Wildlife at Harting Down

A rare Duke of Burgundy butterfly at Harting Down

On Harting Down, the mix of open downland together with clumps of bramble, short turf, long grass, tall herbs and some scrub patches has created a wonderful mix of habitats which allows a fantastic range of wildlife to flourish.

Birds on the wing

In winter, flocks of greenfinch swirl and fly like the famous flocks of starlings. Redwing and fieldfare fly in for winter and feed on the last of the berries; if lucky, you may see the striking face of an overwintering short-eared owl.
 
In summer the downs are filled with the song of skylarks. Migrant birds also nest in the scrub, a much-needed refuge. You may see wheatears, meadow pipits, black caps, willow warblers, and yellowhammers, with their distinctive bright yellow heads. Swallows fly through the valleys at high speed catching insects on the wing.
 
All year, the Down is a great place to see kestrels, sparrowhawks, buzzards, and catch the fierce cry of an occasional red kite.
 

Interesting invertebrates

Chalk grassland, scrub and woodland are rich with insect life including a huge variety of bees, such as the blue carpenter bee, the two-coloured mason bee, and the wood decay cuckoo bee.
 
There are also colonies of the rare brown hairstreak butterfly and Duke of Burgundy butterfly. A really great find is the cheese snail, which is a speciality mollusc of the South Downs. From the long grass, hear an assortment of grasshoppers and crickets chirp - as day-flying moths such as the black and red six-spot burnet moth flutter by.
 

Marvellous mammals

Deer are a common sight here and they have favourite spots where they can hide. Roe deer have white rumps and are dark brown while fallow are slightly larger, more chestnut coloured. In autumn, you will often hear deep guttural calls. This is the deer rut, when the biggest and strongest male rounds up females for mating.
 
Field voles and field mice flourish here, as do the badgers, weasels, and foxes that prey on them.
The megafauna of the Downs and the U.K. - the bear, the lynx, and the wolf - were long ago hunted to extinction; the extermination of the wolf having been ordered in the late 13th century by King Edward the First.
 

Chalk grassland

Chalk grassland develops on the bedrock of an ancient seabed of the Cretaceous period. It's made of tiny shellfish - 'cocoliths' - which accumulated and compacted over millions of years. After the last Ice Age, pioneer trees - including Juniper - colonised this rich environment; then were cleared by the first settlers to create grazing land, which over the centuries allowed a rich wildlfower grassland to develop.
 

Amazing grazing

Centuries of grazing has created the short turf loved by wild flowers. Sheep used to graze the downland by day, and then were taken to the foothills below where they would fertilize the ground by night.
 
Today grazing still maintains the beautiful diverse grassland, through using sheep and traditional breed cows. This rhythm of grazing, to a rotation over the autumn and winter months, creates a mosaic of grassland with different heights, from bare ground to taller grasses, and areas are left to flower and set seed, encouraging a fantastic diversity of plants and animals.