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The Chilterns AONB

Dunstable Downs

Hundreds of local residents flocked to Dunstable Downs for a picnic at dusk with music, dance and kite making to create a stunning artwork with lights at dusk

Dunstable Downs is a place of gales, archaeology and birdlife.
Gliders and kites wheel on the ever present wind, as Meadow Pipits, Yellowhammers, Whitethroats and Skylark sing us in.
At one end of the Downs lie the prehistoric ‘five knoll’ burial mounds, and ancient voices from the soil join the gale and birdsong.

Event Notebook

The Downs

We’re in the car.
Dad is singing along to a tape
about a man dancing on the moon.
On the backseat, I grip my kite so
tightly, my palms sting. Ready.
Our Vauxhall Vectra splutters
skyward and my heart counts down.
Dad, stops the tape.
An announcement:
“This darlin’ – this is Dunstable
At 797 feet, this is the closest
I’d ever been to the sky.

Teresa Burns

Workshops took place with Lumenators creating butterfly-shaped kites inspired by the rare Chalk Hill Blue butterfly which can be spotted on Dunstable Downs.

Two children making kites with cardboard and blue paper, one is looking up at the camera


The inspiration for the movement came from my experience of watching families flying kites and the history of the Downs beneath our feet.  I was also inspired by Teresa’s poem.
Some of the shapes were lines of kite strings flying in the wind and the salutation at the beginning was about sharing a space together, being together and paying our respects to the landscape and surrounding and the history and earth beneath our feet.

Suba Subramaniam
Artistic Director, Akademi

As our Lumenators ate their picnics they were serenaded by five Dhol Drummers from Dhol Academy arriving out of a giant Dhol drum. An Odissi dance ensemble presented a rare treat with dance performances in beautiful costumes from Luton-based dance and music company KADAM.

Dhol drummers and Lumenators cheering, arms in the air

Seeing different members of the community, it almost feels like a pilgrimage, people coming and doing something together to celebrate nature and the beauty that’s around us, it just felt really amazing.”

Haleema Ali
Creative leader at Luton Council and RevolutonArts
Family walking near Watlington Hill, Chilterns in t-shirts and sunglasses during a hot summers day.

About The Chilterns AONB

The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) covers 833 square kilometres across Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. The many rare species and habitats, rolling chalk hills, magnificent beechwoods and wildflower-rich hills are just some of the special features of The Chilterns, which are enjoyed by local people and visitors alike.

The Chilterns AONB is home to England’s largest population of Red Kite birds of prey as well as a stronghold of rare flowers such as the Chiltern Gentian, the Military Orchid, Lady Orchid, Monkey Orchid and Pasqueflower. It’s also home to nine colonies of the threatened Duke of Burgundy butterfly. With around 700 hectares of chalk grassland, The Chilterns support a diverse range of plant and animal species, and can have up to 40 different species per square metre. There are nine rare chalk streams in the AONB, one of which, the Chess, hosts the only known remaining population of water vole in The Chilterns.

There are few landscapes which could claim to have as much recreational opportunity as The Chilterns, the extensive network of well-signposted footpaths and bridleways make it easy to explore the area by foot or bicycle. There are also lots of countryside sites where you can relax, enjoy the scenery, have a picnic, or take a walk. With 1.6 million people living within 8km and 10 million people living within an hour, The Chilterns is one of the most accessible protected landscapes in Europe.

Held at Dunstable Downs, looked after by National Trust

We’d like to thank all the groups who participated:

  • ARioT: MK Gallery’s Young People’s Group
  • Butterfly Project Art Therapy Group
  • Chalkscapes Project
  • A Creative Expression
  • City Girl in Nature: Young People’s Group
  • Milton Keynes Hindu Association

Thanks to our partners who supported this event:

  • National Trust
  • Chilterns AONB
  • Natural England

Photography by Phil Young