Skylarks over the White Cliffs of Dover as grassland restoration boosts nature

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Fields on the White Cliffs of Dover are alive with wildlife after efforts to restore grassland farmed intensively since the war, the National Trust said.

The stretch of land on the coast of Kent was bought for the nation by the National Trust following a £1 million campaign in 2017 supported by Dame Vera Lynn, who sang the wartime song that immortalised the famous cliffs.

Now the land that was intensively farmed since the Second World War has been restored to natural grassland and wildflower meadow, providing homes for butterflies and rare birds such as skylarks, the Trust said.

Bumblebird mix on White Cliffs
The National Trust sowed “bumblebird” mix for birds and insects (National Trust/PA)

Other fields on the Wanstone site, which is part of the 178 acres bought in 2017, were planted with wildflowers, grasses and cereals to give cover for nesting birds and create a mosaic of habitats across the cliffs.

The wet winter has helped boost the wildflowers and produce colourful displays, most recently with fields filled with red poppies, the conservation charity said.

Some 48 skylarks were counted in the first week of May (Nick Upton/National Trust/PA)

And peregrine falcons are benefiting from the presence of 1,200 wild pigeons on the site – their main source of prey.

The National Trust revealed how nature is thriving on the White Cliffs land as part of national meadows day, celebrating the increasingly rare habitat.

Nature charity Plantlife highlights that 97%, some 7.5 million acres, of meadows and flower-rich grassland have been lost since the 1930s.

Among other meadow projects on its land, the National Trust has changed grazing and hay cutting patterns at Seymour, North Devon, attracting large numbers of pollinators.

Pyramidal orchids have sprung up at Luccombe Farm on the Isle of Wight (Ian Ridett/National Trust/PA)
Pyramidal orchids have sprung up at Luccombe Farm on the Isle of Wight (Ian Ridett/National Trust/PA)

On the White Cliffs, the arable fields bought by the Trust form a broad strip west to east to South Foreland Lighthouse.

After the purchase barley was first sown to remove nutrients to prepare it for a wildflower and grass mix.

Plants now growing there include common vetch, bird’s-foot trefoil, crimson clover, yellow rattle, lady’s bedstraw, ox-eye daisy, meadow buttercup and self heal.

It is hoped the habitat will attract butterflies from nearby including Adonis blue and dingy skipper as well as providing a home for species such as marbled whites and red admirals.

Virginia Portman, general manager at the White Cliffs, said: “After many decades of intensive farming, 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.”

Poppies have been blooming on the White Cliffs (Matt Hayward/National Trust/PA)
Poppies have been blooming on the White Cliffs (Matt Hayward/National Trust/PA)

“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.”

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