Key to local places
Lambourn and Sheepdrove Organic Farm
GR - SU 3481 / 3581
This extensive area is located just north of the village of Lambourn and south of Ridgeway. Park in the small car park next to the large Red Barn at SU348816. From here a number of bridleways and footpaths radiate away in all directions and using OS map 174 it is easy to plan a circular route back to your car. While keeping to public rights of way it is possible to see the full range of downland specialists at any time of the year including Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, Linnet and Skylark.
You really feel you are on the rooftops of the Downs here and the sky is regularly crisscrossed by Buzzard and Red Kite with perhaps an occasional Raven too. During the summer the sound of Lapwings displaying is truly evocative with perhaps a distant Curlew calling too. Occasionally there is a chance of hearing Quail on calm warm summer evenings. During the winter look out for large flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing, and, if you are really lucky, a Short-eared Owl.
Cow & Bury Downs
GR - SU 4684 / 4784
Cow Down and Bury Down are situated close together the Ridgeway above the village of West Ilsley. The path runs on the top of the escarpment beside the racehorse gallops with far reaching views north up the A34 towards Didcot and Abingdon. This site has proved particularly rich for overwintering Short-eared Owl over the last few years. Resident species could include Grey Partridge, Barn and Little Owl, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Corn Bunting and Yellowhammer.
Summer visitors could include Stone Curlew, Curlew and Quail to the east of the Ridgeway. Winter visitors have included harriers, Merlin and Great Grey Shrike. Passage migrants include Ring Ouzel, Dotterel, Redstart, Wheatear and overflying raptors.
Churn & Compton Downs
GR - SU 5082 / 5182
A good area either side of the Ridgeway is Churn between the villages of Compton and Blewbury. The Downs here are crossed with many tracks and footpaths, and a circular walk can easily be made. It also includes the very overgrown old railway line from Newbury to Oxford with the old station known as Churn Holt. There are also many racehorse gallops. One could find Yellow Wagtail, Quail, Red Kite, Short-eared Owl, Corn Bunting, Stonechat & Linnet. The unimproved grass is also extremely rich in butterfly species.
GR - SU512652
Holy Copse is a National Trust reserve, an area of chalk downland near Streatley with areas of ancient coppiced woodland and light scrub. The slopes are too steep to be ploughed and have only ever been grazed, thereby resulting in a flower rich grassland habitat, particularly suitable for butterflies, of which there are a large number of endangered species present during the year. It is also particularly good for Buzzard, Kestrel and Red Kite. Access is across the B40009 from the small car park at the top of the hill leading down to Streatley.
GR - SU3268 / 3368
West of Hungerford are just under 40 hectares of old water meadow, rough grazing and reed-beds with alder and willow carr. The area is intersected by the River Dun and the Kennet and Avon Canal. Most of the area (Freeman’s Marsh) is managed by the Town and Manor of Hungerford, but the section to the east, Hungerford Marsh, is a BBOWT reserve with restricted access. Cattle graze most of both sites.
Throughout the year one may see Little Grebe, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, Cetti's Warbler and Reed Bunting. In the summer Reed, Sedge and occasionally Grasshopper Warbler breed. In the winter there are Snipe and often Siskin in the alders. Water Rail are seen or heard from time to time. In the autumn it is worth checking the cattle’s feet for Yellow Wagtail running between them. The area is a stronghold for the now threatened Water Vole. Scarce visitors have included Glossy Ibis. 130 species have been recorded here.
Park beside the churchyard in the Croft. Walk through the churchyard and across the canal. Alternatively park in Cobbs farm shop on the A4 west of Hungerford and take the footpath opposite and walk generally east. Don’t forget to buy a coffee in the café!
Snelsmore Common Country Park
GR - SU463710
Comprising some 250 acres (100 ha) Snelsmore Common represents one of the largest tracts of lowland heath remaining in Berkshire, accounting for one sixth of the total of this sort of habitat in the county. Some of the heath has been overtaken by woodland, mainly deciduous to the west, but more coniferous in the east. The boundary between heathland and woodland being encroached by birch scrub which is controlled by voluntary conservation groups who are attempting to increase the area of heather. Habitat variety is enhanced by a valley bog with its particular flora, including Bog Bean, Bog Asphodel and Sundew.
The site is excellent for butterflies, including White Admiral and Purple Emperor. Lizard and Grass Snake can be found, and Adders are prevalent in some years. Mammal species could include Fox, Badger, Stoat, Weasel and occasional deer. Frogs and newts can be plentiful in the various pools that have been formed. Specialist birds of this type of habitat are Nightjar, Woodcock and Tree Pipit, and Dartford and Wood Warbler have also been recorded in past years. Summer visitors include Hobby, Chiffchaff, Garden and Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, Blackcap and Goldcrest. Winter visitors include Song and Mistle Thrush, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Tawny Owl and occasional Crossbill.
GR - SU 5171
Fence Wood and its adjoining area to the north of the Marlston Road is a large block of commercial woodland, with hardwood and softwood plantations of varying ages. The area is well served with footpaths, bridleways and permitted paths.
Small car parking areas are to be found on the Marlston Road and Slanting Hill. Visitors are recommended to have Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 map 157.
Woodland birds to be found here include all three species of Woodpecker, although the Lesser-spotted is very scarce now. Buzzard, Tawny Owl and Woodcock occur, also Marsh Tit, but perhaps no longer any Willow Tit which were formerly to be found here. Crossbills have been seen frequently in the larch plantation.
GR - SU5568 & 9, 5668 & 9
Bucklebury Common can be found about 2 miles to the NE of Thatcham and east of Upper Bucklebury. The main heath has its centre at SU558690. Approaching from Upper Bucklebury, park on the left at the crossroads at SU555691; cross the road and walk through a short stretch of woodland to access the Common. There is a smaller heath to the west. Most ornithological interest is centred on the heathland but the surrounding woodland has many footpaths and can make for some interesting birding with all the common woodland species being present.
On the heaths Nightjar, Tree Pipit and Woodlark may be found in season, and Woodcock and Tawny Owls are easily seen or heard at dusk or dawn. The scrub and vegetation on the edges can be good for migrants, including Garden Warbler. In 2005 major birch and scrub clearance was carried out by Pang & Kennet Valleys Countryside Project and West Berkshire Council on the main heath in order to restore the original heathland vegetation. This work was carried out under the auspices of the owners of Bucklebury Estate and their project manager Tim Culley. Hopefully the future of this small but important piece of Berkshire heath is assured.
Padworth Lane Gravel Pit
GR - SU6067
Gravel extraction finished fairly recently at this pit near the A4 east of Aldermaston and it has since become overgrown around the edges which makes it difficult to view as there is currently no access. Conservation work is underway and it’s hoped access might be granted during 2017/8. Views can be obtained from the road or better still from the footpath along the River Kennet. Parking is also a bit difficult and a field gate entrance close to the river bridge is usually used, but please don’t block the gate.
Birds in season include Common and Green Sandpiper, Lesser and Common Whitethroat, Grey and Yellow Wagtail, Siskin, Redpoll, Fieldfare, Redwing, Shoveler, Goldeneye and Pochard. Winter birds have included Shelduck, Great White, Cattle and Little Egret, White-fronted Geese, Common Scoter, Pintail, Smew, and Mealy Redpoll. Summer birds have included Hobby, Turtle Dove, Ringed and Little-ringed Plovers, Black-tailed Godwit, and Red-crested Pochard, whilst on passage, birds recorded have included Common, Black and Sandwich Terns, Garganey and Wood Sandpiper.
Until access is granted, birdwatchers are requested not to attempt to enter the site to prevent disturbance to sensitive species nesting.
Kennet & Avon Canal
GR - N/a
The River Kennet and the Kennet & Avon canal pass through the centre of NDOC's recording area from west to east, and almost any part of it can provide excellent birding at all times of the year, but especially during spring and early summer. It remains one of the few areas in Berkshire for the occasional Grasshopper Warbler, plus Water Vole particularly between Hungerford and Kintbury. Nightingales used to be regular but these appear to have reduced in number drastically in recent years. Grey Wagtails frequent the old sluices and locks, Kingfishers can always be found, and the old trees often hold Tawny and Little Owl, with Barn Owl quartering the adjacent fields. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker can also sometimes be seen. East of Newbury the aspect is more open, but gives wide views across the fields and marshy areas, Thatcham's fishing lakes and the gravel pits around Woolhampton.
Lower Farm Hide
GR - SU498662
Lower Farm is situated behind Newbury Racecourse between Thatcham Reedbeds nature reserve and BBOWT's Bowdown Woods, and north of Greenham Common, part of the area forming the basis of the local Living Landscape. The hide is open at all times and overlooks one of the many restored gravel workings in the area.
The best times for using the hide are any early mornings from late August/early September and October for passage waders and migrants. Species could include Common, Sandwich and Black Tern, Little Ringed Plover, Snipe, Redshank, Greenshank, Oystercatcher, Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Common and Green Sandpipers, Peregrine and Golden Plover (to name just a few!). During the winter the pit becomes the major roost for Lesser Black-backed Gull and Black-headed Gull, but also found in the flocks are Common Gull, frequent Yellow-legged Gull and rarely Caspian Gull. Over 150 species have been recorded here. Rarities have included Great White Egret and Spoonbill.
The water level in the pit rises dramatically during the winter months when the area is taken over by many varieties of duck. Work parties organised by NDOC have been clearing the banks and some islands to encourage waders to nest. The work parties are usually in attendance on Wednesday mornings in the winter.
Please would all visitors sign their name in the log book and record your sightings in the folder provided - a glance through this will show you the variety of species that have been seen throughout the previous weeks. Vehicle access is only via Hambridge Lane - follow the signs to 'Bird Hide Carpark'.
Thatcham Nature Discovery Centre and Reedbeds
GR - SU506670
Thatcham Nature Discovery Centre is situated just to the south of the A4 between Newbury and Thatcham. The centre and café are open to the public at certain times but the lake and Reedbed Nature Reserve are open at all hours. As well as the reedbeds, there are lakes, damp woodlands, the river and canal, all forming a varied wetland landscape. This mixture of different habitats makes this area very attractive to wildlife and is especially important for breeding birds including Reed, Sedge and the increasingly numerous Cetti's Warblers. Nightingales used to have a stronghold but are fewer nowadays as is the Cuckoo.
Bowdown Woods & Baynes Reserve
GR - SU5065
Bowdown Woods is a varied nature reserve of 55 acres on the south side of the Kennet Valley. It is part of the Bowdown and Chamberhouse Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the local Living Landscape, and owned and managed by BBOWT. The reserve stretches for half a mile along a wooded slope dropping down to the River Kennet. The higher ground is dry heathland with birch and oak. Whilst the wetter valleys are dominated by alder, the woodland contains a variety of trees and shrubs, including oak, ash, field maple, crab apple, birch and hazel.
Baynes Reserve is an ancient woodland and another part of the SSSI, 16 hectares in extent. This has been woodland for many centuries, perhaps since the return of trees at the end of the last Ice Age. The site has been coppiced on a modest scale which regularly opened up the woodland creating diversity and an ideal spot for butterflies. Both of these sites are good for Great and possibly Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, and Marsh Tit. Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and thrushes can be found in winter.
Greenham and Crookham Commons
GR - SU502607 (centre)
Greenham Common, once a US airbase and the storage site for the notorious cruise missiles, has now reverted back to the heathland which it once was. There are various access points but most birdwatchers use either the western gate (SU483652) which is always accessible or at the old control tower (SU499652) where access times are restricted. Arriving early is best to miss the many dogs being walked.
The western end of the Common is good for Woodlark, Tree Pipit and Nightjar while the extensive gorse and heath which runs eastwards from here provides excellent habitat for Dartford Warbler, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and Linnet. The woodland areas on the southwest corner are good for warblers and Nightingale. In spring keep a look out for Whinchat and Wheatear on the heath and scan the pools for waders - rarities such as Temminck's Stint have been found. The eastern end of the Common (Crookham Common) includes some lakes where in summer Little Ringed Plover and Ringed Plover have bred. In winter there are geese, Snipe, possible Jack Snipe and a Pectoral Sandpiper was seen in autumn 2012. Close to the Control Tower BBOWT have bird feeders in situ, encouraging Redpolls, tits, Brambling, Siskin, and Nuthatch. Passage birds can be Wheatear, Yellow Wagtail and a variety of warblers. Over 150 species have been recorded at this site.
GR - SU523645
Extending eastwards from Greenham Common, Crookham has many of the features of the former, gorse, heather and low cover for ground nesting birds such as Skylark and Meadow Pipit. Where Crookham Common nears the Brimpton Road there is a substantial area of thicker, deeper cover - from brambles to mature trees. Here summer visitors are frequently found including a variety of warblers, good numbers of Nightingale, regular Garden Warbler and the occasional Nightjar and Woodcock.
Brimpton & Woolhampton Gravel Pits
GR - SU5665 & 5666
Woolhampton Gravel Pits are situated south of the A4 east of Thatcham. It is possible to access some pits from the road (track off the A4 at SU560665, no parking) but it is safer to park at the Rowbarge pub in Woolhampton village (SU572665) and follow the footpath westwards towards the lakes. Here and the area around the River Kennet are good habitats for warblers, Kingfisher and the now rare Turtle Dove. Cetti's Warbler also breed. Gravel extraction has finished on all pits so there is less shallow margin than there once was but the waters attract various wildfowl, including breeding Shelduck, and migrant waders are possible in season. Common Terns and hirundines are numerous in spring and Hobbies may be seen hawking over the waters. Look out for Arctic or Black Tern and Little Gull on passage. Occasional rarer Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes along with Scaup have been found here in the winter months.
Brimpton Gravel Pits are slightly further south and these days are less attractive for waterfowl and waders. There is still a small reedbed with Water Rail being possible and the scrub margins can hold Nightingale, Sedge and Reed Warblers. Yellow Wagtail and Turtle Dove are also possible. Access can be made using the footpath from the Woolhampton pits or from the lay-by at SU567650.
Rarities here have included Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Red-footed Falcon and Bluethroat
GR - SU3864
This small area of heathland (with bog) and areas of woodland covering 10.4 hectares, the reserve is a remnant of the former Inkpen Great Common and is now managed by BBOWT. In the past it was kept open because the local people had rights of common to graze their livestock, and without this cropping, gorse and birch would have taken over the common completely. Formerly Woodcock and Tree Pipit could have been found there, however these have been very rare for some time now, but Willow Warbler are frequent spring migrants and Cuckoos have been heard here. Grazing by ponies is gradually restoring the heathland habitat.
GR - SUSU3862-3, 3962-3
This rural area nestling beneath the downs on the borders of Hampshire and Berkshire has a diverse mix of parkland, woods, permanent pasture and arable fields, and a scattering of old farms and cottages. There are many footpaths and bridleways which cut across these habitats, and one can always find something of interest at any time of year. All three of our woodpeckers breed here although Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are increasingly hard to find. In the old oak and ash trees of the parkland and woods are nesting Tawny and Little Owl, and Barn Owls can be seen quartering the fields. Buzzard and Kestrel breed in the woods, and Red Kite numbers have increased greatly.
Winter brings large flocks of thrushes feeding in the hedgerows and fields, and sometimes Lapwing and Golden Plover gather on the open ground. The damp meadows and woods attract Siskin and Redpoll, and Woodcock can be seen roding on late summer evenings. In cold spells West Woodhay lake can hold good numbers of Tufted Duck and Teal. Parking is not a problem, but a good tip is to park at the Crown and Garter pub near Inkpen Common and walk down the track towards West Woodhay House, taking a circular route on footpaths and ending up back for lunch or supper at the pub. OS Explorer 158 is a must!
Walbury Hill & Combe Gibbet
GR - SU371620
This ridge of high ground above Inkpen and Combe is always worth a visit at any time of year. Autumn migration is particularly good, with Wheatear, Whinchat and Redstart regularly recorded, and parties of hirundines passing low over the hill or feeding in large flocks over the fields below. Buzzards are resident, as are Red Kites and Ravens breeding in increasing numbers. Plenty of public tracks and footpaths can take you further (OS Landranger map 174 is ideal), and some of the land is permissive open access. Park either at the eastern side of Walbury Hill or the western carpark for the Gibbet. It can be popular with walkers and hang-gliders at weekends, and always be wary of thieves on the look-out for valuables in cars.
Resident species include Grey Partridge, Tawny and Little Owl, Yellowhammer, Raven, Red Kite and Buzzards. In summer look for Willow Tits above Combe church nearby as well as Spotted Flycatchers. In the winter Redwings and Fieldfares abound, with possible Crossbills and Hawfinches too. Spring passage includes yearly sightings of Ring Ouzel and in 2015, 53 was the highest number recorded at any one time. Passage birds include Wheatear, pipits, Whinchat and Redstart.
Watership Down and Ashley Warren
GR - SU492567
The northern escarpment of the North Downs between Ladle Hill and White Hill forms part of theWayfarer’s Walk long distance path, and give far-reaching views across to Beacon Hill in the west and the countryside south of Newbury to the north. Visible migration can be seen here in autumn with numbers of Swallows and martins passing over, good flocks of Meadow Pipits and the occasional Curlew on the cultivated fields. In the valley to the south, the sparsely populated area known as Ashley Warren can be good for farmland birds and is well worth exploring the public footpaths and lanes. A Great Grey Shrike was well watched here in the winter of 2012. Approach via the minor road south from Old Burghclere and Sydmonton, and park on the verge at the top for Watership Down. Continue south for Ashley Warren.