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.
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.
Chalk grassland is found mainly found on the North Downs, although occasional patches occur on the East Kent coast. It is one of the richest habitats of Western Europe, containing a great diversity of plants and animals. It is now very rare and fragmented, and is of international conservation importance. Kent holds 5% of the UK resource (there are approximately 1900 hectares in the county (ARCH Kent Habitat Survey 2012)) and the UK holds 50% of the world’s surviving old chalk grassland resource.
Under-grazing, or no grazing at all, results in grassland becoming dominated by coarse grasses and scrub, with the eventual loss of the characteristic grassland species. Overgrazing also brings its own problems, although very short grassland and bare patches of chalk can add structural diversity to the grassland. Management of these grasslands is therefore very important to maintain their species.
If the site has not been grazed or cut for a while, scrub can start to take over. Scrub does provide good habitat for wildlife so you should ensure that you leave some blocks scattered about, at least around the edges, as they provide nesting sites for breeding birds, shelter for species such as invertebrates and reptiles, and berries for migrating and
If you would like to know more, why not get in touch with Matt, our Habitat Connectivity Officer?
Inspiring people to care for their natural heritage.Partnerships & communities
Local partners, landowners, students and lovers of the countryside will restore and connect downland habitats to conserve this historic landscape and reconnect people with their natural heritage.Activities & events