There are lots of different tales about how old the yew trees of Kingley Vale really are. Some say they were planted to make longbows in the Middle Ages. Others that they commemorate dead Vikings from the 9th Century. Whatever their age, they are some of the oldest living things in England. Walking around the 160 hectares of chalk grassland, scrub, mixed woodland and ancient yew forest that makes up this nature reserve offers a great chance to encounter much of the wildlife with whom we share the Downs. You might hear the song of the nightingale or the rat-a-tat of the green woodpecker. Spot some of the 11 different orchids or 39 species of butterfly. Or find evidence of badgers, weasels, stoats, and roe or fallow deer.
At Shortheath Common on the borders of the National Park, the mixture of bog, pond, heath and grassland are home to 23 species of dragonfly. It is also an excellent place to see the elusive nightjar, which flies here from South Africa to nest between March and July. Nearby is the former medieval royal hunting ground of Woolmer forest, where you might come across adders, smooth snakes, great crested newts and sand lizards. This is the only place in the British Isles where all our native reptile and amphibian species are found. And at the Arundel Wetland Centre you can join expert guided boat safaris to glide through the tall reeds in search of little grebes, sedge warblers, widgeons and other wildlife.
Our rivers are some of the country’s finest, such as the Itchen, one of the world’s premier chalk streams for fly fishing. It was also the inspiration for Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, written while the author was staying at the Trout Inn pub nearby. Peer into its gin-clear waters and you probably won’t see any of Kingsley’s fairies, but there’s Atlantic salmon, bullhead, grayling, brook lamprey and trout, along with water voles, otters and kingfishers.
This wealth of wildlife would not be possible without the efforts of the people who live and work in the National Park. Farmland is important for many species of wildlife including rare wildflowers and nationally declining farmland birds. Farmers managing their land through environmental stewardship schemes are supporting the recovery of species such as corn bunting, skylark, lapwing and grey partridge. Volunteers of all ages clear invasive species and scrub, support the reintroduction of water voles to our rivers and chalk streams and build bat and bird boxes so they can safely roost.
We can all play our part, keeping dogs under close control when out walking – especially during nesting and lambing seasons; enjoying wildflowers where they grow and taking litter home; or adjusting our outside lighting to avoid disturbing bats, birds, moths and glow-worms.