Chalk grassland is one of the richest habitats in Western Europe. Now, thanks to agricultural intensification, fertiliser and chemical application, fragmentation and unsuitable management we have lost much of what once was. The UK holds 50% of the worlds remaining chalk grassland, now isn’t that a reason for us to stand up and manage it well?
On average chalk grassland is home to 40 species per m2, astounding! Many of these species are rare plants and animals that can’t live elsewhere. For example, the Small blue butterfly which needs Kidney vetch to lay its eggs on or the Adonis blue which needs Horseshoe vetch. Not only butterflies but reptiles, skylarks, grasses and wildflowers all call chalk grassland their home.
Some of the wonderful plant species found on chalk grassland include: quaking grass, betony, marjoram, harebell, wild basil, eyebright, Deptford pink and milkworts. Not mentioning the wonderful orchids such as the Pyramidal (left) and Bee orchid (right).
One of my favourite things about chalk grassland is the closer you look, the more you see.
Chalk grassland is a managed habitat, without human input eventually scrub would take a hold and the area would transition to woodland. So, good management requires some form of grazing (at the correct level), scrub management and rotational mowing at certain times of year to create a mosaic of micro habitats and variation in sward height.
The flowers pictured are two of the more common species of orchid, but there are lots of really diverse and magnificent specimens to look for.
Get out there! Enjoy, admire and protect.