Finding butterflies and the elusive nightingale at Chiddingfold Forest

Tuesday 7th June 2022 6:00 am

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A colourful comma butterfly

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Nightingales generally arrive in the second week of April and sing in the daytime. But the song becomes less frequent so that by the end of May, you may get less chance to hear it.

You need to be extremely lucky to see a nightingale. I have often stood within feet of them while they’re singing loudly and still not been able to see them!

They are becoming so rare here that disturbing them is definitely not recommended – just enjoy the amazing song, definitely their greatest feature!

I have not specified where to find the nightingales because they move around. The forestry operations continuously harvest the hazel to keep a mixed age structure so you will see some cleared areas usually with the cuttings pushed into edges, making the dense habitat the birds love.

Our walk should cross enough suitable territory to hear them.

Listen to the song on my website a few times so you recognise it ( It is nothing other than unmistakeable but you might confuse them at first with thrushes.

Other birds may be numerous: sparrowhawks can be seen, maybe even a goshawk if you’re lucky and good at identification! Garden warblers and whitethroats should be present and grey wagtails near the many streams.

Jays, nuthatches, treecreepers and all the tit family, of course, and thrushes, dunnocks, finches, wrens and blackbirds will all be there.

Butterflies will be present all summer, of course. Different species fly at different times so a second summer visit is worthwhile.

The walk starts from the Botany Bay entrance to the forest at Highstreet Green (see the map on the right).

Walk east – turn right facing the road with your back to the gate – along the road for about 300 yards and you will see a sign for Dunsfold Ryse on the right and three large, black, unwelcoming gates.

Go through the centre gate – it is a public bridleway – and very quickly you go through another farm-style gate. (Turn around and look for a post with a button on it to release the gate.)

Continue down the lovely bridleway past the pond and house etc and enjoy the parkland and avenue of oaks as you drop downhill.

There’s a good chance of seeing – or at least hearing – buzzards here and seeing wildflowers.

At the bottom join the track and there is a pretty stream.

Continue straight on uphill with fields to left and right. You now enter Lagfold Copse and continue in the same direction, through mixed woodland with old coppiced hazel on your right and more mature woodland on your left.

The land opens out on the left and gorse and pendulous sedge appear – it’s worth looking for birds and butterflies here.

At the crossroads turn right along a strong wide forest track (prohibiting most horse riding) lined with many primroses in early spring and fleabane in summer.

After about half a mile look on your left for a small sign to tell you that you have reached a butterfly conservation reserve called Oaken Wood. (If you see a major track coming from your left you have gone a bit too far).

Enter the reserve here on the small path and follow it carefully to the right through and under the trees and into a more open area – and you’ll soon be surrounded by broom!

In the summer, all along this area butterflies and insects should be seen, and just enjoy the path, flowers and birds that should be singing and enjoying the habitat.

Expect chiffchaffs, blackcaps and resident wrens, dunnocks and robins, thrushes (mistle thrush are present) and others.

The small path seems to come to an end abruptly at a small T-junction.

Turn right and then quickly turn left at a small path through some young trees, with a good landmark being a white poplar with its distinctive bark marked with lines of diamond-shaped pores, called lenticels.

This path then continues across the reserve through a damper section, passing some scrub woodland on both sides and ends up at another T-junction.

You could investigate further here by turning left and the open areas could be productive for butterflies, insects and some bird species.

If you don’t investigate there, our route turns right at the T-junction, heading to the main incoming track and passes some signs about the reserve.

Turn right at the track and head back towards the centre of the forest. At the T-junction turn left.

This next stretch I really enjoy as it passes through the forest and bends right gently downhill with a valley on the left with a thin covering of large trees but a rich understory. Then the track turns uphill again and curves around until it reaches another T-junction.

Turn right here and follow the route up and over the small hill with a bit of a clearing on top, soon after you will see a footpath sign to your left.

Leave the track here and follow the footpath through the mixed woodland.

The footpath will soon meet another track, where you need to turn right. It’s then a short walk to the next T-junction, where you turn left.

You will soon see a cleared patch on the right where the hazel has been harvested and some dense areas created at the back. Keep on the path down the hill to the bridge across the stream and up the other side, listening all the time.

It might be worth checking the stream for a grey wagtail – they often nest and feed under bridges.

Follow the track up the hill and around the bends and this will take you back to Botany Bay.

If you have failed to find a nightingale, for a last chance there is a fairly obvious path on the left after the bends you could take. It has a fence on the right covered in honeysuckle in places, but with dense hazel nearby.

If you follow this it eventually meets a footpath going the same way and reaches a rather tatty farm sort of place and leads you out to the road.

It’s then a short walk to the right to get back to Botany Bay where your car should be parked. If not, continue along Highstreet Green until you find your car.

This walk needs people to care about their environment. Access to the forest is permitted but could be withdrawn if people don’t act appropriately.

No fires, barbecues or litter, of course, and keep to the paths and tracks. Enjoy this wonderful place.

For more information on this and other walks, please visit


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