Grasslands and heaths
The Chilterns AONB supports important wildlife-rich chalk, acid and neutral grasslands, as well remnant heathlands often found on common land.
Types of grasslands and heaths in the Chilterns
Lowland calcareous grassland
This type of grassland is associated with thin, base-rich soils such as those found over chalk and limestone. With a typically short turf, maintained by grazing, the grassland supports important invertebrates, such as the Adonis blue butterfly, and plants, such as orchids.Find out more
Lowland meadows and pasture
Shaped by traditional farming methods, such as hay-cutting and grazing, these flower-rich fields near lowland rivers have moist, deep soils that support plants like cuckooflower, oxeye daisy, meadow buttercup and great burnet. In turn, invertebrates are plentiful and wading birds flock to the fields to feed.
Coastal and floodplain grazing marsh
Coastal and floodplain grazing marsh is found on low-lying coasts and along slow-flowing rivers. In the landlocked Chilterns, floodplain grazing marsh is mostly used for pasturing cattle or hay production. It has generally been embanked, drained and agriculturally improved, but still holds a diverse range of rare plant species, and is notable for its breeding wader and waterfowl populations, and its invertebrates.
Lowland dry acid grassland
This grassland is found on acidic, often sandy, soils over gravels and siliceous rocks. Species-rich, it is full of fine grasses, lichens, mosses, along with low-growing herbs like sheep’s sorrel and bird’s-foot-trefoil. Turf is kept short through grazing and cutting, and bare ground provides perfect habitat for burrowing wasps and insects. Reptiles and ground-nesting birds can be found here.
Heathland is the result of hundreds, if not thousands, of years of forest clearance and livestock grazing. If undisturbed, heathland will naturally change back into woodland. Soils are sandy and acidic, and low in nutrients. Purple-pink heather and sun-yellow gorse are typical species to be found here, alongside scattered trees and bare ground. Reptiles bask in the sun, burrowing insects thrive in the sandy soils, and ground-nesting birds like woodlarks nestle in the low shrubs.
The grasslands and heaths of the Chilterns are bursting with wildlife, some of which is incredibly specialist or rare. Look out for the aptly named Chiltern gentian, as well as the brilliant Adonis blue butterfly and the very special berries of juniper bushes – used to make delicious gin! Explore our grassy places through the seasons to find out where to go for wildlife, what to spot and what’s rare.
Why are grasslands and heaths important?
Grasslands and heaths under threat
Grasslands and heaths are important features of the Chilterns’ landscape, but their habitats and characteristics are being lost at an alarming rate; for example, ten of the 60 rarer chalk flora species are already thought to be extinct. Threats to the survival of our grassland heritage include lack of management, climate change, habitat loss and invasive species. Find out how we are tackling these threats and how you can help.
Managing our grasslands and heaths
New project: Chalkscapes
Chalkscapes is an exciting new partnership project designed to inspire people to understand, care for and take action for the precious North Chilterns chalk landscape. The project will deliver landscape-scale conservation and community engagement, giving urgent support to the wildlife, heritage and communities that face unprecedented and relentless levels of housing, infrastructure growth and environmental pressures.
Hazel spent a year learning butterfly, bird and plants identification and survey methodology with the 'Tracking the Impact' project.
Historic England and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty sign joint statement to conserve and celebrate iconic historic environment
England’s AONBs and Historic England have signed a joint statement outlining their ambition and intent to work together to conserve and enhance the historic and cultural environment of England’s 34 AONBs.
Buckinghamshire Council publishes hard-hitting report on pollution of the County’s rivers and chalk streams
Calling for urgent action to protect Buckinghamshire’s rivers and chalk streams, the report’s key conclusions include that the water industry is the single biggest contributor towards poor water quality in the region.