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Go wildlife spotting in Surrey - places to visit

PUBLISHED: 14:58 10 June 2011 | UPDATED: 12:28 03 July 2014

You may come across heron at Basingstoke Canal, near Woking (Photo: Dave Foker)

You may come across heron at Basingstoke Canal, near Woking (Photo: Dave Foker)

Now is one of the best times of the year for spotting wildlife in and around Surrey. Here, we show you some of the top places to visit

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2011
Compiled by Hannah Flynn

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Wisley Common, near Wisley
To catch a glimpse of the dragonflies that will be emerging now, heathland is your best bet. At Wisley Common, not only will you find a site of special scientific interest for both dragonflies and damselflies, but the heather will be particularly lush too. Keep a look-out for the stunning black darter dragonfly that will be visible on low ground at this time of year.
Also good for: Built in 1822, the Semaphore Tower on nearby Chatley Heath was one of a line of semaphore stations between the admiralty in London and Portsmouth naval base. Fully restored in 1989, it is now the only one remaining.
Access: Self-guided trails are marked from both car parks in Old Lane to the tower. Both are along sandy tracks with no gates or stiles.

 

Farnham Heath, Farnham 
An RSPB reserve, Farnham Heath is great for bird spotters at this time of year. Go for a dusk walk and hear the nightjar performing ‘wing clapping’ displays. The male woodcock can also be seen here in the evening, performing its display flight known as a ‘roding’. 
Also good for: Daytime visitors can catch a glimpse of the waves of bluebells that appear in the coppice from the beginning of May. 
Access: This site may not be suitable for all visitors as access is by unimproved paths and trails.

 

St Martha’s Hill, Chilworth 
St Martha’s Hill is covered in woodland and grassland and is on the Colyers Hanger site of special scientific interest. Though not an example of natural plantation, the area contains an arboretum where the owners of the local estate planted exotic cedars, spruces and other softwood trees in 1900. On hot days, you should be able to catch sight of adders, which will bathe in the exposed areas of the hill. 
Also good for: On a clear day you see all the way across the Surrey Hills. The site contains several megalithic and neolithic artefacts and, if you look closely, you can see the earth circles a few hundred metres away from the church at the top of the hill.  
Access: This site lies on the Downs Link and the North Downs Way, and there are plenty of footpaths and bridleways to choose from.


Crooksbury Hill, near Runfold 
From the top of Crooksbury Hill, you can see right across Surrey. The site is a great place to spot woodland birds, as well as lizards if it’s a hot day. It is also unusual in that many bilberry bushes can be found here, which is a rarity in the south of England. In addition, the site is also home to a large number of wood ants, which can be seen at this time, as it’s their mating season. Their nests look like big heaps of twigs and pine needles.
Also good for: The historic ruins of Waverley Abbey, the first Cistercian monastery established in England. The Bishop of Winchester founded it in 1128 and a good section of 13th century vaulting, supported by slender columns, can still be seen today.
Access: There are a number of public rights of way across the hill.

 

Basingstoke Canal, Woking 
Though this canal-side walk runs through an urban area, the stretch from Wheatsheaf Bridge in the town centre to Kiln Bridge, St Johns, is a conservation area. Many kinds of water birds can be seen here, and the canal itself has a higher density of different kinds of aquatic plants than any other area in the UK. Herons can be seen here frequently, as can moorhens. The bridges themselves can be homes for bats, so keep a look out if you are visiting the canals at dusk. In May, you can also see many of the 25 different species of dragonfly that have been spotted along the canal.
Also good for: Built between 1788 and 1794, the canal itself is an interesting historical feature and was created with the original intention of linking the south coast with London, though the project never got further than Basingstoke.   
Access: Flat towpath for most of the route.

 

Oxshott Heath and Woods, Oxshott
Designated a site of special scientific interest, Oxshott Heath is host to a large butterfly population in May, including the rare green hairstreak butterfly. Many species of dragonfly and damselfly also breed in the ponds on the heath and should be starting to emerge now. This is also a good site for spotting wood ants, as well as the green woodpeckers that hunt them. 
Also good for: Many anglo-saxon objects have been found in the woods, so keep an eye out. In 1935, an anglo-saxon bronze brooch was discovered here and is now displayed in the British Museum.    
Access: There are marked trails across the heath for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.


Colley Hill, Reigate  
Though the views from the top should not be missed, keep your eyes to the ground as the hills are a great place to see reptiles. May is the best month for spotting the slow-worms that are common in this area. This part of the North Downs is also good for butterflies at this time of year as well – look out for the silver-spotted skipper, which has frequently been seen here. Also good for: The Inglis Folly can be found on the top of Colley Hill and was donated to the borough by Lieutenant Colonel Inglis in 1909. It was originally a drinking fountain, and a fantastic mosaic ceiling can be found inside the folly.    
Access: The hills are on the North Downs way and reasonably level unmade paths cross the hills. The slope is on a gradual incline.


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FURTHER WILDLIFE READING

• Surrey Wildlife Trust has a monthly column in Surrey Life magazine
Dame Judi Dench becomes a Surrey Wildlife Trust patron
• British Wildlife Centre, near Lingfield - a wild day out in Surrey
• The new WWF headquarters in Woking: one of the UK’s greenest buildings and a new Surrey attraction
• Actress Virginia McKenna on Born Free, life in Coldharbour and her memoirs, The Life in My Years
• Nicholas Owen meets Wildlife Aid’s Simon Cowell
• Discover how the Shalford-based David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation is helping to protect the world’s endangered species

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