From Thorn to Orchid

Discovering chalk grasslands to find out what's in our neighbourhoods.

  • Discover amazingly rich local reserves
  • Learn about chalk grassland plant and animal species such as rare butterflies and orchids
  • Take part in surveying and monitoring
  • Learn about habitat management
Improve it
  • Get involved in practical conservation work
  • Develop new skills and make new friends
  • Participate in planning for the future of these unique habitats
  • Share your ideas and local knowledge

‘From Thorn to Orchid’ is a project aimed at securing the future conservation heritage of some of the last remaining chalk grasslands within London. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, it takes a participatory approach to future management activities and is focused on getting an increased number of people more deeply involved in the natural heritage on their doorstep.
The chalk downs of London are some of the capital’s richest wildlife sites, and are a priority habitat for both the UK and the London Biodiversity Action Plans. Chalk grassland develops on shallow lime-rich soils that are nutrient-poor and free-draining. They support a range of nationally uncommon or scarce wildflowers; orchids, greater yellow-rattle and Kentish milkwort. Some sites have up to 43 butterfly species, including the nationally rare small blue and the chalkhill blue. Other invertebrates include a range of molluscs, spiders, grasshoppers, beetles and hoverflies.
Within London, about 390 hectares of chalk grassland remain; suburban development and a decline in long-established farming methods mean the habitat is now particularly rare. Chalk grassland was traditionally maintained through livestock grazing, but has undergone a significant decline on a national scale in recent decades; dropping by around 80% in the last sixty years.
The Trust manages 6 reserves in the North Downs which between them comprise significant chalk grassland habitat:
The project aims to develop new management plans which will identify priorities for action, how the sites can better contribute towards conservation objectives and how local people can best benefit from the reserves. In developing these new management plans, ‘From Thorn to Orchid’ also seeks to offer a significant step change in the way that the Trust works with volunteers in the management and monitoring of the natural heritage on their doorstep. We plan to establish a network of volunteers and enable them to become involved in the process of developing the new management plans from the very outset, a process which in the longer term will enable them to have greater ‘ownership’ of the conservation objectives of their area.
‘From Thorn to Orchid’ will also lead to the development of a vision for the Trust's Living Landscape for the area - Chalking Up London's Downs -by engaging partners (including The Downlands Trust, Natural England, the London Boroughs of Croydon and Bromley, City of London and other landowners), volunteers and the wider local community. This will contribute to the delivery of the London’s Downlands Green Grid as well as link to similar landscape-scale approaches in the Kent and Surrey parts of the North Downs.

Volunteering opportunities:

Practical conservation work

The work will include carrying out practical conservation/habitat management in partnership with the Downlands Project, for example scrub clearance, small tree felling, fencing and other tasks. A huge amount of clearance and restoration work has already been undertaken at some of these sites in order to allow wildflowers and grassland to re-establish, improving the biodiversity. Full training in the use of hand tools, equipment and habitat management will be given - no previous experience is necessary. There will also be opportunities to learn how to organise and run safe practical work days, maintain tools and equipment, carry out risk assessments and to take part in a wider training programme. All you need is to wear suitable clothing, sturdy outdoor footwear and to bring a packed lunch.

Management plan development, surveying and monitoring

Management plan development workshops will enable volunteers to learn about the management planning process and chalk grassland habitat management, including conservation grazing and biodiversity monitoring. They are a unique opportunity to take part in planning for your local reserves and get actively involved in site management.