In a world where everything has to be the biggest, fastest, newest and best, any description of Cleeve Common can sound like another dose of all too familiar hype. However, at Cleeve, the superlatives do go on and on, at least for the present.
As well as being the highest point and largest area of common land in Gloucestershire, Cleeve includes significant areas of two of southern England’s most threatened types of habitat i.e lowland heath and unimproved limestone grassland. The presence of a wide-range of nationally rare species means that the Common is certainly the best site in the Cotswolds for moths and is of national importance for lepidoptera as it holds stable populations of scarce species such as Lace Border and Chalk Carpet as well as a range of Red Data Book micro-moths. The Common is large enough to support a large and healthy population of Adders, whereas at other smaller, isolated sites, in-breeding threatens the viability of the species. The flora includes the very rare Purple Milk-vetch and the orchids present include the rare frog and musk species. Among the breeding birds on the Common are Linnet and Yellowhammer and the area is a traditional stopping-off point for migratory Ring Ouzels. All three of these species are “red listed” in the UK, i.e. they have the highest conservation priority as they need urgent action
Management is the key to understanding the rich bio-diversity of the Common and that management depends on a carefully considered conservation plan, based on data from detailed survey work, and on a skilled and knowledgeable workforce who can implement the plan to produce the all-important mosaic of grassland, heather, gorse and woodland.
All of this essential work is under threat. Changes in DEFRA policies have resulted in a reduction of the vital income needed to finance conservation work on the Common. Cleeve Common does not have the financial backing of a major conservation charity, but has depended instead on the range of payments which I am sure we all thought were made available by DEFRA under it is environmental remit. Given the amount of money DEFRA has just written off for yet another failed IT system (for the EU’s Basic Payment Scheme), the funds required to maintain the quality of conservation management on the Common are minute. Whether an under-resourced, tunnel-visioned department can show some flexibility regarding the Common’s finances is anyone’s guess, but a little persuasion from interested naturalists would not go amiss. Finally a point worthy of any “strange but true” column; DEFRA’s the new approach means handing over money to grazing-rights holders, even if they don’t turn out any animals on to the Common!
Gloucestershire Plant Gall Recorder and East Gloucestershire Moth Recorder