Lowland calcareous grassland is remarkably species-rich and just under half the UK’s habitat is found in Wiltshire.

Nowadays it is mainly restricted to the steep chalk scarps and ridges of the downlands, which due to their topography have managed to largely avoid direct agricultural improvement.  This chalk grassland supports an extremely rich diversity of plants and insects which in turn support farmland birds, some of which can be found in nationally significant numbers.  Lowland meadows can also be found surviving at the base of these scarps.

In Wiltshire the lead Save Our Magnificent Meadows partners are Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and the RSPB and the project sites are:

  • Blakehill Nature Reserve
  • Normanton Down
  • Winterbourne Downs
  • Cholderton Estate
  • Suddern Hill
  • Clouts Wood Diocese Meadows

Blakehill has an interesting recent history as it was an airfield in WWII.  This has been depicted in displays and highlighted at events, which has raised awareness of the heritage and history of the meadows.  As an airfield Blakehill is a very open flat site with very few hedgerows. As part of the project a series of "lumps and bumps” have been created by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust across the site to change the topography and create micro habitats for meadow species such as invertebrates and reptiles. These have been seeded with flowers to encourage pollinators and butterflies. Mining bees, reptiles, amphibians also use these areas.  

Posts for electric fencing have been installed, topped with bird spikes to prevent corvids and raptors (predators) from perching and stealing from nests. This fence allows different methods of grazing to be used. At Clouts Wood Diocese Meadows more traditional stock fences have been erected across the ground to allow the meadows on this chalk downland site to be managed for the first time in many years. Green hay has also been spread  on one of the outlying fields at Blakehill,  adjacent to a SSSI. These outlying meadows will help to buffer and enlarge the plateau meadow and SSSI area. Monitoring programmes have been set up with the help of volunteers. Workshops have been held where local landowners, community groups and individuals have attended to learn practical skills such as scything, identification skills as well as about the management and ecology of meadows.

At the Blakehill Reserve, an area outside the Whitworth building has been converted into an education area linking directly onto one of the meadows. A "playground game" has been drawn and constructed to introduce children to conservation and the species that live on the nature reserve. School groups attend to learn how we farm the land for wildlife.

The floristic enhancements of the grasslands under Save Our Magnificent Meadows continued into the autumn of 2016 with volunteers joining us on events in November to sow seed of missing chalk indicator wildflowers around the Winterbourne Downs reserve, and plant over 400 wildflower plugs, including hairy violet, wild thyme, dropwort and saw-wort in the meadow beside the visitor car park.  As part of the Winter Talk series Patrick gave a talk on “Winterbourne Downs – a nature reserve in the making” about how the RSPB has been making a new home for chalk downland wildlife; with the help of the Magnificent Meadows project turning fields of corn into a panorama of nodding wildflowers and a safe haven for the iconic stone-curlew and a place for people to discover and connect with nature.

Over three hundred of the same butterfly foodplants have also been planted on the downs at Cholderton to help make them a better home for butterflies and strengthen the link between Salisbury Plain and Winterbourne Downs.  Five hundred chalk indicator wildflower plugs have been planted on the barrows at Normanton Down in December to enhance the reserves value as a stepping stone to populations of chalk butterflies around Salisbury Plain, with horseshoe vetch planted for the Adonis & chalkhill blues, rockrose for the brown argus and hairy violet for the dark-green fritillary butterfly.

(c) Patrick Cashman

In Wiltshire, Magnificent Meadows is delivered with support from Biffa Award, Hills Group PLC, Natural England, SITA Trust, British Wildflower Plants and Wessex Watermark.