People have been using grasslands for grazing in this area since the first settlers started to domesticate animals and clear glades in the Wildwood in Prehistoric times. On the thin chalk soils, these grasslands have developed a stunning diversity of co-existing herbs, orchids and other chalk-downland wildflowers.
Of course people come and go, and change their habits, so the types of grazing animals, and times of year that grazing took place will all have differed across the years and across this special site. As the name ‘Warren’ would suggest, for much of the last century, areas of the grassland were kept open by rabbit grazing. Indeed, grazing by farm animals was absent from much of this steep site, probably as other areas proved more rewarding for landowners.
In 2001 English Nature (now Natural England) invested in a large-scale scrub clearance across the middle of the site. Whilst this work seemed drastic at the time, the mix of ground-flora which persisted in the seed-bank has sprung into life and carefully managed grazing, in partnership with the landowner, maintains the open areas, preventing them from reverting to scrub once more. *
* It’s worth noting, however, that scrub is good!! Again, ‘messy’ areas of tangle and scrub are often frowned upon in modern land-management, yet nature feels very differently. Areas of scrub, provide vital nesting habitat for some most beautiful of species such as the nightingale, yet ‘scrub’ is one of the most threatened habitats in the countryside. It is only the extremely precious nature of the grassland here at Boxley that dictates that some scrub control is needed. Areas of ‘woodland edge’, including the new box trees, now provide some of this precious habitat.