Whiteshute Ridge

Management of Whiteshute Ridge

Whiteshute Ridge is one of the few remaining areas of chalk downland in Hampshire, and supports a number of different grassland communities as well as areas of scrub and woodland communities.

The site also provides a popular place for people to enjoy with fantastic views of the city of Winchester.

The grassland overall nearly passes the criteria for UK BAP “lowland meadow priority habitat” but fails for “lowland calcareous grassland” on the frequency of positive calcareous indicator species.

Furthermore the cover of scrub and coarse grasses indicates habitat decline from its former position, and consequently, the site is becoming less biodiversity-rich with fewer desirable species.

Although the presence of some scrub is important for wildlife, the grassland is a unique habitat that needs to be protected.

Grazing management was recommended for the site to restore chalk grassland and manage scrub.

Winchester City Council graze Whiteshute Ridge in partnership with Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT) to manage the land, and cattle were introduced onto the site in late 2017.

The British White cattle chosen to graze the site were chosen due to their temperament as well as their suitability to the habitat as they are docile and used to people and having dogs in close proximity.

The cattle will graze on grassland species and help to keep the less desirable species under control whilst allowing more desirable species to take hold, ultimately allowing for a more species-rich habitat.

The way in which the cattle graze allows for a non-uniform grassland sward,  and the variety of vegetation height allows for a greater variation of species on the site.

Likewise, linked to the creation of a non-uniform sward, the fact that the cattle are not likely to graze around dung means that some species will have the opportunity to grow taller, with the added benefit of many species feeding on the dung, overall increasing biodiversity.

Furthermore, the cattle are able to break down and eat new scrub growth, keeping it under control.

The site will be monitored, and over the next 5-10 years, we will expect to see an increase of biodiversity on Whiteshute Ridge.

As part of the management, fencing installed around the perimeter of the site has created two grazing compartments, allowing for rotational grazing of the cattle.

Sixteen access points have been provided across the site to ensure that users can continue to use the site in the same way they have done historically.

Disabled access kissing gates have been provided through the site to ensure access for all.

Specific gates have been provided for a user group (a running group that uses the sites for events) to allow them to continue to use the site.

The provision of a water trough in each compartment will ensure that both cattle and visitors to the site will not be forced into the same area at any one time, and site users can choose to use either area or both.

A programme of volunteer and education work has been undertaken on the ridge, including nature walks, practical conservation activities and school visits.

Volunteers from the local community are part of a ‘looker’ group, kindly volunteering their time to check on the cattle and reporting back to Winchester City Council and Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

Further activities are planned for the future, engaging with the community and enabling more people to enjoy this fantastic site.