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Wildlife and nature

Open chalk grassland on Riddlesdown

​Open chalk grassland

A visitor to Riddlesdown a hundred years ago would have found open grassland, with some scattered scrub and woodland on its boundaries. 

During the past 150 years, with less intensive management and a decline in grazing, grassland has been colonised by woody species and, in places, is now dense scrub or secondary woodland.

Wild marjoram

​Wild marjoram

However, chalk grassland is still a key component of this beautiful site, providing a haven for wildlife – including many of our common animals and plants - and a refuge for some of the nation’s rarities.

In the meadows, resplendent common spotted, pyramidal and rare bee orchids can be found alongside downland herbs such as perforated St. John’s wort, marjoram and salad burnet.

Chalkhill blue butterfly

​Chalkhill blue butterfly

During summer, butterflies can be seen flitting through the grassland. If you’re lucky you might catch sight of one of the nationally rare chalkhill blues.

Riddlesdown is of particular interest as the largest single expanse of calcareous scrub in Greater London. The site is renowned for its population of yew trees, the uncommon spindle, and the tiny, but nationally rare juniper – restricted in the south of England to open chalky slopes.​​

Dormouse in nest box

​Dormouse in nest box

Coombes Wood is the only ancient woodland on the site. This small wood appears on early maps and is listed on the inventory of ancient woodlands for Greater London.

Deep in the heart of the woodland areas, the rare dormouse lives out its nocturnal and secretive life eating hazelnuts and blackberries and sleeping in nests of stripped wild clematis.​

Published:
13 March 2012
Last Modified:
29 September 2017

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