Size: 39ha

Ownership: Ministry of Defence

Designation: SSSI

Restrictions: Access only permissible when red flags are not flying. Please keep dogs on a lead.

Access: Gate 13 off Mytchett Place Road

Grid Ref: SU 91785 55570

Constituting part of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area, Ash Ranges forms the largest remaining area of lowland heath in the London Basin. As a result, it supports rare and endangered species which have evolved as heathland specialists.

The reserve

Ash ranges forms the largest area of dry heathland remaining in the London Basin, and provides an excellent example of lowland heathland which was once continuous throughout large areas of the country. Consequentially, the site has been designated as a Special Area of Conservation – a European designation indicating its importance.

Two main habitat types exist on the site: European dry heath, dominated by ling, or common heather, with bell heather, dwarf gorse, birch scrub and Scots pine; and Northern Atlantic wet heaths, typified by cross leaved heath, deer-grass and species of sphagnum moss. The varied topography of the site not only leads to south-facing banks ideal for reptile basking, but also provides stunning views over the surrounding countryside.

Heathland fragmentation

Heathlands were once widespread throughout the south of the UK. However, poor management, afforestation, agricultural expansion and other development has led to a high rate of attrition, with estimates suggesting that over 90% of heathlands have been lost in Surrey since 1830. Native heathland specialists, such as the smooth snake, sand lizard, nightjar and Dartford warbler, now rely on the continued management of the remaining areas to survive. Large areas of intact heathland such as that at Ash Ranges can therefore provide a vital refuge for such species.

What to see

  • Smooth snakes can be very inconspicuous, but are occasionally to be seen basking in open areas within mature heather. Often they wrap their tails around heather and only expose the upper parts of their body to the sun. 
  • A host of invertebrate specialities such as silver studded blue butterflies, and green tiger beetles.
  • In the summer, the migratory hobby can be seen flying over the ranges, searching for prey such as dragonflies. Often, they can be seen feeding ‘on the wing’ after capturing a dragonfly in flight.