A National Nature Reserve on the outskirts of Leighton Buzzard has been more than doubled in size to recognise the high quality of the wildlife habitats in the area.
On Friday, Natural England declared an extension to Kings Wood National Nature Reserve (NNR) in Heath and Reach parish to incorporate Rushmere Park.
The new Kings Wood and Rushmere NNR – also designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and a Local Geology Site (LGS) – will include an additional 87 hectrares of land, including woodland, heathland, grassland and wetland habitats, to create a reserve totalling nearly 150 hectares.
Natural England say the extended reserve recognises how important the management of this land is for some of the rarest wildlife in the county such as the Barbastelle bat and lily of the valley as well as the value of the site for scientific research and public enjoyment. Visitors in Spring also enjoy the blankets of bluebells which create a dazzling display of brilliant blue.
The site originally became a National Nature Reserve in 1993 and is managed by a collaborative partnership of The Greensand Trust, Central Beds Council, The Wildlife Trust, Tarmac and Natural England.
The extension was agreed after Natural England assessments confirmed that the site demonstrated not only the presence of exceptional wildlife, but also best practice in conservation management, and providing scientific research and excellent opportunities for people to experience and appreciate nature first hand.
Justin Tilley of Natural England said: “Kings Wood and Rushmere NNR is a fantastic place for wildlife, hosting a number of rare and declining species, and some truly ancient habitats.
“The new declaration recognises the excellent work by the NNR partnership in protecting these, as well as providing opportunities for conservation research to take place, and of course a huge natural area for informal public enjoyment.
“The work that the partners have carried out here has helped shape how we restore heathland, manage woodlands and encourage grassland flowers across the rest of Bedfordshire and beyond.
“Carrying all this out in an environment that has a high level of public access requires a great deal of skill, and the partnership should be applauded for what they have achieved.”
Jon Balaam, Director of Development at the Greensands Trust, said: “The extension of the NNR to include areas of Rushmere Country Park shows how a site can be managed for the benefit of both people and wildlife.
“With parking, café, toilets and information the Herons View Visitor Centre offers everything needed for exploring the wider area.”
> Much of the wildlife value of the area lies in its geological variety which produces different soil conditions for the ancient woodland, heathland and grassland habitats.
These in turn provide a home for a profusion of species, ranging from rare wildflowers, to significant assemblages of bats, butterflies and fungi.
In early medieval times the site was part of the royal manorial estate of Leighton hence its name “Kings Wood”.
As well as wildlife value, the site has an impressive archaeological feature in its prominent medieval “woodbanks”, which marked ownership, and kept out grazing animals, and today forms part of the Beds/Bucks county boundary.
It also displays a range of geological features, highlighting the importance of the rocks and landforms along the Greensand Ridge.