Snelsmore Common Country Park, Berkshire


Steps along a path
New Forest ponies

Mixed habitats within North Wessex Downs AONB, including wet and dry heath, peat bogs, ponds, and ancient woodland. Also a nature reserve and SSSI
Photo Tour (22 images)
Snelsmore Common Country Park, also a nature reserve and site of special scientific interest, covers 237 acres of slightly elevated land 2.5 miles north of Newbury in Berkshire, within North Wessex Downs AONB, and contains a scenic mix of habitats - about half is heath, wet and dry and including two valley mires, while the remainder is broad-leaved woodland, some of which is ancient in origin. The common extends one mile north to south and is large enough to fully escape the surrounding development and traffic noise (principally from the A34 just to the south) and to give the feeling at least of a remote, rural landscape.

Besides the usual array of heath and ancient woodland wildflowers, the reserve is also noted for its mosses, lichens and liverworts, plus a good variety of birds, butterflies and dragonflies. Adders, grass snakes, slow worms and common lizards inhabit the heath. The valley mires are of interest both for their riparian plants, such bog asphodel, heath spotted orchid and round-leaved sundew, and for having undisturbed peat layers dating over 5,000 years, useful for stratigraphic studies of changes in climate and land use. Trees in the park are mainly oak and alder, plus some rowan, holly and birch.

The common is provided with a large (free) car park along its eastern edge (off the B4494, opposite the Mary Hare School), complete with cafe, and is crossed by a network of paths and tracks, giving easy access to most areas, and allowing circuitous walking routes of up to 3 miles. The heathland is seasonally grazed by New Forest and Exmoor ponies.

The Park

From the car park, paths radiate out in various directions, crossing the relatively open heathland at the centre of the common, the high point of which is 460 feet in elevation. Most of the land is nearly flat, sloping down only at three locations, to shallow valleys, one to the northwest, two along the southern edge, and in these places the ground is wetter - two of the little ravines contain the mires, while the other, at the southeast corner, a small stream. The larger of the mires is at the southwest corner - an open, marshy area 300 feet across surrounded by mature woodland (whose flowers include solomon's-seal), and this is the best location for the bog plants. A treeless corridor, course of some power lines, runs southeastwards from here towards the small stream, and this also contains the largest of several ponds on the common. The western and northern sections of the park are more densely wooded, the trees extending northwards, beyond a minor road, up to the gardens of a country house. Two linear earthworks traverse the centre of the common, one known as Black Ditch - they are of certain date but could possibly be prehistoric, as old as 4,000 BC.

Shallow pond in the heath
Shallow pond in the heath