Morgan’s Hill between Devizes and Calne offers incredible views of Cherhill Down and the plains of north Wiltshire. The reserve is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its orchids, butterflies and for the general quality of chalk grassland and wildflowers.
A Roman road runs along its northern edge and the fifth century Wansdyke defines its southern border – built to defend the northern territory of Wessex. This large bank with a deep ditch is home to early purple orchids and round-headed rampion. It is believed the hill was named after a local man, John Morgan, who in 1720 was hung at this prominent site for murdering his uncle.
Unusually all three of the UK’s native conifer trees grow here – Scots pine, juniper and yew – possibly planted as way-markers to signpost the drovers’ route. Keep your eyes peeled for cowslips, primroses and violets in spring, and wild thyme, horseshoe vetch, common rock rose and marsh helleborine in summer. Where there are flowers, butterflies follow. Along the Wansdyke you can find the Adonis, chalkhill, common and small blues. Further down the slopes look for the marsh fritillary – one of the UK’s most endangered species of butterfly, which feeds on devil’s-bit scabious. The reserve is a magnet for moths such as the Mother Shipton, named after a Yorkshire witch because its wing pattern is thought to resemble an unpleasant face. Birds found at the reserve include kestrel, buzzard, yellow hammer and skylark.
We are improving the grassland by removing scrub and grazing with our Dexter cattle and Herdwick sheep. We have cleared an area of invasive tor-grass, scraping back to the bare chalk, so that different plants and invertebrates can colonise.
Thanks to Wiltshire Wildlife Trust