A large reserve on a steep, south-facing chalk hillside and hill-top, once the site of Winchester's ancient fair, and a large army camp during WW1. The reserve has been extended twice to take in the arable land for conversion back to chalk downland.
Moths to look out for
Migrant moth sightings include European Corn Borer, Small Mottled Willow and Marbled Clover.
The scarce Striped Lychnis moth breeds on the reserve and nearby.
Scarce arable plants including Cornflower, Venus’s Looking Glass, Night-flowering Catchfly, Corn Chamomile and Sharp-leaved Fluellen were found when the arable area on North Down was cultivated for the sowing of chalk downland plant species.
Fifty years ago Magdalen Hill Down was open, grazed downland famous for Adonis Blue butterflies. Much of it was then ploughed-up for arable cultivation and the steeper slopes left to invading scrub.
By 1989 the butterflies were greatly reduced, but our scrub clearance and grazing management has carefully restored the site into a haven for wildflowers and butterflies once again.
The original reserve has been extended twice (mid-1995 and 2004) by taking on large neighbouring areas of arable land. On these chalk grassland is being very successfully re-created through sowing with native grass and flower seed from other Hampshire sites.
This work, supported by a Higher Level Environmental Stewardship Scheme and Hampshire County Council, is restoring the former glory of this important downland and allowing butterflies and moths to establish healthy populations again.
At the top of the reserve are several Bronze Age Round Barrows, listed as Scheduled Ancient Monuments.
Area: 46 hectares (114 acres)
Directions and site access
Map reference: SU 506 293 OS Map: Land Ranger 185
The reserve lies between the A31 and B3404 just outside the eastern edge of Winchester, over the bridge that crosses the M3.
Arriving by car, the main North entrance is the track adjacent to Magdalen Hill Cemetery at SU 5012 295. A small gravel car park across the B3404 from the track should be used.
Thinking of bringing your dog to one of our nature reserves? Please read our policy on access to nature reserves with dogs.
The reserve is only a mile walk from Winchester City centre and there are entrances by bus stops on the B3404. The closest to the city is opposite St Swithin’s School. There is no parking at this entrance.
For the south entrance park in the small lay-by on the Petersfield Road (A31 - Petersfield direction) opposite the minor road to Chilcomb.
The original reserve is designated Open Access land and the extensions all have permissive open or linear access in addition to the various Public Footpaths that cross the hillside. Most paths are firm and easy to follow, but some have moderate to steep slopes in places and can be slippery when wet. Some kissing gates and stiles may be encountered. A bridleway runs along part of the northern boundary.
A disabled access track runs through Pathfield on the upper part of the reserve between a small carpark down the track (disabled access with RADAR key) adjoining the cemetery at the western end and the St Swithin’s school entrance at the eastern end.
Grazing stock are now present on the reserve all year round: - cattle, sheep and Exmoor ponies may be present (sometimes in small numbers) in any of the grazing compartments at any time. All dogs must therefore always be on leads at all times on the reserve and in every grazing compartment.
Bus services from Winchester to Winnall, Guilford and Petersfield pass along the B3404, where there are several reserve entrances.
Most ticks are little more than an irritation, but a few can transmit Lyme disease, a rare and potentially serious illness which is treatable with antibiotics if diagnosed early. It is therefore important to be informed and take some simple precautions.
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