ROGUE treasure hunters using metal detectors are suspected of causing damage to protected land on the Malvern Hills.

As many as 50 holes have appeared on the ridge-line between Perseverance Hill and Black Hill in recent weeks.

Malvern Hills Conservators, the 'guardians of the hills', describe the holes as "reckless destruction".

They say the holes, believed to have been dug with a spade or similar tool, are seriously damaging the characteristic acid grasslands of the hills.

They also threaten the Shire Ditch, an important archaeological site, which runs along the spine of the Malvern Hills.

The ditch, which has historically marked the boundary between Herefordshire and Worcestershire, is thought to date back to the Bronze Age, and was fortified in the 11th century.

It is designated as a Scheduled Monument, which means that it is an offence to destroy or damage it, or to use a metal detector there.

Conservators conservation officer Beck Baker said even when turf is replaced - as it has been in a very small number of the holes - there is no guarantee that the uprooted plants will survive and grow back.

"The hills and commons of Malvern are so important for a wide range of reasons and this reckless destruction of the habitats and archaeology of the hills is very serious," she said.

" We are asking if anyone sees any individual digging or metal-detecting, or has seen more evidence of man-made disturbance to please contact us."

Similar holes have also been found on the Link Common.

"We know what natural holes look like, such as rabbit holes or horse hoof prints and these are different," Mrs Baker added.

"We know that no-one has been using metal detectors there with our permission."

Under the Conservators' by-laws, it is an offence to remove or displace turf or soil, or to use a metal detector without prior permission. If convicted, those involved could be fined.

A conviction for damaging a scheduled monument could result in a fine or even imprisonment.

Anyone with information should call the Conservators on 01684 892002.