The 7.5 acre nature reserve is made up of three main habitats: meadow, ponds and woodland.
The one-acre meadow of unimproved grassland was formerly a grazing field for donkeys, who were re-housed in 1993. Since then the meadow has been managed by annual mowing, always leaving one quarter undisturbed to provide refuge for the animals that inhabit it. The meadow is criss-crossed by a network of paths dividing it into 4 compartments.
In the middle of the meadow there is a well-established fox den and foxes and their young are regularly spotted around the reserve. Situated around the meadow are 6 habitat plates which provide perfect habitat for small mammals such as field voles, common and pygmy shrews and grass snakes. During the spring and early summer the small mammals breed and as the weather warms up grass snakes can be found absorbing the heat from the metal plates.
The meadow contains a mixture of grasses and wildflowers that provide a haven for invertebrate species such as bees, hoverflies, beetles, bush crickets, grasshoppers and many others. One particular favourite is the thick-legged beetle (Oedemera nobilis), a green shining metallic flower beetle with thick, swollen thighs.
Several trees grow in the meadow including an old elder tree and a well-established pedunculate oak tree. The oak tree is home to up to 278 species of invertebrate including the acorn weevil, the tree damsel bug and the oak gall wasp which creates oak apples. The astonishing Acorn weevil, which featured in the BBC’s documentary, The Oak Tree, has a long curved beak which it uses to gouge holes in the bark, in which they lay their eggs.
The meadow and its trees provide a fantastic study area for children of all ages where they can carry out sweep netting, tree bashing and ecological field surveys.
The reserve has four permanent ponds and two seasonal ponds all of which are situated on the north-east side of the reserve. The ponds are brimming with wildlife and provide ample pond dipping opportunities for visiting school children. During the summer pond dipping takes place every day and provides children of all ages with an experience of awe and wonder. All the classic species dwell in the ponds including dragonflies such as the emperor dragonfly and the southern hawker, common blue and common red damselflies, water beetles, water scorpions and other true bugs. Particularly spectacular are the cased caddisfly larva. These soft-bodied larva build themselves intricate cases out of leaves, seeds, snail shells and grit to protect themselves from predators. The Bottle Pond is particularly good for these amazing creatures. The ponds are also home to smooth newts and children regularly catch them in all their life cycle stages, from efts to breeding adults.
The woodland covers most of the reserve and is made up of a range of tree species that can be found all over the UK and indeed, some from as far away as the USA. Typical species of southern England include the deciduous trees pedunculate oak, hornbeam, ash, hazel, field maple, birch, lime, apple and beech and the evergreens yew and holly. All these trees can be found in the wriggly tree trail along with some smaller trees such as guelder rose, wayfaring tree and the spindle tree. One particularly rare tree that is associated with ancient woodlands is the wild service tree. Its fruit are known as chequers and were used to make beer before hops were introduced by the Romans. Trees of more northerly latitudes include the aspen, the Norway spruce and from the USA there is a mature Monterey pine and a young redwood tree. The aspen, which can reproduce by suckers, forms a small community known as the Whispering Wood. These tall, bendy trees are easily moved by the wind and in the breeze their leaves make the sound of the ocean. The Monterey pine is notable for having large cones which grow directly out of the branches with no stalks and which require fire to open and release their seeds.
The boundaries of the reserve are formed by hedges of blackthorn, hawthorn and dogwood (Cornus) with standard oaks at intervals. The boundary is strengthened by hedge laying to create an impenetrable thicket.
The woodland is also divided into compartments, some of which remain undisturbed for wildlife. Hazel trees have been planted to create a hazel glade and Crab apples planted to create Crab Apple Dell. The trees are managed by traditional tree cutting techniques of coppicing and pollarding.
The paths across the reserve wander through this mixed woodland through glades and tree tunnels, providing a wildlife haven for birds and other animals and a peaceful place for people to contemplate nature.
The Phase 1 Survey of the plant species was carried out in June 2012.