Field Reports

Thursday 6th April 2017 - The Devil's Punch Bowl 

Leader Andrew Neete

On a beautiful morning, we were welcomed by Andrew Neate, a member of the Blackdown and Hindhead Supporters of the National Trust Group and Matt Cusack, the Ranger with responsibility for this and several other reserves including Frensham Pond, making a significant area to cover. Matt explained that the Bowl was a spring-sapped valley with free draining sandy soils on the high ground and clays in the valley bottom. As he led us though the reserve, he told us more about the history of the area and how the rare heathland is being maintained and developed.

The Tunnel was opened in July 2011 and the reserve’s noted bird species, Dartford Warbler, Woodlark and Nightjar, together with other fauna and flora, have been spreading back into the heathland habitat which is developing in the area once occupied by the A3. The old route had been built up at one time with chalk soil taken from the Hog’s Back roadworks so the pH was being lowered with deposits from areas across the heath where scrapes are being regularly created.

An ever-developing mosaic of these scrapes together with heather and isolated trees is providing a range of habitats. Invertebrates, for instance, like the bare soil areas and woodlark enjoy the disturbed areas and can tuck themselves into the nearby heather to rest. Helpers in the form of 19 Exmoor ponies, plus cattle in the summer months, graze over four fenced areas here at Hindhead which enables the heathland habitat to be maintained for closer to 15 years rather than the 5 years if there were no grazing.

Well defined walking routes are being kept above the main Punch Bowl to decrease disturbance in the valley. However, visitors can still access everywhere if they so choose and although dogs are supposed to be under control in the crucial time for ground nesting birds (March to September) there was little evidence of this on our visit! There are several BOATs (byways open to all traffic), with asphalted surfaces, across the National Trust land, indeed, there were many families, dog walkers, trail bikers etc enjoying these and the other paths which stemmed from the rapidly filling car park. How to cope with all these visitors? and look after the wildlife?

When we reached the top of Gibbert Hill ( 892ft) with its hazy view of London and, closer to hand,  Leith Hill and other reserves, we could appreciate Matt’s aim of joining up heathlands, creating corridors, to the benefit of all wildlife. It will be interesting to see if the recent funding received continues in an uncertain future.

So, an interesting morning with much learnt, discussed, seen (see bird list below, thanks to Tony Nevard) and gleaned from the informative noticeboards and the ‘tales of yore’ from some of our members.

Many thanks indeed to both Andrew and Matt. We were encouraged to visit at different times of the year and to that cause, a splendid self-guided trail leaflet was studied as we enjoyed lunch at the NT Café. Members vowed to return.

Species seen included :  Robin, Great Tit, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Blackcap (see above), Jay, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Carrion Crow, Woodpigeon, Nuthatch, Blackbird, Wren, Holly Blue butterfly and male Brimstone. 


Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

        Black Cap 

Gill Hance


Ponies used for grazing at Hindhead

    "Staff Members" ! 

Hindhead visit by Andrew Neate

    Chi Nats Members enjoying the view - thanks to Andrew for the photo.

Chichester, West Sussex

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