Our region has some of the most beautiful wildlife spectacles, not just through the Spring and Summer months but even now as the nights draw in and the temperature falls; Autumn has some really fantastic sights too. We have made a list of our top sites to visit for nature this Autumn.
Westonbirt Arboretum is one of the most beautiful and important plant collections in the world. With 15,000 specimens, and 2,500 species of tree from all over the world, the arboretum plays a vital part in research and conservation, as well as being a stunningly beautiful place to visit and explore rare, interesting and beautiful plants from the furthest corners of the globe.
At this time of year the colours of the colours at Westonbirt are at their most beautiful and exuberant, if you are going to visit, go now!
Autumn highlights – Colour Change Foliage
National Trust Sherborne Estate
Sherborne Estate, covering 1663 acres, which includes five farms, three deer parks and woodland, was generously left to the National Trust by Charles Dutton, the 7th Lord Sherborne, on the condition that it was kept as a working estate.
See red kites soaring overhead in big skies and sweeping views across Sherborne Old Park and Sherborne Brook as you get off the beaten track to find some of the farmland birds, raptors and other wildlife on the estate.
Autumn highlights – Farmland Changes, Autumn Foliage, Berries and Wildlife Tails
CS Lewis Nature Reserve
This tranquil woodland and large pond used to belong to celebrated Oxford author CS Lewis – it was said he enjoyed wandering here while writing his children’s book series The Cronicles of Narnia. Situated in the city , with the A40 nearby and surrounded by houses, it is a surprise that the reserve has kept its sense of stillness and feels like an oasis of calm!
The pond, a flooded Victorian clay pit, is full of aquatic plants; Moorhens and Coots regularly nest here. The steeply rising woodland has a canopy of beech, oak, birch, alder, ash and hawthorn. In spring, the reserve is full of birdsong. Look out for large boulders known as ‘sandstone doggers’ on slopes in the trees. Where springs arise, giant horsetail grows in the wet ground.
Autumn Highlights – Display of Fungi (including Puffballs, Earth Star and Sulphur Tuft)
College Lake Nature Reserve
Once a chalk quarry, College Lake is now one of the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust’s flagship nature reserves. Thanks to the hard work of BBOWT staff and volunteers, this thriving nature reserve now supports more than 1,000 different wildlife species and an eco visitor centre.
College Lake is widely regarded as one of the best places in our region for water birds, and with many hides overlooking the lake, this is a great destination for bird watchers or for families, whatever the weather or time of year.
There are also large areas of marshland and shallow water ditches which makes the perfect habitat for wildlife; this coupled with the woodlands and wildflower meadows means that College Lake is an essential, educational and hardworking site of special scientific interest.
Autumn Highlights – Wild berries and fruits, waders, water birds, Finches and Thrushes
Chinnor Hill & The Ridgeway Walk
The panoramic views from Chinnor Hill, which sits on top of the Chilterns escarpment, are unrivalled locally.
Hawthorn, juniper scrub, yew, whitebeam and the wayfaring tree have colonised the grassland at the top of the hill. In in autumn, migrant bird populations are attracted to the banquet of berries on offer. Chinnor Hill is also a great place to watch red kites and looking for prey.
Chinnor Hill falls steeply to the Icknield Way, part of the ancient Ridgeway. Made up of prehistoric pathways that follow the chalk ‘spine’ of England, the Ridgeway is thought to be Britain’s oldest road.
Autumn Highlights – Migrating birds, Dormouse, abundance of berries and wild fruits.
Once common, riverside marshes like Cholsey are now scarce because of large-scale drainage for farming. Cholsey Marsh provides a home to a wealth of plants, insects and birds that depend on the reed and sedge beds. This Thames-side marsh is rich with patches of grassland, willow scrub and large ponds.
A variety of birds use the site for breeding and roosting. From ducks to warblers the diverse marsh habitat is home to many species of birds. Cholsey Marsh is also a favoured roosting site for corn buntings and meadow pipits.
Autumn Highlights – Warblers, Wagtails, Corn Buntings and Reed Buntings
Dry Sandford Pit
This site is a fascinating mixture of fossil-rich cliffs, fenlands dotted with ponds and streams and woodland.
The nationally scarce fen and rich insect life make Dry Sandford Pit a site of national importance. Its extraordinary mosaic of fossil-rich cliffs, limey fenland, ponds, streams, chalk grassland, scrub and woodlands are all bursting with plants and animals, including rare species. The exposed layers of Dry Sandford Pit’s low sand and limestone cliffs illustrate the various stages as the sea that once covered Oxfordshire receded. The cliffs contain many corals and visible fossils of marine creatures dating back to the Jurassic era.
The cliff faces at Dry Sandford Pit are very important for wildlife; Solitary bees and wasps, including the five-banded tailed digger wasp, have burrowed into the soft sandy layers creating a honeycomb of tiny holes.
Dry Sandford Pit also is home to a fantastic repurposed bat roost from the remnants of the WWII nearby airfield.
Autumn highlights – Include fungi, a fantastic display of fruits and berries and small mammals including bats.
Bowdown Woods contains ancient woodland, grassland and heathland. It stretches from the large heathland areas of Greenham Common to The River Kennet.
The site is actually made up of 3 separate but joined woodlands; Bowdown, Baynes and ‘The Bomb Site’. The latter was an ammunition store during and after the Second World War, it is a great example of how nature can thrive and develop on a site vacated by people. Many old surfaced tracks create a network through the young birch and oak woodland that has colonised the site.
Autumn Highlights – Colour change foliage, coloured Fungi, Dormouse and Roe Deer