Discovering chalk grassland at Hutchinson's Bank

Hutchinson's Bank  credit Calum O'Donnell

In my time so far as a Keeping it Wild trainee, I have been lucky enough to be based at Hutchinson's Bank in Croydon. Here we are helping to conserve the rich chalk grassland habitat. There’s something new to see with every visit, whether it’s a rare butterfly or an elusive orchid, you won’t have to look far.

What makes chalk grassland habitats so special is that they develop on lime-rich soils, overlying chalk rocks. Chalk was formed at the bottom of the Cretaceous sea around 100 million years ago and is made up of the remains of marine plants and animals. The soil is very low in nutrients and water, this makes it hard for long grasses to grow which leaves a nice competitive-free environment for wildflowers to flourish. Meaning a very diverse habitat can develop. Over 40 different species of plants and wildflowers can be found per square metre! This in turn supports a wide variety of insects.

However, without proper management, chalk grassland can be lost as grasses, scrub and trees can dominate. So, in partnership with the Downland Trust, sheep graze on Hutchinson’s Bank to keep these under control and volunteers manage the surrounding scrub. The presence of yellow-rattle, a flower which is parasitic on the roots of grasses, also helps to maintain diversity as it allows the more delicate plants to compete with grasses.

At Hutchinson's Bank the London Wildlife Trust team have created chalk scrapes where they remove the first couple of inches of soil to reveal the bare chalk underneath. They have planted things like kidney vetch, the larval food plant of the rare small blue butterfly, which has the brilliant scientific name of Cupido minimus. There are so many fascinating butterflies to discover along the Bank, keep your eye out for rare ones such as the vibrant Adonis blue.

Man orchid

Man orchid credit Calum O'Donnell

The equally elegant range of orchids that favour this environment include common-spotted orchid, pyramidal orchid and bee orchid. On nearby Chapel Bank you can find man orchids, which are very rare and a favorite amongst botanists for their striking anthropomorphism (they look like little men). This orchid flowers until the end of June, so you could still catch it if you’re lucky!

Only 20% of chalk grassland has survived beyond World War II because much of it was ploughed up for farming or used for housing development. This puts into perspective just how important it is to conserve and restore this rare habitat, I therefore find it very rewarding helping to do this at Hutchinson's Bank. I can see the positive impact that it’s having on the environment, the people and the wildlife that dwells there.

Plan your visit to Hutchinson's Bank 


Camera Trap Workshop

Camera Trap Workshop credit Penny Dixie

About Keeping it Wild

This is a new project, funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund, that will empower and inspire 600 young people aged 11-25, from backgrounds currently under-represented in natural heritage, to gain vital skills while discovering, conserving and sharing their experiences of the capital’s wild spaces. 16-25-year-olds are invited to apply for a 12 week Traineeship, paid via a bursary. They are based at one of our reserves, where they spend time learning from the London Wildlife Trust team, gaining valuable practical skills in urban nature conservation. Additional support for the Traineeships has been generously donated by the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers.

Find out more