Size: 29ha

Ownership: Ministry of Defence

Designation: SPA, SSSI

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

Access: Via Liss Forest Carpark

Grid ref: SU 78161 29439

Situated in the Woolmer Forest SSSI, Palmers Ball supports two of our rare reptile species: an indigenous population of smooth snakes, and a thriving population of reintroduced sand lizards, as well as several species of rare heathland birds.

The reserve

Palmers Ball is located in the south west corner of the Woolmer Forest SSSI, and covers approximately 29 hectares. It is fairly typical of the lowland dry heathland habitats that make up the SSSI, with a vegetative community dominated by dwarf shrubby plants such as common heather (or ‘ling’), bell heather and dwarf gorse. The site is bordered by stands of mature pine, and several mature trees are scattered across the site. There are also some small areas of birch scrub.

Four reptile species are found on Palmers Ball: the common (or viviparous) lizard, adder, sand lizard and smooth snake. The sand lizards were reintroduced by ARC as part of a major conservation programme for this rare reptile, and have successfully re-established at this site. The site is also designated as a Special Protection Area, in recognition of its important birds, including the Dartford warbler, nightjar and woodlark.

Heathland fires

Fires pose a perennial risk to heathland habitats. Many of the plant species found on dry heathlands are evergreen and to overcome the risk of desiccation, their leaves contain numerous waxes and oils; all of which are highly flammable. Heathland soils also tend to be very well draining, leading to an exceptionally dry habitat, and in this environment, a single spark can quickly become a raging fire, which can be difficult to control and ultimately disastrous for wildlife. As well as a serious threat to people and property, heath fires kill reptiles that cannot escape, or leaves them stranded in an inhospitable habitat, with no vegetative cover and vulnerable to predation.

In 1999, a wildfire destroyed Palmers Ball, decimating the sand lizard population. However, after taking measures to reduce the risk from future fires, sand lizards were once again reintroduced in 2004 and 2005, and remain present on the site today.

What to see

  • Smooth snakes basking in open gaps in the heather, on mossy ground. Often these are most visible just before shedding their skin.
  • Heath tiger beetles (Cicindela sylvatica) patrolling the sandy traces in August. These impressive beetles, growing up to 18 mm, are extremely rare nationally, and confined to a few sites on heathland in Southern England.