Chalk grassland is now a rare and fragmented habitat of international importance. The UK holds 50% of the world’s chalk grassland and in Kent, we have around 1900 hectares (5%), a fraction of what we used to have. This fragmentation is largely due to changes in land management practices, variations in usage and site development. Add to that the climate change factor, and the flora and fauna that depends on this kind of land for survival is increasingly found to be struggling and, in some cases, under threat of extinction.
The main aim of the Old Chalk New Downs Project, working on sites across the West and Mid Kent Downs, is to reconnect this precious, patchwork landscape by improving its condition, increasing its area and restoring historic sites where there once were wonderful grassy, chalkland meadows. To do this, habitat corridors along which the species may travel must be created, in addition to buffer zones and stepping-stone areas.
Landowners are now being invited to get involved with the project, to add to over 20 initial project sites. Grant funding of up to £10,000 is available to assist with capital work which will help with the sustainability of the project. These projects may be for work such as fencing and installation of a water supply to allow traditional grazing. Scrub clearance and soil inversion for the benefit of wildflowers, pond creation and management and hedge planting are all other ways to help in the development of a sustainable habitat.
Species benefiting from this work, and dependent on chalk grassland, include several rare orchids, the Chalkhill Blue butterfly and Kidney Vetch, the foodplant of the Small Blue butterfly. Yet, it is not just these rarities that will be helped. Our own well-being may also be improved by connection to the beauty and health-enhancing aspect of this environment.
An alternative strand to the project aims to reconnect the local community with their natural heritage and instill a sense of ownership of their surroundings, through a series of awareness, education, and habitat management activities. Therefore, improvements in access to our favourite walk through the chalk downland are key in the achievement of these goals. The encouragement of the appropriate use of chalk downland for better enjoyment, by changing perceptions, and addressing negative behaviours such as environmental crime, will benefit us all.
This ambitious four-year project, hosted by Kent County Council, has been funded by the Heritage Lottery scheme. If you are interested in applying for funding, then please contact the OCND team for more details, to discuss your ideas and to get your application form.