Magazine article Geographical

Chalk Lines and Views: Southern England's Chalklands Are Famous for Their Distinctive White Cliffs and Gently Undulating Landscape. Their Quiet Beauty Makes Them a Popular Draw for Walkers, Naturalists and Photographers Alike

Magazine article Geographical

Chalk Lines and Views: Southern England's Chalklands Are Famous for Their Distinctive White Cliffs and Gently Undulating Landscape. Their Quiet Beauty Makes Them a Popular Draw for Walkers, Naturalists and Photographers Alike

Article excerpt

The White Cliffs of Dover are one of the world's most recognisable geological features. The 110-metre-high cliffs are comprised of chalk with streaks of black flint and mark the point where the North Downs meets the English Channel.

Facing continental Europe at the narrowest part of the Channel, these crumbling white escarpments have been the first or last sight of England for sea travellers over many centuries. The dusty chalk cliffs also act as a daunting natural defence in times of conflict, most notably during the Second World War.

While chalk cliffs are fairly common on England's southern coast, they are a rare sight elsewhere in Europe. Apart from short sections of coast in Northern Ireland and Pas de Calais and Normandy in France. chalk cliffs are only found on the Baltic islands of Mort in Denmark and Rugen, Germany. In fact, the seemingly commonplace chalk-down landscape of southern England represents about 80 per cent of the world's chalklands and is largely responsible for the unique characteristics of the landscape in this part of the country.

A UNIQUE HABITAT

Chalk is composed of around 90 per cent calcium carbonate and belongs to the same family of rocks as limestone. However, the characteristics of chalk are very different as limestone is barely half calcium carbonate, the rest being the impurities that make it a superior rock for building. By comparison, chalk is whiter, softer and flakier, and also very alkaline. This results in soils that support plants that don't grow anywhere else.

As any walker along the South Downs Way in Sussexor the Ridgeway in Oxfordshire knows, chalk grasslands support a rich variety of wildflowers and grasses. The undulating downs of these counties, as well as in Wiltshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Surrey and Kent, which are today covered in sweeping grasslands, were originally cloaked in woodland but were cleared during the Neolithic period. Centuries of livestock grazing has helped maintain the biodiversity that's unique to this landscape.

Common plant species that the photographer and naturalist can expect to see along these routes include dandelions, sedges, St John's wort, violets, orchids, sycamore, hawthorn and horse chestnut. These plants attract a rich array of nectar-eating insects, such as bumblebees and numerous butterflies, including the Adonis blue, brimstone, marbled blue, dark green fritillary, marsh fritillary, painted lady, and swallowtail. Birds that thrive in this habitat include turtle-doves and magpies, as well as a chorus of songbirds from chaffinches to pied wagtails and wrens. The presence of kestrels and carrion crows is due to the proliferation of rabbits and field voles, which are also the prey of foxes.

WILDLIFE OPTIONS

With such a wide variety of species at all levels of the food chain, what you choose to photograph will largely depend on the time of year. Flowers and insects are at their peak in spring and summer, adding to the overall colour of the landscape. However. September is a month of transition, when we see the last weeks of activity of many migratory birds before they fly south for the winter and butterflies making their final flurries of a brief but colourful lifecycle.

The nature photographer's choice of subject will determine the choice of lens. Whether bird, butterfly or flora, specialist lenses will be needed: telephoto for birds; macro for butterflies and other insects; standard or short telephoto lenses for flowers. There are greater options available for plants and wildflowers as you can also deploy a macro lens to make tightly framed, finely focused close-ups of individual plants, or choose to make a medium-distance study of a group of flowers within their surroundings.

A tripod is essential for all of these situations, particularly for any macro compositions, which require precise adjustments to focusing and framing. Image sharpness is compromised by handholding the camera, as vibration and movement will blur subject lines at all but the fastest shutter speeds. …

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