Chalk grassland is a unique, specialised and fragile habitat, important for landscape and historical value as well as for wildlife. Chalk grassland results from centuries of grazing on nutrient poor chalks soils, producing a short turf (or 'sward’) rich in herbs, flowers and grasses.
The Chilterns has nationally-important concentrations of chalk grassland, particularly along the steep scarp slopes of the chalk outcrop and dry valley slopes. There are over 700 hectares of chalk grassland in the AONB. Many of the plants found in chalk grassland – for example Chiltern Gentian - do not live in other habitat. A wide variety of insects are also found, many of which need specific chalk grassland plants in order to survive, for example the Adonis Blue butterfly.
Chalk scrub is also often of high wildlife value but needs active management. Juniper and box scrub habitats are of particular interest in the Chilterns.
Nationally, chalk grassland habitat has declined significantly in the post-war period, and the Chilterns is no exception. Through the efforts of land managers (including farmers, volunteer groups and conservation organisations) across the Chilterns, progress is being made in restoring and in some areas expanding chalk grassland. These efforts need to be sustained and expanded over the long term. Declines in the livestock sector and uncertainty of future agri-environment scheme add to current challenges.
Pegsdon Hills, near Barton-le-Clay, Beds
Aldbury Nowers, near Tring, Herts
Grangelands, near Princes Risborough, Bucks
Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve, near Watlington, Oxon
Hartslock, near Goring-on-Thames, Oxon
Handouts from a series of site visits in the Whitchurch and Goring area in south Oxfordshire.