Salisbury Plain, Cranborne Chase & Pewsey Downs IPA

Location: South-east Wiltshire, between Salisbury and Devizes.

Grid Reference: SU 095 525 & ST 945 175


Salisbury Plain, Cranborne Chase & Pewsey 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 in Dry grassland: Calcareous - Chalk
  • The species richness of lichens in Dry calcareous (chalk) grassland and Broadleaved deciduous woodland: lowland deciduous woodland
  • One of the best UK examples of threatened habitats of:
    Juniper scrub on heaths and calcareous grasslands;
    Semi-natural calcareous grasslands, sometimes with scrub

    This large IPA covers an area of chalk grassland in central Wiltshire. Salisbury Plain is the largest unbroken expanse of chalk grassland in north-west Europe and is the product of several thousand years of sheep and cattle grazing.
  • The MoD acquired Salisbury Plain for military training early last century and its unique and large expanse has consequently not been subject to modern intensive farming methods. As a result, approximately 14000 ha of chalk downland remains which supports 13 species of nationally rare and scarce plants. Pewsey Downs, three hills on the southern edge of the Marlborough Downs, is one of the finest remaining areas of Wiltshire’s iconic chalk downland habitat. The site is a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for its orchid rich grassland and one of the few remaining sites where the internationally important early gentian can be found.

    Plants you could see

    On the Plain and the steep chalk escarpment of the Pewsey Downs many herbs characteristic of Wiltshire downland are widespread, such as devil’s-bit scabious, saw-wort, ox-eye daisy and chalk milkwort. Orchids are also well represented and include fragrant orchid, frog orchid, lesser butterfly-orchid, bee orchid and autumn lady’s-tresses. The nationally rare tuberous thistle occurs with other plants of restricted distribution such as early gentian, bastard-toadflax, burnt-tip orchid, round-headed rampion and field fleawort.

    On some of the numerous anthills on the top of the escarpment the uncommon little mouse-ear, sea mouse-ear and the rare dwarf mouse-ear may be found. Large stands of juniper occur on the Plain at Bulford Downs and Beacon Hill, the best remaining examples of this type of juniper in England. Also on the Plain there is small colony of the now rare meadow clary.

    Springtime: colt's-foot, early gentian, daisy

    Summer: bee orchid, burnt-tip orchid, round-headed rampion

    Autumn and winter: gorse, common puffball

    Image: Pewsey Downs © Giuseppe Milo under CC BY 2.0