• Sim Elliott

RSPB The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire: heath and woodland birds. 16.04.22

Updated: Apr 18

I took the train from Brighton to Sandy; a Thameslink train to London Blackfriars, where I changed to a Thameslink train to Peterborough. RSPB The Lodge is very close to Sandy Station.


The Lodge is the national headquarters of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The RSPB administers a 545-acre plot of woodlands and sandy heath with trails and wheelchair access to hides for bird and animal observation.


The story of The Lodge really begins in 1851 when the estate was purchased by Captain Sir William Peel. Before Peel's arrival, the estate was mostly open heathland. Peel began to plant large plantations of trees and built a cottage in Swiss style. The cottage now serves as the gatehouse and shop.


Captain Peel died of smallpox during the Indian Mutiny of 1858 and the estate passed to his brother Arthur Wellesley Peel. It was Arthur Peel who built The Lodge, the main house, in 1870. The land was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence in WWII and used as a storage depot for munitions. In 1961 the RSPB bought The Lodge estate and opened it to the public. The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire (britainexpress.com)


Heathland is a key habitat at The Lodge, home to breeding hobbies, ravens, common lizards, green tiger beetles and other invertebrates of bare, sandy soil. RSPB is restoring it for breeding nightjars and woodlarks and it is already one of the best inland sites for natterjack toads. In winter, large flocks of wintering thrushes use the acid grassland of Sandy Ridge and its scrubby margins. On the north side of the B1042 we manage an area of farmland for wintering farmland bird populations, together with parts of a sand quarry for their rare invertebrates, lichens and sand martin colony.


The hilly, oak-dominated woodlands offer a rich natural experience to those exploring The Lodge’s network of winding trails, with sunny rides and glades where spotted flycatchers catch food for their broods, and a developing under-storey is alive with bird song and insect life. Standing and fallen deadwood is an important microhabitat, used by deadwood insects, occasionally the scarce lesser-spotted woodpeckers, and many of the 600 fungi species found on site. The Lodge Nature Reserve, Bedfordshire - The RSPB


Like all heath and woodland reserves you have to keep your eyes open and be patient if you want to see good birds and you need to look up, into tree canopies and the sky. I am so used to estuary and harbour reserves where the birds are in front of you (albeit it at some distance. Initially I was quite frustrated as I wasn't seeing many birds but when I got my eye in I saw some good things.


Some rather exotic sheep in a field on the way to the reserve. I think they are Soay sheep; the breed originates from the island of Soay in the St Kilda Atchipelago


The sightings board.


Birds seen: Chiffchaffs, Nuthatches, Blackcaps, Robins, Buzzards, Red Kite, Kestrels, Blackbirds, Dunnocks, Carrion Crows, Greylag Geese, Mallards, Stock Doves, Wrens and Red-Legged Partridge. Not photographed: Blue Tots, Great Tits, Magpies, Goldfinches.


All the photographs are in chronological order.


All text in italics are quotations, sources given.


The access path into the reserve from the road.


A Chiffchaff


Another Chiffchaff with an insect


A Robin


A Buzzard


Trail Map, from: the-lodge-trail-guide.pdf (rspb.org.uk)


The Nuthatch Trail


A Blackbird


A Chiffchaff


A Crow's nest


A Robin


A Nuthatch


Ponds


The Lodge Gardens


A Greylag Geese and goslings on the pond in the Lodge gardens


The RSPB Lodge Garden, east of Sandy, has terraces, has an Arts and Crafts style garden with a terrace facing the reserve. There is a canal and a walled garden that have interesting adaptations to support more wild life.


The Lodge itself, which is now the headquarters of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the RSBP, was built in 1870. The client was the son of Sir Robert Peel, a former Prime Minister and the father of Britain's police force. The designer was the 'Tudorbethan' architect Henry Clutton. The garden had a typically Victorian layout with lawns, specimen trees and shrubs. In 1934 the Lodge was bought by the chairman of the London Brick Company Sir Malcolm Stewart and he commissioned an Arts and Crafts garden. The council valuer described it as follows 'Very well laid out grounds' a 'pretty terrace in front of house' a 'good walled kitchen garden', 'a tennis lawn' and 'a nice approach drive through rough bracken and trees'.


In the their [RSPB} words 'The woodland, heath and acid grassland along the Greensand Ridge cover 180 hectares, and are being restored to form the largest stretch of heathland in Bedfordshire.' The Lodge Garden remains an example of the Arts and Crafts style garden but is also being managed as a wildlife garden. The RSBP Lodge Garden (gardenvisit.com)



Mallard


The Quarry Trail: The Old Quarry.


From the leaflet "Lower Greensand. The Lodge. Sandy Warren Quarry". Bedfordshire & Luton Geology Group:


In the Lower Cretaceous, while dinosaurs walked on dry land, Bedfordshire was a sandy shallow seaway. Tides and strong currents moved the sands to and fro, rivers and streams washed tree trunks and branches from the cycad forests into the sea.


The sandstones show laminations, parallel layers that mark slight differences in the sands and sediments. Animals that lived in these sands during the Lower Cretaceous would have burrowed down through the layers, so we’d see their burrows in cross-section today. The holes drilled horizontally into the layers of the cliff face are nests dug by solitary wasps and other modern insects.


Sitting on the Greensand, with its valuable sands and sandstones, Sandy Warren is surrounded by quarries. Sandy Heath Quarry is still working, but others such as the coprolite1 excavations towards Potton – and two old quarries at the Lodge itself – have been abandoned. The best of the two quarries on site lies behind the main building; the ‘Quarry Trail’ leads you past a cliff displaying beds of coarse sandstone that make up a unit called the Lower Greensand.


These sands were laid down in a seaway around 100 million years ago, a period known as the Lower Cretaceous. This was an exciting episode in Bedfordshire’s geological history: after 40 million years as dry land, the area was suddenly flooded by the sea. The water burst across what is now southern England, forming a narrow channel running southwest from the Wash, across Bedfordshire, and onward to the Isle of Wight. This was part of a world-wide event caused by global warming, for sea-level continued to rise and flooded much of the Earth. blgg_sandy_quarry.pdf (bedfordshiregeologygroup.org.uk)


Crow


Stock Dove


A Brimstone Butterfly


Green Tiger Beetle


The Buzzard Trail


I saw a .... Buzzard!


and lots of interesting leaves - this leaf I thought, initially, from a distance, was a bird!


Ponds


Another Robin


A Kestrel


The Woodpecker Trail.


A saw Nuthatches on the Nuthatch Trail; I saw Buzzards on the Buzzard Trail; but I saw no Woodpeckers on the Woodpecker Trail


but I did see this beautiful Peacock Butterfly and


and a beautiful Red Kite


and lots of trees that Woodpeckers might like


A Dunnock


An interesting brick wall


Another Buzzard


Another Chiffchaff


A Wren


A Robin


Forget-Me-Nots


Woods and Heath


A Bluebell


A Blackcap


A Red-Legged Partridge


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