Changing Chalk - Restoring Chalkland Biodiversity
Chalk grassland is one of the wonders of the chalk downland landscape. It is species rich and of high wildlife value. As a priority habitat it survives on the margins; many of the best sites are small and fragmented which threatens the existence of the plants and animals that depend on it for their survival.
Projects under this theme address the main risks to the future of the chalk grassland: the lack of appropriate management; the need to restore and reconnect sites and create wildlife corridors between them; and the need to develop resilience to the direct impacts of climate change. These projects aim to restore and reconnect the most vulnerable chalk grassland sites, bringing 630 hectares of chalk grassland into improved management for wildlife, and restoring a further 185 hectares.
Working with landowners and the farming community is key to achieving our aims. The Changing Chalk partners are working together with local farmers to support knowledge exchange between the farming and nature conservation communities. We hope this will encourage local farmers and landowners to become actively involved with our vision for a sustainable Downs. The Changing Chalk projects will then create new wildlife corridors that will contribute to the wider nature recovery network on the Downs.
The Grazing Project
Lead Partner - The South Downs National Park Authority
The fragile chalk grassland relies on the land being grazed in the right way, whether by sheep, cattle, ponies or even rabbits.
The South Downs National Park Authority's grazing project will support the development of conservation grazing across wider areas of the South Downs. To secure a long-term future for this project, part of the work is to establish conservation grazing as part of an economically- viable farming system. At the moment, we are creating geographical areas as grazing "hubs" and bringing ponies on to the land, principally for winter conservation grazing. We are gathering the results of this grazing by surveying the land over time to inform future ways to manage the land sustainably.
For more information or to get involved please email Chris.Fairbrother@southdowns.gov.uk
You can find out more about the South Downs National Park conservation grazing activities here
Lead partner - Brighton & Hove City Council
Waterhall was a golf course on the outskirts of Brighton. In 2020, the golf course was changed to a nature reserve to restore the species-rich Downland.
This change of habitat and the new nature reserve should benefit local wildlife and also provide a great opportunity for the local community to learn more about the countryside and downlands on their doorstep, and to raise awareness of the biodiversity crisis.
As well as their own conservation work, the local rangers are running a series of workshops, walks, talks and volunteering sessions on the renatured golf course throughout the year.
Landscapes for Wild Pollinators (incorporating Sustainable Vines)
Lead partner – Buglife
This project explores ways to improve the chalk landscape for our declining insect pollinators, particularly looking at managing wildflower habitats across the landscape. By working with farmers, landowners and local community groups, the project plans to link the best remaining habitats together through new or restored wildflower stepping-stones, so pollinators can move freely across the South Downs area.
Buglife are also working with some Sussex vineyards to see how they can help our wild insect pollinators. As part of this project, running pollinator workshops and carrying out wildflower seed trials with students studying wine and vineyard management.
Reconnecting Dew Ponds
Lead partner - South Downs National Park Authority
Dew ponds are an integral part of the South Downs. In the past, farmers would dig these ponds as watering holes for their animals grazing the ridges of the Downs. The ponds woudl also support a wide range of wildlife, including many birds and insects. However, over the years, due to changes in farming practices, many of the ponds are in disrepair or have been completely lost.
This project will restore five historic dewponds close to the South Downs Way National Trail. As well has helping to improve ecological connectivity and support wider habitats, this project will involve the local community and let them know more about the importance of dew ponds to the chalk grasslands of the South Downs.
You can find out more information on the work the South Downs National Park are doing here.
Wart-biter Species Recovery
Lead partner – Buglife
An iconic species of the chalk grassland, the Wart-biter Bush-cricket is so named as it was once used as a method for removing warts by nibbling away at them.
It is now considered to be one of Britain's most endangered insects, Now it is known to be living at just six sites in the UK, four of which are within the Changing Chalk project area.
The adult crickets are most active during the hot summer months, but they are notoriously hard to spot, so surveyors listen out for the male song to identify them. This project is checking on the status of the sites where the Wart-biter crickets are known to live, and also looking for new places where they may be relocated.
Buglife are also running training workshops to allow volunteers to monitor the crickets' progress long term.
Scrub clearance research project
Lead partner - Natural England, with support from The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
One of the dangers faced by chalk grassland is unchecked encroaching scrub. This scientific study lis investigating the most effective ways to clear scrub and restore chalk grassland.
Having cleared the scrub at key sites, the team are now testing different seed mixes to see which are most successful for the reintroduction of chalk grassland species. As part of the project, we will recruit a specialist team of surveyors who can continue to monitor the progress of the different sites in the long term.
Changing Chalk Local Wildlife Sites
Lead partner - Sussex Wildlife Trust
In this project we are surveying 30 Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) that contain a chalk grassland component. This involves contacting landowners and arranging surveys to establish the health of any chalk grassland that is there. We can then offer advice and information about how to best care for and manage the land, with the help of other Changing Chalk partners such as Buglife, and our Chalk Life Rangers.
For more information or to get involved please email firstname.lastname@example.org