A new extended National Nature Reserve, home to rare plants and animal species such as the Barbastelle bat and Purple Emperor butterfly, was today unveiled at a celebration event in the King’s Wood area of Rushmere Country Park, near Leighton Buzzard.
Natural England first declared a National Nature Reserve (NNR) in the area 23 years ago and the new approval for the King’s Wood and Rushmere Natural Nature Reserve in Heath and Reach extends this area from 87 hectares to almost 150 hectares.
The reserve, which in early mediaeval times was part of the royal manorial estate of Leighton, is jointly owned and managed by Central Bedfordshire Council, the Greensand Trust, the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, and Tarmac.
The additional land has been added to the National Nature Reserve to recognise the high quality of the wildlife habitats it contains including ancient woodland, heathland, grassland and wetland habitats, but also because it demonstrates best practice in conservation management, encouraging scientific research and helping to give the public an opportunity to experience and appreciate nature first hand.
As one of the largest areas of high quality wildlife habitat in Bedfordshire, the King’s Wood and Rushmere Natural Nature Reserve is also designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) with the remainder identified as a County Wildlife Site (CWS).
Much of the wildlife interest is a result of the varied geology of the Lower Greensand and Boulder Clay, which produces different soil conditions for the various habitats.
These provide a home for a profusion of species, ranging from rare plants such as Lily of the Valley, Marsh Fern and Wood vetch, to significant groupings of bats including Barbastelle, Natterer’s and Brown Long-eared Bats, butterflies such as Purple Emperor and White Admiral, and a diverse range of other invertebrates, mosses and fungi.
Cllr Brian Spurr, Central Bedfordshire Council Executive Member for Community Services, said: “Rushmere Country Park is a particular jewel in the crown in the Central Bedfordshire area, which is fortunate to have many areas of outstanding countryside.
“This Natural Nature Reserve extension only further highlights this while drawing attention at a national and scientific level to our commitment to nature conservation and recreation along with our partners. Already popular with visitors, I fully expect this expansion to attract more people of all ages to experience the guided trails, natural surroundings, landscape and the abundance of wildlife.”
Stewart Lane, Trustee with the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, said: “The team at the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire have been involved at King’s Wood since the 1970s, and the work on site in recent decades has been a wonderful example of partnership working.
“The enlargement of this NNR not only confirms its outstanding value for wildlife, but encourages us all to work for a wider landscape where wildlife flourishes and people can be inspired by the rich natural environment.”
Jon Balaam, The Greensand Trust’s Director of Development, said: “The extension of the NNR really affirms the value of partnership working across the private, public and charitable sectors.
“The NNR is really special and the extended status is a statement about protecting and enhancing our natural environment for wildlife and people.”
John Torlesse, Manager, Natural England, said: “This is one of the country’s great wildlife treasures, and a very special place for people to experience and understand the natural environment.
“Natural England is delighted to be able to support the extension of the NNR and is very grateful to the vision and hard work of all the partners and local people that have been behind it.”
Stuart Wykes, Director Land and Natural Resources, Tarmac, said: “What makes these places incredibly special is the partnership. Wherever I go - and we have got over 100,000 acres of land that we manage both before, during and after quarrying activities - we have real beacons of how things should be done; and that’s always in partnership.
“It’s not just us a commercial organisation doing it on our own, it’s always that our partners who we work with on our landholdings bring expertise, co-operation and shared knowledge and experience. And it’s where this is at it’s richest that you can achieve the best cases of management for the future.
“Longevity and long-term stewardship and management are key to what we do as a business. We’ve owned a good chunk of this site for well over 50 years and it was a great privilege 21 years ago when we got the status to be part of the partnership in terms of the stewardship and management of the national nature reserve - and it’s still incredibly special today. And we hope to be able to extend the NNR into the remainder of our holdings here, another 33 hectares of land, in due course.”