Chalk Grassland: Our Rainforest in Miniature

Brighton and Hove has large areas of Lowland Calcareous Grassland aka ‘Chalk Grassland’ within its city limits, at sites such as Castle Hill NNR, Whitehawk Hill NR, Bevendean Down and Benfield Hill NR, and along the A259 coastal strip from Saltdean to Brighton Marina. It is a very rare and internationally important habitat.

Chalk grassland is home to a profusion of tiny fragile plants, which provide food for invertebrates and their larvae. These in turn feed a whole food web beyond, from hovering Kestrels and singing Skylarks to basking Adders and glowing Glow Worms.

A mantle of species rich Chalk Grassland once stretched all the way from Eastbourne to Wiltshire in one long beautiful unbroken tapestry.

This pastoral landscape was farmed sustainably for countless millennia until industrialisation changed agricultural practices and urbanisation brought pressures to develop on our Downland. In the last century, we have lost 80% of our species rich Chalk Grassland and it now survives largely in fractured pockets, scattered to steep north facing scarp slopes of the Downs and isolated islands. It is, however, a landscape that can be restored, with a return to grazing and management of scrub, as is happening at sites such as Waterhall LNR.

Preservation of this precious habitat means Brighton and Hove is still home to rare butterflies, such as the Small Blue, and rare plants, such as Nottingham Catchfly, whose only Sussex home is on the downland above the city. Many of our local groups are actively involved with this important management work throughout the year.

Local naturalist, author and Brighton Downs Alliance campaigner Dave Bangs has made this fantastic film about Brighton and Hove’s chalk grassland and its wildlife. He is assisted by some of the leading experts in their field including Dave Goulson, Alice Parfitt and Neil Hulme.

Last updated 25 February 2021