Size: 12ha

Ownership: Waverley Borough Council and private owners

Desigtion: SPA, SAC, SSSI

Restrictions: Open access land. please keep dogs on a lead.

Access: Bridleway off A287

Grid ref: SU 84914 39940

Part of a landscape network of connected sites managed by organisations including Waverley Council and the National Trust this site supports all six native reptile species after successful reintroductions of sand lizards and smooth snakes.

The reserve

Churt Valley and Plateau forms part of the Thursley, Hankley & Frensham Commons SSSI and typifies the lowland dry heathland found in the area but also features wetter areas of Heath leading onto the neighbouring Flashes and mature Scots Pine stands. The vegetation is dominated by ling or common heather, forming dense areas but with a varied age structure. Cross-leaved heather and wavy hair grass are also present, particularly in damper valley areas. Dwarf and common gorse are both found on the site, with birch forming scrubby vegetation in areas.

What to see

Home to all six native reptile species, Sand lizards and smooth snakes - the UK’s rarest native reptile species - have both been successfully reintroduced to Churt; sand lizards first, in 1982, followed by smooth snakes in 1987. The site is now actively managed to continue supporting these species. Sand lizards require open areas of bare sand in which they lay eggs, whilst smooth snakes inhabit mature heather stands with a mossy base.

Look out for sand lizards basking on sandy banks and south-facing slopes, particularly from April onwards, when the males are in full breeding colour. Viviparous lizards can also be seen in open areas within the heather and on dead wood, and adders basking at the foot of gorse bushes and birch trees.

Listen for the ringing ‘cheep cheep’ call of crossbills as they fly between mature pine trees extracting seeds from the cones. Their mandibles (parts of their beak) overlap to enable them to exploit this food source.

Arrive early to see a haze of dew-jewelled spiders’ webs catching the low morning sun.

Photo copyright Gillian Pullinger