Area: 71.84 hectares.
Site adjoins Giant Hill SSSI. New site.
Description and Reasons for Notification:
This grassland site occupies steep, mostly Middle Chalk slopes on the east side of the River Cerne valley to the south of Cerne Abbas. These slopes support a herb-rich sward which also includes areas of scrub and, on small areas of superficial clay with flints, some acidic grassland. The butterfly fauna includes large populations of several declining species.
The sward is of the sheep’s fescue Festuca ovina, meadow oat Avenula pratensis type. Other grasses which are frequent and typical in this turf are quaking grass Briza media, red fescue F. rubra and crested hair-grass Koeleria macrantha, with glaucous sedge Carex flacca and spring sedge C. caryophyllea. Heath grass Danthonia decumbens occurs locally.
The herb component of the sward is very rich with abundant stemless thistle Cirsium acaule, salad burnet Sanguisorba minor and rough hawkbit Leontodon hispidus. Other frequent herbs of this grassland include harebell Campanula rotundifolia, squinancywort Asperula cynanchica, rockrose Helianthemum nummularium, cowslip Primula veris and autumn gentian Gentianella amarella. Very typical of west/central Dorset chalk are frequent devil’s-bit scabious Succisa pratensis, betony Stachys officinalis, small scabious Scabiosa columbaria and clustered bellflower Campanula glomerata. The site also supports several orchid species including pyramidal orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis, bee orchid Ophyrs apifera, fly orchid O. insectifera, frog orchid Coeloglossum viride and fragrant orchid Gymnadenia conopsea.
The more acidic communities of the clay-with-flints above the slopes are dominated by common bent Agrostis capillaris, red fescue Festuca rubra and sweet vernal grass Anthoxanthum odoratum with frequent tormentil Potentilla erecta and wood sage Teucrium scorodonia. Scrub of common gorse Ulex europaeus, blackthorn Prunus spinosa and wayfaring tree Viburnum lantana is also an important feature in parts of this site.
The variety in habitat structure and aspect provides suitable conditions for several local and one declining species of butterfly. Green hairstreak Callophrys rubi, grizzled skipper Pyrgus malvae and small blue Cupido minimus all occur, whilst there are large populations of brown argus Aricia agestis, chalkhill blue Lysandra coridon and marsh fritillary Eurodryas aurinia.