East Hampshire Hangers, North Downs and South Downs IPA

Location East Hampshire, meeting the Surrey and Sussex borders.

Grid Reference: TQ580392

East Hampshire Hangers, North Downs & South Downs IPA has been recognised as one of 165 Important Plant Areas in the UK.

The key features of this IPA are:

  • The species richness of vascular plants on Dry grassland: Calcareous - Chalk and Broadleaved deciduous woodland
  • One of the best UK examples of threatened habitats of:
    Semi-natural calcareous grasslands, sometimes with scrub;
    Box-dominated scrub on calcareous soils;
    Yew woods of the British Isles
  • Sandwiched between London and the south coast, this large IPA encompasses the chalk ridges of the North and South Downs. At the western end lie the East Hampshire hangers, ancient woodlands which cling to the steep chalk and greensand escarpment marking the edge of the downs. They are known as ‘hangers’ because the ancient beech, lime, yew and ash woodlands seem to hang from the tall slopes.

    Eighty million years ago this area was the seabed of a crustaceous chalk sea, but land masses collided, buckling the whole of southern England to produce a dome-like structure. Erosion removed its centre, leaving the north-facing escarpment of the South Downs along its southern margin with the south-facing chalk escarpment of the North Downs as its counterpart on the northern side.

    The grazing of sheep on the thin, well-drained chalk soils 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 Downs today. Within the IPA there is, though, a variety of habitats, which support an extremely high diversity of plants, each habitat having its own significant and characteristic species.

    Plants you could see

    The flowering plants to be found here include many well known species, especially orchids. About half of the orchid species native to Britain occur in the grassland and woodland of this IPA. Of these, the early and late spider orchids, monkey and burnt orchids are nationally rare whilst the scarce musk orchid has its British stronghold on the South Downs scarp slope. Other orchids you might spot are the common spotted, early purple, green-winged, bee, pyramidal and fragrant.

    In addition to the orchids, round-headed rampion (the ' pride of Sussex') is a very local southern chalk species which has a good population here, while the rare endemic early gentian also occurs. Other more common flowers of the chalk downlands are cowslips, horseshoe vetch, chalk milkwort, salad burnet, harebell, marjoram and varieties of scabious. In places, there are areas of deciduous chalk scrub with species such as hawthorn, dogwood, guelder rose and wayfaring tree, and, occasionally, juniper. The rare fly honeysuckle can be found in the scrub and woodland of the West Sussex Downs where it is believed to occur naturally, rather than having been introduced as elsewhere in Britain.

    Lower plants (lichens, liverworts, mosses and algae) are an important component of the ancient woodlands, exposed chalk and some of the scarp slope grasslands, especially in the West Sussex Downs, with many rarities having been recorded. Under the hanger woodland canopy, a rich diversity of vascular plants may be found, with a variety of helleborines including white, violet, green-flowered, narrow-leaved, narrow-lipped and red present. Also to be found are the scarce Italian lords-and-ladies, birds-nest orchid, wood barley, narrow-leaved bitter cress and yellow bird's nest.

    Springtime: cowslip, early purple orchid, early spider orchid, bluebell, coltsfoot

    Summer: bee orchid, pyramidal orchid, round-headed rampion, bird's nest orchid

    Autumn and winter: gorse, ivy, and a large variety of fungi including common puffball, dryad's saddle and lemon disco