As areas of rare and unique wildlife, chalk grasslands have been likened to the Rainforest for the diversity of species they hold. It is estimated that we’ve lost 80% of our chalk grassland over the last 60 years. This fragile habitat is home to rare orchid species and black veined and straw-belle moths, found only within the North Downs. The pyramidal orchid, was chosen as the County Flower of the Isle of Wight, where it abounds on the islands chalk landscape. Like many orchids, it requires a specific fungus to be present in the soil in order to bloom. Kidney Vetch is the sole foodplant for the larvae of the Small Blue Butterfly - our smallest resident butterfly and a seriously declining insect which is classified as a Priority Species. The distribution of the Chalkhill Blue butterfly follows the distribution of Horseshoe Vetch which, in turn, follows the distribution of chalk and limestone grassland. Although the Yellow Meadow Ant is common, it has a very distinctive relationship with the declining Chalkhill Blue Butterfly. Attracted by substances that the caterpillar secretes, the workers bury the larvae of the Chalkhill Blue, unintentionally protecting it from predators. This inter-species relationship, and others like it, demonstrates the intricacies of habitats and ecosystems.
Did you know?
Chalk Grassland can have more than 40 species per square metre, double that of other types of grassland habitat. Many of these are specialists, that rely on the few remaining fragments of this land for survival, making it truly precious.