Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Brush Hill secrets

We've been visiting Brush Hill regularly for a while now as it's our closest nature reserve and woods. It's a real favourite of ours all year round, but we always seem to stay in the same parts of the site. We visit either the woods at the top of the hill (for bluebells in spring and fungi in autumn), the chalk grassland slope (for butterflies, bugs and wildflowers in summer) or down through the woods about half way down the hill (along a track called Pheasant's Path) and back up the steep steps to the chalk grassland slope. I dug out the map today and explored a part of the reserve I hadn't visited before around the woods at the bottom of the hill.

I started out at the top of the hill and made my way down the path through the woods. First thing I came across was a badger sett with an incredibly steep slope outside the entrance. It also had two holes in front of it that looked like places where a tree had fallen on the sett and caved it in. If you looked closely you could see the tunnels deep down in the holes.

The current entrance hole with the tell-tale pile of chalk scraping. In front there
are two dark patches covered in sticks and logs. These appear to be places
where a tunnel roof has caved in.

It looked like a new entrance had been dug after the tunnels caved in. The
site wasn't ideal as the slope out was extremely steep. Look carefully at the
top right of the photo and you can see scratch marks where the badger has
clawed it's way up the slope. 

Scratch marks in the chalk

In the caved in tunnel you can see tunnels leading away.
Makes you wonder just how much of the chalk you're walking on is actually tunneled out!

Gore alert: Skip the next photo if you don't want to see a bit of gore!
Back on the path a baby bunny had been killed by something, probably a bird as it looked like the best bits had been pecked out: the liver and heart.

I carried on down the path and took a sharp left onto the Pheasant's Path, where I reached one of my favourite trees.
Pheasant's Path and a lovely old Beech tree
Just past here I headed off to the right and picked up a path that led down the slope to an area called The Dell. This was the new part of the reserve that I hadn't visited before. Either side of the path there was lots of Woodruff in flower and the small, delicate bobbles of Sanicle.


Along the bottom of the hill, the path was thick with Cow Parsley. Such a lovely Spring sight!


There were lots of very well rotted wood piles along part of the path. They were full of centipedes, snails, worms, woodlice and all sorts of lovely little creatures. Bug Mad Girl would love to have a good rummage through there.

A lot of wood had been left to rot - heaven for all sorts of minibeasts!

Near the end of the path I noticed some trampled grass, so I followed it and picked up a small track that led to a surprise glade in the trees. It was full of huge thistles and will no doubt hold all sorts of flowers later in the summer, that would otherwise struggle in the full shade of the Beech trees.

The trees opened out to reveal a glade in the otherwise shaded wood

Some very impressive thistles were growing in the glade
At the end of the path I found the Black Hedge, which is thought to be one of the oldest field boundaries in England, dating back to at least 903 AD. A 14 mile boundary was marked by 'blacan hegcean', which was a hedge mostly made of Blackthorn, hence the name Black Hedge. Parts of it still survive, including along the lower edge of Brush Hill nature reserve.

Black Hedge, running along the lower edge of the reserve
I carried on down the track until I reached the Ridgeway, a route used since prehistoric times. Looking back I could see the woodland of Brush Hill, Black Hedge along it's lower boundary and Whiteleaf Cross.
Black Hedge on the right, with the chalk cross on Whiteleaf Hill above

I turned back and followed the path back past Black Hedge until I reached the bottom of the steep steps up the hill, where we usually emerge after following the Pheasant's Path. Now I was back on familiar territory and plodded my way up the steps and out onto the grassland slope, back up to the top of the hill.

The view from the top!
I'd hoped I might stumble across some White Helleborines (orchids that grow somewhere on Brush Hill in the shade of the Beech trees), but I think it may still be a bit early for them to flower yet. Even though I didn't see any, it was a lovely walk, I dodged all the showers and I really enjoyed exploring a new part of a very familiar reserve and finding out a few more of its secrets.


  1. A wonderfull local wildlife site with a great range of diverse habitats. The Black Hedge Saxon boundary actually runs down under the trees from Kop Hill, crossing the Ridgeway Path on it's ascent up the steps and then out as a short section of hedge into the arable field below the reserve, i.e. rather than along the lower boundary of Brush Hill. It continued across that field to meet the Icknield Way but this section was sadly ploughed out in the 1960s

  2. Thank you - I was going by the reserve map and it was a bit confusing! I'll have to have another look when I'm back there.