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Supporting wildlife at Abinger Roughs and Netley Park

A Roe deer partly hidden by foliage, looking directly at the camera
There is lots of wildlife to spot on your visit | © National Trust Images / John Malley

The mixed woodland of beech, ash and evergreen yew, and the open grassland here at Abinger Roughs and Netley Park are home to many different species of native wildlife, including badgers, deer and dormice.

Trees to see

Oak and birch trees grow well on Abinger Roughs, as do native evergreens such as Scots pine, holly and yew. There are some impressive sweet chestnuts and also veteran pines, beeches and oaks. Hidden among these towering specimens are the remains of an old wilderness garden, with rhododendrons, azaleas and laurels.

One ancient beech tree here is very well known. Known as the Witch’s tree, it’s estimated to be around 200 to 300 years old, and its girth measures nearly nine metres. It’s not understood why it has this shape. It could either be due to ‘bundle planting’ where a cluster of seedlings are planted together, or simply down to the tree’s genetics.

You’ll also find three magnificent oak tree pollards that are around 300 years old. They’ve survived from the times when the Roughs was grazed as wood pasture. Over many years their branches have been cut for building materials and firewood, but they’re now growing old gracefully.

Scots pine trees thrive on the Roughs and can grow up to 36m high and 1.5m wide around the trunk. Very old pine trees are known as ‘granny pines’. They produce pine cones that hold the tree’s seeds. Birds and squirrels eat the seeds and scatter them over the Roughs.

Important habitat for all

The ancient trees are very important for nature conservation. The hollow trunks create niche habitats, rich in decaying wood, loose bark, sap and tree humus. They support many species of epiphytes (mosses and lichens), as well as invertebrates and fungi. Bats, owls and woodpeckers often nest in their old trunks.

Great spotted woodpecker feeding its young at nest hole
Great spotted woodpecker feeding its young at nest hole | © National Trust Images / Jim Bebbington


Open glades of grassland form the central core of the Roughs. Bracken has always grown here and used to be gathered and used as bedding for livestock. Today, it’s controlled to prevent it from taking over the grassland, which supports lots of insects and butterflies. The grass is grazed by rabbits and roe deer.

Netley Woods

This woodland is a mixture of beech, ash and evergreen yew. There are also some old oaks on the high ridge. Although the wood was badly damaged in the heavy storms of 1987 and 1990, there are still some very impressive trees, especially beech.

Netley Woods has been allowed to grow naturally, but some paths have been widened and glades created to help develop a good herbaceous layer. This will provide nectar-rich plants for butterflies and warm, sunny glades for orchids and insects.

This habitat is a quiet refuge for lots of well-known British wildlife. Tawny owls, sparrowhawks and little owls hunt here, and you can also spot buzzards, kestrels, jays and woodpeckers. Winter visitors can include bramblings, fieldfares, redwings and waxwings.

Brown long-eared bats congregate in hollow trees and dormice live among the tree canopy. These small mammals are currently being monitored by the Surrey Wildlife Trust.

Brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus)
Brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus) | © National Trust Images/Bat Conservation Trust/Hugh Clark

Wildlife to spot


Dormice usually only come out at night to feed on insects, nuts and flowers. They can live for up to six years in the wild but can be taken by owls or foxes. Dormice hibernate from October to April. They build a winter nest on or near the ground, among tree roots or in hollows.


You might see wild deer as you walk around the woods. There are two species to spot, and the most common is the native roe deer. You might also see the non-native muntjac, which is gradually increasing its numbers. Unfortunately, this deer causes a lot of damage to trees and ground flora, including bluebells.


Netley Woods is a popular home for badgers because they like to live in undisturbed woodland with well-drained, easily dug soil, and plenty of undergrowth for cover. There’s also a good supply of food.

Rare plants

Many downland plants survive along the footpaths and in the woodland glades, including the unusual adder’s-tongue fern and bird’s-nest orchid.

Wood pasture

Wood pasture is a very traditional aspect of the English landscape. In the past, animals were grazed here, while timber and wood were harvested for buildings, tools, fences, furniture and firewood. Today the best surviving wood pasture is mostly found in medieval deer parks, royal hunting grounds and old wooded commons.

Wood pasture is an open, rich habitat that allows nature to thrive. It contains a mixture of older trees with lots of space around them, open ground, some scrub and some hedges.

Open veteran trees are especially attractive to insects, bats and birds. Open ground and grassland encourage wildflowers, and insects such as bees and butterflies. Scrubland and hedges provide protection for birds and small mammals.

Together this environment encourages wildlife to thrive, and it’s so special that it’s classified as a priority habitat under the Government’s UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP).

Looking up at bare beech trees at Leigh Woods, Bristol


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