White Lion Chalk Grassland
Located at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, The White Lion SSSI, (Site of Special Scientific Interest) is an important lowland chalk grassland habitat rich in biodiversity.
Chalk Grasslands History
For the past 3000 years man has cleared and grazed (mainly with sheep) areas of chalk lowland, which has given rise to this grassland habitat.
The diversity of flora is a result of the combination of grazing and low nutrient chalk soil. These two factors mean plants have to compete for nutrients and light. This prevents any one species from becoming dominant, as plants are all kept at a roughly equal size and prostrate form. The result is a large number of species, often in a very small space, up to 40 species in a square metre. These species of flora in turn support a myriad of insects and other fauna.
ZSL's Management Role:
To maintain this diversity, all chalk grassland sites need to be managed as near as possible to the traditional method as that which created it in the first place.
Today there is less demand for the open areas of grazing that the downlands were once used for, and therefore there has been much neglect of these important habitats.
Countrywide, the main problem with grassland is lack of grazing and scrub encroachment. Here at Whipsnade we have the unusual situation of having the opposite problem - over grazing, where flowering plants haven’t had the chance to reseed.
- In description our role is simple; manage the balance of seasonal grazing to give the desired biodiversity, but not allow the site to become over grazed.
- We also have a duty to control certain weed species, such as ragwort and thistle, for the wider countryside. This needs to be undertaken in the most effective way, but also keeping pesticide usage to a minimum in order not to effect other desired plant species
- To ensure we are managing the grassland in the right way we’ll be looking at long term management plans, including a number of types of surveys, such as quadrat surveying and annual photographic records, that will tell us if the site is improving.
Over time our aim is to achieve a well managed chalk grassland which can be enjoyed and experienced by humans, animals and insects alike.