Thursday 23 January 2020
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Natural History of Denmead

To start at rock bottom, literally, Denmead is built on geologically recent strata, in a shallow basin of chalk which outcrops to the north and south. This chalk basin is filled with later sediments, the oldest and lowest being the Reading beds, then London clay and, most recent, the Bagshot sands. These three layers of sedimentary rocks are exposed from north to south, Reading beds of clay underlying most of the village with London clay along Forest road and Bagshot sands in patches beneath Creech Woods.

Creech Wood (November 2016)

Exploration for oil north of the village produced a positive result but not, fortunately, in financially advantageous quantities. Attempts at gravel extraction in Creech Wood east were successfully warded off. The main product of the local geology is flint which has been used in a number of local buildings including the church.

The variety of soils arising from these different rocks enables a wide range of plants to grow in the area. The clay soil in most of the village gardens is heavy to work and contains numerous flints but is reasonably productive, with a high base status; whereas soils derived from the Bagshot sands are more porous and of lower base status and less fertile, suitable only for heath and bracken.

The woods to the south and north-west of the village are supplemented by numerous separate large trees, notably the line of mature oaks straddling the new road south-east of Denmead and extending into Goodman Fields. The big yew and mature oak in Green Lane are also noteworthy, as is the superb plane tree in Ashling Close.

The open agricultural land surrounding the village still has many hedges of hawthorn and blackthorn with small trees of hazel, holly and field maple and larger trees of oak and ash; when they are in flower the predominance of hawthorn and blackthorn is very obvious. Within the village most houses have gardens and many keen gardeners who produce a delightful display of flowers at all seasons. The diversity of plant life attracts a wide range of insects and many different species of birds which feed on the insects and berries.

The common garden birds such as starlings, sparrows, chaffinches, green finches, great tits and blue tits are also attracted by food specifically put out for them, though the nuts are frequently raided by squirrels. In recent times the rarer long-tailed tits have taken to feeding on nuts. The insect eating birds, robins, wrens, hedge sparrows and others, collect their food from soil and plants; blackbirds and thrushes are more general feeders, taking worms, snails, insects and berries; the latter also attract redwings and fieldfares in hard winters. Summer visiting house martins build their nests under the eaves of houses in spring. Swallows also visit in summer when the occasional cuckoo may be heard. Jays may be seen in the woods and tawny owls heard by wakeful villagers. The larger birds such as jackdaws, magpies, rooks and crows can be seen and heard frequently; as can wood pigeons, though these have largely been ousted by collared doves. The occasional tree creeper, fly catcher and gold crest may be spotted by the keen birdwatcher. Because of the proximity of woodland, roe deer may be glimpsed and foxes forage round the edge of the village; hedgehogs are less common than formerly. Although they may only be seen at night, badgers are believed to be present in southern parts of the village; plans for the final area of housing to be built in the village under the 1971 plan had to be substantially changed to take account of their presence.

Among the butterflies, brimstone, peacock, red admiral, small tortoiseshell and cabbage whites occur frequently, especially when buddleia is in flower. Less commonly seen are orange tip, common blue and holly blue and in 1983 the rare clouded yellow was seen in the village.

Regrettably the village pond, now the site of the Health Centre, was filled in, so there is no large permanent pond in the village. A few temporarily damp hollows, for example those in Anmore Road and opposite The Harvest Home, grow plants which like wet conditions, such as willows, rushes, gipsywort and yellow flag; this is also the sort of habitat where frogs and toads may be found. Herons are fairly regular visitors to a wet spot in Southwick Road and a woodland area north-west of the village.

Harts Copse - April 2014

An area close to Rookwood View, (a small estate of flats and houses with warden oversight immediately north of the village centre), has been developed as a nature reserve by the initiative of the residents and is maintained by the Parish Council. Among other trees planted there is a wayfaring tree, appropriately beside Wayfarers Walk a long distance footpath, which passes through the village on its way to Inkpen Beacon near Newbury. Through its groundstaff the Parish Council maintains an attractive rural environment in and around the village and strategic tree planting is carried out; unfortunately, trees are sometimes damaged and others fail to develop, however, these are usually replaced by the Parish Council.

It is hoped that Goodman Fields, to the east of the village, purchased by Denmead Parish Council in memory of much respected local councillor Peter Goodman, will act as a buffer to the rising tide of development on our doorstep; the fields, part of which will be managed as a nature reserve, encompass some fine ancient hedges and is traversed by a line of handsome oaks, the area also contains some potentially interesting streams.

Goodman Fields - July 2014

Our village is a pleasant place to live in; and to maintain and enhance our environment requires the interest and involvement of us all.