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National Trust at The White Cliffs of Dover

PUBLISHED: 11:21 23 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:26 20 February 2013

National Trust at The White Cliffs of Dover

National Trust at The White Cliffs of Dover

Dame Vera Lynn may have sung about bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover, but the little birds are not the only ones to make the iconic Kentish landmark their home

National Trust at The White Cliffs of Dover

Dame Vera Lynn may have sung about bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover, but the little birds are not the only ones to make the iconic Kentish landmark their home

The National Trusts team of rangers care for hundreds of different types of birds, animals and plants in the woodland, coastline and rare chalk grassland on and around the famous cliffs.

The area attracts great interest from wildlife lovers, as the Cliffs have been designated a Special Area of Conservation and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. They are, for instance, popular with many birds, being the first landing point for species flying inland from the English Channel.

Impressive avian sights, such as Peregrine Falcons nesting on sites on and around the cliffs are not unusual. Ravens nested and bred there too in 2009 making it the first time in Kent for more than a century. Three further ravens were born last year too, adding to the total. Other important sightings of late have included the rare Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and Siberean Stonechat.

On the ground, the National Trusts monitoring and nurturing of wildlife continues. Many rare flowers grow in the chalk grassland, including Meadow Clary and the Early Spider Orchid. The cliffs are also home to 90 per cent of the UKs population of Oxtongue broomrape; an unusual plant that lives on the roots of a host plant.

Threatened species of butterflies, such as the Silver Spotted Skipper and Straw Belle Moth, put in regular appearances. The Adonis Blues short lifecycle is well-suited to the area too, as it needs the plant Horseshoe Vetch and a certain kind of red ants to survive.

Robert Sonnen, Kent Countryside Ranger says: The National Trust owns and manages approximately 1,000 acres of land in East Kent. We know the importance of maintaining the best possible conditions for our abundant wildlife, while ensuring we offer visitors the best possible experience during their time with us. We hope that our wildlife management and monitoring techniques allow us to do just that.

While Robert and his team closely observe and record the presence of birds, butterflies and flowers, they take a more hands-on approach to larger wildlife in the area. The team have established a grazing programme involving fourteen sturdy Exmoor ponies which graze four chalk grassland sites, with two further sites grazed under tenancy by other local graziers.

This not only provides the horses with high-quality grazing, but it tames the faster-growing invasive plants, allowing smaller, less robust examples to come through.

The management of invasive plants is vital to the ongoing survival of habitats such as the White Cliffs. For example, uncontrolled growth of ragwort can cause health implications for livestock, while the garden escapee, Cotoneaster, produces small red berries that are eaten by birds and spread in their droppings. If left unchecked they form blankets suppressing the growth underneath. The plant is controlled by cutting and treating stumps with herbicide to prevent re-growth.

Reduction of invasive plants is never-ending, and the ranger team regularly enlists the general publics help. The next invasive species day is on 14 June (10am-4pm) on Lighthouse Down, where volunteers can come and help clear large areas of Cotoneaster and Holm Oak. Participants will be provided with gloves, tools and refreshments and can stay for a few hours or all day.

Finally, the trees and woodland are an important part of the teams responsibilities. Regular coppicing cuts trees down to near ground level then lets them grow back, benefitting wildlife by increasing light for butterflies and sun-loving plants. Coppicing takes place every two years and is a traditional, crucial method of woodland management.

Now summer is here, the White Cliffs of Dover and nearby South Foreland Lighthouse will be at their best for wildlife, beautiful coastal walks and views over the English Channel.

A new exhibition will be on show at the lighthouse later in the year, while the gift shop, caf and other facilities at the Visitor Centre, including childrens tracker packs and other activities, help make a visit extra special.

Whats on at the White Cliffs?

The National Trust is hoping for a glorious summer with plenty of sunshine this year. So why not keep your fingers crossed too and join in one or more of these outdoor events?

  • 1 3 June, from 11am. Half-term family trails at South Foreland Lighthouse. Free event, but donations welcome.

  • 11 June and 9 July, 8pm 10pm. Creatures of the Night Guided Walk. Meet at White Cliffs Visitor Centre for this one-mile walk learning about bats and moths. Wear appropriate footwear and bring a torch. Adult 3, child 2. Booking essential on tel 01304 202756.

  • 19 June, from 11am. Fathers Day free entry to South Foreland Lighthouse for fathers accompanied by their children.

  • 25 June, 6pm 10pm. Midsummer Evening Guided Walk and/or picnic at South Foreland Lighthouse. Meet at Visitor Centre for two-mile walk or at the lighthouse from 8pm for picnic. Bring your own picnic or order one in advance (from 10). Wear appropriate footwear. Free event, but donations are welcome. Booking essential for the walk on tel 01304 202756.

For more information on the wildlife at the White Cliffs of Dover, plus the invasive species clearing day, call Robert Sonnen tel: 01304 207326.

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