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

Volunteers can support the project by taking part in practical tasks and by surveying and monitoring plants, insects and other wildlife. At Blakehill Farm nature reserve an education area has been created. New bunds have also been created on this very flat site for invertebrates, especially mining bees, reptiles, amphibians and seeded with flowers to encourage pollinators and butterflies.

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.