such as the Elgar route, the Cider Trail, Literary Guide and Discovery Walks.
  • Opportunities to engage in a wide range of recreational activities, including angling, equestrian activities, hang gliding, kite flying, model gliding, sledging, cycling, abseiling and walking.
  • A range of cultural features and attractions including art, theatre, music, literature and gastronomy.
  • Opportunities to participate in well managed and appropriately scaled field sports.


The AONB is easily accessed from major roads such as the M5 and M50 motorways but it also contains a significant network of rural lanes. Regular trains and buses serve the area. A key objective is to promote more sustainable forms of transport which have less of an impact on the special qualities of the area.

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  • Good regional rail access and regular services to and from the West Midlands and the South East.
  • Easy access and car park provision to the high hills and ridges of the northern and central Malvern Hills.
  • A comprehensive network of rights of way.
  • Rural character of minor roads defined by locally distinctive features such as hedgerows, cast iron road signs, and milestones.
  • Quiet rural lanes providing good opportunities for cycling and horse riding.
  • Good potential for integrated public transport provision between trains and buses.