North Wessex Downs AONB, Units 3-4, Denford Manor, Lower Denford, Hungerford, RG17 0UN
01488 685 440  info@northwessexdowns.org.uk

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Visit North Wessex Downs

Landscape and Nature

The North Wessex Downs is an ancient and dramatic landscape with rolling chalk downlands, forests, woods and dales. Open expansive views are punctuated by clumps of beech woodland crowning the downland summits, forming prominent landmarks. Sparsely populated, the downlands possess a strong sense of remoteness and timelessness.

The ancient Ridgeway runs along the northern scarp of the downs and is peppered with barrow sites and hill forts plus the world famous chalk-cut figure of the Uffington White Horse.

Grazed for centuries by sheep and rabbits, the grassland of the downs supports a wide array of wildlife including rare butterflies such the Marsh Fritillary, Chalkhill Blue and Red Admiral. Chalk grassland is one of the most biologically rich and diverse habitats in the UK with over 40 species of flowering plants recorded in a single square metre. This includes rare orchids and wonderfully named plants like the Devil’s-bit Scabious, Lady’s Bedstraw or Kidney Vetch. In the vast open skies above the downs, skylarks, lapwings and majestic birds of prey can be seen.

The extensive woodlands of Savernake and West Woods provide peacefulness and seclusion in contrast to the remoteness of the nearby open chalk downs. Savernake is ancient woodland of oak and beech established in the 11th century as a royal hunting forest and now designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The Seymour family regularly welcomed King Henry VIII to the forest for hunting and he met his later wife Jane Seymour at nearby Littlecote House.

The chalk downs form an imposing backdrop to the flat, low-lying vales. The Vale of Pewsey separates the two main chalk upland blocks. Belts of willow, alder and scrub line the watercourses that thread across the vales, the streams, waterside pastures and woodlands forming a lush wetland landscape of considerable ecological value.

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Did You Know?

The caterpillar of the Large Blue butterfly gives off a scent that tricks ants into believing it is one of their own grubs. They carry it into their nest where it finds a ready supply of food and warmth. It then hibernates, before emerging as a butterfly to find a mate!