Conserving The White Cliffs of Dover for the future

The White Cliffs of Dover’s rare chalk grass land requires the conservation work of both the human and equine variety to ensure that the veritable treasure trove of flora and fauna found on the cliffs can thrive.

We care for 8km of the White Cliffs of Dover. The cliffs are not only a national landmark but also an important place for rare species of wildlife, including butterflies, birds and wildflowers.

The chalk downland or calcareous grassland that is found on the cliff tops is formed where the chalk eroded to form gently rolling hills. Here where the downland meets the sea, the chalk's face is exposed to form the famous White Cliffs.

A combination of shallow soils which are exposed to the wind and rain make it difficult for large plants to become established. In this harsh environment no single type of plant can dominate, instead, small clumps or patches of a wide variety of plants thrive together.

Historically, this chalk grassland was created by allowing animals to graze the cliff tops. This traditional form of agriculture created the landscape that we see today; however, modern farming techniques including the use of fertilizers, herbicides and even tractors, can easily destroy it.

Erosion and Cliff falls

Erosion of the White Cliffs of Dover
A chalk cliff fall at the White Cliffs of Dover

Exposed to the wear and tear of the elements and battered by storm waves, year by year the cliff line is slowly retreating. By and large this retreat is barely noticeable at about 1cm a year, but occasionally great chunks can be lost in a sudden cliff fall.

In February 1799 Thomas Pattenden describes such a cliff fall as he writes:

" a bank of chalk and earth had fell down by the frost and thaw"
- Thomas Pattenden's Diary

Conservation grazing with Exmoor ponies

We have taken on the management of the land and now use Exmoor ponies to perform the traditional role of grazing animals that encourages biodiversity and the species that grow here.

The short downland turf has been created by millennia of grazing, dating right back to the time of wild cattle and ponies that were here at the end of the last ice age.

We use ponies to graze wherever we can, however it is impossible or dangerous to do so in some places. There we use our volunteer ranger team to cut and collect the grass with machinery. Their unstinting efforts enable the chalk grassland to be actively managed to balance conservation and access, and the site as a whole to offer an exciting range of experiences for visitors to this extraordinary place.