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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Newdigate Brickworks Nature Reserve (Surrey Wildlife Trust). Wild Flowers. 19.04.22 (am)

This was my first. I reached it by train and bus. I took the train from Brighton to Crawley (changing at Three Bridges) and then took the Metrobus 21 bus from Newdigate (runs every two hours, so planning is required). The reserve is not signposted from and roads, so you will need to follow the road names. If you come into Newdigate from Parkgate (from Crawley) on Parkgate Road, b=just before you get to Newdigate, turn left at Hogspudding Lane, then turn left into Mulberry Place (the estate roads are all called Mulberry Place). The entrance to the reserve I have marked with a red dot on the map below.

This post focusses on wild flowers, although there are some birds too, and uses information from the excellent Plantlife Plantlife: The Wild Plant Conservation Charity and Woodland Trust UK's Largest Woodland Conservation Charity - Woodland Trust websites

All text in italics are quotes (sources given)

Newdigate Brickworks was established in 1928 and became a thriving business, employing local men as skilled brickmakers, claydiggers and general workers. A skilful brickmaker could produce up to 2000 bricks a day, and was paid entirely on the number of bricks they produced.

Although the Brickworks closed during WWII and much of the site became derelict, a small number of handmade bricks continued to be made at the brickworks until 1974, when the brickworks closed for good and the site was abandoned. It was eventually decided that part of the site would be used for a housing development and the remainder would become a nature reserve.

The Mulberries housing development was completed in 2004 and management of the new reserve was taken over by the Surrey Wildlife Trust.

The disused clay pits now host two lakes and a series of smaller ponds. These are home to a variety of aquatic wildlife including Great crested newts, broad bodied chaser and emperor dragonflies. The water bodies attract a good range of wetland birds including kingfishers and snipe.

The mosaic of woodland, scrub, grassland, marsh, water-side and aquatic vegetation communities makes the site particularly diverse. A total of 188 plants have been recorded for the site (including 27 ancient woodland indicator species).

Away from the relatively dense shade of canopy trees, hawthorn and elder shrubs are common. The ground flora in this area is dominated by dog’s mercury, bluebell and wood melick. Other species of note include the common spotted and early purple orchid.

The site also contains areas of woodland and scrub that include hawthorn, wild cherry, apple, alder, sessile oak, blackthorn, hornbeam and elder. There are also some specimens of the wild service tree.

The entrance

Greylag Geese and a Tufted Ducks on the northern Lake

A Greylag Goose on its nest

Tufted Ducks

Canada Geese by the northern Lake viewing platform

Reeds on the southern lake

Marshy terrain around southern lake

Greylag Geese (northern lake)

Canada Geese by island on northern lake

Tufted Ducks on northern lake

Northern lake

Bluebells in the woods to the north-west of the reserve

Bracken emerging



Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta

The UK is home to about half of the world’s bluebell population. Perhaps its no surprise, then, that they are so popular here: when Plantlife asked the British public to vote for the "Nation's Favourite Wildflower" it won by a significant margin both in England and the UK as a whole (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland opted for the Primrose (Primula vulgaris) instead.

Generally found in shady habitats, but also in more open ones in the damper west. It is associated with woodlands, also grows in hedgerows and grassland. Bluebells are woodland plants but, except perhaps in East Anglia, they do not need woods as much as humidity and continuity of habitat.

Although still common in Britain, bluebells are threatened locally by habitat destruction, collection from the wild, and from the escape of the Spanish bluebell from gardens and subsequent cross-breeding and loss of true native populations. The latter is a particular concern - during a survey around one in six bluebells found in broad-leaved woodland was a Spanish rather than native bluebell. Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) (

Wood anemone Anemone nemorosa

Sun-loving, gentle, a mark of the old. Wood anemone is one of the first spring blooms, arriving to take in the light through the leafless canopy in broadleaf woodland. Look for them in old and ancient woodland that suits their slow growth. Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) - Woodland Trust

Wild Garlic Allium ursinum

A delicious sign of the old, wild garlic is also known as ramsons. Look for them in shady woods where they coat the woodland floor in spring. Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) - Woodland Trust

If you don't immediately see it, you can usually smell it - wild garlic has a strong oniony scent that becomes stronger if you crush the leaves. It is a favourite with foragers but be sure not to eat the roots: eating them can have an unpleasant effect on the stomach. Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) (


Wood anemone

One of the first flowers of spring, wood anemones bloom like a galaxy of stars across the forest floor.

As a species it's surprisingly slow to spread (six feet in a hundred years!), relying on the growth of its root structure rather than the spread of its seed. As such, it is a good indicator of ancient woodland.

How to spot it

Solitary star-like white flowers with 5-8 petals, often pinkish underneath. Long-stalked stem leaves divided into three lobes, with each lobe divided. (Source: the National Plant Monitoring Scheme Species Identification Guide).

Colonies of wood anemones with purple or purple-streaked petals are frequent e.g. in Norfolk, but the sky-blue type (var. caerulea) is much rarer or possibly lost. It was a favourite of William Robinson, the 19th century pioneer of 'wild gardening' who carefully distinguished it from the occasionally naturalised European blue anemone.

Where it grows

Deciduous woodlands, particularly ancient ones. Also hedges and shaded banks. In the Yorkshire dales it is frequently found in limestone pavements. In many places the colonies could be relics of previous woodland cover, but its liking for light (it only opens fully in sunshine and does not grow in deep shade) suggests that it may not have purely woodland origins.

Best time to see

Flowers from March to April.

Cultural info

  • It is the County Flower of Middlesex.

  • In the Language of Flowers it symbolises brevity, expectation and forlornness.

Did you know?

  • Anemone and windflower are names originating in the famous Anemone coronaria of Greek legend.

  • Some local names are not very innocent with the plant being linked to girls and their smocks and chemises, and with the wanton habits of cuckoos and with snakes (cf. the Cuckooflower).

  • The Chinese call it "the Flower of Death" because of its pale, ghostly appearance.

  • Vernacular names include Windflower, Grandmother's nightcap and Moggie nightgown. The latter is used in parts of Derbyshire where 'moggie' can mean mouse, not cat. Richard Mabey also reports on the delightful children's mis-hearing, 'wooden enemies'.

  • It has a sharp, musky smell. This is hinted at in some old local names like 'smell foxes'.

  • When the suburbs of London swept over the old county of Middlesex, some of its woods were bypassed and preserved. The wood anemone still blooms there to this day.

  • Hoverflies are particularly fond of the wood anemone and help pollinate it. Other animals, however, will only eat it if nothing else is available, because of its acrid taste. It is poisonous to humans.


Blue Tit

Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis

Often known as 'lady's smock,' the pretty lilac flowers open around the time the cuckoo starts to call.

The flowers are usually veined with darker violet but in some areas pure white forms can be found. It is an important food plant for the caterpillars of the orange-tip and the green-veined white butterfly. In his Flora Britannica, Richard Mabey shows how the first full blooming of the Cuckooflower is a remarkably accurate predictor of the first hearing of the bird itself.

This wild flower is commonly found throughout the UK. It grows wherever there is damp ground - wet grassland, damp meadows, pond margins and along the banks of streams. It is may also found on road verges and in ditches. Cuckooflower / Lady's Smock (Cardamine pratensis) (

Early Purple Orchid with Lesser Celandine Ficaria verna and Bluebells

A favourite of Wordsworth, Lesser Celandine is one of the first wildflowers to bloom.

In fact, the 21st of February is known as "Celandine Day" as this is when peak flowering has been observed to begin. 1795, the renowned naturalist Gilbert White noted that the first celandines usually appeared in his Hampshire village of Selborne on this date and a similar result has been noted over the centuries ever since.

Its bright, yellow star-shaped flowers often blanket the ground. Each is about 3cm across with eight to twelve petals. It has rosettes of glossy dark green heart-shaped mottled long-stalked leaves. Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) (

Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula

Often arriving with the bluebell, the flowers of this early orchid make a handsome sight in spring.

The classic colour is magenta however occasionally white and pale pink flower spikes can be found. The leaves are are shiny with dark purple blotches. When first in bloom it has a wonderful scent, not dissimilar to Lily-of-the-valley tinged with blackcurrant but as the flowers fade, it starts to reek! As its name suggests, this is one of the first orchids to bloom, only the Early Spider-orchid flowers earlier.

Where to find Early Purple Orchid.

It adapts to a variety of habitats and can be found in hay meadows, woodland and often on roadside verges. It occurs mostly on non-acidic soils, and is also found in ancient woodland (especially coppice), chalk downland, grassy banks, limestone pavements and cliff-top grassland. It is widely distributed across the UK and Ireland.

How's it doing?

The Early Purple Orchid was once a common plant, found in a variety of habitats. Sadly, these have also been places where urban development and modern farming methods have taken their toll. Although it is still found at sites throughout the UK it is by no means as abundant as it once was.

Did you know?

  • There is a dizzying array of local names for the Early Purple Orchid. These include adder's meat, bloody butchers, red butchers, goosey ganders, kecklegs, kettle cases and kite's legs.

  • The legend that Early Purple Orchid grew under Christ's cross, and the leaves were splattered with the blood of Christ, have resulted in the names Gethesmane and cross flower.

  • The dried tubers have been used to make a drink called Saloop or Salep by grinding them into flour, and mixing with hot milk or water, honey and spices. This was popular in the nineteenth century among manual workers probably owing to wholesome and strengthening qualities. It probably originated from the similar Middle Eastern drink, sahleb. Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula) (


Early Purple Orchid

Bluebells and Calendines

Early Purple Orchid

Bugle Ajuga reptans

Early Dog Violet

Early Dog-violet from PlantLife Plantlife :: Early Dog-violet

Early by name, early by nature, this is the first of the violets to bloom.

Whilst its cousin, the Common Dog-violet traditionally flowers in April, the Early Dog-violet pops up in March, or earlier if the local climate has been unseasonably mild. The unscented flowers of both violets are similar but the Early Dog-violet has a darker purple spur behind the petals.

Where to find Early Dog-violet.

This violet is found across central, eastern and southern England growing on hedge banks and in chalk woodlands. It is an indicator species for ancient woodland.

How's it doing?

Early Dog-violet is commonly found in its preferred habitats.

Did you know?

  • Both Early Dog-violet and Common Dog-violet respond rampantly when light is allowed into the wood: a forty-fold increase in the number of violet flowers has been recorded in Cambridgeshire after coppicing.

  • This wild flower is also known as the woodland violet.

  • It used to be called pale wood violet as flowers do tend to be lighter than the common form.

  • It is a key food source for five of Britain's most threatened butterflies: pearl-bordered fritillary, small pearl-bordered fritillary, high brown fritillary, silver-washed fritillary and dark green fritillary. Plantlife :: Early Dog-violet


Marsh Frog

The marsh frog is Europe's largest frog, naturally found in a wide range across Europe and east into Asia. They are not native to the UK, but a small number were released at a site in Kent in the 1930s and were able to survive in the wild. Over the next few decades they spread into the surrounding wetlands and can now be found throughout the southeast of England. Their spread was aided by more people releasing marsh frogs into the wild, and some scattered populations exist in other parts of the UK. Releasing marsh frogs into the wild is now classed as a criminal offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Marsh frogs are much more closely tied to water than common frogs, and are almost always found either in the water or next to it, poised to leap in at the first sign of an approaching predator - they're a popular snack for herons, egrets and grass snakes. They prefer open wetlands, with plenty of sunlight to warm them and lots of aquatic plants to lay eggs on, but are highly adaptable and can be found in anything from marshes to ditches, ponds, streams, and large lakes. They can even put up with brackish water, where the salt content is higher than freshwater but not quite as salty as seawater. During the breeding season in spring and summer, the male frogs advertise with loud bursts of quacking croaks, almost as if they are laughing. They produce such an impressive sound by inflating two vocal sacs, which push out from each side of their head like giant bubbles. These air-filled sacks amplify their calls, so they can be heard clearly from some distance away. Once one male starts to call, his neighbours soon join in, until the whole wetland is filled with a chorus of cackling. Unlike common frogs, female marsh frogs don't lay eggs in large clumps on the surface. They deposit their eggs in smaller batches underwater, attached to plants. Another difference between them is that common frogs usually leave ponds soon after spawning, whereas marsh frogs stay close to the water all year. Marsh frogs aren't too picky about what they eat, so their diet depends on whatever prey is available. They mostly feed on invertebrates, but will also eat small fish, reptiles and amphibians - including other marsh frogs.

How to identify Marsh frogs are large (around 50% bigger than a common frog), with a rounded snout and warty skin that varies from olive to bright green, with irregular dark blotches. There is sometimes a bright green or yellow line running down the centre of the back. Their underside is creamy white. They also have a ridge running along each side of the body, starting just behind the eye. Marsh frogs don't have the dark 'mask' behind the eye, which is seen on common frogs. The marsh frog is part of a group of similar species sometimes known as 'green frogs' or 'water frogs', which can be tricky to separate. Other green frogs found in the UK are the edible frog, which is another introduced non-native species with a few scattered populations, and the pool frog - a native species which was driven to extinction in the UK, but has been successfully reintroduced to East Anglia. The marsh frog is generally larger than the other two species.

Common Carden Bumblebee (probably)

Canada Geese on the island in the northern lake

Pair of Tufted Ducks on northern lake.

Greylag Goose on northern lake

Northern lake and island

Bracket fungus

Marshy habitat

Ivy on a Bitch Tree


Crab apple, Malus sylvestris

A symbol of fertility and a forager's delight. Crab apple trees are associated with love and marriage and its small, hard fruits make an exquisite, jewel-coloured jelly.

One of the ancestors of the cultivated apple (of which there are more than 6,000 varieties), it can live to up to 100 years. Mature trees grow to around 10m in height. They have an irregular, rounded shape and a wide, spreading canopy. With greyish brown, flecked bark, trees can become quite gnarled and twisted, especially when exposed, and the twigs often develop spines. This 'crabbed' appearance may have influenced its common name, 'crab apple'. The crab apple is one of the few host trees to the parasitic mistletoe, Viscum album, and trees are often covered in lichens. Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris) - British Trees - Woodland Trust

Bugle and Lesser Calendine

Bugle, Ajuga reptans, from PlantLIfe Bugle (Ajuga reptans) (

This wild flower's deep blue flower spikes may be found carpeting damp glades and meadows.

An evergreen perennial, it spreads by means of long, leafy runners. Spikes of purplish-blue flowers grow to from dense mats of dark green leaves with purple highlights. It is sometimes confused with Selfheal, however on this plant the flowers are arranged more tightly at the top of the stem.

Where to find Bugle

In damp woods, hedge banks and meadows throughout the UK.

How's it doing?

Bugle continues to be common in its preferred habitats.

Did you know?

  • Bugle is much loved by bumblebees.

  • The ‘reptans’ in its Latin name is derived from ‘repto’, meaning ‘creeping, crawling’.

  • It was a popular ingredient in herbal remedies, particularly for stopping bleeding.

A pair of Mallards

Lesser Stitchwort Stellaria graminea

The Lesser Stitchwort is more delicate than its close relative Greater Stitchwort, with smaller leaves and flowers, even though the plant is generally taller.

How to identify Lesser Stitchwort

It has loose clusters of white flowers which are 15-18mm across. The flowers have five petals which are divided length-ways more than halfway with sepals behind that are the same length. The leaves, which grow in pairs, are bright green, narrow and stalk-less. The stem is smooth and square and reaches heights anywhere between 20cm and 90cm tall. The seeds of this plant are reddish-brown.

Where to find Lesser Stitchwort

Lesser Stitchwort will often be found growing alongside hedgerows, and on the edges of woodland, but its preferred habitat is dry meadows and grassy slopes.

Did you know?

  • A Lesser Stitchwort flower only lasts for 3 days but the plant continuously flowers throughout the summer months.

  • It is also known as Grass-Leaved Stitchwort and Grass-Like Starwort because its Latin name 'Graminea' translates as 'grass-like'.

  • The word Stitchwort dates back to the 1200's and as its name suggests this plant was an old remedy used to cure the common stitch!

A Blackbird - hiding!

A Blue Tit



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