The Kent Downs AONB: One of Mother Nature’s works of art, from the famous White Cliffs to the wildlife of the Garden of England

Victoria Marston takes a look at the magnificently beautiful Kent Downs AONB.

There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.
There’ll be love and laughter
And peace ever after.
Tomorrow, when the world is free.

There might not always be bluebirds overhead, but the towering chalk face of the White Cliffs of Dover remains a symbol of hope and freedom for those crossing the waters of the English Channel. ‘The cliffs of England stand, glimmering and vast,’ said the poet Matthew Arnold, eulogising the breathtaking slopes that are only one feature of the Kent Downs AONB.

Designated in July 1968, the Kent Downs AONB covers some 340 square miles, stretching from the Surrey Hills to the coast. It also contains 38 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), including three nature reserves, the North Downs beech-yew woodlands and a stretch of the chalk cliffs.

The wonders aren’t just natural — some are man-made, such as the South Foreland Lighthouse at Dover, now owned by the National Trust. It was the first to employ an electric light, in 1858, and in 1899 it received the first international radio transmission, beamed across the channel from France. Credit: Getty

The underlying geology of the area, much of which is chalk, defines the views and wildlife to be discovered there, perhaps when following the ancient pilgrimage routes of the North Downs Way. Dramatic scarps, valleys and cliffs create a diverse patchwork with chalk grassland, ancient woodland, orchards, hop gardens, cobnut plats, chalk rivers, pasture, ponds and heathland.

Sheep and horses graze the open land, some 64% of which is farmed and, of the woodlands, almost 70% is ancient, having been there since at least 1600AD. The ground is painted with bluebells, wood anemones, yellow archangel and ramsons, growing to the soundtrack of warblers, nightingales and nightjars around a framework of coppiced sweet chestnut.

This most enchanting of landscapes supports rarities either largely or wholly confined to its boundaries — lady, monkey and late spider-orchids, black-veined and straw belle moths, as well as diminishing arable wildflowers.

Threatened species, including the dormouse, edible or Roman snail and adder, also make their homes here in the heart of the Garden of England — one of Mother Nature’s works of art.