About The Nature Reserve
Nestled away in the heart of Berrylands lies a once forgotten nature reserve! However this once neglected site is now becoming not only a wonderful haven for an array of wildlife but also a fantastic place in which the community can enjoy and reconnect with the natural world. A world that surrounds us but is seldom recognised.
This five-hectare site has a mosaic of different habitat types, including a woodland full of oaks, hazels and blackthorn trees, and the meandering Surbiton Stream which flows through the site with kingfishers and herons regularly flying overhead in search of unsuspecting sticklebacks. The newly dug wildlife pond, planted with native aquatic plants such as marsh marigolds and purple loosestrife, is already a fantastic place to sit and watch dragonflies such as broad bodied chasers and common darters patrolling on hot summer days.
We hope that you will not only explore this website but more importantly, also visit and explore the nature reserve itself, appreciating the incredible species that can be found so close to our doorsteps and immersing yourself in a world that is removed from the stresses and strains of daily life. Spaces like this are not only important refuges for species such as hedgehogs, bats and stag beetles, but visiting these spaces has been scientifically proven to profoundly benefit our own physical and mental wellbeing while also fostering a greater sense of community cohesion and belonging.
Volunteering and community engagement is pivotal to the success of improving and maintaining this wildlife haven, ensuring it remains cared for into the far reaching future for further generations to enjoy. So please do get involved by signing up for our emails, joining our Friends of Group and get down to explore the nature reserve when you can!
The site we now refer to as Berrylands Nature Reserve was officially declared as the Raeburn Open Space Local Nature Reserve in 1992 by English Nature. However in the decades following this great acknowledgement, little was actually done to conserve and enhance this space. In addition, very few including local residents knew of its existence let alone the fact that it was an official nature reserve and this was partly as much of the site was difficult to access and isolated. The area suffered from an infestation of invasive species, chronic litter issues and antisocial behaviour including recreational drug use and the arson of trees. The river was also heavily overengineered, imprisoned by concrete which not only increased local flood risk but was a hostile environment for all manner of aquatic plants, invertebrates, fish and birds, not very fitting for a nature reserve!
Therefore, to address these issues the Environment Trust successfully applied to Thames Water’s Community Investment Grant in 2017. It was this funding that has enabled the large scale restoration of this neglected and forgotten site, and since then we have started to see re-engagement with the local community.
To ensure that the plan was well founded in evidence and would benefit the sites ecology, comprehensive surveying and mapping was commissioned by expert ecologists and an historical investigation was undertaken. This identified the true potential that the site had to offer, with 27 bird species recorded including great spotted woodpecker, stock dove, song thrush and kingfisher and 7 species of bat which were seen to patrol our night skies. With this new found evidence, the Environment Trust, in conjunction with some early local supporters, ran a series of community engagement events which enabled residents to learn about and get involved with project and gave people an opportunity to offer their input and highlight any concerns at an early stage of the planning process.
Once research, planning and consultation had taken place, in late 2017 the restoration began! This started with working in the woodland to begin removing invasive Variegated Yellow Archangel (a schedule 9 invasive species that takes over woodland floors). We also worked to start clearing bramble which would enable the contractors to move in to remove the reinforced concrete that lined the river banks. This was specifically timed to be carried out in early winter months to avoid the destruction of any potential bird nests.
In early 2018, Aquamaintain were commissioned as the river restoration experts. They worked tirelessly despite the wintery conditions of the ‘Beast from the East’ and removed over 200 tonnes of concrete from the site which went off for recycling. They also removed concrete weirs which prevented fish swimming upstream, installed a fish pass near the confluence with the Hogsmill River to again enable fish to swim up river and then they reprofiled the river banks. When spring was starting to jump into life they helped to support volunteers with the installation of instream river habitats, which were planted up with native marginal aquatic plants creating an environment that can support a wealth of life; a drastic improvement when compared to the sterile environment of concrete.
A second project for Aquamaintain was to dig a wildlife pond which will hopefully become a thriving environment for a host of species including dragonflies and amphibians. The pond is quickly developing as an ecosystem and in time will be a huge benefit to wildlife in the nature reserve. Finally our contractors built a charming wooden footbridge that helps create easier access to the far side of the stream and enables people of all ages to responsibly enjoy the woodland. The path leading from the far side of the original concrete bridge was frequently becoming impassable due to mud in wet conditions. So, with help from the Lower Mole Countryside Trust and local volunteers, we installed a new path surface which will be able to withstand the wintery and boggy conditions.
Further to all these large scale capital improvements, we want to continually ensure that the site is managed correctly with the best interests of both wildlife and people at heart. We therefore run regular conservation workdays, often alongside the Environment Trust who have been funded by Thames Water to lead the restoration project works until the end of 2019. At conservation events, volunteers can join us to manage the woodland, help tackle invasive species, create new wildlife habitats and pick up the odd piece of litter. So, check out our conservation volunteering and events pages to see how you can get involved to help this nature reserve be the best it can.
If we lived on a planet which had not been heavily altered by man’s hand for thousands of years, there would be little (if any) need for conservation action. However, the reality unfortunately is that we live in a time of mass extinction, which is not just confined to remote lands. Even Berrylands is witnessing local extinction events with the loss and reduction of many of our wildlife populations, endangering the green spaces which makes the area we live in so special. In recent years species such as water voles have been lost, and populations of ringlet and white letter hairstreak butterflies have drastically declined. And the good old hedgehog is now known to be at risk, with it estimated by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species that up to a third of urban hedgehogs to have been lost since 2001! But, the good news is that there are things we can all do to help.
Due to the location of the Berrylands Nature Reserve, with its lack of key stone species and the continuous threat of invasive species and many years of neglect, there is now an urgent need but also a great opportunity for conservation volunteering to ensure we keep the site in the best possible condition and help our endangered species. Therefore, alongside organisations such as the Environment Trust, we will be running a variety of conservation volunteering events from woodland management, to removing Himalayan balsam, building habitats like stag beetle ‘palaces’ and even jumping into the stream to maintain the river habitats. They are fun, safe and sociable, with something to suit every level of ability.
Whilst there is a place for all ages in the work of this group, we are really keen to encourage children and youngsters to get involved with local conservation and to help educate them about the challenges facing wildlife habitats and the importance in caring for our global environment. Opportunities are available for Duke of Edinburgh students or other youth organisations to join us. We have also started working closely with local schools and other education groups. If you know of a local children’s or youth group that might be interested in learning more about Berrylands Nature Reserve, please do get in contact.
If you would like to find out more about our events, then sign up to the mailing list and get in touch. All tools are provided and the events always prove to be enjoyable days, where learning is just as important as the conservation work itself. Check out the events page for a list of all upcoming conservation dates and other activities.
Watch this space for an exciting and educational section all about the amazing diversity of flora and fauna in our wonderful little nature reserve. Coming soon!