Chalk landscapes are amazing biodiversity hotspots thanks to flower-rich grasslands dotted with scrub and trees, and clear chalk river systems providing food and habitat for an abundance of wildlife. Shaped by people for thousands of years, these culturally and naturally rich landscapes are unique and important for both people and nature.
The chalk geology in Wiltshire provides the foundation for this special landscape, but is also some of the most productive arable land in the country. The pressures of climate change, intensified land use and development have put our natural environment under unprecedented challenge.
Healthy chalk habitats are key to nature recovery in Wiltshire and Wiltshire itself is a key piece of the puzzle to connecting and enhancing England’s chalk landscape more broadly. These are some of our key priorities:
Chalk grasslands are second only to ancient woodlands in Great Britain for richness in biodiversity – they can host up to 40 different plant species in just one square metre. Two thirds of Britain’s threatened plant species thrive in these unique grasslands, many of which are specialist species only found here.
Rising from the chalk aquifers, chalk streams are one of the world’s rarest freshwater habitats. They support a unique and greater diversity of in-stream and riparian plants than any other type of river in the country, and are home to some of the nation’s most iconic species, including Atlantic salmon, otter, water vole, and kingfisher.
The Wiltshire Chalk landscape is home to important bird species, providing vital feeding and nesting habitat. It remains one of the few strongholds for the rare stone-curlew and supports nationally declining species such as corn bunting, lapwing, and grey partridge. It also provides the backdrop for the reintroduction of the Great Bustard.
The Wiltshire Chalk is home to a surprising diversity of bat species for such an open landscape. Trees provide important roost sites, while hedgerows and rivers allow bats to move across the landscape. The chalk river system, floodplain meadows, and flower rich grasslands all provide important foraging grounds.
Insects pollinate 80% plants, we rely on them for the food we eat. Yet pollinators are in decline, with population crashes in two thirds of species. Chalk grasslands are a haven for pollinators including our rarest species, such as Marsh Fritillary or Shrill Carder bumblebee. Yet to reverse the decline in all pollinators we need to connect these grasslands with a network of flower rich habitats across the landscape.
The productive farmland within the Wiltshire Chalk Landscape is very important. Pastures, wildlife margins and hedges found on farms in the area can be essential sources of food and shelter for birds and insects. The long history of cultivation has left a legacy of rare arable plants and arable cropping, with careful management, can also provide breeding habitat for ground nesting birds.