A downland is an area of open chalk hills. This term is especially used to describe the chalk countryside in southern England. Areas of downland are often referred to as downs, deriving from a Celtic word for "hills".


Downland is formed when chalk formations are raised above the surrounding rocks. The chalk slowly erodes to form characteristic rolling hills and valleys. As the Cretaceous chalk layer in southern England is typically tilted, chalk downland formations often have a marked scarp slope on one side, which is very steep, and a dip slope on the other, which is much shallower. Where the downs meet the sea, characteristic white chalk cliffs form, such as the White Cliffs of Dover and Beachy Head.


Chalk deposits are very porous, so the height of the water table in chalk hills rises in winter and falls in summer. This leads to characteristic chalk downland features such as dry valleys or coombes, and seasonally-flowing streams or winterbournes. The modern practice of extracting water from this 'reservoir', in order to satisfy demand for water, may be putting some of these streams under extreme stress.

In the valleys below the downs there is typically a clay soil, and at the interface between the two a springline can occur where water emerges from the porous chalk. Along this line, settlements and farms were often built, as on the higher land no water was available. This is demonstrated very clearly beneath the scarp of the White Horse Hills, above the Vale of White Horse. In many chalk downland areas there is no surface water at all other than artificially created dewponds.


The soil profile of chalk downland in England is a thin soil overlaying the parent chalk. Weathering of the chalk has created a characteristic soil known as rendzina. Unlike many soils in which there are easily distinguished layers or soil horizons, a chalk rendzina soil consists of only a shallow dark humus rich surface layer which grades through a lighter brown hillwash containing small pellets of chalk, to the white of the chalk itself. This is largely because of the purity of the chalk, which is about 98% calcium carbonate, and the consequent absence of soil-building clay minerals which are abundant, for example, in valley floors.

Steep slopes on chalk downland develop a ribbed pattern of grass covered horizontal steps a foot or two high. Although subsequently emphasised by cattle and sheep walking along them, these terracettes (commonly known as sheep tracks) were formed by the movement of soil downhill, a process known as soil creep.


Galium verum01
Galium verum (L.) Lady's Bedstraw, a typical English chalk downland plant.

In temperate regions chalk downland is typically calcareous grassland, a habitat formed by grazing from both livestock and wild animals. Chalk downland is often unsuitable for intensive agriculture, horticulture, or development because of the nutrient-poor, shallow soil and difficult slopes. For this reason downland often survived uncultivated when other, more easily worked land was ploughed or reseeded. This shallow soil structure makes downland ecosystems extremely fragile and easy to destroy. With modern machinery and fertilizing techniques, it has become possible to use some previously uncultivated downland for farming, and the decline of extensive grazing has meant that many areas of downland, neither cultivated nor grazed, revert to scrub or other less rare habitat, essentially destroying the delicate calcareous grassland. The UK cover of lowland calcareous grassland has suffered a sharp decline in extent since the middle of the twentieth century. There are no comprehensive figures, but a sample of chalk sites in England surveyed in 1966 and 1980 showed a 20% loss in that period and an assessment of chalk grassland in Dorset found that over 50% had been lost between the mid-1950s and the early 1990s. Much remaining chalk downland has been protected against future development to preserve its unique biodiversity.


Southern England

United States

See also


External links


Balsdean is a deserted hamlet in a remote downland valley east of Brighton, East Sussex, England, on record since about 1100. It was formerly a chapelry of the parish of Rottingdean, and its territory touched that of the mother parish only at a single point. Despite its remoteness, it falls within the boundaries of the city of Brighton and Hove.

Berkshire Downs

The Berkshire Downs are a range of chalk downland hills in southern England, part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Berkshire Downs are wholly within the traditional county of Berkshire, although split between the current ceremonial counties of Berkshire and Oxfordshire. The western parts of the downs are also known as the Lambourn Downs.

Calcareous grassland

Calcareous grassland (or alkaline grassland) is an ecosystem associated with thin basic soil, such as that on chalk and limestone downland. Plants on calcareous grassland are typically short and hardy, and include grasses and herbs such as clover. Calcareous grassland is an important habitat for insects, particularly butterflies, and is kept at a plagioclimax by grazing animals, usually sheep and sometimes cattle. Rabbits used to play a part but due to the onset of myxomatosis their numbers decreased so dramatically that they no longer have much of a grazing effect.

There are large areas of calcareous grassland in northwestern Europe, particularly areas of southern England, such as Salisbury Plain and the North and South Downs.

The machair forms a different kind of calcareous grassland, where fertile low-lying plains are formed on ground that is calcium-rich due to shell sand (pulverised sea shells).

Chionodes fumatella

Chionodes fumatella, the downland groundling, is a moth of the family Gelechiidae. It is found in almost all of Europe (except Portugal and Croatia). Outside of Europe, it is found in Turkey, the Caucasus, Mongolia and from Siberia to the Russian Far East.The wingspan is 12–19 mm. Adults have been recorded on wing from June to August. The forewings are smoky-grey brown with three black spots. The hindwings are griseous (mottled grey).The larvae have been reared on Lotus corniculatus.

Dry valley

A dry valley may develop on many kinds of permeable rock, such as limestone and chalk, or sandy terrains that do not regularly sustain surface water flow. Such valleys do not hold surface water because it sinks into the permeable bedrock.

There are many examples of chalk dry valleys along the North and South Downs in southern England. Notably the National Trust-owned Devil's Dyke near Brighton covers some 200 acres (0.81 km2) of downland scarp, and includes the deepest dry valley in the world – created when melting water eroded the chalk downland to the permafrost layer after the last ice age. The three-quarter mile long curved dry valley is around 700 feet (210 m) in height and attracts tourists with its views of Sussex, Hampshire and Kent.Other examples include the Alkham Valley near Dover, and the Hartley Bottom and Fawkham valleys near Dartford in north Kent.There are many examples of limestone dry valleys in the Peak District and the Yorkshire Wolds. A notable example is the valley of the River Manifold which is dry, except in spate, from Wetton south for several miles.Many hypotheses have been advanced to explain dry valley development. Some may have developed during periods of higher water table, others in periglacial conditions during which normally permeable bedrock would have been made impervious by permafrost, thus allowing flowing water to erode it.

Endothenia marginana

Endothenia marginana, the downland marble, is a moth of the family Tortricidae. It was described by Adrian Hardy Haworth in 1811. It is found in almost all of Europe.

The wingspan is 11–16 mm. Adults are on wing from late May to August.The larvae feed on Dipsacus fullonum, Betonica officinalis, Galeopsis species, Pedicularis species, Rhinanthus species and Plantago lanceolata. They feed within the seedheads of their host plant. Larvae can be found from September to June.

Ham Hill, Wiltshire

Ham Hill is an area of chalk downland in Wiltshire, England, on the steep banks running alongside the road from the village of Ham to Buttermere, close to the Berkshire border. A biological Site of Special Scientific Interest, notified in 1971, covers 1.5 hectares of the site; this designation is due to the site's species-rich plant and insect communities, which include some rare species. Notable among these is the musk orchid (Herminium monorchis), which has been confirmed at only one other site in Wiltshire.

The site is managed as a nature reserve by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. It is managed by grazing with sheep to prevent scrub encroachment and takeover by rank vegetation, which would otherwise crowd out the scarce plant species.

John Dowland

John Dowland (1563 – buried 20 February 1626) was an English Renaissance composer, lutenist, and singer. He is best known today for his melancholy songs such as "Come, heavy sleep", "Come again", "Flow my tears", "I saw my Lady weepe" and "In darkness let me dwell", but his instrumental music has undergone a major revival, and with the 20th century's early music revival, has been a continuing source of repertoire for lutenists and classical guitarists.

List of Empire ships (D)

Hundreds of Empire ships were employed by the Government of the United Kingdom. They were acquired from a number of sources: many were built for the government; others obtained from the United States; still others were captured or seized from enemy powers. Empire ships were mostly used during World War II by the Ministry of War Transport (MoWT), which owned the ships but contracted out their management to various shipping lines; however, some ships requisitioned during the Suez Crisis were also named as Empire ships. Most Empire ships have since been lost or scrapped; however a few still remain in active service or preserved.

Ringstead Downs

Ringstead Downs is a 6.9-hectare (17-acre) biological Site of Special Scientific Interest east of Hunstanton in Norfolk. It is in the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and it is the western part of the 11-hectare (27-acre) Ringstead Downs nature reserve, which is managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust.This is a dry chalk valley which was carved out by glacial meltwaters It is species-rich as it has never been ploughed, and it is the largest surviving area of chalk downland surviving in the county. The butterflies are diverse.A footpath between Ringstead and Downs Road in Hunstanton goes through the reserve.

Singleton, West Sussex

Singleton is a village, Anglican parish and civil parish in the Chichester district of West Sussex, England. It lies in the Lavant valley, north of Chichester on the A286 road to Midhurst.

The village name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon 'sengel', which means "burnt clearing".

The civil parish has a land area of 1,602 hectares (3,960 acres). In the 2001 census there were 199 households containing 476 people, of whom 199 were economically active. The population marginally increased to 480 at the 2011 Census.

South Downs

The South Downs are a range of chalk hills that extends for about 260 square miles (670 km2) across the south-eastern coastal counties of England from the Itchen Valley of Hampshire in the west to Beachy Head, in the Eastbourne Downland Estate, East Sussex, in the east. The Downs are bounded on the northern side by a steep escarpment, from whose crest there are extensive views northwards across the Weald. The South Downs National Park forms a much larger area than the chalk range of the South Downs and includes large parts of the Weald.

The South Downs are characterised by rolling chalk downland with close-cropped turf and dry valleys, and are recognised as one of the most important chalk landscapes in England. The range is one of the four main areas of chalk downland in southern England.The South Downs are relatively less populated compared to South East England as a whole, although there has been large-scale urban encroachment onto the chalk downland by major seaside resorts, including most notably Brighton and Hove. The South Downs have been inhabited since ancient times and at periods the area has supported a large population, particularly during Romano-British times. There is a rich heritage of historical features and archaeological remains, including defensive sites, burial mounds and field boundaries. Within the South Downs Environmentally Sensitive Area there are thirty-seven Sites of Special Scientific Interest, including large areas of chalk grassland.The grazing of sheep on the thin, well-drained chalk soils of the Downs over many centuries and browsing by rabbits resulted in the fine, short, springy turf, known as old chalk grassland, that has come to epitomise the South Downs today. Until the middle of the 20th century, an agricultural system operated by downland farmers known as 'sheep-and-corn farming' underpinned this: the sheep (most famously the Southdown breed) of villagers would be systematically confined to certain corn fields to improve their fertility with their droppings and then they would be let out onto the downland to graze. However, starting in 1940 with government measures during World War II to increase domestic food production and continuing into the 1950s, much grassland was ploughed up for arable farming, fundamentally changing the landscape and ecology, with the loss of much biodiversity. As a result, while old chalk grassland accounted for 40-50% of the eastern Downs before the war, only 3-4% survives. This and development pressures from the surrounding population centres ultimately led to the decision to create the South Downs National Park, which came into full operation on 1 April 2011, to protect and restore the Downs.

The South Downs have also been designated as a National Character Area (NCA 125) by Natural England. It is bordered by the Hampshire Downs, the Wealden Greensand, the Low Weald and the Pevensey Levels to the north and the South Hampshire Lowlands and South Coast Plain to the south.The downland is a highly popular recreational destination, particularly for walkers, horseriders and mountain bikers. A long distance footpath and bridleway, the South Downs Way, follows the entire length of the chalk ridge from Winchester to Eastbourne, complemented by many interconnecting public footpaths and bridleways.

St. Catherine's Hill, Hampshire

St. Catherine's Hill is a small but dramatic chalk hill to the south east of Winchester in Hampshire, England. Rising steeply some 67 metres (220 ft) from the water meadows of the River Itchen, the summit of the hill at 97 metres (318 ft) provides a fine view over Winchester.

The hill is owned by Winchester College, and largely managed as a nature reserve by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. St. Catherine's Hill is at the westernmost extremity of the South Downs National Park, having previously been designated as part of the East Hampshire AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). In addition, much of the hill and adjoining Plague Pits dry valley is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to its chalk downland flora, including 'practically the full range of downland orchids', with chalkhill blue and other butterflies.

Vale and Downland Museum

The Vale and Downland Museum is a local museum in the market town of Wantage, Oxfordshire, England. Its galleries present the cultural heritage of the Vale of White Horse region around Wantage. There is a Victorian kitchen, Iron Age skeleton and a bust of Sir John Betjeman amongst its attractions, along with a cafe serving homemade food. During school holidays there are several themed days, most of which are 'entry by donation'. The museum also acts as a community hub holding a weekly Women's Institute market, several book groups and various drawing, knitting and needlework classes. The museum is located in the Old Surgery, Church Street, in the centre of the town. The museum has around 1,500 books, pamphlets and periodicals in its library.

Weald and Downland Living Museum

The Weald and Downland Living Museum (formerly known as the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum until January 2017) is an open-air museum in Singleton, West Sussex. The museum is a registered charity.The museum covers 40 acres (16 ha), with over 50 historic buildings dating from 950AD to the 19th century, along with gardens, farm animals, walks and a mill pond.

The principal aim at the foundation of the museum was to establish a centre that could rescue representative examples of vernacular buildings from South East England, and thereby to generate increased public awareness and interest in the built environment.

The Museum principally promotes the retention of buildings on their original sites unless there is no alternative, and encourages an informed and sympathetic approach to their preservation and continuing use.

The buildings that are located at the museum were all threatened with destruction and, as it was not possible to find a way to preserve them at their original sites, they were carefully dismantled, conserved and rebuilt in their historical form at the museum.

These buildings, plus two archaeological reconstructions, help the museum bring to life the homes, farmsteads and rural industries of the last 950 years. Along with the buildings, there are "hands-on" activities, like cooking, and weaving, and a number of yearly activities, including seasonal shows, historic gardens weekend and Tree Dressing.

West Hendred

West Hendred is a village and civil parish about 3 miles (5 km) east of Wantage. It was part of Berkshire until the 1974 boundary changes transferred it to Oxfordshire.

West Hendred is downland village, its parish stretching from the Ridgeway in the south through the spring line and meadows to the former marshland of the Oxfordshire plain in the north. The parish is about 2,000 acres (810 ha) in area and 6 miles (10 km) long, but only being about 1⁄2 mile (800 m) wide at the widest point. This is an example of a downland linear parish encompassing a wide variety of land types – chalk downland, greensand on the spring line and clay to the north.

The Great Western Main Line crosses the northern part of the parish. The Icknield Way and The Ridgeway cross the parish in the south.

The parish includes the hamlet of East Ginge, which is immediately below the Downs which includes Ginge Manor, home of the Annabel Astor, Viscountess Astor, mother of Samantha Cameron. Neighbouring hamlet West Ginge, however, is in the parish of Lockinge. Both of the hamlets have populations less than 30, although records from the 1881 and 1901 censuses show that they were more extensive with several occupied farms up to the Downs.The parish has good examples of post-medieval drovers' roads, a Roman road, a buried Roman villa and well-preserved medieval watercress beds.

West Oxfordshire

West Oxfordshire is a local government district in northwest Oxfordshire, England, including towns such as Woodstock, Burford, Chipping Norton, Charlbury, Carterton and Witney, where the council is based.

The area is mainly rural downland and forest, the main activities being farming and associated trades.

The district was created on 1 April 1974, under the Local Government Act 1972, by the merger of the municipal borough of Chipping Norton, Witney urban district, and Chipping Norton and Witney Rural Districts.

West Oxfordshire lies within the River Thames catchment area, with the Thames itself and its tributaries including the River Evenlode and River Windrush running through the area. Parts of the district suffered severe flooding during the 2007 floods in the UK.


Wiltshire (; abbreviated Wilts) is a county in South West England with an area of 3,485 km2 (1,346 square miles). It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. The county town was originally Wilton, after which the county is named, but Wiltshire Council is now based in the county town of Trowbridge.

Wiltshire is characterised by its high downland and wide valleys. Salisbury Plain is noted for being the location of the Stonehenge and Avebury stone circles and other ancient landmarks, and as a training area for the British Army. The city of Salisbury is notable for its medieval cathedral. Important country houses open to the public include Longleat, near Warminster, and the National Trust's Stourhead, near Mere.

Worthing Downland Estate

The Worthing Downland Estate, Worthing Downs or Worthing Downland, is an area of land in the South Downs National Park in West Sussex, England, close to the town of Worthing. It was bought by the public, following threats to the beauty spot of Cissbury Ring and the surrounding farmland, which led to a public campaign purchases in the 1930s. It is currently owned and managed, on behalf of the public, by Worthing Borough Council.


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.