Chalkland flowers at Calstone and Cherhill Downs

Keith Steggall, National Trust Wiltshire Landscape Ranger Keith Steggall National Trust Wiltshire Landscape Ranger
Purple and white orchid

Chalk downland is home to some of our rarest flowers.

Cowslips and the diminutive deep blue chalk milkwort are two of the first flowers to appear in the spring.  Look out also for early purple orchid, the first of the orchids to appear.  If you are incredibly lucky you may see the burnt tip orchid on the western downs.  They are difficult to find as they are low growing and usually in single numbers.  Late June is the best time for the majority of the orchids with common spotted, lesser and greater butterfly, fragrant, bee and pyramidal orchids all present.  Summer sees a mass of chalk grassland flowers including field scabious, knapweeds and round-headed rampion as well as many more.  The flowers provide nectar for an array of different flying insects.  Grazing with cattle keeps the downs in good condition as they will eat the rough grass that sheep will avoid.  During the winter months the Cherhill Down Volunteers help with the vital work of cutting scrub, keeping the grassland open for the benefit of the flowers.  Chalk downland is one of the most species-rich habitats in the UK, it can contain up to 50 species of flora in a single square metre.  Calstone and Cherhill Downs is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its chalk grassland habitat.