A heathland walk down to Folly Bog

Being reasonable weather on Wednesday this week I ventured out on a longish heathland walk.

I walked down into Folly Bog from the track alongside Red Road. Actually, I pushed my way through the gorse and heather, and surprisingly found the ground firm underfoot. So, I had a good wander round. There’s nothing much to report, the Bog Asphodel has died down, and the sundews were nowhere to be seen, just grasses, sedge, mosses, and lichens.

As a challenge, I’ve often tried to cross the bog, and have never succeeded, even in dry summer. I’m sure it must’ve have been possible in the not to distant past, as there’s remnants of half-buried tarmac, not much, but some. There are also a few rusting steel plates, which you can see in my photo.

Lightwater Country Park achieves ‘Favourable’ assessment from Natural England

Surrey Heath Borough Council announce that,

Lightwater Country Park has achieved the highest rating from Natural England for the condition of its ecologically important habitat.

The area of heathland within the Country Park has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The Country Park is therefore an area of high nature conservation value, protected by law.

In the most recent assessment by public body Natural England (NE), the habitat management of Lightwater Country Park by Surrey Heath Borough Council has been praised. The report, following NE’s visit in August 2017, said: “The diversity and quality of habitat management actions being undertaken is excellent, and is maintaining and enhancing the heath land habitat.

“It is a result of this diligent stewardship of the Country Park/SSSI site that habitat conditions have improved to bring the site into favourable condition and this is to the credit of Surrey Heath Borough Council.”

The ‘strategic and sensitive signage”, active visitor management, use of goats to control invasive trees and scrub, and abundance of heathland birds such as the Dartford warbler are all commended in the report.

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Discovering a Bee Orchid on Hangmoor is quite a thrill

I’m sure you know, from my articles, that I like to take constitutional walks in the local heathland. Most frequently from Folly Bog, up to Hangmoor Hill, and then up Red Road Hill. There’s a good wide track between Red Road and the boundary fence of the Bisley & Pirbright Ranges. There’s an interesting ranges of habitats. Boggy ground in Folly Bog, dry lowland heathland, and the rough ground at track edges.

Between Mid-May and the end of July wild orchids adorn my walks. I’ve written about over the years, and my difficulties in identifying the variety. My most recent article HERE.

I try to remain observant of the flora and fauna, which is getting more difficult as the bracken, willow, and birch strangle the wild flowers. My heart skipped a beat when I spotted a Bee Orchid [Ophrys apifera] at the track edge on Hangmoor Hill. There’s only the one plant that I could find. Even so, the Bee Orchid is an absolute beauty of a wild flower. It’s apparently reasonably common plant, although this is the first time I’ve seen one locally. Here are a couple of photos, click to expand.

Binoculars, yes: Birds, zero, zilch, zippo, nada

Binoculars dangling round my neck for the whole of my heathland walk from Lightwater to Deepcut, and not a bird in sight. It was a midday walk, and I know that it’s not the key feeding time for birds. Even so, not a sight of a bird, although I heard a couple.

However, reaching the Deepcut officers mess, there were many birds chomping away on the cricket pitch.

Don’t forget your binoculars for heathland walks to see rare birds

The Camberley News reports the sighting of a rare bird, the Great Grey Shrike, in the Poors Allotment near Camberley, by eagle-eyed Surrey Wildlife Trust Officer James Herd.

I’m a regular heathland walker, though not over at the Poors or Barrossa Common. For this morning’s heathland walk I’ve already put our pocket binoculars into my coat pocket. The RSPB say about it,

Where to see them: Great grey shrikes visit open areas, including heathland, farmland, scrub, clear-felled areas of forestry and coastal dunes. They need to have perches from which to hunt, so they often sit on fence posts and high up in trees.

When to see them: Great grey shrikes are regular but scarce visitors to the UK. They arrive, on the east coast at first, in autumn and many stay throughout winter and into spring (sometimes as late as April or May), when they migrate back to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia.

What they eat: Beetles and other insects, small mammals and birds. Food is often stored in a ‘larder’ by impaling it on a thorn.

Great Grey Shrike

Need to tell you what I saw on a heathland walk

Nothing to worry about – just a prosaic report, that’s all.

This week I walked from Lightwater to Deepcut. It was mostly on the track alongside the perimeter fence of the Bisley and Pirbright ranges. I know I’ve frequently written here about this walk. About the flora in Folly Bog, the views from Hangmoor Hill and Chobham ridges, and maintenance given to the heathland.

Twas a nice sunny day for my walk. Not dry enough underfoot for an adventure down into Folly Bog, which looked – well you know, boggy.

I spotted friends on the track, quick rush up to chat to them, and onwards to my goal. They’d branched off to get back into Lightwater. I saw bonfire smoke near the track by The Folly, recognising that essential heathland maintenance was ongoing [must go and investigate what’s been done – on another day]. This work was confirmed when I passed part of the heathland stripped of the unwanted scrub. In a year or two there’ll be heather to enjoy.

Further on the view from Chobham Ridges are a joy. How wonderful it would be to walk down the gentle slopes. Sadly the unexploded ordnance would soon likely see the end of me. Finally, nearing Colony Gate – at the junction of Old Bisley Road and the Maultway – I saw that all the grasses and scrub had been mowed. Excellent, as it promotes native spring wild flowers. Here are my photos of the walk. Click on them to expand.

Here’s a chance to do your bit to preserve our heathland

HCSYours truly began being a local conservation volunteer way back in 2002, or perhaps earlier. It’s such an age ago. Keen to help improve our heathland habitat in Lightwater Country Park I was part of a dozen or so volunteers joining the park rangers in their winter works conservation programme on one day a week. This involved pulling up pine and birch saplings, removing invasive gorse, and occasionally removing rhododendrons. Sometimes even helping clear up after tree felling.

Such activity paused while I was mayor. I’ve given stuttering assistance since. Once you break a habit it’s difficult to start again. This year we were looking forward to re-engaging with this season’s work. Sadly the volunteer programme is currently suspended.

There are alternatives. Surrey Wildlife Trust has a number of heathland conservation projects. There’s even one this week on Barossa Common in Bagshot, though mostly they’re elsewhere in Surrey.

We prefer local projects. Looking at alternatives, I’ve come across the Heathland Conservation Society, which has regular conservation projects in the woods and heaths from Broadmoor to Bagshot. Clicking on the image will take you directly to their website, which has all the contact details you’ll need.