Wild flowers of the Chilterns


Brenda Harold


Famous for its chalk grasslands and beechwoods, the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has its scarp slope to the north-west, a plateau on the top and a gentle dip slope to the south-east.† The chalk has alkaline soils, which are very well drained and having been grazed for a very long time have chalk grasslands on the plateau.† However, as illustrated in a small car park freshly dug earth in many places reveals the presence of clay with flints with acid soil.† Many of the beech trees were planted for the furniture industry.


The Chilterns has some lovely bluebell woods with native bluebells, the flowers of which hang down on one side of the stem.† A great deal of concern has been expressed about hybridisation with Spanish bluebells in gardens, with flowers sticking up on all sides of the stem and the petals more open than the native bell-shaped flowers.† The speaker considered that the extent of hybridisation had perhaps been exaggerated because the seed capsules of native bluebells turn up as they ripen and may be misidentified as hybrids.




The speaker is one of the botanical surveyors for wildlife sites and is concerned with the great interest in ancient woodlands (at least 400 years old).† The judgement as to whether woodland is ancient woodland is based not on the trees but on the wild flowers on the ground.† There are about 100 ancient woodland indicators and at least 10 must be present for a woodland to be classed as ancient woodland.† In practice ancient woodlands usually have a greater number than this but the non-ancient woodlands seldom have more than 4-5.† Most of the flowers illustrated by the speaker are ancient woodland indicators, though Lesser Celandine, Red Campion, Herb Robert and Ground Ivy were not, since they grow just about anywhere.† Most woodland flowers grow along the paths since that is where the light is available.† Lack of maintenance of paths can result in a decrease in their presence.


Among the flowers illustrated were:

Others included Wood Sorrel, Wood Spurge, Yellow Archangel, Bugle, Woodruff, Sanicle, Nettle-leaved Bell Flower, Green Hellebore and Herb Paris.


Woodland orchids included:




Views of a gorse bush on clay with flints on Watlington Hill and of cowslips with shrubby hawthorn illustrated a major problem with chalk grasslands, that of shrubbing over.† This requires management and one of the means of stopping it is the use of Hebridean sheep, which browse the bushes as well as the grass.† The best variety of flowers occurs on chalk grasslands, acid grasslands are much less diverse.


Among the flowers illustrated were:

Others included Hairy Violet, Wild Thyme, Rock Rose, Wild Parsley, Marjoram, Fairy Flax, Clustered Bell Flower, Purple Gentian and the Chiltern Gentian.


Grassland orchids include:

Others included the Fragrant Orchid, Pyramidal Orchid, Musk Orchid and Lady Orchid