The first thing that John Madden, Chairman of the Lingfield Nature Reserve (LNR) Management Committee says to me is that none of the site’s volunteers are ecology experts. All are enthusiastic amateurs but if the others have the same breadth and depth of knowledge that John displays it’s no wonder the place is thriving.
On the hottest day of the year so far, John guides me along the accessible paths of the Scented Butterfly Garden and the Quiet Garden, through the Wildflower Meadow, the Community Orchard and Beacon, Bloomer’s and Jenner’s fields: each distinctly different with a habitat of its own.
An amalgamation of the Tandridge District Council-owned Lingfield Wildlife Area – created in 1994 as a community biodiversity project – and the Lingfield Parish Council-owned Centenary Fields, both were awarded Nature Reserve status by English Nature (Centenary Fields in 1992, Lingfield Wildlife Area shortly after), making Lingfield only the second UK parish council to receive this status. The whole site was then formally managed under one name: Lingfield Nature Reserve.
An abundance of sights, sounds and smells, there’s a balanced partnership of man and nature in evidence. Each plot has been carefully considered but not over-planned: as John says, there is a great deal of dynamic experimentation going on.
The Butterfly Garden is a great example: laid with soil containing chalk, rubble and sand, wildflower seeds were scattered to see what would grow. Now meadow clary, small scabious and wild marjoram entwine with equally-valued insect-attracting weeds, making it home for many of the 30 species of butterfly that LNR hosts. One of these is an unexpected bonus: nectar-heavy hemp agrimony has encouraged the normally reclusive, tree-top dwelling Brown Hairstreak to visit at eye-level.
John points out the plants that are helping wildlife to prosper: too many to list but St John’s Wort, oxide daisies, bird’s-foot trefoil, betony, tufted vetch and hayrattle are just a few. Orchids are slowly spreading across the site, too. Ditches and ponds host grass snakes, toads, frogs and dragonflies, and the protected Great Crested Newt also lives here. Stand still and you might see kingfishers, housemartins, swallows and sandmartins.
We stop and smell the summer scent of sweet vernal-grass, watch a red kite and kestrel swooping above us and listen to the calls of blackcaps and chiffchaffs, before taking shelter from the sun in the copse (made up of lime, birch, pear, hornbeam and sloe trees). The Community Meadow is packed with mulberry, quince, cherry and damson trees, along with the area’s own Lingfield Forge variety of apple. The produce is enjoyed by the reserve’s volunteers and visitors, with the resident squirrel population also appreciative of the sweet chestnuts, hazelnuts and walnuts.
I ask John about the future of LNR. He tells me about plans for a wildlife tree nursery, a goat’s willow thicket to encourage the Purple Emperor butterfly (with guidance on this from guru Matthew Oates) and an avenue of trees in Jenner’s Field. The management committee use grants and public donations to help fund their projects.
LNR is one of Tandridge’s hidden gems: the stunning views, open spaces and huge array of wildlife make it a wonderful resource for families, schools and groups of all sorts. My thanks to John for taking the time to show me round this beautiful place in such detail, and I’ll definitely be returning to watch how it continues to grow and flourish.