Wild Surrey: 10 of the best nature reserves to visit

The spectacular views from Newlands Corner (Photo G. Sweetnam)

The spectacular views from Newlands Corner (Photo G. Sweetnam) - Credit: Surrey Wildlife Trust

Surrey Wildlife Trust manages over 80 nature reserves across the county, including heathlands, meadows, ancient woodlands, wetlands and grassland, for the benefit of people and wildlife.

So, pack up a picnic and visit one of these beautiful havens...

Chinthurst Hill

Chinthurst Ln, Guildford GU5 0QH

Best time to visit: April to October

A quiet and peaceful spot, Chinthurst Hill has fine views from its summit. Here, you’ll also find a stone folly built in the 1930s, which is Grade II listed. Even from the base of this impressive structure, you’ll encounter wonderful views across Guildford, the Chantries, St Martha’s Hill and the North Downs. A fine display of bluebells can be seen on Chinthurst Hill in the spring. Watch out for roe deer, too and, if you are walking at dusk in the summer, you may see bats hunting for insects on the wing.

• Great for bluebells, mammals and views

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Chobham Common

Staple Hill, Chobham, Woking GU24 8TU

Best time to visit: May to September

The largest National Nature Reserve in the southeast of England, Chobham Common, is also one of the finest remaining examples of lowland heath in the world. The site is recognised across Europe for its variety of birdlife, with over 100 different species recorded here, including the very rare Dartford warbler, hobby and nightjar. In summer, sweeps of purple flowering heather and sweet-scented gorse dominate the heathland whilst the wetlands harbour insect-eating sundews and scarce marsh gentians. All six species of native reptile are found here, including the rare smooth snake and sand lizard.

• Great for birds, reptiles and wildflowers

Newlands Corner

Drove Rd, Newland's Corner, Albury, Guildford GU4 8SE

Best time to visit: May to September

A popular open chalk downland and woodland reserve, Newlands Corner has superb views of the surrounding countryside. The woodlands are mixed, with some deciduous trees, such as oak and birch, plus evergreen yew. Some of the yew trees are hundreds of years old. The reserve lies on the chalk ridge of the North Downs at a height of over 170m (500ft), providing fine views across the Weald to the ridge of the South Downs. In spring and summer, the chalk grassland becomes a spectacular carpet of wildflowers.

• Great for trees, views and wildflowers

Norbury Park

Young Street, Leatherhead Surrey KT22 9DX

Best time to visit: May to September

A working landscape that lies within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Norbury Park is made up of a mixture of woodland, grassland and various areas of farmland. Due to the range of habitats, it is an important haven for many plants and animals. A large part has also been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. During the summer, many species of orchid can be seen here, including the bee, fly, pyramid and common orchid. The site is also home to a range of butterflies.

• Great for butterflies and wildflowers

Nutfield Marshes

Nutfield, Surrey RH1 4EU

Best time to visit: May to August

The Nutfield Marsh Project created three wetland nature reserves: The Moors, Spynes Mere and Holmethorpe Lagoons. These reserves were restored from sand workings along the Redhill Brook and support a myriad of wetland wildlife. For example, the sites attract a huge range of wildfowl, including mallard, teal, moorhen, tufted duck, gadwall and the shy water rail, together with mute swans, little grebes, coots, moorhens and greylag geese. In summer, the pools are alive with small damselflies, such as banded demoiselle and bigger dragonflies like the southern hawker and emperor. Around the pools, the flowers of yellow flag iris are followed by purple loosestrife and meadowsweet, as well as sedges, rushes and bur-reed.

• Great for birds, damselflies and dragonflies

Quarry Hangers

Chaldon, Caterham RH1 4QZ

Best time to visit: May to August

A chalk downland reserve, Quarry Hangers, is part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Various species of orchid are found on the site, such as the bee and man orchid. Many common chalk-grassland species are also present, including bird’s-foot trefoil, marjoram, milkwort, wild thyme, salad burnet, wild basil and wild strawberry. Various butterflies, such as the common blue, green-veined white, painted lady, and small skipper, can also be seen. The reserve supports a good number of bird species and is a great place to see buzzards and to listen out for the distinctive song of the skylark.

• Great for birds, butterflies and wildflowers

Sheepleas

Shere Road, West Horsley KT24 6AP 

Best time to visit: April to August

Lying on the chalk slopes of the North Downs, Sheepleas is located within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The mosaic of woodland, grassland and scrub habitats supports a diverse range of wildlife, and the reserve was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1975 and a Local Nature Reserve in 2005. Known for its stunning display of cowslips in the spring, its meadow was also crowned Surrey’s ‘Coronation Meadow’ in 2013, a project created by Prince Charles to select a wildflower meadow in each county for the 60th anniversary of the coronation. On a clear day, the Millennium Viewpoint, near Shere Road car park, provides views of the London skyline.

• Great for views and wildflowers

Thundry Meadows 

 3 Farnham Rd, Elstead, Godalming GU8 6LE

Best time to visit: June to August

Named after the Norse God Thor, Thundry Meadows is a picturesque stretch of land running alongside the River Wey. A site of Special Scientific Interest, it consists of unimproved wet and dry meadows, alder carr (a type of fenland), farmland and ditches. It hosts several rare plants and sedges and is one of the few remaining wet meadow complexes left in the county. The riverside vegetation includes amphibious bistort, dame’s violet and musk (monkeyflower). The ditches also attract a large number of dragonflies (over 24 recorded species), damselflies and a number of butterflies, and the small alder carr is rich in mosses.

• Great for damselflies, dragonflies, mosses and wildflowers

Wallis Wood

north of Wallis Wood Village, Cranleigh RH5 5QY 

Best time to visit: May to August

An oak and hazel coppice woodland on Wealden clay, Wallis Wood has an attractive stream and a small pond with surrounding pasture. The coppicing is done on a rotational basis, which allows a rich ground flora to develop, including bluebells, common spotted orchid, primroses, wild daffodil, wood anemone and wood sorrel. Both species of British oak are present together with ash, hornbeam, Midlands hawthorn, wild apple, wild cherry and wild service tree. The reserve supports a variety of butterflies too, including purple emperor, purple hairstreak, silver-washed fritillary, white admiral and speckled wood.

• Great for butterflies, trees and wildflowers

Wisley and Ockham Commons

Old Lane, Ockham KT11 1NA and Wisley Lane, Cobham GU23 6QD

Best time to visit: May to August

Made up of over 323 hectares (800 acres) of heathland and woodland, Wisley and Ockham Commons also include lowland heath, a very scarce habitat that supports a specific and unusual range of wildlife. The M25 cuts through the northern area of these open spaces and Wisley airfield provides a southern border. They straddle the A3, with Boldermere Lake supporting a wide range of aquatic life on the eastern side of the road. Also a nationally important site for dragonflies and damselflies, 20 species have been recorded here. Many rare birds can also be seen, including the hobby, which is one of the few creatures that can actually catch dragonflies.

• Great for birds, damselflies and dragonflies

Need to know: Dogs are welcome on all sites listed above, however, please be aware of notices and keep dogs on leads when requested. For more information about the Surrey Wildlife Trust reserves and details of exciting events being held at them, visit their website at surreywildlifetrust.org

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Read more of the best Surrey nature content:

Sir David Attenborough on world wildlife conservation, the green belt and Richmond life

• Actress Virginia McKenna on 30 years of Born Free and the battle to save the Surrey Hills

Dame Judi Dench becomes a Surrey Wildlife Trust patron

• British Wildlife Centre, near Lingfield - a wild day out in Surrey

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