East Hampshire Hangers, North Downs and South Downs IPA

Location East Hampshire, meeting the Surrey and Sussex borders.

Grid Reference: TQ580392

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Home to half of the orchid species found in Britain, the exceptional flower-rich grasslands and woodlands of the southern chalk downs form iconic and much-loved landscapes.

This Important Plant Area is home to:

  • An exceptional diversity of vascular plants growing in dry chalk grassland and deciduous woodland
  • Some of the top 5% of flower-rich chalk grasslands, scrub grasslands and box scrub in the UK
  • Some of the top 5% of yew woodlands in the UK

    The spectacular sweeping chalk ridges of the North and South Downs with their famously flower-rich chalk grasslands make up this Important Plant Area. At the western end lie the East Hampshire hangers, ancient woodlands that cling to the steep chalk and greensand slopes marking the edge of the downs. They are known as ‘hangers’ because the beech, lime, yew and ash woods seem to hang from the tall escarpment slopes.

    Centuries of sheep grazing and rabbit browsing has produced the short, springy chalk grassland turf that has come to epitomise the Downs today. The orchid flora is exceptional, with rarer species including early- and late-spider orchids, monkey orchid, burnt orchid and musk orchid, this latter having its British stronghold on the South Downs. Other orchids you might spot include 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 chalk species which can be abundant, while the rare endemic early gentian also occurs. Other more common flowers of the chalk downlands include cowslips, common rockrose, horseshoe vetch, chalk milkwort, salad burnet, harebell, marjoram and small scabious.

    Where grazing is more relaxed chalk scrub develops with shrubs including hawthorn, dogwood, guelder rose, wayfaring tree and, occasionally, juniper. In just a few sites box occurs as a native species, forming a unique scrub woodland habitat in places such as Box Hill (Surrey), Boxley (E. Kent).

    Under the canopy of the hanger woodlands, a rich diversity of plants and fungi may be found. Helleborines are well represented, with white, violet, green-flowered, narrow-leaved, narrow-lipped and red helleborine all 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. Fungi, lichens, mosses and liverworts are an important component of woodland diversity; the large variety of fungi includes common puffball, dryad's saddle and lemon disco.

    Image: South Downs © debs-eye under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0