Calcareous GrassLands

The calcareous grasslands that occur on chalk or limestone are a familiar feature of the South West landscape. They are rich in wildlife, especially plants and insects, many of which are extremely rare.

Although large areas have been ploughed and enriched with fertilisers over the centuries, significant tracts remain, thanks to traditional farming, particularly on the steeper slopes, and through the incidental protection of large areas through the training needs of the MoD.

Chalk grassland in the South West is concentrated in Wiltshire and Dorset, and comprises a substantial proportion of the UK and European total. There are important areas of limestone grassland in the Cotswolds, on the Mendips, in south and east Devon and in Dorset.

Unploughed calcareous grassland is also important for its wealth of prehistoric remains, as an attractive amenity for local people and tourists, and as a significant part of the South West farming economy.

The South West has an estimated 25,000 ha of calcareous grassland, which amounts to half of the UK total (40,000–50,000 ha). 


The following are examples of species that depend on calcareous grassland, some of which are of conservation concern:

Mammals: brown hare, greater horseshoe bat
Birds: skylark, stone-curlow
Butterflies: large blue, silver-spotted skipper, marsh fritillary, Adonis blue, Duke of Burgundy fritillery
Bee: shrill carder bee
Vascular Plants: early gentian, tuberous thistle, early spider orchid

 Find out about calcareous grassland flowers.

A number of significant sites have been acquired by voluntary conservation organisations and are managed primarily for their biodiversity. Many sites are now specially protected by a variety of designations (ie Sites of Special Scientific Interest) and conservationists are working with land owners in these places to ensure appropriate management of the grasslands.

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