Enjoy the Chilterns in Autumn
PUBLISHED: 14:27 13 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:07 20 February 2013
When you're planning a visit to the Chiltern Hills this month, make time to enjoy one of the richest and rarest wildlife habitats in Britain.
Its mainly green, often studded with the most exquisitely coloured wildflowers, and you could be treading on one of nature's treasures!
This rare habitat is chalk grassland, and the steep slopes of the Chiltern Hills are among the few remaining areas in Europe where this fragile ecosystem exists.
Step forward the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust, which is mid-way through a three-year project to recreate and restore areas of chalk grassland, and provide perfect habitats for beautiful butterflies and wildflowers.
This includes scrub clearance at Dancersend reserve near Aylesbury, where this summer the rare small blue butterfly was recorded for the first time. An orchid count at nearby Aston Clinton Ragpits reserve in early June revealed a 50% increase in numbers of greater butterfly orchid from 2010.
Whats going on now
This autumn the Wildlife Trust is making seed beds in small areas at Dancersend. Removing the nutrient-rich top soil and revealing the chalk creates perfect conditions for locally-harvested wildflower seeds to germinate, and butterflies to bask in next spring and summer.
Among the ant-hills, which are characteristic of old, uncultivated grass, youll find the autumn gentians, purple flower spikes poking up through the short grass. At Chinnor Hill and Dancersend nature reserves youll see them in deep purple patches.
Look out for cattle, ponies and sheep grazing on several reserves. Theyre doing a great job helping to keep the encroaching scrub at bay, and the grass short enough for flowers to spring through.
You may also see an alpine tractor in its element on the steep Chiltern slopes. This powerful machine is used by the Wildlife Trust and loaned to local landowners who are also keen to regenerate chalk grassland.
All this work needs funding, and thanks to grants from WREN (which administers the Landfill Communities Fund), the Chilterns Conservation Board, Natural England and many other supporters, the project is heading for success.
Go to the Wildlife Projects pages on www.bbowt.org.uk for more information about Chilterns Chalk Grassland.