The Chilterns is a haven for wildlife with fantastic nature reserves, wild, open spaces, and parks and gardens galore.
The distinctive chalk bedrock underlying the Chilterns gives rise to hillsides of velvety chalk downland and clear, sparkling springs that feed chalk streams like the Chess and Misbourne. Woodlands pepper the landscape, and the Chilterns’ famous beechwoods are the jewel in the crown.
Yet, the Chilterns is a working, breathing landscape, with an ancient human history. Traces of previous eras are still visible today, alongside both old and new agriculture, forestry and commons practices. These human endeavours not only affected nature many years ago, but still impact the wildlife communities we see today.
One of the best ways to explore this rich heritage is take things slowly: on foot, bike or horseback. Like this, it is easy to find tucked away copses, stumble across clear streams, delight in the flutter of butterflies, and marvel at the impressive red kites soaring overhead.
If you don’t know where to start, we’ve come up with some highlights to help. Or you can browse our interactive map to find your perfect place to explore nature.
Rolling chalk downlands
With more than 700 hectares of chalk grassland, the Chilterns has nationally important concentrations of this habitat. Many of the plants and animals found in chalk grassland, such as the Chiltern gentian and the Adonis blue butterfly, cannot survive in other habitats.
Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve
With far-reaching views over the Oxfordshire Vale, Aston Rowant is an area of woodland and downland on top of the Chilterns escarpment. Here, red kites wheel overhead, while chalkhill blue and silver-spotted skippers dance among the flowers. Enjoy easy access trails or head off the beaten track.Read more
Barton Hills National Nature Reserve
Barton Hills is a chalk grassland site that is typical of the northern Chilterns, with some woodlands of beech and ash-maple. The grassland is grazed in autumn and winter to encourage wildflowers, such as the rare pasque flower. Chalkhill blue, marbled white and grizzled skipper butterflies also thrive here.Read more
Hartslock Nature Reserve
This chalk grassland site offers wonderful views over the River Thames and the iconic Brunel railway bridge that spans it. It is home to nationally important wildflowers and insects; orchids, butterflies and moths are abundant, and red kites can be seen soaring overhead. Look out for the delicate and rare monkey orchid in June – a real treat to spot!Read more
The Chilterns is a heavily wooded landscape, with more than one-fifth of its area covered by woodland. Ash, cherry and oak are widespread, alongside beech. The Chilterns used to support a wide range of woodland industries, including chair-making. Today, the woods are still harvested for timber, but management for recreation and wildlife has become equally important.
Not far from Berkhamsted, the Ashridge Estate is a gem in the Chilterns’ crown. Comprising 2,000 hectares of wildlife-rich woodlands and chalk downland, it offers walks and rides through outstanding scenery. For breathtaking views, climb to the top of the Bridgewater Monument.Read more
Ancient beech pollards are a splendid feature of Burnham’s extensive area of woodland and commons. There are surfaced, easy-access paths and roads that are closed to vehicles. Wildlife abounds, with woodpeckers in the trees, common lizards basking in sunny spots, and fungi popping up among the autumnal leaf litter.Read more
Warburg Nature Reserve
Near Henley-on-Thames, Warburg is one the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust’s flagship nature reserves. Tucked away among quiet beech woods, there is a small visitor centre and something to see all year-round: in spring, the woodland is awash with bluebells; in summer, the chalk grassland rides are full of orchids; in autumn, an incredible 900 species of fungi grow here; and in winter, sparkling frosts adorn the valley.Read more
One of the highest points in the Chilterns, Wendover Woods is a large, wooded site managed by Forestry England. There is a café, children’s adventure playground and an easy access trail. Look out for the Gruffalo hiding in the woodlands, among carpets of bluebells in spring and colourful leaves in autumn.Read more
The countryside of the Chilterns has been shaped by people for centuries. Farmland covers nearly two-thirds of the AONB and there are 170 different commons within the AONB boundary, many providing important green spaces today. The area is littered with Bronze Age barrows, Iron Age forts, medieval churches, 18th century sawpits and 20th century military trenches; all creating layers of civilisation that provide a timeline for the evolution of the landscape.
The highest point in Bedfordshire is a stunning chalk grassland site that’s full of history. Footpaths criss-cross its grassy slopes, and a Neolithic burial ground and a set of medieval rabbit warrens make impressive stops along the way. Include the Chilterns Gateway Centre in your visit.Read more
Scale the panoramic hilltop of Ivinghoe Beacon and enjoy immense views over the surrounding countryside. Look out for signs of the past on the windswept hillsides, including the remains of an Iron Age hillfort and prehistoric earthworks. As you tread, be careful of the wonderful wildflowers, including the rare pasque flower, which blooms here from April.Read more
Close to the town centre, Tring Park is expansive green space with a rich mosaic of habitats, including chalk grassland, mixed woodland and open parkland, all landscaped by Charles Bridgeman at the turn of the 18th century. Tread carefully among lady’s bedstraw, yellow rattle, saxifrage and salad burnet in summer, while clouds of butterflies flutter by.Read more
West Wycombe Park
Close to Princes Risborough, West Wycombe Park is famed for its perfectly preserved Rococo gardens. Created in the mid-18th century by Sir Francis Dashwood, they surround his fine Palladian mansion, often described as the most Italianate house in England. The expansive parkland is open to the public in summer.Read more
Up close and personal
The Chilterns AONB is home to exciting and rare plants and animals, but these can sometimes be very hard to spot. Yet, there are some great places to visit and fabulous ways to enjoy nature that will get you up close and personal.
College Lake Nature Reserve
Once a former chalk quarry, College Lake has been transformed into a thriving wildlife centre by the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust. It is a haven for migrating wildfowl and chalk grassland wildlife. Stroll along easy access trails, learn about local wildlife through exhibitions and events, and enjoy refreshments in the Visitor Centre café.Read more
Whipsnade Tree Cathedral
Planted in 1931 to commemorate the First World War, grass avenues are lined with deciduous and evergreen species, laid out in the shape of a traditional medieval cathedral.Read more