Hedgecourt SSSI

Hedgecourt SSSI

Hedgecourt SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) is situated to the north of the A264 in Felbridge as the road heads to Snow Hill.  Hedgecourt SSSI, part of which is a Nature Reserve managed by the Surrey Wildlife Trust, stretches from east of the Moated site at Beavers Farm off the A22, encompassing the stream and former Hedgecourt Watermill race, Hedgecourt Lake, the majority of Pond Tail and part of the Domewood area.


This document is split into three parts.  The first section will cover the history of the site leading up to it being given SSSI status and the extent of the site.  The second section will cover background information leading to the need to create SSSIs, the role of local volunteer involvement with the Public Access Nature Reserve section of Hedgecourt SSSI, the national organisations that protect these sites, the importance and variety of species found within the Hedgecourt SSSI and the control of encroaching alien species.


The document is concluded by a section on the conservation work carried out by Kew at Wakehurst Place and the importance of the Millennium Seed Bank in preserving the world’s plants for future generations.


History of the area now known as Hedgecourt SSSI

Most of the area that now makes up Hedgecourt SSSI was once within Hedgecourt Park.  The park was created in the early 1300’s by the creation of a ditch and bank enclosure with a fence on top of the bank known as a pale.  This enclosure contains the wild animals such as boar and deer enabling them to be hunted for food.  The Hedgecourt Park pale enclosed a large area including what is now Domewood, it ran along the south side of West Park Road to Newchapel, then along the west of the A22 to Whittington College, then to the top of Mill Lane, along the line of Mill Lane down to just before the sluice gate at which point it turned back towards Domewood [for further information see Handout Hedgecourt Manor and Farm, JIC/SJC 11/11].  The line of Hedgecourt Park pale can still be seen as a bank aligned roughly east-west within the SSSI.  The bank is much smaller now as the centuries have caused it to slump and spread.


Until the mid 16th century Hedgecourt Park would have been mainly woodland and as Hedgecourt Lake had not been created, the water course would have meandered its way across the valley floor.  There are in fact two water courses, the main one flowing out of Furnace Wood and a lesser flow from the Domewood direction.  These would have come together towards the centre of what is now Hedgecourt Lake.  The water would then have flowed towards the location of Hedgecourt Mill which stood to the north of the Mill Cottages.  Whilst the valley profile is reasonably flat, the local soft sandstone geology means that the water course is more likely to have been is a well cut stream rather than a marsh or bog.  There is also a fall of nearly 4m (13 feet) between the stream bed at the north exit of Furnace Wood and the stream bed below Hedgecourt Mill which makes it less likely to have resulted in a wetland environment.


Further downstream was once the location of Hedgecourt manor house which stood on a moated site.  The SSSI extends from the lake along the banks of the old mill stream (not the sluice stream) including Moat Wood and wraps around the south side of the moated site.  This area is now a very marshy wetland environment, but it would have been drier before the creation of Wiremill Lake. Although the gradient of the land is much less than that across Hedgecourt Lake so the water would have been flowing slower and would have naturally meandered more.  The construction of the manor house and its moat would have been associated with water management including man made watercourses and fish ponds which were a common medieval feature.


There is evidence that there was a water mill at Hedgecourt in the early 1500’s, but this is likely to have been an undershot water wheel and thus did not require a mill pond [for further information see Handout, Hedgecourt Mill cottages, SJC 07/04].  The lake was created by damming the valley and this occurred shortly before 1562.  The purpose of the lake was not for the corn mill at Hedgecourt but to provide an additional head of water to operate the hammer mill located at Wiremill as the iron industry was the economic heart of the Weald by the mid 16th century [for further information see Handouts Warren Furnace, SJC 01/00 and Wiremill SJC 03/06].  The documents show that the miller at Hedgecourt could only operate his mill when the hammer mill instructed the sluice to be opened.


The flooding of the valley did not contain the lake within Hedgecourt Park as the boundary of the park went from where the sluice is towards Domewood and even today there is open water to the south of this line.  This is also revealed in the documents as Bletchingly Manor who owned the common called Hedgecourt Heath to the south of Hedgecourt Lake.  In 1676 they record that “The tenants of Hedgecourt Mill do usually flow with water about 20 acres of the common of Bletchingly Manor”. And in 1681 they described the boundary of their common land as:-

A brook or stream of water running from Mill Wood pond [Furnace Lake] to Hedge Court pond and so much of the said Hedge Court pond as flows on the south east side of the said stream flows and covers the lands of Hedgecourt Heath belonging to the manor of Bletchingly. And that the separations of the said Hedge Court pond from the lands of the manor of Bletchingly was heretofore known by a stub [tree stump] standing in the said pond near the bay and about six rods [99 feet] distance on the south side of the said mill house and from the said pond bay.

The tree stump location is where there is now a small island in the lake just south west of the main sluice gate.


By 1748 the Hedgecourt area, including the whole of the now SSSI, had been purchased by Edward Evelyn and the streams and lake system can be clearly seen on the Bourd map that he commissioned to show the extent of the Evelyn estate at Felbridge.  This estate remained in the hands of the Evelyn family until 1855 when it was purchased by George Gatty.


In  1787 the iron industry in the Felbridge area had ceased, Woodcock Hammer was converted as a wire mill, and the blast furnace in Furnace Wood was converted as flour mill.  The wire mill continued as a wire mill until 1816, when it too was converted as a flour mill, thus all three mills on the Felbridge estate were working as flour mills.


With the conversion of the mill at Wiremill as a flour mill, the original use of Hedgecourt Lake as a holding pond was no longer required, and thus water was not drawn off to supplement the water power of the lake at Wiremill.  This obviously affected the level of Hedgecourt Lake, especially in a wet season.  This is confirmed in a letter written in October 1852, by Susannah Saunders, wife of Carew Saunders the nephew to the then miller at Hedgecourt.  She was writing to her brothers who had recently emigrated to America:

‘Our English weather has been peculiar for we have had wet from 2nd week in August till the first in October and on top of that such excessive rain that the floods have done much damage in drowning both cattle and human life…… At the mill at Hedgecourt they were quite alarmed……’


Hedgecourt Lake had extended to over 45 acres, with over 8 acres of surrounding waste and marsh land.  However, both Hedgecourt Lake and the lake at Wiremill have silted up considerably since the demise of the mills for which both lakes had been formed.


One of the first people to observe and document the area that later became Hedgecourt SSSl was Professor W S Furneaux of Penlee, Crawley Down Road [for further information see Professor Furneaux and the Penlees of Felbridge, SJC 03/09]. In 1919, Professor Furneaux used the streams and lakes of Felbridge in the observational writings included in his publication Countryside Rambles.  In Part II (entitled Summer) of this book Section IV – By the Stream and Section VI – Round Bog and Marsh, he refers to the flora and fauna to be found in both habitats and this book is perhaps one of the first documents published showing the diversity of the wetland habitat that later became Hedgecourt SSSI.

Establishing Hedgecourt SSSI

Hedgecourt SSSI was established in 1975 and is based around Hedgecourt Lake.  Quoting from English Nature, the main reason for this area to be given SSSI status is because:

Hedgecourt is the most important wetland site remaining in south-east Surrey.  Situated in the upper Eden Brook Valley on alluvial soils overlying Tunbridge Wells sandstones, the site incorporates a range of habitats including woodland, grassland and fen-marginated open water. Hedgecourt Lake itself is an ancient mill pond resulting from the damming of the river. These habitats support a wide variety of animal life including several locally distributed beetles (Coleoptera) and a large breeding-bird fauna.


Several areas of wet and dry woodland occur within this site. Those developed on the drier soils to the west of the lake are dominated by oak Quercus robur and birch Betula pendula. The ground flora includes bramble Rubus fruticosus, bluebell Hyacinthoides nonscriptus and wood sage Teucrium scorodonia.  The more mature stands also contain hazel Corylus avellana and holly Ilex aquifolium, and also have a richer ground flora.  Close to the north-west shore of the lake is an area of oak and birch woodland with open heath areas where ling Calluna vulgaris and wavy hair-grass Deschampsia flexuosa dominate.


There are also a number of wild service trees Sorbus torminalis and the field layer includes bracken Pteridium aquilinum and common cow-wheat Melampyrum pratense.  On the marshy ground close to the lake and below the dam, the woodland is dominated by alder Alnus glutinosa together with birch and grey sallow Salix cinerea.  White and crack willows Salix alba and Salix fragilis also grow here, as does alder buckthorn Frangula alnus.  The ground flora is dominated by sedges including the greater tussock-sedge Carex paniculata.  Grassland habitats include neutral grassland in the drier areas grading into damp grassland then to fen in the wettest parts. Although much of this grassland is ungrazed and hence somewhat overgrown, it retains a great deal of its wildlife interest.


Damp grassland, found below the dam, is composed of grasses such as Yorkshire fog Holcus lanatus, false oat-grass Arrhenatherum elatius, cock’s-foot Dactylis glomerata, meadow fox-tail Alopecurus pratensis, and sweet vernal-grass Anthoxanthum odoratum, as well as other herbs including sneezewort Achillea ptarmica, knapweed Centaurea nigraand and large bird’s-foot trefoil Lotus uliginosus.


Where the ground is waterlogged for much of the year, a fen-type vegetation rich in damp loving plants is found.  These include marsh horsetail Equisetum palustre, yellow loosestrife Lysimachia vulgaris, reed canary-grass Phalaris arundinacea, gipsywort Lycopus europaeus, meadow-sweet Filipendula ulmaria, and meadow-thistle Cirsium dissectum, which is rare in east Surrey.  Towards the lake edge, this fen grades into tall marginal vegetation of emergent species forming a fringe around the lake, especially at the western end.  Here marsh horsetail, bladder sedge Carex vesicaria, water parsnip Berula erecta, yellow flag Iris pseudacorus, water mint Mentha aquatica, and water plantain Alisma plantago-aquatica may all be found.  Growing amongst these larger plants are smaller species such as monkey-flower Mimulus guttatus, and skull-cap Scutellaria officinalis.  Extending into the open water there are single-species stands of reed Phragmites australis, reed mace Typha latifolia or bulrush Schoenoplectus lacustris, with bogbean Menyanthes trifoliata and touch-me-not balsam Impatiens noli-tangere, a local plant for which this is the only site in Surrey.


Well-established open water communities are rare in Surrey and are easily damaged by pollution or uncontrolled recreational activity.  Hedgecourt Lake is the largest area of semi-natural open water in eastern Surrey and remains relatively undamaged, although angling and boating do occur.  The aquatic flora has not been well-recorded in recent years but includes the naturalised pondweed Elodea nuttallii, broad-leaved pondweed Potamogeton natans and white water-lily Nymphea alba.  The site was formerly important for other Potamogeton species including the rare hair-like pondweed Potamogeton trichoides which may still occur.


A number of locally-distributed beetles have been recorded from the site, including a tortoise beetle Cassida viridis and the weevils Apion ebeninum and Sitona cambricus.  The site supports a wide variety of breeding birds due to the variety and undisturbed nature of its habitats.  Wetland species include water rail, mute swan, sedge warbler (rare in south Surrey), tufted duck and kingfisher.  Woodland birds include nightingale, nuthatch and tawny owl.


Surrey Trust for Nature Conservation (STNC) survey of Moat Wood, Park Farm

In 1984 a survey was carried out by John Steer and Roger Hawkins for STNC and the following is the summary of their report:

Moat Wood forms part of the Hedgecourt Pond SSSI.  The Nature Conservancy Council (NCC)* schedule refers to it as: “The valley to the east includes a marsh with alder and birch and a damp meadow” and hints at relatively unusual plants. The area has since been little visited since it was scheduled, being on private land with no public footpaths.


The meadow and most of the wood from part of Park Farm, Felbridge.  The former dairy farm is being broken up and sold in lots.  The owner, Mr Edwards, is moving to live at Hedgecourt Mill Cottages, and will be retaining a part of Park Farm land, being part of Moat Wood and the adjoining meadow west of the farm track.  He plans to graze sheep here.  The corresponding land east of the farm track is included on a lot under offer to a neighbour, but Mr Edwards said he would be happy to detach this land and make it available to the Trust.  He also said that if the Trust took this land, he would be happy to co-operate with us in the management of the area he is retaining, or even to join the Trust in the purchase of further land around Hedgecourt Pond should it ever become available.  He is planning to graze sheep on the pasture he is retaining and create a new pond in the marshy area.


The present survey found that most of the meadow has been improved, but two areas of good habitat remain:- a marsh with a luxuriant and varied flora, and a pond of fairly recent construction but with good emergent and floating vegetation and a variety of dragonflies.  The part of the wood inside the ancient moat has been cleared and is now pasture.  The rest of the wood is probably little altered.  Access to all parts is difficult.  One part of it belongs to a neighbouring farm.


Field 0043 (4.11 acres – land being retained by owner)

The eastern part of this field has been re-seeded within the last year or so.  The western part, by the cottage gardens, is a poor dry pasture of no special interest.  The central part is unimproved damp pasture going over into a marsh with a rich flora.   The area is crossed by a recently laid sewage pipeline, raise 10ft above the ground over the area.


Nodding Bur-marigold

Marsh Willowherb

Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil

Lesser Spearwort

Glyceria sp.

Oenathe crocata


Soft Rush (dominant)

Water Mint

Amphibious Bistort

Water Horsetail

March Horsetail

Clustered Dock

Bog Stitchwort

Yellow Loosestrife



Tussock Sedge (large)

Carex psuedocyerus

Branched Bur-reed


Greater Willowherb



Phalaris arundiacea


Also some dead alders with the lichen Everina prunastri on the trunks.


Damp pasture:

Soft Rush

Lesser Spearwort

Jointed Rush (species?)

Water Forget-me-not (species?)

Meadow Buttercup

March foxtail


A fence is being put up to separate the pasture from the marsh.


Disturbed ground under pipeline:

White Melilot


Moat Wood, western part 2166 (3.06 acres – land being retained by owner)

A very damp alder wood with tussock sedge, yellow loosestrife, etc.  This area was not explored.  In the corner of the wood, there is a tip of rubble, old tyres and other rubbish and manure.


Field 3474 (2.74 acres – and available for sale)

This is improved pasture, now neglected.  On the western side, there is an attractive pond, about 10yds x 4yds, dug out by the present owner from a wet corner of the field.


Branched Bur-reed

Greater Reedmace

Scirpus lacustris

Nodding Bur-marrigold

Lesser Spearwort

Amphibious Bostort

Broad-leaved Pondweed

Soft Rush

Juncus acutiflorus


Tussock Sedge


Grey Sallow


Moat Wood 2970, 3073, 3686 (3.63 acres – land available for sale)

Most of the western part is a very damp alder wood with downy birch, sallow and crack-willow, crossed by ditches and streams of orange-coloured murky water.  The eastern part is a dry wood of alder, crack willow, ash, hazel and bramble thicket.


Tussock Sedge

Deschampsia cespitosa

Yellow Loosestrife

Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil

Greater Willowherb

Glyceria sp.


Oenanthe crocata

Soft Rush

Water Forget-me-not (species?)

Meadow sweet

Scirpus sylvaticus (little)

March Marigold

Chryosplenium oppositifolium


Guelder Rose


Broad Buckler Fern

Carex remota




Lady Fern

Wood Sorrel

Herb Robert

Galium palistre

Germander Speedwell

Carex sylvatica

Yellow Pimpernel

Alder Blackthorn (1)



Rhododendron (self seeded)

Hard Fern

Rowan (seedling)

Yellow Iris

Red Currant

Black Currant

Herb Bennet

Epipactis helleborine (3)


Birds, mammals, insects:

Kingfisher, Heron (both are regular here)

Greater Spotted Woodpecker (on both visits)

Willow Tit (call, from alder wood)

Jay, Chaffinch, Great Tit

Moorhen (by pond)

Ducks and Geese are reported in winter

An occupied badger sett is just outside the area of Lot 5; a track leads across the meadow and through the wood.

Frog in the damp woodland.



Small copper

Large white

Hedge Brown

Specked Wood

Small Tortoiseshell (including many pupae on nettle patch)

Green-veined White

Common blue




Silver Y

Setaceous Hebrew character

Caterpillars of Dot Moth (feeding on Broad-leaved Dock)

White Ermine



Aeshna grandis

A. cyanea

A. mixta

Sympetrum striolatum

Lestes sponsa

Ischnura elegans

Enallagma cyathigerum (mostly near the pond but the Aeshna species flying over the whole area; a mating pair of Lestes)



Dark bush-cricket (call)

Common Green Grasshopper (call)

Slender Groundhopper (by pipeline on edge of marsh)





Chilocrocus renipustulatus (on ash)

Exochomus 4-pustulatus (empty pupal cases, on ash)

Tytthaspis 16-punctata (16 adults and one larva, on grass just outside are of SSSI)



Troilus luridus (adult eating 7-spot Ladybird and larva)

Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale (full-grown larva on hawthorn).


*The Nature Conservancy Council (NCC) was a British government agency responsible for designating and managing National Nature Reserves and other nature conservation areas in Great Britain between 1973 and 1991.  It was established by the Nature Conservancy Council Act of 1973 and replaced the Nature Conservancy, itself established by Royal Charterin 1949.  NCC's duties included: Managing National Nature Reserves; providing advice on nature conservation to national and local government; notifying SSSIs and undertaking certain scientific research.  In 1991, following the passing of the Environmental Protection Act in 1990 and the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act of 1991, the Nature Conservancy Council was divided into three.  The English part became English Nature, becoming an England-only body, which later combined with the Countryside Commission to form Natural England.


Today Hedgecourt SSSI encompasses 82.3 acres (33.3 hectares).  The lake is owned by the Crawley Mariners with some of the land privately owned, and a large section at the west end of the Lake is a public access Nature Reserve.


Hedgecourt SSSI from a volunteer warden’s perspective

Houston – we have a problem

The Earth is probably teetering on the edge of an abyss of as yet unfathomable depths.  Since the start of the Industrial Revolution we have been pumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the thin layer of atmosphere that protects us from lethal cosmic radiation.  We live in the most technologically advanced age that has ever existed, with the capacity to work what in earlier ages would have been deemed miracles.  And yet we have an enormous and practically insuperable problem on our hands.  Global warming, due to the ever increasing amount of CO2 now being created from consumption of fossil fuels is now pretty well an established fact.  We have managed irrevocably to destroy much of our small blue planet.  However CO2 is not the only problem.  Methane is thirteen times more effective than CO2 in the global warming scenario.  There is a practically unfathomable amount of methane locked up in the Arctic tundra – and the tundra is melting as the Arctic warms up, so there is potential for an uncontrolled release of methane with all that implies.


The spread of Western civilisation to the Far East has cultivated an appetite for Western diets – foods rich in red meat; milk and fats.  Beef, pork and lamb are produced in ever increasing quantities to feed our appetites and ruminant animals produce methane as a waste product.  On top of all this, the world population is increasing exponentially, and living space competes with crop-growing space, so agriculture has to become ever more efficient.  This has a further knock-on effect in the destruction of rain forests, which is akin to surgically removing ones lungs step by step.


The seas are inexorably warming up, which is resulting in the disturbance and destruction of long-established stable ecosystems.  This is particularly evident in the death of corals in for example the Great Barrier Reef. Who knows how much damage is being done in our warming seas.


Global trade introduces yet further problems.  95% of global trade moves on the seas.  This further raises the possibility, or indeed the inevitability, of alien species being transported from one hemisphere to the other and allowing those species to become established in unfortunate places where irreversible damage is done to the environment.  This has recently been mirrored on a very small local scale in Lingfield, where goldfish have been “humanely released” into a local pond.  They will cause an ecological disaster if not removed because the pond is the breeding ground for the rare and protected great crested newt, plus numerous dragonfly species.  Happily it should prove simple to catch the goldfish.  Sorting out the Pacific may prove a little more difficult.


We really do have a big problem on our hands with these several elephants in the corner of our global room.  But there is hope for us yet.  The population problem may yet sort itself out; increasing global travel and global trade can move diseases from one side of the globe to another within hours and one can envisage a scenario where an unstoppable global pandemic arrives – possibly a flu-like virus – and without drugs to treat or alleviate symptoms the global population of mankind could well be significantly reduced.  Basically we currently need about half the population that now peoples the Earth!


All is not gloom and doom, despite the scenario painted above.  We are trying quite hard, if somewhat ineffectually, to stem the increase of CO2 release and undoubtedly there will be a move towards yet more non-fossil means of energy creation for our energy hungry world. In the next fifty or hundred years we may even see the benefit of practically limitless energy from nuclear fusion.  Although of course that is what was said about nuclear fission back in the heady days of the fifties. Watch this space!


My dual roles at Hedgecourt SSSI and Wakehurst Place

I work at Hedgecourt Nature Reserve as a practical pair of hands assisting the very much more knowledgeable amateur botanist, Tony Anderson is warden of the Nature Reserve.  He is secretary of the Surrey Botanical Society and is also a member of three Wildlife Trusts (Surrey, Sussex and Norfolk) as well as a Friend of Weir Wood Nature Reserve.  Tony says that I am also a reserve warden but in reality I am simply his “gopher”.


I am also a volunteer at Wakehurst Place. I worked on the Education side for eight years before becoming a garden guide. The jury is still out on whether that was a sensible move or not.


However, working both locally at Hedgecourt, and also at Wakehurst Place, I feel that I am well placed to talk about conservation both locally and internationally in the broadest aspects and able to answer any queries that may arise from the floor.


The role of your local nature reserve – Hedgecourt

Hedgecourt is a Site of Special Scientific Interest or an “SSSI” for short.  The land designated as an SSSI is formed in part by a section of the estate owned by Crawley Mariners Yacht Club and in part by other landowners both to the West and to the East along the banks of the Eden Brook.  Part of the SSSI (12 acres) is managed by Surrey Wildlife Trust, working under the auspices of Natural England.


How did Hedgecourt become an SSSI; what is an SSSI, how is an SSSI granted that title and what is the significance?  How does Natural England come into the picture and what is the relationship between Natural England; Surrey Wildlife Trust and CMYC?


I make no apology for plagiarising the Natural England and Surrey Wildlife Trust websites in what follows:

What entitles an area or place to become an SSSI?

There are over 4,100 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in England, covering around 7% of the country's land area.  Over half of these sites, by area, are internationally important for their wildlife, and designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) or Ramsar sites.  Many SSSIs are also National Nature Reserves (NNRs) or Local Nature Reserves (LNRs).


SSSIs are the country's very best wildlife and geological sites. They include some of our most spectacular and beautiful habitats – large wetlands teeming with waders and waterfowl, winding chalk rivers, gorse and heather-clad heathlands, flower-rich meadows, windswept shingle beaches and remote uplands moorland and peat bog.


It is essential to preserve our remaining natural heritage for future generations.  Wildlife and geological features are under pressure from development, pollution, climate change and unsustainable land management.  SSSIs are important as they support plants and animals that find it more difficult to survive in the wider countryside.  Protecting and managing SSSIs is a shared responsibility and an investment for the benefit of future generations.


The unique and varied habitats of SSSIs have developed over hundreds of years through management practices such as grazing and forestry and need active management to maintain their conservation interest.  Natural England works with over 26,000 separate owners and land managers who work very hard to conserve these important sites.  Maintaining goodwill and building upon the enthusiasm, knowledge and interest of owners is vital to successfully manage these nationally important sites.


The designation of SSSI’s

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) give legal protection to the best sites for wildlife and geology in England.  The first SSSIs were identified in 1949 when the then Nature Conservancy notified local authorities of SSSIs, so their conservation interest could be taken into account during the development planning process.


Natural England now has responsibility for identifying and protecting the SSSIs in England under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).  The designation of SSSIs includes a two stage process; notification and confirmation.


The notification process

Natural England has a duty to notify SSSIs when it is of the opinion that an area of land is of special interest by reason of its flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features.  This opinion is based on the exercise of specialist judgement which is informed by scientific guidelines – either biological of geological.


These guidelines assist Natural England in the identification of sites that appear to merit notification as SSSIs and are public documents available to all interested parties.  In deciding what is special, Natural England aims to identify the most important areas for the range of habitats and geology and the diversity of wildlife occurring naturally in England.


In November 2008 Natural England's Executive Board agreed a SSSI Notification Strategy which committed to keep SSSIs under review.  Natural England aims to ensure that the SSSI series continues to include all of our most valuable nature conservation and earth heritage sites.  The strategy will also seek to deliver a SSSI series that is resilient in the face of natural processes and environmental pressures, including the predicted effects of climate change.


By law, Natural England must notify all owners and occupiers of any land that we consider to be of special interest because of any of its flora, fauna or geological and physiographical features.  We must also inform the local planning authority, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and certain public bodies, such as the Environment Agency, water and sewerage companies and internal drainage boards.  An SSSI is also registered as a local land charge, which means that all future owners and occupiers will be bound by the laws protecting SSSIs.


Natural England

Natural England (NE) is the government’s advisor on the natural environment. NE provides practical advice, grounded in science, on how best to safeguard England’s natural wealth for the benefit of everyone.


The NE remit is to ensure sustainable stewardship of the land and sea so that people and nature can thrive. It is responsible to see that England’s rich natural environment can adapt and survive intact for future generations to enjoy.


NE works with farmers and land managers; business and industry; planners and developers; national and local government; interest groups and local communities to help them improve their local environment.


NE was established on 1 October 2006 by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. It was formed by the amalgamation of three founder bodies:

  • Countryside Agency, the landscape, access and recreation elements
  • English Nature
  • Rural Development Service, the environmental land management functions of Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

NE received the powers of the founder bodies, including awarding grants, designating Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest, managing certain National Nature Reserves, overseeing access to open country and other recreation rights, and enforcing the associated regulations.  It is also responsible for the administration of numerous grant schemes and frameworks that finance the development and conservation of the natural environment, for example Environmental Stewardship, Countryside Stewardship, Environmentally Sensitive Areas, and Access to Nature.


Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT)

Surrey Wildlife Trust is one of 47 local Wildlife Trusts across the whole of the UK, the Isle of Man & Alderney.


The Trust's vision is for a living landscape in Surrey that is rich in wildlife and valued by all. It is the only organisation in Surrey that cares for all forms of wildlife in the county.


SWT is now responsible for 8,326.39 ha across Surrey – the equivalent to over 5% of the land area of the county or nearly 20,000 acres.  Most of these areas are designated as protected sites with almost 100% as either a Site of Special Scientific Interest or a Site of Nature Conservation Interest. The land is made up of the Trust’s own nature reserves, Surrey County Council (SCC) Countryside Estate (managed under a 50 year contract) and large areas of MoD land.  This makes SWT the largest land manager in the county and, in terms of land managed, the largest of all the 47 Wildlife Trusts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.


The Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts (“The Wildlife Trusts”)

RSWT operates as an umbrella body for the 47 individual Wildlife Trusts, covering the whole of the UK, the Isle of Man and Alderney.  The Wildlife Trusts manage around 2,300 nature reserves and run marine conservation projects around the coast.  RSWT helps to co-ordinate the Trusts' activities and campaigning for wildlife at a UK level.


RSWT is a registered nature conservation charity (charity number 207238), based in the UK and incorporated by Royal Charter.


RSWT's objects are to promote the conservation and study of nature, the promotion of research into such conservation and to educate the public in understanding and appreciating nature, in the awareness of its value and in the need for conservation. The society primarily does this by supporting the work of the wildlife trusts to restore 'a living landscape' and secure 'living seas'.


What’s in a name? SPNRSPNCRSNCRSWT The Wildlife Trusts

The RSWT started in 1912 when Charles Rothschild formed the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves (SPNR).  The Society was granted its first Royal Charter by George V in 1916. In 1976 the organisation changed its name to the Society for the Promotion of Nature Conservation (SPNC) – and in the same year was granted a new Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth II. There was a further name change in 1981, to the Royal Society for Nature Conservation (RSNC). The final name change occurred on 1 June 2004, when the organisation became the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts (RSWT) to reflect the relationship between the Society and the individual Wildlife Trusts, now collectively known as The Wildlife Trusts.


About conservation at Hedgecourt SSSI nature reserve

The SSSI as a whole extends to some 65 acres.  However the major part of this is Hedgecourt Lake, a former mill pond acting as a feeder for Wiremill Lake, rated by Natural England as in “unfavourable recovering” condition, SWT manage a rather smaller area of 12 acres abounding to the west of Hedgecourt Lake.  “Our” bit is designated by Natural England as “favourable”.

What follows is The Natural England description of Hedgecourt:

As a lakeside reserve it contains a typical succession of communities from fringing reed swamp through willow carr and wet alder woodland to damp oak woods with birch and hazel. Where the ground is waterlogged for much of the year a fen-type vegetation, rich in damp-loving plants is found.  These include marsh-horsetail, yellow loosestrife, reed canary-grass, gypsywort, meadow-sweet and meadow thistle – which is rare in east Surrey.  Towards the lake edge this fen grades into tall marginal vegetation of emergent species forming a fringe round the lake, especially at the western end.  Here bladder sedge, water parsnip, yellow flag iris, water mint and water plantain may be found.  Extending into the open water there are single-species stands of reed, reed mace and bulrush, with bog bean and the touch-me-not balsam - a local plant for which this is the only site in Surrey.  Twelve species of dragonflies have been recorded here as well as a variety of other insects.  Due to the variety and undistributed nature of its habitat, the site supports a number of breeding birds.  Wetland species include water rail, mute swan, sedge warbler, woodcock, tufted duck and kingfisher.  Management concentrates on maintaining the open area in the eastern part and restricting the willow carr.


In fact, the last part of the description is only partly true.  “Management” consists of the SWT local team, and that simply comprises Tony Anderson and John Wells, bolstered by three annual half day visits by the SWT Eastern Area volunteers’ team.


What is described as maintenance of an open area is really quite complex.  We actively cultivate a number of open glades as well as a marsh and both lakeside and stream side habitats, each of which has a quite separate character.  If we did not look after these glades on an individual basis they would be gradually subsumed into willow and alder scrub in the wetter areas and into oak and birch in the drier areas.  We actively manage each glade for the promotion of the particular plant or insect species which have been found occurring naturally within the glades.  The same applies to the banks of the Felbridge Water.  At times it seems that we are always fighting a battle against the common nettle, bramble and, in the case of the marshy areas, against encroaching common reed and horsetail.


We do have two plants of which we are justly proud in conserving: The Touch-Me-Not-Balsam and the Meadow Thistle.  The former is found only in some areas of North Wales and The Lake District (plus Hedgecourt), whilst the latter is rare within Surrey.  Management of the Touch-Me-Not-Balsam is an ongoing fight with one of the UK’s worst alien invaders – the Himalayan Balsam.  This rogue competes for space with the much feebler touch me not plant.  It has populated nearly all of our national waterways and control is a simple but time-consuming chore of “pulling”; once the magenta coloured flowers appear the head of the plant must be snapped off and the rest of the plant pulled up before it has a chance to seed.  Happily it is an annual plant, but a typical seasonal count would be 2,000 to 4,000 plants to be pulled – and they are usually found growing in amongst four foot high meadowsweet and nettles.


Another lengthy chore is the control of brambles and one of our most poisonous plants, Hemlock Water Dropwort.  Also we have to keep the footpaths through the reserve clear of encroaching vegetation, which necessitates extensive use of battery operated strimmers.


Surrey is home to alien species and Hedgecourt is not exception.  SWT have produced an extensive list of around 54 alien species including; surprisingly, the Scots Pine and less surprisingly the common Rhododendron.  However the list includes insects, amphibians, birds and mammals as well as plants.  Hedgecourt is home to around 16 of the aliens including; Mink, Canada Goose, various species of deer, Grey Squirrel, Harlequin Ladybird, Himalayan Balsam, Rhododendron Ponticum, Montbretia, Sycamore, Canadian Golden Rod and the very recently spotted Skunk Cabbage – another villain of the waterways.  Most of these aliens are classified as damaging.  Both the Skunk Cabbage and the Himalayan Balsam are targeted by the Environment Agency.


Conservation at Wakehurst Place

History of the acquisition

The 500 acres of grounds and the mansion at Wakehurst Place are owned by The National Trust.  They were bequeathed to NT on the death of the last landowner – Sir Henry Price, who rose to fame and fortune through his company The Fifty Shilling Tailor.  (Remember John Collier and Burtons? They were all in competition for the mass produced suit).  In 1965, NT realised what a wonderful horticultural treasure the estate formed but felt that the mansion was inappropriate for NT to take on.  Accordingly, it was offered to Kew Gardens and an agreement was reached for Kew to lease the estate for 100 years with a peppercorn rent.  Wakehurst Place is the most visited NT property in the country yet not a single penny of funding for the massive operation at Wakehurst comes from NT. Wakehurst exists with part of a Kew grant from DEFRA, plus income from shop, garden centre and restaurant sales, very limited gate receipts from non-NT members, and income from hiring the grounds and mansion for weddings, film sets, exhibitions, etc.


Kew can grow far more and a far greater diversity of vegetation at Wakehurst place than at Kew Gardens – a bit of a sore point!  We are home to four National plant collections: the Southern Beech (Nothofagus), Birch (Betula), St John’s Wort or Rose of Sharon (Hypericum) and lastly the many species of Skimmia.


The Millennium Seed Bank

Most importantly of all, the site is home to the Millennium Seed Bank.  This parcel of land and also some 40 acres of land, which used to be a deer farm that Wakehurst surrounded, are now owned outright by Kew.


The Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) is a site of genuine World importance.  It was set up in 2000 as part of a worldwide partnership of seed bank to ensure the protection of the World’s critically endangered wild plant species.  To be very clear, this excludes all cultivars (hybrids) and all food plants, which are conserved separately.  The MSB is the most important seed bank in the World.  It seeks to conserve the entirety of the World’s endangered species, through a process of making partner agreements with countries where plants are threatened by arid conditions (sub-Saharan Africa, Australia and many other territories).

Endangered species are identified by plant hunters from the MSB and the country concerned.  Seed is harvested and shared between the MSB and the other country.  The plant is identified by Kew, through the creation of a “voucher” which is effectively a pressed dried plant showing all attributes of the plant in leaf, flower and seed.  At the MSB the seed is tagged, carefully dried at 15% humidity to eliminate nearly all moisture, cleaned, sample X-rayed to check for disease or pests, and then stored at -20oC in one of three enormous deep freeze rooms.  Underneath the MSB is a cavernous room which houses the three deep freeze rooms.  There is plenty of spare space; it is said to be large enough to accommodate 30 double deck Routemaster buses!


The MSB works like any bank but with one exception.  Seed can be deposited or withdrawn (when conditions are right for the depositing territory).  The exception?  Every 10 years we look at our deposits to see if they are still viable.  A sample of the seed is withdrawn, thawed out and an attempt is made to germinate it.  With care and under the right conditions some seed can be kept under deep frozen conditions for thousands of years.


There are some seeds that are not amenable to freezing – for example the Horse Chestnut.  Staff at the MSB work on other techniques, based on DNA replication to enable these plants to regenerate.


Education at Wakehurst

Wakehurst provides an invaluable teaching resource for school and university students of all ages.  A student will normally be someone between the ages of 4 and 20.  We have our own panel of full and part-time teaching staff plus classroom and laboratory facilities both within the mansion and at the Study Centre at the bottom of the gardens.  In a typical year around 9,000 to 10,000 children will visit Wakehurst for training and practical experience in matters botanical and entomological, both field and classroom based.


Apart from this more visible activity, there is a lower level to the MSB where we have 12 hotel rooms and associated leisure facilities for housing foreign university or PhD students or staff from other territories.  We also have an impressive suite of conference rooms and the associated presentation equipment.



Handout Hedgecourt Manor and Farm, JIC/SJC 11/11, FHWS

Handout, Hedgecourt Mill cottages, SJC 07/04, FHWS

Handout Warren Furnace, SJC 01/00, FHWS

Hand Wiremill SJC 03/06, FHWS

Particular of the cottages on Frogwood and Hedgecourt Heath, 1676, SHC K60/1/14

Survey of the manor of Bletchingly, SHC 453/1/1(g)

Bourd map, 1748

Saunder’s letters, FHA

Handout, 1911 Sale of the Felbridge Estate, SJC 01/11, FHWS

Map of Hedgecourt SSSI, FHA

Felbridge Place sale catalogue and map, 1911, FHA

Felbridge Place sale catalogue and map, 1913, FHA

Felbridge Place sale catalogue and map, 1914, FHA

Felbridge & Its Environs sale catalogue and map, 1919, FHA

Felbridge & Its Environs sale catalogue and map, 1919 Revised, FHA

Professor Furneaux and the Penlees of Felbridge, SJC 03/09, FHWS

Countryside Rambles by W S Furneaux

Map of Hedgecourt SSSI, FHA

Why are SSSI s important?, Natural England

STNC Survey of Moat Wood, Park Farm, 1984, FHA

Hedgecourt SSSI, Surrey Wildlife Trust

Fauna of Hedgecourt Common, 2001, FHWS

Flora of Hedgecourt Common, 2001, FHWS


Texts of all Handouts referred to in this document can be found on FHG website: www.felbridge.org.uk