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Our work at The White Cliffs of Dover

Yellow and purple wildflowers on the Dame Vera Lynn Down on the White Cliffs of Dover in Kent
Summer wildflowers on Dame Vera Lynn Down | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

The White Cliffs of Dover’s rare chalk grassland requires ongoing conservation work to ensure that the treasure trove of flora and fauna found on the cliffs can thrive. The cliffs are not only a national landmark but also an important place for rare species of wildlife, including butterflies, birds and wildflowers. Our rangers work alongside volunteers, cattle and Exmoor ponies to conserve and protect this special place for the future.

Restoring natural habitats on the White Cliffs

In 2017, following a £1 million fundraising campaign, we acquired an additional stretch of land above The White Cliffs of Dover. The campaign was supported by wartime singer Dame Vera Lynn, who shared our vision to restore this special habitat for nature to thrive and visitors to enjoy.

Running parallel to the cliffs, inland, this area of farmland had been intensively farmed for many decades. Modern farming techniques, including the use of fertilisers, herbicides and tractors, can easily destroy traditional chalk grassland habitats.

Since the acquisition, we have been striving hard to reverse the effects of farming. This work has connected the existing chalk grassland on top of the cliffs, bringing the two areas together and making a rich and varied habitat for a variety of species.

Planting for wildlife

A ‘bumblebird’ seed mix was sown in autumn 2019 to provide birds with a supply of food through the winter and a range of nectar-rich plants for pollinators in the following summer. Other fields were planted with wildflowers, grasses and low-input cereal to give cover for nesting birds and help create a mosaic of habitats across the cliffs.

‘To see the fields returning to their natural state, covered in wildflowers and ringing with the sound of skylarks, is really heartening. It’s a tribute to everyone who supported our campaign and helped us buy back this landscape for the nation.’

– Virginia Portman, General Manager for the White Cliffs of Dover

Nature continues to thrive in the reclaimed meadow thanks to the ongoing conservation work of our ranger team. Wildflowers, including ox-eye daisy, wild carrot, vipers bugloss and knapweed fill the area. Ground nesting birds continue to benefit from the changes too, with sightings of meadow pipit, partridge, corn bunting and skylark.

Honouring Dame Vera Lynn

In the summer of 2021, the meadow was renamed the 'Dame Vera Lynn Down' in honour of the wartime singer and her support for the Trust's work at the cliffs. A footpath leading to the clifftops was also renamed 'Dame Vera Lynn Way' by Dover District Council. These tributes marked one year since the death of the forces' sweetheart.

Image showing the Exmoor ponies standing in a grassy meadow at The White Cliffs of Dover
Our Exmoor ponies standing in a grassy meadow at The White Cliffs of Dover | © NT/P Harris

Conservation grazing on the White Cliffs

The short downland turf on the cliffs 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. Today, we use cattle and Exmoor ponies to perform this traditional role. Our herds have been grazing here for nearly 30 years and over this time they've had a really positive effect on the area’s biodiversity.

In the places where our livestock can’t access, or where it’s dangerous for them, our volunteer ranger team cut and collect the grass with machinery. Their valuable work enables the chalk grassland to be actively managed, whilst also balancing the needs for conservation and access.

The Exmoor ponies and cattle are ideal for the cliff top environment. They graze in different ways, which has additional benefits to biodiversity.

The right candidates for the job

The Exmoor pony is the perfect breed to use for conservation as they're very hardy as well as intelligent and resourceful. Alongside grass, the ponies also browse hawthorn berries, young trees and thistle buds; they even strip off bark. Cattle graze differently to ponies, tearing the grass, rather than biting it and this variation is important in maintaining the downland.

The ponies are relatively low maintenance and are managed as a semi-wild herd. We check them regularly, and vets perform a general assessment every year to make sure they're in good health.

Please don’t feed the ponies or cattle if you see them on your visit: they get enough food from the land all year round and extra food can make them overweight and cause health issues.

Current grazing compartments

Livestock Grazing at The White Cliffs of Dover

We use livestock to sustainably manage the chalk downland at White Cliffs, much of which is classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). You may see some of our livestock on your walks. The animals are not domesticated, so please respect their space and please do not feed them.

The cattle and Exmoor ponies that we use have different grazing characteristics. This helps to manage the grassland effectively and we rotate the fields where the animals are, so locations may vary. Look out for signs on gates letting you know where the livestock are and when your dog needs to be on a lead.

You can download a map of our grazing compartments. Current areas being grazed are as follows:

  • Cornhill, Fan Bay Battery and Dame Vera Lynn Down - Cattle
  • St Margaret's Freedown - Exmoor ponies
  • Bockell Hill - St Margaret's - Cattle
  • Round Down - Farthingloe - Horses
  • Reversion Land and Lydden Spout - Farthingloe - Cattle

We do not graze cows with calves. nor do we graze bulls. Most of the cattle we use for maintaining the downland are young and although generally placid, they can be playful at times, which can feel intimidating. They may react if they feel threatened. Please make sure your dog is well-supervised and on a short lead when in one of the grazing compartments.

If cattle are running towards you, or you feel in danger from the livestock in any way, then let your dog off the lead. Your dog will be able to get to safety and removing the dog from the situation will calm the animals. You can call your dog back to you once the cattle are calm. Face the cattle and do not try to run away from them. This video gives further advice: Walking a dog through a field of cattle - YouTube

We deliberately choose grazing sites that are close to other open access land with no livestock. Please check the above map for details. If you feel uncertain in the presence of livestock, you may wish to choose one of these nearby compartments for your walk.

Please check back here regularly for up-to-date locations of the livestock.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

An image of a footpath snaking through fields at the White Cliffs of Dover in Kent with the white tower of South Foreland Lighthouse poking out over the top of the hill


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