Published: 08:17, 05 July 2020
| Updated: 14:09, 08 July 2020
Farmland on the White Cliffs of Dover is now awash with wildflowers, butterflies and endangered birds, as a result of a fundraising appeal led by the National Trust and Dame Vera Lynn. which reached its target in three weeks.
The world-famous Cliffs are providing a haven for wildlife, including the nation’s songbird, the skylark, following efforts to restore the land to its natural grassland state.
The Wanstone site is part of 178 acres bought by the trust in September 2017 after a £1million fundraising campaign supported by Dame Vera Lynn.
In the two and a half years since work has been underway to reverse 70 years of intensive agriculture.
A ‘bumblebird’ seed mix was sown in the autumn to provide birds with a supply of food through the winter and a range of nectar-rich plants in the summer while other fields were planted with wildflowers and grasses to give cover for nesting birds and help create habitats.
After a wet winter last year there has been an explosion of colour, including most recently a sea of red poppies.
Ground nesting birds are on the rise with numbers of amber-listed meadow pipit, and red-listed partridge and corn bunting on the rise, while the skylark is thriving, with 48 birds counted in the first week of May alone.
One of the fields now has some 1,200 wild pigeons on site, providing a source of prey for peregrine falcons.
Virginia Portman, general manager at the White Cliffs, said: “It’s fantastic to see this stretch of the Cliffs buzzing with wildlife again. The cliffs hold an incredibly special place in our country’s history, but they’re also important for nature as much of the habitat we have here, chalk grassland, is increasingly rare in the UK.
“To see the fields returning to their natural state, covered in poppies and ringing with the sound of skylarks, is really heartening. It’s a tribute to everyone who supported our campaign and helped us buy back this landscape for the nation.”
The campaign, which reached its target in just three weeks, was supported by Dame Vera Lynn, whose lyrics ‘there will be bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover’ and ‘the valley will bloom again’ had given hope to the country during the war.
Virginia added: “The White Cliffs of Dover will be forever intertwined with Dame Vera Lynn. Her music marked the start of the enduring emotional connection that people feel when they visit us here, and we’re so grateful for her support over the years. In helping us to save the land and restore it as a haven for wildlife, she has left a legacy for future generations to enjoy.”
The arable fields bought by the Trust form a broad strip that runs from west to east over to South Foreland Lighthouse, most of which is chalk grassland and which can support up to 40 species of flowering plant per square metre.
Plants now growing include common vetch, bird’s-foot trefoil, crimson clover, yellow rattle, lady’s bedstraw, ox-eye daisy, meadow buttercup and self heal.
Staff hope the new habitat will in time support nearby chalkland species such as Adonis blue and dingy skipper butterflies, as well as continuing to provide a home for more common marbled whites and red admirals.
Mark Love, who carries out surveys for the British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) in the area, said: “Because of lockdown we have concentrated our daily exercise by walking to Fan Bay and Langdon and the quantity of skylarks, meadow pipits and corn buntings clearly enhanced by the changed land management is remarkable.”
Longer term, the trust aims to join up 150 hectares of habitat along the cliffs.
The news was released to mark Meadow’s Day, which shines a spotlight on loss of 7.5 million acres of meadows and flower-rich grasslands since the 1930s.
For gardening tips and a flower spotting guide go to nationaltrust.org.uk
You can visit the National Trust's White Cliffs site and there is a pay and display car park, though places are limited. To find out more click here.