The marvellous meadows of Dunstable Downs

wildflower meadow, arable reversion field

For the first time ever, five new meadows (approx. 20 hectares) on Dunstable Downs have been opened up to the public. The land, which was previously used for arable farming, is undergoing a process of grassland creation. Simply put, this means turning farmed land into a natural habitat for wildlife. Thanks to the success of the arable reversion, or grassland creation project, these meadows are now bursting with insects, birds and other wildlife.

About our new meadows

Jon Powell, Countryside Manager at Dunstable Downs leader of the Countryside Team, who have been undertaking the work for this project says “Land that has been used for arable farming will have lost much of the natural habitat for wildlife that is so important to our ecosystem. By converting to grassland this allows nature to thrive.

Our 20-year plan

We have been using a variety of methods to create these grassland areas including seeding with specialist seed and using hay cut from other areas as a seed source. In some areas we have planted trees, linking woodland areas, and made fields smaller and less windy for insects. The fields will be managed by using sheep to graze them or taking a hay cut. It takes considerable time and management to start to see the benefits but we are now four years into a 20 year plan and already starting to see change. Ground nesting birds are returning including the Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Yellow Hammers. Red Kites, Buzzards, Barn Owls and Kestrels now hunt over the grassland. We have also spotted deer, foxes, rabbits and field mice.  

The beauty of a reclaimed meadow
Wild flowers in a reclaimed meadow at Dunstable Downs Beds
The beauty of a reclaimed meadow

The benefit is not just the increase in wildlife but also a reduction in the risk of soil erosion and help in locking up carbon from the atmosphere. We have got a long way to go but all these are fantastic signs that what we are doing is working.’

It's not just The Downs that we look after

It takes a huge amount of hard work by the Countryside Team to look after our many sites. It’s not just Dunstable Downs, but Whipsnade Tree Cathedral, Totternhoe Knolls and Sharpenhoe Clappers that we care for - 10 sites in Bedfordshire in total. Whether it’s clearing scrub, mowing grass, repairing fences, clearing paths, monitoring wildlife or inspecting habitats we have a fantastic team who come out week after week all throughout the year and in all weathers to help. 90% of the Countryside Team are volunteers and we really couldn’t do it without them.”

Volunteers planting trees at Dunstable Downs
Volunteers planting trees at DD
Volunteers planting trees at Dunstable Downs

Adding interest to our planned events

Stacey Catchpole, Visitor Experience Manager says ‘It’s so exciting that we have been able to open up these meadows to the public. Walking through the meadows is such a delight. It’s like a sea of delicate, colourful wildflowers which smell amazing. Seeing the Skylarks soaring above the wildflowers is really special and their song is so beautiful. The Downs can get quite busy up near the Chilterns Gateway Centre but these meadows are a real escape from that. It’s so peaceful and you really feel like you are connecting with nature. It’s good for the soul!

I hope people do take time to walk around the meadows and take in the amazing sights, sounds and smells. There’s nothing quite like it. We have lots of events and activities through the year that can now take in these amazing spaces like the Trust 10k runs and our children’s trails."

For more information about the conservation work at Dunstable Downs or how you can get involved visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunstable-downs-and-whipsnade-estate

See our 'What's On' section for details of ranger-led walks taking in the new meadows.