Field Scabious or Gipsy Rose – an ‘insect plant’ par excellence

Often seen in well-drained, calcareous grassy habitats, such as limestone grasslands or even road verges, the Field Scabious is a familiar and beautiful plant that supports a large number of insect species. Richard Jefferson explores the biology, ecological importance and status of the Field Scabious, and the insects that are associated with it. In summer,

The Devil’s Dyke: its wildlife, history and restoration

Estimated to be built between the 5th and 7th centuries, the Devil’s Dyke, in Cambridgeshire, is not only of great historical interest, but is also a chalk grassland of national and international importance. In recent years, however, it has suffered due to scrub encroachment, and there have been concerns over the future of some of

Spiders in the grass: the effect on upland spider communities of grazing

Upland calcareous grasslands are well known for their botanical interest, but they also support a diverse community of invertebrates, including a number of scarce and endangered spiders. While grazing is common in these habitats, there has, until recently, been little information available on how this affects spider communities. Ashley Lyons, Paul Ashton, Ian Powell and

Long-term changes in chalk grassland

Calcareous grasslands support a remarkable diversity of plant species but, despite being widely recognised for their conservation importance, many have suffered from a lack of management. This has meant that even some of our most famous sites have been left to deteriorate and are now in poor condition. Peter Hawes, Richard Pywell and Lucy Ridding outline

Reserve focus: Fontmell and Melbury Downs, Dorset

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Thomas Hardy’s first published work. Today, the Dorset landscape that the novelist and poet so loved can be admired from a reserve, rich in wildlife, that was acquired in his memory. Think of Dorset and most people will conjure up images of its glorious coast, or perhaps the

Sheep grazing and the management of chalk grassland

A unique investigation at the chalkdownland National Nature Reserve Aston Rowant (SU 727972) could help to illuminate best practice in management for other reserves in southern Britain. The study, which was partly repeated after 45 years, considered the effects of sheep grazing regimes in order to explain ecological differences brought about by variations within livestock

The South Downs National Park

On 12th November 2009, the Secretary of State signed the Confirmation Order which established the South Downs National Park. This was the end of an epic struggle to protect this very special area of England that began in the 1920s and was finally brought to a conclusion after a 20-year crusade by the South Downs

The Burren – farming for the future of the fertile rock

The Burren is an iconic landscape. It is home to the largest area of limestone pavement in Britain and Ireland and has a unique flora that is internationally renowned. Over 6,000 years of pastoral farming have helped to forge this landscape, and the continuation of grazing is vital to the conservation of the area's rich

Classic wildlife sites: The Torbay limestones

In spite of centuries of changing agriculture, the south-east Devon coast offers the naturalist a wide array of exceptional wildlife sites. At the southernmost end, the high schistose headlands of Prawle and Start Points ultimately give way to the shingle and lagoons at Slapton. But for me, unquestionably the single most exciting group of botanical sites

Classic wildlife sites: The natural history and conservation of Porton Down

Walking through a shallow dry valley across a carpet of scented turf, coloured with drifts of yellow Common Rock-rose Helianthemum nummularium, deep purples of Wild Thyme Thymus polytrichus and subtle pinks of Squinancywort Asperula cynanchica, one is aware that this landscape has a distinctly Continental feel. 

Chalkhill Blue on Therfield Heath, Hertfordshire

Butterfly conservation in Britain assumes increasing importance when species with restricted habitat loss. For some species, detailed studies have identified their critical requirements and, through positive management, their population declines have been reversed. 

Salisbury Plain Training Area – the British steppes?

The Salisbury Plain Training Area is an internationally important site for a wide range of habitats and species, many of which have declined significantly in lowland Britain. The following two articles summarise much of the research and work that has been carried out here in recent years.

Magnesian Limestone Grassland and its conservation

The countryside between Nottingham and South Shields may not be the most dramatic or attractive in Britain, but it is the only place where it is possible to find Magnesian Limestone grassland. Even then, there is precious little of it left. According to English Nature, only a few hundred hectares survive in England.

Reserve Focus – Wye National Nature Reserve, Kent

English Nature's reserve at Wye covers 104ha (257 acres) of steep escarpment on the chalk on the North Downs. It is a visually striking site, with its steep-sided dry valleys, but it is also of considerable importance for its populations of downland and woodland plants and animals in an area that has become steadily more

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