A short walk away from Wakehurst’s Visitors Centre lies the Loder Valley Nature Reserve, an area of peace and tranquillity.
Wakehurst was one of the first botanic gardens in the world to open an adjoining nature reserve for the conservation of both native flora and fauna.
The reserve opened in 1980, on land passed to Wakehurst by the local water authority after the construction of the Ardingly Reservoir. It consists of a matrix of habitats, with wooded steep-sided valleys (ghylls) and open meadow areas, as well as the damp margins of the reservoir, all within its 40 acres.
The area is teaming with wildlife and you will find bird hides at strategic places allowing you to view herons, kingfishers and water birds on the reservoir. There is also a badger hide placed by a large sett, where you can view badgers on one of Wakehurst’s badger watching evenings between April and September.
The reserve is managed for the benefit of the wildlife that live there. Regular coppicing, hedge-laying, ride-widening and meadow-mowing all contribute to the biodiversity of the area.
Ecologists record the effects of any activity on the flora and fauna as part of the management of this area.
A permit is required to visit the Reserve.
Please go to the ticket desk in the Visitor Centre when you visit. No pre-booking accepted.
Badger watches happen between April and September, please visit the What's on page for event information or call our Visitor Services on 01444 894067.
It's a good idea to bring waterproof footwear, binoculars and a camera.
The RedTrail is a beautiful walk around part of the Ardingly Reservoir which passes through woodland and meadowland. There are several bird hides with one giving excellent views of a specially-built sandy bank that attracts breeding kingfishers. Beyond a footbridge across the head of the reservoir is Hanging Meadow which has wonderful wild flowers in spring and summer and rich insect life – just as it was before the invention of modern herbicides.
The Green Trail is a more strenuous walk, almost entirely through woodland. There are some steep woodland slopes which lead to impressive views across the valley. The undergrowth of brambles and hazels provides both dense cover and food for the native hazel dormouse, for which Wakehurst is enthusiastically helping The Dormouse Recovery Programme. There are 300 dormouse nesting boxes in the Reserve which are monitored by Wakehurst rangers.
There is a route map available for both of these trails at the Visitors Centre.
Poor soil and steep hillsides made the High Weald unsuitable for intensive farming, so it was one of the last areas of England to be permanently settled. The Wealden woods are the remnants of a great forest which stretched in Roman times from Kent to Hampshire and probably originated in the ancient wildwood which grew to cover most of the country after the retreat of the last ice age,10,000 years ago.
The trees here would have been extensively felled for use in the ship building industry after the 11th century. But, still the area has up to 15% woodland cover which is double the national average.
The Loder Valley Reserve has several different types of woodland – semi-natural oak, beech, sweet chestnut, hazel coppice and alder carr.
Many years ago residents of this area learned that they could harvest wood by coppicing – cutting the trunks of trees to ground level and then letting the shoots grow up from the stumps. Coppicing keeps woodland open, letting the plants and wildflower underneath flourish.
In the summer a dense canopy is formed by mature broad-leaved trees, but where it thins out there is enough light for smaller trees such as hazel, birch, holly and yew and shrubs such as hawthorn, bramble and dog rose, to grow. In a deciduous woodland there is no leaf canopy in winter, which allows a huge variety of wildflowers to thrive in early spring, such as wood anemones, primroses, bluebells, wood sorrel and dog’s mercury. This also allow much wildlife to thrive in the area. These woodlands are also a major habitat for fungi.
Sussex wetland habitats are now pretty rare which is why it is extremely important that these are preserved. This is down to modern flood control schemes as well as the constant drive to create productive agriculture land. Unfortunately this has meant that many of the approximately 500 plants and animals that depend on freshwater wetlands are now endangered.
The Loder Valley Nature Reserve, as well as at Wakehurst itself, there is a variety of wetland habitats, ranging from the open water of Ardingly Reservoir, through streams to mark and reed-swamp, each with its own characteristic plant and animal life. Among the plants that flourish around the reservoir are water mint and lesser spearwort, while the waterlogged soil around natural springs make perfect conditions for alder, golden saxifrage, marsh marigold and wild garlic.
There are a huge number of birds attracted to the Loder Valley. The Kingfisher Hide is opposite an artificial bank and cunningly-placed branch where in spring and summer, this stunning bird regularly appears for a photo call – often with a fish in its beak, before entering its nesting-hole. There are ospreys and hobbies performing aerobatics around the reservoir, while other hides gives excellent views of great crested grebes, greylag geese and mandarin ducks, while common sandpipers, lapwings, greenshanks and little egrets search for food along the muddy margins.
The Hanging Meadow is managed to increase plant diversity. Traditional management maximises the populations of wild flowers and butterflies and supports well over 100 species, including oxeye daisy, lady's smock, bird's-foot trefoil, ragged robin, and three species of orchid. Protecting old meadows conserves not only a huge variety of plants, but also the insects, birds and small animals they support.
Photography in the Reserve is permitted for personal use only.
The kingfisher is afforded the highest degree of legal protection under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Under this act, it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb the birds close to their nest during the breeding season.
Please watch or photograph our kingfishers from within the Kingfisher Hide.