Box Hill's chalk downland habitats

Chalk downland is alive with flowers of every shape, colour and smell © Matthew Banner

Chalk downland is alive with flowers of every shape, colour and smell

At Box Hill we look after around 120 ha (or 296 acres) of chalk downland. Chalk downland is a special type of grassland habitat, found on chalk hills such as the North Downs.

It is an extremely fragile and threatened habitat, and is now very rare in the UK; large areas have been lost to agriculture, house building or just neglect.

Woolly lawnmowers care for the environment
We need to carefully manage chalk downland or we’ll lose this habitat completely. Without conservation chalk downland will be replaced by woodland through a natural process called succession. This management is done through clearing scrub (bushes and little trees) and conservation grazing.

We graze Box Hill with our 26 black Welsh Mountain Sheep and four Belted Galloway Cattle. These are regularly moved around the Hill. They have only one job: to eat.

A whole lot of plants
Chalk downland habitats support a great diversity of plant species. Forty different plant species can grow in just one sq metre. These include beautiful and rare species such as orchids, wild flowers and wild herbs.

The plants are specially adapted to cope with tough growing conditions. They have to survive thin, fast-draining soils, low nutrients and very high levels of calcium carbonate from the chalk (which could poison other plants).

Since conditions are so tough, no single plant species can dominate, so a diverse range of plants live together.

Bugs, butterflies and snails
This plant diversity supports a great diversity of invertebrates, including many rare and beautiful butterfly species. Forty-one different butterfly species have been found on Box Hill.

This habitat is also good for snails; the chalk provides lots of calcium, which they need for their shells.