Chunnel helps Garden of England blossom again

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The Independent Online
After rearranging a sizeable part of the Kent coast, Eurotunnel is making its peace with Mother Nature and winning plaudits. This week the company that moved enough sand and tunnel spoil to fill 10 Wembley stadiums will get an award for its efforts on behalf of a rare orchid and an iridescent blue butterfly.

The escarpment overlooking the tunnel terminal near Folkestone is one of the largest remaining areas of unimproved - not ploughed or chemically treated - chalk downland in Kent. In 1990 it was in a poor state. Without animals to graze it, coarse grasses were rampant and motorcycle scramblers were cutting through the thin soil.

Some 666 acres of the escarpment is designated as a site of special scientific interest and of that 133 acres is owned by Eurotunnel Developments - land the company acquired before building the tunnel but not needed for its operations.

To ease its conscience perhaps and to foster goodwill, Eurotunnel has taken a leading role in funding the White Cliffs Countryside Project. The pounds 40,000 it has put in each year has helped pull in other partners from the private and public sector and a pounds 240,000 contribution from the European Regional Development Fund.

The transformation that has been brought about by the project on the escarpment since 1989 has been remarkable and this week Eurotunnel's contribution will be recognised by the 1997 SSSI Award from English Nature.

Sensitive management, getting the land grazed by cattle and easing out the scramblers, has enabled rare plants to flourish, notably the late spider orchid. There are probably only about 300 of this particular pink and brown orchid in the country and between 20 and 30 per cent of them are on the Eurotunnel land. Before the project began they were in danger of being swamped by coarse grass.

The adonis blue butterfly has prospered too. According to Stephen Davis of English Nature, its recovery has been "fantastic". The caterpillars feed on the yellow-flowered horseshoe vetch, but this too needs the chalk grassland to be grazed. "The adonis blue had become really scarce and now there are thousands of them," Mr Davis said. This month the butterfly is at its most numerous.

Dave Johnson, project and estates manager for Eurotunnel Developments, said the number of plant species on the escarpment had recovered from three or four per square metre a few years ago to between 20 and 30. "We like to think we are doing our bit to improve nature conservation and public access, not just on our own land but across the WCCP area," he said.

Access has been improved and the WCCP run story-telling walks, including over the erroneously named Caesar's Camp - a Norman hill fort offering a panoramic view of the tunnel terminal and, once again, a glimpse of the adonis blue.