Skip to Content

Special Areas of Conservation

Isle of Wight Downs

Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Country England
Unitary Authority Hampshire and Isle of Wight
Centroid* SZ373857
Latitude 50.66888889
Longitude -1.471666667
SAC EU Code UK0016254
Status Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Area (ha) 458.08
* This is the approximate central point of the SAC. In the case of large, linear or composite sites, this may not represent the location where a feature occurs within the SAC.
Location of Isle of Wight Downs SAC

General site character

  • Shingle, Sea cliffs, Islets (4%)
  • Heath, Scrub, Maquis and Garrigue, Phygrana (10%)
  • Dry grassland, Steppes (70%)
  • Broad-leaved deciduous woodland (16%)

Download the Standard Data Form for this site (PDF <100kb)

Note When undertaking an appropriate assessment of impacts at a site, all features of European importance (both primary and non-primary) need to be considered.

Annex I habitats that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • The Isle of Wight Downs represents one of the best examples of chalk grassland in the south of England under maritime influence. The exposed and weathered cliff tops provide a range of sheltered and exposed conditions. The most exposed chalk cliff tops support important assemblages of nationally rare lichens, including Fulgensia fulgens. The western end of the site adjoins the cliffs of the South Wight Maritime cSAC. Here, species-rich calcareous grassland vegetation is present on the cliff tops. The instability and maritime influence has altered the chalk grassland vegetation to include maritime species such as yellow horned-poppy Glaucium flavum, rock samphire Crithmum maritimum, wild cabbage Brassica oleracea, and buck’s-horn plantain Plantago coronopus, together with calcareous grassland species such as common restharrow Ononis repens, wild carrot Daucus carota, carline thistle Carlina vulgaris and lesser hawkbit Leontodon saxatilis. This site represents an uncommon transition from chalk grassland species to sea cliff vegetation, which can include the Annex II species 1654 Early gentian Gentianella anglica.

  • This site comprises tracts of 6210 Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (Festuco-Brometalia) together with areas of dry heath belonging to NVC type H2 Calluna vulgarisUlex minor heath. The dry heath supports small breeding populations of Dartford warbler Sylvia undata and a wide range of invertebrates and plants. There are also some stands of the rare chalk heath (not defined by the NVC), with features intermediate between CG2 Festuca ovinaAvenula pratensis grassland and CallunaUlex heath. Heathland on deep gravel overlying chalk is an unusual biological feature in the UK.

  • The Isle of Wight Downs complex consists of large areas of semi-natural dry grassland on chalk at the southern extremity of its UK range. It provides extensive examples of CG2 Festuca ovinaAvenula pratensis grassland in both inland and coastal situations on a variety of aspects and slope gradients. Locally, the FestucaAvenula grassland grades into CG1 Festuca ovinaCarlina vulgaris grassland, particularly on south-facing slopes on the coast. This open, stony grassland contains one of the most important examples of lichen-rich maritime chalk grassland in the UK. Smaller areas of CG3 Bromus erectus grassland occur on the eastern parts of the chalk outcrop. Semi-natural dry grassland is locally replaced by 4030 European dry heaths where superficial deposits overlie the chalk.

Annex I habitats present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for selection of this site

  • Not Applicable

Annex II species that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • 1654 Early gentian Gentianella anglica

    Chalk grasslands on the southern coast of the Isle of Wight support very large populations of early gentian Gentianella anglica, numbering hundreds of thousands of plants, although these populations have varied in size from year to year. Compton Down supports the largest populations.

Annex II species present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

  • Not Applicable

Many designated sites are on private land: the listing of a site in these pages does not imply any right of public access.