Wander through the South Downs and you will discover a rich mosaic of habitats, home to many rare and internationally important species. These habitats form a living network across the National Park, and provide us with many important ‘ecosystem services’ such as access and recreation, food, timber and pure clean water.
On the iconic sheep-grazed downland you will find rare plants such as the round-headed rampion, many orchids, delicate butterflies such as the Adonis and chalkhill blues, and a wealth of other wildlife. However, much of the chalk grassland habitat in the National Park has been lost, and it now only makes up 4 per cent of the National Park. During World War II many of the chalk grassland sites in the South Downs were ploughed and have since remained in cultivation. Other chalk grassland sites have been lost to development and through lack of management.
Our farmland has more to it than at first may meet the eye – flower-rich meadows, arable land and hedgerows all provide important homes for rare and threatened plants and wildlife such as the grey partridge and beautiful corn marigold.
Although only currently covering 1 per cent of the National Park, our heathland habitats are home to a whole array of distinctive plant and animal communities and heathland specialists such as the silver-studded blue butterfly. One of the largest heathland sites in the National Park is the internationally designated Woolmer Forest, the only site in the British Isles where all our native reptile and amphibian species are found.
Majestic ancient woodland is scattered throughout the National Park from the mysterious yew woodlands of Kingley Vale to the hangar woodlands of the steep slopes. These woodlands are home to specialist species such as the barbastelle bat and our native bluebell.
The South Downs is also rich in river valleys which support wetland habitats and wildlife, for example Pulborough Brooks is a great place for waterfowl. Many fish, amphibians and invertebrates thrive in the chalk streams such as the Meon and Itchen in Hampshire; elusive wild mammals such as otter and water vole may be spotted if you are lucky! The chalk sea cliffs, shoreline and the Cuckmere Estuary along the Heritage Coast at the eastern end of the National Park host a wide range of coastal wildlife including breeding colonies of seabirds such as kittiwakes and fulmars.