NATURE NOTES: MOIRA O’DONNELL this week takes you on a guided tour of one of her favourite parts of Croydon
Bramley Bank Nature Reserve.
Just its name is enough to conjure up the image of an enchanted place, full of dens, gravity-defying trees and jewel-coloured beetles. Bramley Bank Nature Reserve is an area of woodland and heath which was once part of the Heathfield Estate and is now owned by Croydon Council and managed by the London Wildlife Trust.
Much of the woodland has been planted, but there are plant species present, such as Dog’s Mercury and Pendulous Sedge, that are indicative that this is a precious piece of ancient woodland.
From the entrance at the bottom of Riesco Drive the main path (which forms part of section four of the London Loop long-distance pathway) leads straight through the reserve to the other entrance in Broadcoombe.
At this time of year the path is strewn with fallen leaves and sweet chestnuts, just as in the spring it is fringed with frothy clouds of cow parsley, and the woodland floor is a sea of bluebells and violets.
Those who stick to this path will have a pleasant walk, but by doing so will miss some of the other special places Bramley Bank has to offer.
Turning right off the main path just inside the entrance is a path leading to the pond. This is the largest woodland pond in Croydon, and supports a large variety of aquatic and other plants.
Some of the many plant species that can be found along its banks are greater birdsfoot trefoil, figwort, bugle and creeping buttercup.
Growing in the shallow water at its edge can found lesser spearwort, water forget-me-not, brooklime and water mint, the stems of which provide cover for frog tadpoles in the early summer.
If you approach the pond quietly it is sometimes possible to see birds including mallards and moorhens, and with a bit of luck, there might even be a grey heron.
Unlike the street-wise and savvy urban herons of London’s parks, who are happy to tolerate human beings and pose for photographs, these country cousins do tend to fly off pretty sharpish if they are disturbed.
Leaving the pond, you can either return to the main path or head off on the lower path, where fairly soon an amazing Sweet Chestnut tree with a twisted trunk will be encountered, looking for all the world like it is practising its moves for a remake of The Matrix. It does, however, seem to be able to thrive relatively happily in this contorted position.
As present it is necessary to exercise some caution on this path. This is because a short distance further on there is a large and impressive hornets’ nest in a void at the base of a large beech tree. There are helpful warning notices on the tree, just in case you haven’t already spotted the hornets flying about.
The woodland of Bramley Bank is predominantly oak, beech and sweet chestnut, but along this lower path there is an impressive stand of towering black pines.
At this time of year, ivy is flowering throughout the wood, and this is the main autumn source of pollen and nectar for flower-visiting insects. There are plenty of seasonal berries too – haws, rosehips, holly and rowan.
The lower path rejoins the main path just before the Broadcoombe entrance.
By leaving the reserve here and turning right, the walk can be extended into the equally enchanting Littleheath Woods. The path takes you into the woods at Fallen Oak Field, the expansive, grassy wildflower meadow recently mown to gather some hay for winter feed for livestock.
My walk takes me back into Bramley Bank. Now heading back towards the Riesco Drive entrance, if you strike off the main path on the right, the track passes a large depression (which may be a bomb crater?) and leads out into an open area of grassy heathland.
We are now in the season of fruits and fungi, but this October it is very mild, and there are still several species of flowering plant blooming to a greater or lesser degree, including heather, gorse, lesser stitchwort, common centaury and a small solitary tansy.
Of course, with all these flowers, the heath is also a fantastic place for butterflies, including gatekeepers and common blues.
In the woods speckled woods are abundant, and can sometimes be seen spiralling into the air to chase each other. There was still a rather tattered one on the wing when I took this walk this week.
There are also purple hairstreaks, apparently, although these are notoriously difficult to spot as they tend to spend most of their time perched on leaves at the top of oak trees. Peacocks and commas have been spotted near the entrance in Riesco Drive.
There is another path that leads out of the heath and back towards the main path, and from here the views of the horses grazing in the fields of Heathfield Farm give the impression that one is in the middle of the English countryside, rather than just a stone’s throw from the Gravel Hill tram stop or the busy road junction that is the Kent Gate Way.
Stay observant and nuthatches or woodpeckers can be spotted.
Carrying on along the main path leads back to the entrance at Riesco Drive.
We are extremely fortunate in Croydon to have a magical place like Bramley Bank, and it is because of organisations like the London Wildlife Trust and the volunteers that work with them that we are all able to enjoy it.
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