Size: 144ha

Ownership: Ministry of Defence

Designation: SPA, SSSI

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

Access: various gates along perimeter track

Grid ref: SU 78542 31926

Woolmer Forest is one of the largest and most diverse areas of lowland heathland in Hampshire, outside of the New Forest, and considered to be the most important area of heathland in the Weald. It is home to 12 of our native species of amphibian and reptile.

The reserve

Woolmer Forest straddles the Hampshire, West Sussex boarder and comprises a diverse mix of lowland dry heathland and acid grassland. The heathland is characterised by a dominance of ling or common heather, mixed with bell heather and dwarf gorse, with gorse and small birch trees providing areas of scrub, whilst more mature birch trees and Scots pine trees pepper the landscape. The areas of acid grassland comprise purple moor grass, wavy hair grass and sheep’s fescue.

Queen’s Bank, to the north of the site, provides some varied topography and is named after the location where Queen Anne stopped to rest and inspect her herd of red deer in 1710 whilst travelling from London to Southampton. Today this area provides important south-facing banks where reptiles can bask in the early morning sun.

Amphibian and Reptile assemblages

Woolmer is unique in Britain for supporting 12 out of our 13 native UK amphibian and reptile species. Of particular importance is the natterjack toad population, which is the last of the original inland heathland populations of this rare toad in the UK. It is therefore essential that Woolmer forest continues to be managed in a sympathetic way for natterjack toads to ensure their persistence at this important site.

What to see

  • Twelve of the thirteen amphibian and reptile species native to the UK can be found on Woolmer. Listen for the distinctive chorus of adult male natterjack toads hoping to attract females in the evenings during April and May.
  • From March onwards, watch out for male Dartford warblers singing their scratchy song from the top of gorse bushes.
  • Stunning views over Woolmer forest from the top of Queen’s Bank.

Blackmoor Reserve

Blackmoor is 41.76 hectares in extent and forms a part of Woolmer Forest SSSI (at 1,293.93). Woolmer is ‘considered the most important area of heathland in the Weald of southern England’ according to Natural England. Woolmer Forest is a Natura 2000 site, the latter combining designated Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protected Areas (SPA). Formerly Blackmoor was a stand-alone SSSI (designated 1979) but was merged with Woolmer Forest (designated 1971) to form unit 1 of a larger Woolmer Forest SSSI following renotification under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Gilbert White, in his Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789), described Woolmer Forest as being seven miles in length and two and a half wide and consisting ‘entirely of sand covered with heath and fern but it is somewhat diversified with hills and dales, without having one standing tree in the whole extent’.  It was thus approximately 4,500 hectares of open heathland converting White’s measurements.

The Military came to Woolmer in the mid Nineteenth Century setting up a Training Area over much of what is now Woolmer Forest Site of Special Scientific Interest including part of Blackmoor (hence the hilltop Bronze Age barrow on the boundary with Blackmoor Estate land is referred to as ‘Gunsite Barrow’ commemorating a time when a live-firing range existed across the main Petersfield Road!).  The Training Area remains to this day though not on Blackmoor.

Blackmoor was also the location of the historic Cranmer Pond (Cranmer = Crane’s Mere, the pond of the cranes, whereas the nearby Woolmer Pond is probably derived from Wolf’s Mere).  Cranmer pond was largely drained and modified in the Twentieth Century but a remnant pool still supports interesting bog species such as bladderwort (Utricularia sp.) and raft spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus).

In 2016 archaeologists from the People of the Heath Project confirmed the presence of a further 6 previously undiscovered Bronze Age barrows on Blackmoor adjacent to Gunsite Barrow, showing that this area was an important part of the Bronze Age inhabitants’ landscape. The People of the Heath Project regarded it as ‘rather surprising to find a totally unreported [barrow] cemetery in the region’.  It is believed to date from the Early Bronze Age, circa 2200 – 1500 BC. Standing in a line on a low ridge on Blackmoor in an open landscape, they would have been visible for several miles. Trees had hidden the barrows in recent times.

Pond work for Natterjack reintroduction

Buckleymere was created in 2017 by John Buckley and Carew ponds 1 and 2 were created in 2019 with grant from County Councillor Adam Carew, all in preparation for a Natterjack reintroduction.

Two small saucer ponds of c.10m diameter were created new in 2021 (Curry North and Curry South) using Section 106 money from the South Downs National Park Authority.  Surrounding willow carr was simultaneously cleared with an excavator and bare wet ground created. 

Natterjack toad reintroduction project commenced in 2021 supported by SDNPA S106 money.  This supports the monitoring programme undertaken by ARC’s contractor, John Buckley.


Grazing with Pedigree Longhorn cattle was introduced in 2020.  Purchase of the cattle was grant aided by the South Downs National Park’s Heathlands Reunited Project.