Friday, 17 September 2021

Nature reserve filled with wildlife in beautiful setting on our doorstep

Nature reserve filled with wildlife in beautiful setting on our doorstep

AS someone who likes nothing more than getting out into our beautiful Chiltern landscape and exploring the unique woodlands, pockets of heathland, chalk grasslands and riverbanks that cradle Henley, one of the most pleasurable moments is to encounter something entirely unexpected.

A startled herd of roe deer with their young in the woods at Highmoor, a splendid display of violet helleborines in a previously unknown location near Ipsden or the flash of a kingfisher on the river at Marsh Lock?

Henley-on-Thames, probably one of the most classic of English market towns, has long been associated with its world famous regatta and the former Brakspear brewery but surely it should also be celebrated for the huge variety of plants, birds and other animals that exist and sometimes abound in the surrounding countryside.

The amount and variety of wildlife hereabouts is quite astonishing. From the diminutive and nationally threatened hazel dormouse to the ubiquitous but graceful red kite and the quick-as-you-like weasel, there is always something that pops up when I’m out and about in the woods, meadows and along the riverbanks, whatever time of day.

I would encourage anyone with an interest in getting outdoors for an enjoyable and healthy day out to make their way to the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust’s Warburg nature reserve between Bix and Maidensgrove, only a few miles north-west of Henley.

The wide range of native wildflowers present throughout spring and into the late summer months are a joy to see. Both species of butterfly orchids (lesser and greater) can be found here, as can the very local Chiltern gentian.

There are many other beauties here, from the humble to the rare, from common centaury and deadly nightshade to herb-paris.

The reason most of all that this 265-acre reserve stands out is the beauty of its setting.

This, combined with the wide variety of birds and animals, butterflies and moths, trees and shrubs, flowering plants, mosses and fungi to be encountered, is what makes the Warburg so enchanting. It is a real naturalist’s paradise.

To visit, simply leave Henley northbound heading along Fair Mile and as this thoroughfare ends with a rise towards Nettlebed take the right turn marked for the Assendons then continue until reaching Middle Assendon where you will find a turn on the left (the second one), after passing the Rainbow Inn, to Bix Bottom. Follow this narrow lane with caution all the way to the end and you will find a small car park (if you have not walked or cycled that is) just past Pages Farm.

There is an educational visitor centre across the lane from the car park. A well-marked nature trail is described here which takes a charming route through the woodland, rides and open areas.

There are many other superb places in the Henley area to visit, of course, but I can think of no better site to begin an appreciation of what can be found locally than here.

Incidentally, a ground frost has been recorded in the valley every month of the year. Cool air “pools” here as it is surrounded by steep hills on three sides. I can’t imagine that happening this month but who knows?

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