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Nature Conservation 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 flowers including viper's bugloss at South Foreland | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

As a countryside place, our work at the White Cliffs of Dover is all about creating an accessible landscape for nature to thrive and people to enjoy. Read on to discover more about our projects and how we are managing the landscape for generations to come.

June 2024

Latest update

White Cliffs' countryside news for May and June 2024



Our ranger team and countryside volunteers are passionate about delivering climate action in the form of nature recovery. From conservation grazing, to managing and restoring habitats for wildlife to thrive, and reducing the pressure of walking on the grassland itself by encouraging visitors to stay on the surfaced paths. With your support, our work maintains a rich diversity of plants, wildlife and habitats throughout the land in our care, while making everyone welcome. Discover how we achieve this on our iconic site and find out about our latest work in our blog.

About the White Cliffs of Dover

The best way to see the cliffs and the huge biodiversity on the land they support is to take a walk along the newly-improved England Coastal Path towards South Foreland Lighthouse. By staying on this designated path, you’ll get a great view of the cliffs and see the chalk grassland that is home to so many unusual plants and insects; like the pyramidal orchid and the chalkhill blue butterfly, whilst helping us to preserve this precious habitat.

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 over 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, creating a mosaic of differing habitats and levels of ground disturbance. This disturbance is instrumental in creating opportunities for wildflower seeds to germinate and take root. Through Countryside Stewardship (CS) schemes in partnership with DEFRA and Natural England, we are committed to delivering these important environmental benefits across our important chalk grassland sites.

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

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 bark off trees. Cattle graze differently to ponies, tearing the grass, rather than biting it and this variation is important in maintaining the downland. Cattle will also make their way into dense, woodier scrub helping to manage re-growth.

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 do not 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.

Visiting with your dog

We love seeing our visitors and their furry friends enjoying long walks and taking in the beautiful scenery. We strongly encourage responsible ownership by keeping dogs on leads in the car parks and busy areas to keep all our visitors; human, wildlife and pets, as safe as possible.

Please also be mindful that not all our visitors feel comfortable or safe around dogs, so we also encourage dogs on leads in respect of everyone’s personal space. We do have working and emergency vehicles sharing access to our sites and keeping dogs on leads is the best way to minimise risk to all.

We ask that you pick up and bin any dog waste for the health of the environment and visitors, and please observe signage when walking through our grazing compartments alongside cattle or ponies. To ensure you and your dog get the maximum enjoyment from your visit to The White Cliffs of Dover, please read our dedicated page, Visiting The White Cliffs of Dover with your dog. This page also shows where our livestock are grazing. We greatly appreciate your support in following the Countryside Code and our Canine Code.

Please be aware of the following issued by UK Government: "On Open Access land and at the coast, you must put your dog on a lead around livestock. Between 1 March and 31 July, you must have your dog on a lead on Open Access land, even if there is no livestock on the land. These are legal requirements." - The Countryside Code: advice for countryside visitors - GOV.UK

White Cliffs Conservation News

May - June 2024

Conservation work at Golden Hill, Canterbury

Since 2021, we’ve been restoring lowland grassland in Harbledown, Canterbury. Contractors refreshed fencing, improved access, installed a water supply and trough for future grazing, removed fly-tipping and carried out grassland reversion of undermanaged areas. In 2023 we planted 600 new trees as hedgerows and installed temporary livestock fencing. Recent installation of a new interpretation panel represents Golden Hill, with historical research undertaken by the local community, displaying how to access and enjoy this small grassland area and noting connection to/from the local parish. We are very excited to share our plan to manage the grassland in a naturalistic way through cattle grazing, boosting the diversity of flora and fauna. Regular walkers will be familiar with the Countryside Code, please also take the time to read the new interpretation panel, respecting the property by taking litter home with you and keeping dogs on leads during the breeding season (1 March – 31 July).

Image of a team of three erecting the posts for an interpretation panel at Golden Hill on a sunny day
Erecting the posts for an interpretation panel at Golden Hill | © National Trust/Iris Roser
The countryside team standing with the finished interpretation panel that contains a map in woodland on a sunny day.
The countryside team with the completed interpretation panel. | © National Trust/Iris Roser


We are currently undertaking several exciting, nature conservation projects at the White Cliffs of Dover.

Species Recovery

Natural England have funded an 18-month nature recovery project between the White Cliffs of Dover and the Isle of Wight, which focuses on 10 rare species found across the sites. Among them are oxtongue broomrape, rest harrow moth, straw belle moth, dew footman moth and white spot moth.

In partnership with Butterfly Conservation, experts have advised us to mimic terracettes in the chalk grassland which can be seen in the image below. By cutting strips in the grass, we have been able to create over 1 km of edge habitat, which is where the short and long grass meet, favoured by various rare species including the straw belle moth. This work will allow us to target our conservation efforts to best support existing populations, habitats and food plants of these rare species now and in the future.

Image of rolling clifftop grassy chalk downland with footpaths
Terracettes in Langdon Hole - lifecycle habitat for the straw belle moth | © National Trust/Iris Roser

Wanstone Landscape Restoration

The project aims to revert 60 hectares of previously intensively farmed arable land to a mosaic of species rich grassland, scrub habitat and woodland planting with the addition of various ponds and scrapes. By creating a varied habitat, we hope to rebuild and establish a functional ecosystem by starting at the bottom of the food chain. With the right plant species to attract, feed and support healthy invertebrate populations, we will actively encourage small birds, mammals and ultimately our apex predators here, which are birds of prey. This delicate balance of wildlife is essential in creating viable, self-sustaining habitat and species populations for the future.

Woodland Management

Woodland habitats are an incredibly important part of the wider environment and local ecosystems, which have been reduced dramatically in the UK since the last ice age. Prior to the ice age there would have been large herbivores managing these spaces, now referred to as ecosystem engineers. These species would have bulldozed their way through dense growth, thinning out damaged, diseased and dying trees whilst grazing and browsing on low level material. This would have created clearings for sunlight to reach the woodland floor and triggered important, natural vegetative succession.

As a result of losing these species and natural processes, these habitats need regular management to prevent overcrowding of dominant species and ultimately degradation of entire ecosystems. Traditional methods of management for timber and firewood, including coppicing are thought to have contributed to the expansion of bluebell woods as we know them today. It is important that we replicate these methods to support a diversity of flora and fauna which rely on these processes and habitat conditions to survive. Please support our work by keeping to existing paths, keeping dogs on leads to minimise disturbance to wildlife, and not dismantling dead hedges or log piles when visiting Kingsdown Wood.

Chalk Grassland Restoration

The White Cliffs of Dover are not only a national landmark but an important place for rare species of wildlife, including butterflies, birds and wildflowers. This rare chalk grassland requires ongoing conservation work to ensure that the treasure trove of flora and fauna found on the cliffs can thrive. This project is the ongoing restoration management of 105 hectares, of which 61 are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) within a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

Through a combination of conservation grazing with Dexter cattle and Exmoor ponies, and manual scrub control we can restrict and push back undesirable expansion of dominating plant species including grasses and bramble. By managing the chalk grassland in this way, we can support the natural vegetation succession and establishment of rare plant species.

Grassland Restoration at Farthingloe

This project has been part-funded by Highways England and aims to restore neglected and improved areas into species-rich grassland by introducing wildflower seeds of local provenance. Seeds were applied using traditional techniques at the end of autumn 2023, so we eagerly await the first signs of growth this spring. We are looking forward to monitoring the diversity of plants this year, and the succession from them in years to come.

Image of a field with long grass and a setting sun
Grassland restoration at Farthingloe | © National Trust/Iris Roser

Golden Hill

This is an urban greenspace situated on the outskirts of Canterbury, overlooking the ancient village of Harbledown. Since 2021 we have worked to restore priority habitat of lowland grassland, replace the fencing, introduce a water supply, improve public access and install interpretation signage. We are planning to reintroduce grazing species to the property in short seasonal bursts, avoiding summer. This will advance our management of the grassland in a naturalistic way, to support and encourage biodiversity.

Image of a rolling countryside on a sunny day
Viewpoint of Golden Hill | © National Trust/Nicholas Sinclair

England Coast Path Restoration

We are very pleased to celebrate the completion of the England Coast Path Restoration project by the local authority. The previous footpath had suffered from severe erosion from water runoff and increasing footfall from visitors attracted to the iconic White Cliffs of Dover. This newly surfaced footpath runs from Langdon Cliffs to South Foreland Lighthouse and provides a safer, more accessible route through this wonderful landscape. We strongly encourage visitors to stay on the path where possible to help support the conservation of our chalk grassland and surrounding habitats.

Image of an England Coast Path sign adjacent to a surfaced footpath on a sunny day with fluffy clouds
The newly improved England Coast Path | © National Trust/Emma Barker

Thank you

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

View from the clifftop at The White Cliffs of Dover, Kent, on a sunny day in August

Dear Future: I leave this place for you...

Gifts in wills are vital in protecting our places, and without them we simply wouldn’t be able to look after the extraordinary places in our care. Supporters can choose where their gift goes and these gifts are used right at the heart of our work, so any gift, no matter the size, makes a real difference.

Our partners

Cotswold Outdoor

We’ve partnered with Cotswold Outdoor to help everyone make the most of their time outdoors in the places we care for.

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We've partnered with natural pet food maker Forthglade so that you and your dog can get even more out of the special places we care for.

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Natural England

Natural England is the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England. They help to protect and restore our natural world.

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