Salisbury Plain - Improving the management of Salisbury Plain Natura 2000 sites

LIFE00 NAT/UK/007071

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Contact details:

Project Manager: Stephen DAVIS
Tel: +44/1980 674 821
Fax: +44 1980 674 736
Email: Stephen.davis@english-nature.org.uk

Project description:


One of the largest unbroken expanses of chalk grassland in North-West Europe can be found at Salisbury Plain. Covering some 14,000 ha, the site is a haven for a wide range of flora species that characterise this type of habitat. Its fauna value is not to be ignored either - a third of the UK’s population of stone curlew Burhinus oedicnemus breeds within the SPA boundary and surrounding farmland, and one of the largest colonies of the Marsh fritillary Euphrydryas aurinia can also be found here. It is rare that such a large area of chalk grassland still exists in this part of the country. Most will have been a prime target for agricultural improvement schemes. But Salisbury Plain was spared this fate thanks to its strategic importance to the British army. It is in fact the UK’s prime military training area. As a consequence, the impact of intensive modern agriculture has been very limited compared to the wider countryside. But the particular restrictions in land uses imposed by military exercises have had their down side too. Much of the area is suffering from management neglect – invading scrub, insufficient grazing, areas of over-grazing, fragmentation, etc.


The overall objective of the project was to improve the management of Salisbury Plain Natura 2000 sites. The main threat to these habitats and species was the historic lack of grazing, scrub encroachment and afforestation of chalk grassland habitats. Recognising the need to restore the conservation value of the site, a partnership was formed between English Nature (renamed Natural England in 2007), the statutory conservation agency, and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Together they agreed on a programme of activities to remove invading scrub, unexploded ammunition and certain tree plantations, and to improve habitat conditions for the stone curlew and the marsh fritillary. Perhaps one of the most innovative aspects of the project was its intention to re-introduce a more flexible form of grazing. Because the areas need to remain available for military training exercises at relatively short notice, sheep had to be kept in enclosed areas. This not only leads to overgrazing but also limits economic benefits for the farmers. Thus, to improve the economies of scale for the farming tenants and the conservation state of the site, an experimental shepherding programme was to be launched to allow sheep to roam over larger areas in function of the particular training schedules of the Ministry of Defence. The project’s objective was to implement a series of measures on four sites to: - Restore chalk grassland habitats to a favourable condition - Restore juniper scrub habitats to a favourable condition - Improve breeding conditions for the stone curlew Burhinus oedicnemus in and adjacent to project sites - Enhance chalk grasslands for the marsh fritillary butterfly Euphydryas aurinia


The Salisbury Plain LIFE project was a very successful programme of habitat restoration in Northern Europe’s biggest remaining chalk grassland (approximately 14,000 ha). The project brought together all of the main stakeholders in the area - conservation groups, the military and farmers - to produce a workable conservation action plan for the area and to improve the habitat potential for two key species, the stone curlew and the marsh fritillary butterfly. Activities included - scrub removal and the subsequent maintenance of scrub to benefit chalk grassland, stone-curlew, marsh fritillary and juniper; - plantation removal to allow for restoration of chalk grassland; - creation and management of breeding plots for stone-curlew and predator control, including the erection of anti-predator electric fencing and the shooting of foxes and crows. Through the employment of a herdsman, the project also enabled the flexible movement of animals within areas of unfenced grassland, thus establishing grazing regimes on areas that had not been grazed for many years. This demanded high levels cooperation, particularly with the Ministry of Defence. The project has resulted in an increase in both breeding pairs of stone curlews and numbers of marsh fritillaries. It has shown what can be achieved with good management, and it is the first cooperation between the military and conservation groups to achieve habitat management on such a large scale. The project implemented an awareness-raising campaign involving the production of informative literature and display boards for all users of the MoD training area: the military, the local community and members of the general public. It arranged a series of events and workshops that promoted greater appreciation of the wildlife and nature conservation of Salisbury Plain. The project also established a network, so that the results of the project can be applied to other LIFE projects in France, Belgium and Slovenia dealing with calcareous grassland sites.


Environmental issues addressed:


Habitats - Grasslands
Species - Invertebrates


environmentally responsible behaviour‚  ecological assessment‚  environmental impact of agriculture‚  grassland ecosystem‚  grazing‚  land use planning‚  landscape conservation policy‚  wildlife sanctuary‚  site rehabilitation‚  integrated management‚  policy integration‚  environmental training‚  sustainable development‚  social participation‚  restoration measure‚  management contract

Target EU Legislation

  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • Directive 79/409 - Conservation of wild birds (02.04.1979)
  • Directive 92/43 - Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora- Habitats Directiv ...
  • Decision 93/626 - Conclusion of the Convention on Biological Diversity (25.10.1993)
  • COM(98)42 -"Communication on a European Community Biodiversity Strategy" (05.02.1998)
  • COM(2001)162 -"Biodiversity Action Plan for the conservation of natural resources (vol. I & II)" ...

Target species

 Burhinus oedicnemus   Euphydryas aurinia   

Target Habitat types

  • 5130 - Juniperus communis formations on heaths or calcareous grasslands
  • 6210 - Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (Festuco-Brometalia) (* important orchid sites)

Natura 2000 sites

SCI UK0012552 Pewsey Downs
SCI UK0012683 Salisbury Plain



Coordinator English Nature
Type of organisation Regional authority
Description English Nature (renamed Natural England in 2007) is a government-funded body whose purpose is to promote the conservation of England’s wildlife and natural features. It manages 100 National Nature Reserves and is responsible for selecting and designating Sites of Special Scientific Interest for the Natura 2000 network. It also advises the Government of England on sites which qualify as Special Protection Areas and candidate Special Areas of Conservation.
Partners Defence Estates, United Kingdom Defence Evaluation Research Agency, United Kingdom Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, United Kingdom Butterfly Conservation, United Kingdom Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, United Kingdom


Project reference LIFE00 NAT/UK/007071
Duration 01-APR-2001 to 30-SEP -2005
Total budget 3,482,722.00 €
EU contribution 1,741,361.00 €
Project location South East (UK)(United Kingdom) South West (UK)(United Kingdom)


Read more:

Leaflet Juniper
Leaflet Management of chalk grassland on Salisbury Plain m ...
Leaflet Management for the Marsh Fritillary on Salisbury P ...
Leaflet The Stone-Curlew: A guide to its conservation
Project web site Website of the beneficiary (Natural England)
Project web site Project website


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version