West Down countryside site located near Chilbolton, south of Andover. West Down is an elevated area of chalk downland grassland, mixed secondary woodland and scrub, and is of nature conservation, historical, and industrial archaeological importance. The site affords excellent views across the Test Valley and forms an interesting circular section of the Test Way long distance footpath. The habitat range and views of the Test Valley are superb. The site boasts downland, chalk heath, woodland and grassland habitats.
West Down had a relatively peaceful agricultural past until 1939, when the Air Ministry took over a huge tract of land south of Chilbolton and built an enormous airfield in preparation for war. Thousands of servicemen and women would have moved daily through West Down during the war, alighting at Fullerton Junction railway station, and walking up the hill to their billets and fighter aircraft. Part of the Allied invasion force of glider-borne paratroopers took off on D-Day from Chilbolton Airfield.
The airfield remained until c1960, when agriculture returned to most of the site. An airfield remains operational on the southern part of the old airfield, and to the north, the public can still see Nissen hut and bomb shelter remains in the woodland of West Down. A local resident, Eleanor M Lockyer, has chronicled the history of Chilbolton Airfield in a series of 3 books, available from the general store in Chilbolton.
West Down's downland is valuable and important habitat. Recent studies have shown that the scrub is rapidly taking over the chalk grassland, and work and resources to arrest and reverse the decline are now urgently needed. Students from Sparsholt College are working on the site as part of their studies, and are contributing to revised management planning.
West Down is an interesting landscape, with a variety of habitats. The most important habitat is the downland, which forms the slopes that run down to the Test. This downland is particularly valuable, and is a BioDiversity Action Plan Priority Habitat. This means that it is recognised as important for nature conservation on a UK and Europe wide scale. Downland is characterised by impoverished chalk soils, often with high numbers of butterflies and small flowering plants. The impoverishment of the soil is vital, because excessive fertilisation can allow rank grasses and weeds to dominate (such as Cocks Foot, Creeping Soft Grass and Nettle), thus wiping out the finer grasses and flowers which the butterflies need.