Nature and wildlife
From rare orchids to majestic red kites, the diversity of the flora and fauna of the Chiltern Hills is incredible.
Nature under threat
The Chilterns AONB faces immense pressure from human activities and their consequences, such as climate change. These pressures can threaten and impact the wonderful habitats and species of the area. Find out more about our habitats and what we are doing to help them:
The Adonis blue butterfly is a striking butterfly of southern chalk grassland. Males have brilliant-blue wings, while females are mainly brown with orange spots at their wing edges.
Adonis blue populations have undergone serious declines in recent years, mainly due to habitat loss.
The Chilterns is famous for its beech woods. Mature trees can grow to more than 40 metres in height, shading the woodland floor with their huge crowns. Specialised plants grow beneath these giants, and animals make the most of their autumnal bounty of seeds. Beech wood is especially good for furniture-making and a rich industry grew up in the Chilterns during the 18th and 19th centuries, when planting was at its height. Sadly, this tradition declined in the 20th century as beech wood was replaced by cheaper woods, metal and plastic.
In a small number of places in the Chilterns, ancient box woods exist as remnants of a habitat that was once more extensive. These woodlands host rare animals and lichens, and were once harvested for their timber to make lace bobbins, woodblocks for printing and instruments. Today, these industries have declined, and box woods are under pressure from habitat loss.
The brown trout is a medium-sized fish that lives in fast-flowing and gravelly rivers and streams; it is particularly fond of the Chilterns’ special chalk streams, which are threatened by climate change. Brown trout are golden-brown in colour, with reddish spots down the flanks. Spring is breeding time and some trout migrate miles to get to their spawning grounds. Brown trout are a Priority Species.
The Chiltern gentian is one of the rarest flowers in the UK and can only be found at a handful of sites, mostly in the Chiltern Hills. It grows on chalk downlands and prefers open, short turf. It has a reddish stem and pretty, trumpet-shaped, purple flowers. The habitat in which is lives is under serious threat from climate change and habitat loss.
Juniper is a spiny, grey-green, evergreen shrub that tends to grow in colonies on chalk grassland sites in the Chilterns. It has cone-like flowers in spring, which eventually ripen into the berries it is most famous for – blackish-blue and perfect for making gin! Once a common plant, it is now declining due to habitat loss.
The monkey orchid is very rare in the UK and can only be found at three sites, one of which is in the Chilterns. Living up to its name, the monkey orchid has small, white-and-pink flowers that look just like little monkeys, each with a head, arms, legs and a tiny tail. The flower prefers sunny, chalk grassland sites, which are under threat from climate change and lack of appropriate management.
During the mid-20th century, the otter was driven to near extinction across our rivers due to hunting and pollution. But due to conservation efforts and legislation, it is now making a fantastic comeback. Cleaning up the rivers has allowed it to return to the waterways of the Chilterns; look for signs of this secretive mammal, such as spraints (poo); five-toed footprints; and bankside burrows. Otters are protected under European law
The pasqueflower is a rare wildflower of chalk grasslands and limestone hillsides. Flowering around Eastertime – hence the name ‘pasque’, meaning Easter – it is a large, purple flower with a cluster of bright yellow stamens at its centre. It is listed as Vulnerable on Britain’s Red List of plants and is threatened by habitat loss.
Red kites were driven to extinction in England by human persecution during the 19th century; only a small Welsh population remained. But thanks to a massive reintroduction and conservation programme, these iconic birds are back and breeding in the Chilterns – now one of the best places in the UK to see them soaring high over the woods and grasslands. Find out more.
Water voles live on our waterways, burrowing into riverbanks and hiding among reedbeds. They look like fat, fluffy rats with furry tails, but the similarities end there. They are under serious threat from habitat loss and predation by the non-native American mink. They are a Priority Species and can be found along the Chilterns’ precious chalk streams.
New Shoots is a nature and wildlife programme that gives young people their first experiences in the world of conservation....
Mend the Gap is a collaborative programme between the North Wessex Downs AONB Partnership, the Chilterns Conservation Board and the Railway...