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The result of medieval quarrying with an array of chalk-loving wildflowers

Totternhoe stone is a strong durable chalk that has long been used for building, including Westminster Abbey. Parts of the reserve were formed by medieval quarrying which left spoil heaps that have developed into impressive flower-rich chalk grasslands. Other land has only recently been left to colonise with grassland. At the Knolls, a motte and bailey castle lies just outside the area managed by the Wildlife Trust, although the steep slopes of the ramparts form an impressive approach to the site. At the nearby old quarry workings, steep gullies form valleys along which stone would once have been brought from the quarries and also from mines deep beneath adjacent fields. The site has since developed an impressive range of wildflowers, including many types of orchids, from common spotted, man, fragrant and pyramidal, to frog orchid and the common twayblade.

The chalk grassland has been grazed for centuries producing a short turf that is low in nutrients. This prevents any one species from becoming dominant. The site is crossed by green lanes, which are old drove roads, along which livestock would have been taken to and from the important market town of Dunstable. Visit the reserve in spring and the grasslands are already showing signs of colour with cowslips and violets. Cowslips are the food plant of the caterpillars of the scarce Duke of Burgundy, which prefers to lay its eggs on those leaves growing in the dappled shade of light scrub. Adder's-tongue fern, an indicator of long-undisturbed grassland, free of chemical fertilisers, sends its unusual frond upwards. Later, in summer, the cat-like purr of the turtle dove echoes lightly from the scrub and marbled white butterflies flit from flower to flower.

Totternhoe is the best place in the county to see the small blue butterfly. You can spend the day walking around and in the early evening track down the roosting places of this tiny butterfly, hundreds of which can be found in the quarry edges.


The map below is for indication purposes only and does not show the Wildlife Trusts definitive land boundary.

Nearby nature reserves

Sewell Cutting
1 miles - Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire
Lancot Meadow
1 miles - Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire
3 miles - Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire

Nature reserve map

Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2012. For indicative purposes does not show exact boundaries.

Reserve information

2 miles west of
Map reference
SP 986 217
Great for...
Best time to visit
Apr - Jun
Jul - Sep
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Opening Times
Open at all times
31.00 hectares
Living Landscape schemes
North Chilterns Chalk

Walking information
Tracks may be muddy in winter. Steep slopes can be slippy in wet weather.
Park in National Trust car park, Totternhoe
Dogs must be on lead
Grazing animals
Reserve manager
Tel: 01234 364213