Appendix VI

GLOUCESTERSHIRE TRUST FOR NATURE CONSERVATION

Provisional Advisory Report on Stinchcombe Hill Dursley, Glos.

Stinchcombe Hill consists of a promontory of the Cotswold escarpment containing grassland of considerable botanical and entomological interest. The scientific importance of the area is indicated in its designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest by the Nature Conservancy Council.

The purpose of this report is to indicate the main features of scientific interest and to provide advice on management for nature Conservation. The report is concerned only with those areas administered and managed by the Trustees of Stinchcombe Hill as an open space away from the Golf Course. The major habitat of interest is the relatively open limestone grassland, especially the south to west facing slopes i.e. those slopes receiving maximum sunshine and warmth on well-drained shallow soils. The best areas of such grassland are shown on the attached Plan: Although each slope shows important ecological differences the flora contains a number of species highly characteristic of oolitic limestone grassland. The predominant grasses include Tor Grass, Chalk False Brome, Sheeps Fescue and Quaking Grass; the broad-leaved herbs include such species as Rock Rose, Wild Thyme, Cowslip, Cathartic Flax, Salad Burnet, Nonse-ear Hawkweed, Wild Basil, Kidney Vetch, Horseshoe Vetch, Common Milkwort, Lesser Knapweed, Ox-eye Daisy, Small Scabious and Carline Thistle. Several species of orchids also occur and are characteristic - these include Bee Orchid, Spotted Orchid, Twayblade, Large White Helleborine and Broad Helleborine. The vetches are of particular importance as they provide the essential larval food plants for certain butterflies, notably the Chalkhill Blue and Small Blue, both of' which are known to be declining in the county (See J. Muggleton's report). A considerable variety of other butterfly species are also found at Stinchcombe Hill, including local species such as the Dark Green Fritillary, Marbled White, Green Hairstreak, Brown Argus, Grayling and Grizzled Skipper. A full list is appended. Most of these butterflies are dependant upon the maintenance of a grassland habitat containing the correct larval food plants.

In the absence of grazing (except by rabbits) the grassland areas have been invaded to a varying extent by Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Hazel, Wild Rose, Bramble, Wayfaring Tree, l4hitebeam, Birch, Ash, Holm Oak and Beech. In general, one would expect the colonization of the grassland by trees and shrubs to proceed until a woodland climax vegetation is reached. Some of the steeper slopes may be almost self- maintaining as grassland due to unstable surface conditions, very shallow depth of soil and extreme dryness, but in the long term the coarse grasses will tend to become increasingly dominant leading to a change in the floristic composition. There are several well-established blocks of scrub and woodland which now form an important habitat for small mammals and certain buds, especially warblers such as the Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and Blackcap, depending on the stage of colonization reached. Typical woodland species of birds also occur while Tree Pipits, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks breed in the more open grassland habitats.

Recommendations

It is strongly recommended that the remaining areas of relatively open grassland with short turf be conserved for their botanical and entomological interest. This is best achieved by grazing, mowing or burning with vigorous control of invading scrub by cutting (with herbicide treatment to prevent regrowth of the stumps) and/or uprooting. Well established blocks of scrub should be retained as a habitat where visual or amenity considerations are not important. The control of coarse grasses and scrub by cutting or mowing (where practicable) is preferred to control by burning. Burning is generally considered harmful to invertebrates and may, in addition, encourage the spread of species such as Tor Grass, Rosebay and Hemp Agrimony. Burning should only be carried out in selected areas under carefully controlled conditions, using firebreaks, in January- February to minimise damage - fires outside this period can have disastrous effects on both flora and fauna. Where burning is considered necessary a three year rotation is advised in order to allow re-colonization of species from surviving habitats.

C.R. Cuthbert
February 1977