The land you see in front of you is called Hollybush, 6 hectares of semi-improved and acid grassland, surrounded by oak and cherry woodland. It contains the Readshill Grassland County Wildlife Site.
The thin, sandy soils of the Greensand Ridge create a nutrient-poor and free-draining environment which provides the base for the acid grassland. The semi-improved grassland across the rest of the site also contains interesting flora.
History of the site
Adjacent to Readshill Plantation, the layout of this area has remained largely unchanged since the mid nineteenth century. However, the area of acid grassland gradually deteriorated, as scrub, small oaks and sweet chestnut, and brambles encroached and covered the site. By 2003, little remained of the acid grassland and its rare flora. Between 2008 and 2010, local volunteers and The Greensand Trust worked to remove most of the scrub and small trees that were covering the County Wildlife Site. Restoring the area to a mosaic of bare sand, acid grassland, and minimal scrub and bracken has allowed some of the key acid grassland species to recover. However, continued work by volunteers is needed to prevent the bracken and scrub becoming too well established again, as this outcompetes and traps leaf letter, enriching the soil and preventing the growth of acid grassland species.
In 2019-2020, with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Clophill Parish Council, the site was fenced, to allow the area to be grazed. Conservation grazing is vital to manage the grassland and prevent the build-up of scrub and species that would out-compete the rarer flora.
Why is the site important?
Hollybush is important, and part was designated as a County Wildlife Site, as it supports a rich array of acid grassland species, including sheep’s bit, corn spurrey, haresfoot clover, and broom.
Sheep’s bit is particularly rare, with Hollybush being only one of two sites in Bedfordshire where it can be found. They can be found between May and September with their rounded, blue flower heads. Sheep’s bit is highly visible under UV light, which makes it attractive to pollinating insects that can see different light spectrums to humans. The patterns and colours visible under UV guide them to the pollen and nectar.
What wildlife can be found here
The sand found along the Greensand Ridge is the ideal home for invertebrates such as solitary bees and wasps. Look for their burrows in patches of bare sand, these burrows can be a metre long with many side burrows leading to brood chambers. In these, female bee wolves lay a single egg on paralysed honey bees that are hunted and carried into the camber. The larvae then feed on the honey bees before emerging after hibernation. Pantaloon bees can also be found at Hollybush, with their characteristics large pollen brushes on their hind legs.
You can explore Hollybush using the public footpath and the permissive footpath that take you along the site boundary. Please note, there are animals grazing so please stick to the marked routes.