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Dec 05 2013

Furze Heath Project Exhibition – December 10-21, 2013

waspAn exhibition is being held at Stanmore Library to enable residents to view the ‘Furze Heath Project’ being carried out at Bentley Priory Nature Reserve SSSI.

It is thanks to the funding from HLF (Heritage Lottery Fund) that project is able to be completed.

  • When: 10th to 21st December 2013
  • Where: Stanmore Library

The 66 hectares of the reserve slope southwards from the edge of the Stanmore Hill ridge in the north. The lower part is London clay but as one climbs north the clay is overlayed by the pebbly Claygate beds with a cap of quaternary gravels on the ridge. This rapidly draining soil supports heathland vegetation where gorse thrives. When water trickling down through the gravel reaches the clay a number of springs emerge and form streams.

The name Bentley is thought to derive from the Anglo-Saxon words beonet, a place covered in coarse grass, and leah, a piece of cleared ground on the uplands. These words imply open space and traditional grassland, which remain a feature of the reserve today. A monastic settlement occupied the site in the 13th century, but was demolished. Bentley Priory house was the home of the Dowager Queen Adelaide in the 1850s.

The reserve is a patchwork of woods and open grassland within which lie two bodies of water, Summerhouse Lake (named for Queen Adelaide’s lakeside gazebo) and Boot Pond. Heriot’s Wood is ancient, that is, it has certainly been a wood since 1600 and probably ever since the last glaciers retreated. Many of the trees here are hornbeam, a species that is characteristic of ancient woods. To the west of Summerhouse Lake stands the “Master”, a mighty oak at least 500 years old.

The open grassland is “unimproved”, meaning that it has never been treated with fertilizer and hence, paradoxically, is rich in wild flowers. It has been designated a site of special scientific interest (S.S.S.I.) by English Nature. The dominant grasses are common bent-grass, red fescue and yorkshire fog. Wild flowers include uncommon species such as greater burnet saxifrage, great burnet, spotted orchid, betony, devil’s-bit scabious and harebell, plus sanicle in the woods. A herd of cows grazes the grassland in summer to maintain the pastures and promote the diversity of wild flowers.

Many interesting and relatively uncommon birds can be seen or heard including buzzard, spotted flycatcher and bullfinch. In summer warblers such as whitethroat, garden warbler, blackcap, chiffchaff and willow warbler can be heard. These breed in the scrubland in Spring Meadow and are rarely seen in the mature woodland.

In winter, large numbers of redpoll, siskin, redwing, fieldfare and goldcrest arrive from mainland Europe and Scandinavia. To the east lies a private fenced park which has a small herd of fallow deer.

You can download a leaflet about the reserve here.

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