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Dunstable Downs

Related subjects: Geography of Great Britain

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Dunstable and Whipsnade Downs
Site of Special Scientific Interest
Area of Search Bedfordshire
Grid reference TL005205
Interest Biological
Area 73.36 hectare (181.27 acre)
Notification 1987
Location map English Nature

The Dunstable and Whipsnade Downs (usually known as the Dunstable Downs) are a 73.36 hectare (181.27 acre) Site of Special Scientific Interest which are part of the Chiltern Hills, in southern Bedfordshire, England. The site was notified in 1987 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

The site comprises of a chalk escarpment forming the north-eastern reaches of the Chilterns. At 243 m (797 ft), Dunstable Downs are the highest point of the county of Bedfordshire.

Because of its elevation, Dunstable Downs hosted a station in the shutter telegraph chain which connected the Admiralty in London to its naval ships in the port of Great Yarmouth during the years 1808 to 1814.

Whipsnade Zoo has cut an enormous lion shape into the chalk into the side of one of the hills. The lion can be seen from the B489 ( Aylesbury to Dunstable road).

The downs are used by gliders, kite fliers, hang gliders and paragliders in the area because of their height. The London Gliding Club is based at the foot of the downs.

Much of the downs are managed by the National Trust as part of the Dunstable Downs, Countryside Centre & Whipsnade Estate property, and the downs are also home to a wide variety of wildlife including many rare wild flowers, such as the Bee Orchid, and different butterfly species, like the Marbled White and the Chalkhill Blue.


Dunstable Downs panorama

The National Trust have recently built a visitor centre known as The Chilterns Gateway Centre, on the very top of Dunstable Downs. The summit is right next to the B4541 road that crosses the hill, and so an ascent of the hill requires nothing more than getting out of a car at the highest point and walking across to the trig point.

For those who wish to climb the hill from the base, it is possible to do a circular walk from the village of Whipsnade by following the Icknield Way and Chiltern Way, both of which are marked on Ordnance Survey maps. This circuit can be extended to take in the northern top of Five Knolls. The hill can also be ascended from Dunstable to the north.

Dunstable Downs is located in Bedfordshire
Dunstable and Whipsnade Downs shown within Bedfordshire
( grid reference TL005205)
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