Wildlife

Our rich chalk downland is home to abundant wildlife © Rob Hewer

Our rich chalk downland is home to abundant wildlife

Rich flora and fauna

Denbies Hillside (including Hackhurst Down, White Down and Ranmore Common) is a special place and the area is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Natural England for its rich variety of flora and fauna.

How do we manage the hillside?

Scrub clearance is crucial to maintain the downland habitat © Rob Hewer

Scrub clearance is crucial to maintain the downland habitat

Cattle grazing is crucial during the summer to maintain the herb-rich chalk grassland. A local farmer provides hardy Belted Galloways, which can cope with conditions on the slopes. We also carry out scrub clearance during the winter months. Thorn scrub habitat is an important part of the grassland areas but, if left unchecked, it quickly encroaches over the hillside.

What are those odd small hills?

Ants nurse the butterfly caterpillars in underground chambers © Rob Hewer

Ants nurse the butterfly caterpillars in underground chambers

We‘re asked this question a lot by our curious visitors... The hills are created by tiny yellow meadow ants and shouldn't be disturbed. The ants open up the soil and keep it porous, fertilize the grass roots with their droppings and, unintentionally, help protect our chalkhill blue butterfly caterpillars.

Our special wildlife

The downs are home to Adonis Blue and Chalkhill Blue butterflies © Rob Hewer

Many creatures from beautiful colourful butterflies to scaly lizards and exotic flowers such as bee orchids can be found on the hill.

Sam Bayley (Leith Hill Head Ranger) ringing and checking the little owl © Sam Bayley

Sam Bayley (Leith Hill Head Ranger) ringing and checking the little owl

Good news for barn owls at Westcott near Denbies

In 2010 there were only 35 pairs of barn owls across the whole of Surrey. Our rangers have since tried to improve our habitats to attract these striking birds.

In particular we’ve encouraged areas of long tussock grass where the owl’s main prey species, mice and voles, can thrive. We’ve also put up more nesting boxes.

There was great excitement last year to find that a box in Westcott was home to a pair of adult owls with seven eggs. These birds and their four surviving chicks have been ringed by a licensed handler and hopefully we'll be able to track their progress over the coming years.

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