With their shared geology, the Kent Downs and the PNR des Caps et Marais d’Opale hold significant areas of chalk grassland. This is the richest of temperate habitats in terms of the sheer number of flora and fauna that it supports and is a vital element of these two nationally important landscapes. Chalk Grassland is in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) and there are many associated species that have individual BAP Action Plans. Kent has around 5% of the UK chalk grassland resource and the Kent Downs has around 78% of Kent’s chalk grassland with 55% of this being around Dover and Folkestone. The Parc Naturel Régional des Caps et Marais d’Opale still has 80% of the chalk grassland found in the Nord Pas de Calais.
Traditionally chalk grasslands were maintained by stock grazing. However, since the 1950s both areas have lost up to 85% of this landscape feature. This is mostly due to agricultural intensification and the demise of traditional grazing regimes. Other factors include development pressure, land ownership changes and land management changes.
Whilst the reasons for chalk grassland loss are similar in both regions the challenges and issues they face vary. In the PNR, over 80% of the chalk grassland sites are in private ownership. However, in Kent public and private ownership is more evenly distributed, with much chalk grassland belonging to the Ministry of Defence, English Nature, Kent County Council, Kent Wildlife Trust, and other conservation bodies.
The Landscape and Nature for All project has enabled an improved understanding of the transfrontier chalk grassland resource by developing opportunities to share technical knowledge and expertise. The project also delivered a technical guide examining chalk grassland management issues to establish good practice in the Kent Downs AONB and the Parc Naturel Régional des Caps et Marais d’Opale. Other chalk grassland activities included the opportunity: to conserve, enhance and provide access to important wildlife of chalk grassland, to reintroduce grazing management in chalk grassland sites, to identify chalk grassland set-aside sites and to assess their current and potential conservation value.
Some information about chalk grassland habitat
Chalk grassland is nutrient-poor soil on chalk or limestone hills. These hills tend to be dry because water runs down them before it can be absorbed, or quickly drains through the chalk. This creates a harsh environment that is actually very important for biodiversity as the plants that grow in these areas have adapted to thrive on low fertility soils. This kind of habitat has existed for a long time due to the grazing of by wild animals (e.g. deer) and woodland clearance by humans for firewood, housing and the grazing domestic animals. A combination of poor soil quality and a grazing regime determined how these landscapes evolved in the past. Grazing by livestock has declined since the middle of the 19th century, and by the Second World War few areas were grazed.