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Explore Dunstable Downs

Two children flying a kite in spring, Dunstable Downs, Bedfordshire.
Children flying a kite on Dunstable Downs, Bedfordshire | © Lisa Manning

Chalk grassland is full of life and you may need to look closely, but there are hundreds of weird and wonderful minibeasts within this habitat at Dunstable Downs. The ridge is the ideal place for flying your kite and there are miles of chalk grassland for you and your dog to explore. Here’s a snapshot of what to look out for and things to do when you’re visiting Dunstable Downs.

A programme of Gentle Strolls

Join like-minded soles and get out in nature with our accessible programme of Gentle Strolls, led by expert guides.

With monthly themes and routes, discovering the varied landscape and habitats of Dunstable Downs has never been easier. We can't promise good weather, but we can gurantee fun facts, fasicanting history, laughter and feel-good endorphins along the way.

Take a look at our upcoming strolls.

Exploring the chalk grassland

Formed when humans cleared land of trees and shrubs to graze livestock, chalk grasslands are home to a huge range of species and are comparable to rainforests in their biodiversity. You can find up to 40 species per square metre of grassland in this habitat.

Look out for red kites

Red kites breed in April and can have as many as five different nests in their territory. They’ll use the same nests many times and live on average for 10 years.

Unmistakable silhouette

You'll recognise the red kite by its unmistakable silhouette and fork-like tails, which twist to help them change direction like a ship's rudder.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus) over Watlington Hill, Oxfordshire, in September
Look out for red kites at Dunstable Downs | © National Trust Images/John Miller

Fascinating facts

The adults are 60-70cm long with a wingspan of nearly two metres. Red kites are scavengers and steal food from other birds in mid-air. The females are slightly larger than the males and will pair for life. They’ve thrived in Britain since their reintroduction in 1989, especially across the Chilterns, and we’re lucky enough to have red kites soaring over Dunstable Downs.

Fly your kite at Dunstable Downs

The windswept ridge provides ideal conditions for a variety of air sports, especially kite flying. On calmer days it's the ideal site to enjoy the view and a picnic. You can buy a kite in the shape of a red kite, in the visitor centre shop.

Seek out slow-worms

The countryside team managing the chalk grassland at the Bison Hill site, have discovered slow-worms here, one of six reptile species native to the UK.

Despite their name and appearance, they're neither worm nor snake, but in fact a legless lizard.

Distinguishing features

They are distinguished from snakes by a number of differences. Slow-worms, like all lizards, have eyelids in the form of semi-transparent scales which allow them to blink. Trickier to spot are the ear openings and the centrally notched tongue, which is different to the classic forked snake tongue.

Interestingly, many lizards such as the slow-worm have one lung smaller than the other for reasons that are as yet unclear. In slow-worms, the left lung is much smaller than the right.

Slow worm in spring at Sheringham Park, Norfolk
Slow-worms enjoy the habitat at Dunstable Downs | © National Trust Images/Rob Coleman

A range of colours

Slow-worms range in colour, from grey-brown to gold or copper depending on their age and gender. Juveniles are gold with dark brown bellies and sides, with a dark stripe along the spine.

Females are larger and have a subtle coppery sheen, with a stripe along the spine and black stripes down the side. Males are paler in colour and may display electric blue dorsal (top) spots.

Fighting for a mate

Competition between males is brutal as they fight intensely with each other. It’s thought that their blue spots help the males to appeal to females at breeding time. This is a risky strategy as it makes them easily spotted by predators.

Orchids and more

Many plants will only grow in chalk grassland. Dunstable Downs have many varieties of stunning wild orchids. The orchids and other wildflowers attract a wide variety of butterflies and is home to 32 species, including the rare Duke of Burgundy butterfly.

School Groups at Dunstable Downs

There are two different options for visiting Dunstable Downs with schools, self-led visits or led classes. Any visits by schools must book in with us prior to arriving.

Self-led school visits

Come along and lead your own school group, using our permitted paths and agreed areas. Coaches can drop off and pick up but are not allowed to park up. Please be aware that we do not have any bag drop facilities or sheltered lunch/learning space.
- Email us at to request a booking form for self-led school visits.

Led school visits

If you would prefer to leave the teaching to someone else, then Fraxini provide taught schools’ sessions at Dunstable Downs. The sessions are run by experienced, DBS-checked, trained teachers and are suitable for all age groups. The activities are closely linked to the National Curriculum requirements for KS1 and KS2 but can be adjusted to work for secondary pupils too. Please be aware that we do not have any bag drop facilities or sheltered lunch/learning space.

-a half-day activity plotting coordinates on a map and then using the coordinates and map to find letters, pictures or puzzles (depending on age).
-we can plan days to suit you, to match your topic or learning journey.

To find out more and book your trip, email us:

Organised groups at Dunstable Downs

All organised events must be discussed and booked in with us prior to arriving. Groups will be asked to provide relevant risk assessments and public liability insurance as well as a donation to the estate. To enquire about an event, please email

Duke of Edinburgh Awards Expeditions

We can accommodate Pick-ups and Drop-offs at Dunstable Downs. Depending on group size, we can offer one of our overflow carparks to facilitate this.

Permitted walking routes across Dunstable Downs are available to use for expeditions.

Any use of Dunstable Downs for DofE events and school groups must be pre-booked and the relevant risk assessments and public liability insurance shown to sign off the event. We also ask for a donation to be made to Dunstable Downs for any drop off and pick up bookings to help cover conservation efforts across the estate as well as upkeep of our spaces including car parks and visitor toilets.

To enquire about a DofE event, please email

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