The underlying geology of Herefordshire is predominantly Devonian ‘Old Red Sandstone’. In the southern part of the county near Ross, Upper Old Red Sandstone and Carboniferous limestones and shales occur. In the Malverns, a very old, pre-Cambrian area occurs, comprising metamorphic rock with igneous intrusions. Beds of Silurian limestone occur beyond the Malverns, which dip downwards towards the west, re-emerging at the Woolhope Dome. On the Welsh border, Silurian and Ordovician deposits occur.
On the surface, drift deposits resulting from the glacial history of the area are complex. Ice advances took place at different times and older drifts were superseded by subsequent glacial episodes. Deposits occur as sand and gravel, till or boulder clay. Newer drift covers a vast area of western Herefordshire, while older drifts, formed from the same type of material are less continuous. Re-working has occurred by the flow of melt-water and rivers, forming terraces associated with the River Wye and its tributaries and washing sands and gravels onto the floodplain.
(See also Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust for more geological information)
Herefordshire’s rivers and associated floodplains are of enormous conservation importance and are among the characteristic landscape features of the county. The rivers are home to twaite and allis shad, otter and crayfish and a wide range of birds and invertebrates. The river valleys are a patchwork of habitats, including wet grassland, hay meadows, improved agricultural grassland, wet woodland, ponds and in a few places remnants of reedbed and grazing marsh.
Herefordshire supports the greatest length of river designated for its conservation value of any county in England; the River Wye, with part of the Lugg, is a candidate Special Area for Conservation (SAC).
There are only a few large areas of open water within Herefordshire, including the former gravel pits at Bodenham and several small natural lakes around Kington. These sites are particularly important for birds, including widgeon, teal, tufted duck, common tern, sand martin, water rail, grey wagtail, kingfisher, dipper, redshank and common sandpiper. Several species of bat are known to feed over open water including Daubenton’s, pipistrelle and the noctule.
(HNT reserves: Titley Pool)
Upland areas in the Malvern Hills, Black Mountains and north-west Herefordshire support a mosaic of upland grassland and heathland habitats interspersed with wet flushes. Commons occur throughout the county in both upland and lowland situations.
» Click here for more information about the Community Commons Project
(Black Mountains, Malvern Hills)
Herefordshire is the most wooded county in the West Midlands. The majority of this woodland is ancient semi-natural, generally the most biologically rich, supporting characteristic plant and animal communities which are not found elsewhere. These woods are by definition irreplaceable and cannot be re-created once damaged or destroyed. Herefordshire's ancient woods are recognised as some of the most important in England.
The geology and topography in the county gives rise to a great variety of woodland types, from the oak/ash woods of the upland areas in the north and west of the county to the rich woodland of the limestone hills of the Woolhope Dome, Doward and Wye Gorge with their unusual associations of tree and scrub species such as field maple, wych elm, lime, spindle, wayfaring tree, wild service tree, sessile oak and yew.
Herefordshire is famous for its orchards, although many have been lost over the last 50 years. Established traditional orchards may have a long history of continuity on the same site. They will often contain a number of trees of considerable age (e.g. perry pears 100-150 years old). Because of the replanting that has gone on over many years, in-filling gaps and replacing blocks of trees, there will be a great mixture of trees of different varieties and ages throughout the orchard.
The diverse age structure of traditional orchards and the standing and fallen dead and decaying wood and heart rot, hollows, holes and sap runs formed in older and dead trees, provides a mosaic of valuable habitats for wildlife.
Parklands are the products of historic land management systems. Most important sites support veteran and mature trees, open-grown or high forest trees (often pollards) at various densities, in a matrix of grazed grassland, trees of various ages and woodland floras. These sites are frequently of national historic, cultural and landscape importance. Many Herefordshire parklands are of national importance and are even amongst those in the UK which are outstanding at a European level. Moccas Park is amongst the finest examples of parkland habitat in the country.
There are various sorts of grassland which are defined by their underlying geology and soil types. Unimproved grasslands of all kinds are one of our most threatened habitats
- Neutral grasslands are the most widespread grassland type in the county. They support a specialist group of scarce and declining plant species. The best hay meadow and species-rich pasture can contain over 100 plant species in a few hectares. Characteristic species include, dyer’s greenweed, green-winged orchid, pepper, cowslip, adder’s tongue fern, and meadow saffron. Anthills are a feature of this sort of ancient grassland at some sites. Snake’s head fritillary and narrow-leaved water-dropwort both occur on the Lugg Meadow.
- Calcareous grasslands support a very rich flora including many nationally rare and scarce species. These grasslands also provide feeding or breeding habitat for a number of scarce or declining birds including the skylark. Plant species characteristic of the Silurian limestone of the Malverns and the Woolhope Dome include upright brome, ploughman’s spikenard, rock-rose, dyer’s greenweed, salad burnet, pyramidal orchid and wild thyme.
- Acid grassland is by its nature a relatively species poor community. It is characterised by a range of plant species such as heath bedstraw, sheep’s fescue, common bent, sheep’s sorrel, wavy-hair grass and tormentil. Many of the invertebrates that occur in acid grassland are specialist species which do not occur in other types of grassland.
(Black Mountains, Malvern Hills)
There are five Natural Area zones within Herefordshire. The Natural Area boundaries are based on the distribution of wildlife and natural features, and on the land use pattern and human history of each area. Each Natural Area has its own conservation objectives.
» Click here for further details about Natural Area