13
Mar

Off the Beaten Track - Sheepsleas

The Unusual – SheepsleasSpotted Orchid

 

Sheepsleas is an area of 270 acres of unspoilt wildflower meadows with woodland and scrub which has been designated a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). To see the wildflowers in the summer is an experience that you will remember for ever. The whole site is owned by Surrey County Council and managed by the Surrey Wildlife Trust. It is located in the Surrey Hills on the North Downs and is a typical example of an ancient  chalkland meadow which were once very common throughout this region but of which Sheepleas is one of the last ones left. You can get to Sheepsleas off the A246 on the Shere Road and there is a car park at St. Mary’s Church.

 

The bio-diversity of he site is amazing with over 30 species of butterfly alone, it has a large range of meadow flowers and plants including rare orchids and many fungi. The name Sheepsleas is an old word for a sheep meadow and sheep are still grazed here after the flowering period to maintain the grass and plants and to keep down the invasion of shrubs and trees which would otherwise take over. One of the meadows is particularly popular in spring when it is covered in Cowslips and people come from miles around to see this display.

 

Up until the great storm of 1987, the woodland at Sheepsleas was mainly mature beech but three quarters of these trees were blown over and the woodland has now regenerated with a wider range of species such as whitebeam, field maple, ash and beech. The destruction also opened up the land to more wildflowers and allowed the creation of wide rides through the woods. Although a disaster at the time, the long term result has been to create more diversity and attract a wider range of flora and fauna.

 

This unusual meadow area is worth spending a day out to take full advantage of what it has to offer. Beautiful at any time of the year, but especially in the summer months, Sheepsleas is an unusual treasure on the doorstep of London and known to only a few.

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