KINGLEY VALE – A PHOTO ESSAY ABOUT SOME OLD YEW AND A NATURE RESERVE

After a recent trip to the Forest of Dean in the West Country, Hannah and myself found ourselves debating the merits of various pieces of the countryside and whether, in actual fact, the South Downs and the Sussex countryside where actually a trifle boring when compared to somewhere like the forest.

Luckily enough, we happened to bump into our good friend Rog, who, luckily enough…is the top bod in Natural England for managing the South Downs!  We recited our debate to him and there started a torrid of abuse about how there were some beautiful parts of Sussex and how Chalk Grassland can be a very lovely and rich habitat.

Not willing to take his word for it, Rog undertook to take us on a road trip through the Downs to a location that would prove our theory wrong.  The destination…Kingley Vale Nature Reserve, just North of Chichester in West Sussex.

And would you believe it, he was right!

Rather than write reams about the place, you can just look at some photos and go there yourselves!  BUT, in the name of eduction – here is a very brief background on Kingley Vale to give you some idea of what your looking at.


The reserve is a steep sided dry valley (dry coombe), the top of which offers stunning views of the surrounding area, including Chichester harbour and the Isle of Wight.

The lowest areas of the coombe are covered in one of the finest examples of ancient yew forest in Europe. The thin soils on the steep valley slopes support a rich downland turf with up to 50 species of flowering plants and grasses within a square metre.

The reserve is also one of the most important archaeological sites in southern England and has 14 scheduled ancient monuments, including Bronze Age burial mounds at the top of Bow Hill.

The largest yews occur at the foot of the valley, with several at least 500 years old, with the oldest measuring more than 5m in girth.

Legend has it that these long-living trees were planted in AD 849 to commemorate dead Viking warriors.

Their shapes are weird and fantastic, contorted by time and centuries of storms. From some of the huge limbs, partially severed and thrown to the ground by the force of the wind, new root systems have developed. The natural ‘layering’ of the yews, coupled with the smooth texture of the old bark, gives some trees the appearance of giant, motionless serpents.  From here, the yews have progressively colonised the valley slopes.

Kingley Vale is a candidate Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under European wildlife legislation. This reflects its great importance in an international context and gives it the highest level of protection from development of any kind. It is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

This has been directly lifted from Natural England’s website (perhaps written by Rog’s fair hand himself!!!).  For more information on the reserve, visit their website here.

Here is a small selection of images taken on the day we spent strolling through this amazing landscape.


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