Flora - author Dr John Akeroyd
Woodland: hornbeam and oak, with some beech, dominate the woodlands. On dry south-facing slopes there are also a few woods of the rarer Downy Oak. These have an interesting ground flora, including several steppic species. Cornelian Cherry, a small tree of dry slopes, provides both a valued autumn fruit and the hard heavy wood of the traditional long sticks carried by shepherds.
Grassland: the abundant wildflower-rich meadows and pastures provide one of the greatest floral spectacles in Europe. The meadows are still mostly mown by scythe, giving hay for winter feed for the livestock. Plants characteristic of central Europe mingle with those more typical of Eurasian steppic or Mediterranean regions, this is known as ”meadow-steppe”
All of these grasslands are colourful from May onwards, when several orchids flower, for example Military Orchid, Green- winged Orchid and Three-toothed Orchid. Cowslips flower in massed profusion. On the steepest and driest slopes is a distinguished group of early flowers: Yellow Adonis, Leafless Iris, Montpellier Milk-vetch, Purple Mullein, Purple Viper’s-grass and the first of the wild sages. By June the grasslands present a superb spectacle. The mix of colours derives from high species diversity, notably the varied suite of clovers, vetches, knapweeds and daisies. From a distance the massed cream heads of Dropwort, loose pink spikes of Sainfoin and blue splashes of Meadow Clary are particularly distinctive.
At closer quarters the pale pink of Squinancywort, the yellow of Lady’s Bedstraw and long-stalked crimson-and-bronze heads of Charterhouse Pink, are conspicuous. Extensive areas are pale yellow with Hay-rattle. Through July the grasslands remain colourful, with splashes of blue Creeping Bellflower and Spiked Speedwell, purplish-pink knapweeds and Zigzag Clover, yellow Lady’s Bedstraw and Agrimony, white Wild Carrot, and conspicuous clumps of two umbellifers, greenish-cream Field Eryngo and yellow Longleaf.
In August, Wild Carrot colours many places white. In September, a new group of flowers appears, for example blue Fringed Gentian on dry slopes. The most conspicuous early autumn flower is Meadow Saffron or Autumn Crocus, splashing slightly damp meadows with great patches of lilac. These often
grow where orchids and cowslips flower in spring. By early October, while there are still a few flowers to be seen, autumn tints of the woods and scrub replace the summer colour.
Medicinal plants are plentiful and widely used in everyday life.St John's-wort is widely gathered to treat stomach upsets and diarrhoea; Yarrow or Milfoil to treat "the heart"; Sweet Flag treats digestive disorders and sore throats; Lady's Mantle treats diarrhoea; Centaury, a small pink-flowered gentian, once a popular medicinal herb in England and mentioned by Geoffrey Chaucer, is used as a general tonic and a stimulant to digestion. Hawthorn is gathered to alleviate high blood pressure and circulatory problems, Sage species as a general tonic and antiseptic. Small-leaved Lime is a herbal tonic, drunk as a tea. Heath Speedwell is a general tonic. Mistletoe lowers blood pressure and has anti-cancer properties.
The area has some of the last remaining lowland populations of Wolf and Brown Bear to survive in Europe, as well as wild boar, Red Deer and the elusive Wild Cat. Roe Deer and Brown Hare are common. There are 12 bat species in the area, two of which are protected at European level.
Birds - author Milvus Group
The broadleaved woods are home to many songbirds: common species such as Robin, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Nuthatch and Chaffinch, and more unusual birds such as Collared Flycatcher or Tree-creeper. In mature woodland one can see Stock Dove and many woodpeckers, including Greater Spotted, Middle Spotted, Green, Grey-headed, Lesser Spotted and Black Woodpecker. In daytime one may see the Ural Owl leave its roosting place; at night-time can be heard the churring song of Nightjar and the call of the Tawny Owl.
In meadows with sparse scrub Woodlarks breed. Skylarks sing over the meadows and pastures. Scrub offers nesting places for Red-backed Shrike, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Corn Bunting, Yellow hammer and Thrush Nightingale, whose pleasant melodic song can be heard night and day in early summer. Stonechat and Whinchat are characteristic of the grasslands. From the end of May, the repeated rasping notes of Corncrake, a globally threatened species - can be heard in damper meadows. Quail can be heard even on the margins of cereal fields.
Among birds of prey, you can frequently see the Common Buzzard and the Honey Buzzard, but note, this area has one of the highest densities of nesting pairs of Lesser-spotted Eagle in Europe. You may also see the Short-toed Eagle hunting reptiles.
Wood-pasture serves is a habitat for birds such as Hobby and Kestrel, and Scops Owl whose metronomic bell-like note can be heard on May and June nights and which nests in the hollows of older trees, as does the Hoopoe. Among characteristic songbirds of this habitat are Tree Pipit, Woodlark and the magnificent Golden Oriole.
Avenues of trees planted along roads offer nesting sites for Kestrel and Hobby; also here one can see Lesser Grey and Great Grey Shrike, important protected birds of the area. Another striking bird of warm days is the colourful Bee-eater, which nests in colonies in clay and sand cliffs.
Butterflies and Moths - author Prof Laszlo Rakosy
This is a spectacular area for butterflies. Of the 650 species of butterflies and moths in the area, over 200 are threatened and 12 protected under the EU Habitats Directive. In pastureland, Silver-studded Blue is frequent; in this species the males are blue and the females brown. But the greatest number of species are found in hay-meadows, and especially in the margins between meadow and scrub. Fire butterflies prefer yellow or white flowers as sources of nectar. In the damp meadows along streams and rivers Large Copper, a protected species, frequently occurs. Scarce Large Blue is found in July, feeding from the nectar of the cherry-coloured flowers of Greater Burnet in damp meadows.
Other important species include Pallas’s Fritillary, Marbled Fritillary, Scarce Fritillary and Marsh Fritillary. In woodland glades Clouded Apollo, rare and threatened in Central Europe, is common. In lighter parts of woods and in hazel scrub one finds the elegant and unmistakable Woodland Brown, strictly protected. Hawthorn and blackthorn bushes make up the larval diet of the handsome Scarce Swallowtail. The woods also contain many species of moth, including Oak Hawkmoth, as well as many species of underwing.
Among False Acacia trees is often found Common Glider, a rare species protected in central Europe.