Outdoor Space

Kingley Vale Nature Reserve, Sussex

A landscape rich in history and wildlife, the South Downs National Park boasts flourishing market towns, open downs, pocket-size rural villages, rugged heathland and ancient settlements. A place of raw natural beauty and deep-rooted culture, it’s an understandably popular destination. Perhaps one of its most intriguing features, though, is Kingley Vale. 

The country’s first, Kingley Vale was designated a National Nature Reserve in 1952. Now owned by Natural England and the West Dean Estate, its special habitats, wildlife and unique heritage are carefully protected. Famous for its twisted and ancient yew trees, Kingley Vale’s ancient woodland contains veteran trees, among which are the oldest living things in Britain today. With some of its yew trees at least 500 years old, the largest of these trees measures more than an impressive 5 meters in circumference.

As well as its titan trees, Kingley Vale also has large areas of chalk grassland where rare plants, orchids and birds of prey make themselves at home. On clear days, buzzards and red kites can often be seen dominating the skies, while smaller nightingale, grasshopper warbler, blackcap, marshtit and green woodpecker stick closer to the ground. A real draw for bird-watchers, you should definitely pop a pair of binoculars in your bag and keep an eye out as you wander around the reserve, listening out for tell-tale calls and the fluttering of wings.

For history-buffs, the reserve contains a wealth of fascinating historical throwbacks, including one of the most significant concentrations of well-preserved archaeological sites in England. The site of 14 Scheduled Monuments, two of the reserve’s most well-known are the Devil's Humps, prominent Bronze Age burial mounds, and Goosehill Camp, the remains of an Iron Age settlement. Dating from more recent history, Kingley Vale also features the remains of a WWII auxiliary patrol observation base. 

In amazing new developments, even more secrets of Kingley Vale’s ancient woods are being discovered. Thanks to a team of researchers and volunteers, a laser light surveying method called LiDAR was recently carried out, revealing the features of the landscapes currently concealed by trees. Covering an area of 305km2, the laser-scanned data is currently being processed and eagerly awaited to unveil secrets kept hidden for thousands of years.

For the best opportunity to uncover the area’s historical vestiges for yourself, the Hidden Landscape Trail will lead you over a 4-mile route and take around 3 hours if you’re not in a hurry. Including a walk to the Goosehill Camp, the walk covers some uneven and steep ground but isn’t too challenging. However, there are also a number of easier routes if you can’t manage a longer walk.

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