Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve (or, to give it its full title, The Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve and Jeffery Harrison Visitor Centre) is an area of lakes, river, ponds, seasonal pools, reed beds, marshland, grassland and woodland covering 73.7 hectares (182 acres) on the northern edge of Sevenoaks, Kent. Managed by Kent Wildlife Trust, it is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, principally because of its breeding birds but also because of its growing botanical and entomological interest.
Address: Bradbourne Vale Road, Sevenoaks, Kent TN13 3DH (tel 01732 456407)
Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve is of historic interest as the UK’s first example of the development of gravel pits for nature conservation. Its development began in 1956 while commercial gravel working was still being carried out by the site’s owner, Redland Gravel Ltd.
The project was masterminded by Jeffery Harrison (1922–78), a local family doctor, naturalist and wildfowler, after whom the reserve’s visitor centre is named. He began the work on behalf of the Wildfowlers’ Association of Great Britain and Ireland, and for the first three years the main activity was to shoot as many local ducks as possible and analyse their diet so as to devise a food crop planting programme to attract more wildfowl.
Planting began in 1960, and in the same year the WildfowI Trust became involved, with the site becoming the first joint project for the two organisations.
Dr Harrison carried out much of the development work himself, helped by his father James, his wife Pamela, other family members and volunteers. They landscaped former gravel workings and flooded them with water from the River Darent (which flows through the north of the site) to create lakes and ponds. They replaced large areas of gravel and sand with woodland, with thousands of trees planted by hand.
In 1966, the site was designated as an SSSI, and in 1971 Dr Harrison’s work was recognised with an OBE for services to ornithology and conservation.
After Dr Harrison’s death in his fifties, his widow Pamela founded the Jeffery Harrison Memorial Trust to continue the management of the reserve, and in 2004 she was made MBE for services to conservation in Kent. In 2006 the reserve’s management passed to the Kent Wildlife Trust and the memorial trust was discontinued.
The reserve’s habitat is almost totally man-made, but after more than 60 years it now looks natural, and its combination of wetland and woodland enables it to support a diverse community of plants, fungi and animals.
Areas of the reserve have been left to mature and reach old age, with plenty of dead wood habitat for fungi and insects. In other sections the trees are coppiced to create open areas and denser woodland with its own community of plants and animals.
In the reserve’s early years, a wide range of wildfowl food plants were introduced. These included Alder (Alnus glutinosa), Silver Birch (Betula spp), bramble (Rubus spp), Bur-reed (Sparganium spp), Reed Grass (Glyceria maxima), Glaucous Club Rush (Scirpus tabernaemontani), Sea Club Rush (Scirpus maritima), Spike Rush (Eleocharis palustris), Sedges (Carex spp), Mare's Tail (Hippurus vulgaris), Amphibious Bistort (Polygonum amphibium), Fennel-leaved Pondweed (Potomogeton pectinatus), Curled Pondweed (Potomogeton crispus) and Stoneworts (Chara spp). These species may not all continue to thrive, but plants described more recently as being of particular note include Small Cud-weed (Filago minima), Dwarf Elder (Sambucus ebulus) and Slender Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus angustissimus).
Near the visitor centre are “elemental gardens”, which feature beds of wild flowers and specially-built habitats to encourage insect life (including the world’s largest bee house).
Birds The deeper lakes attract a wide range of wildfowl; occasional rarities have included Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck and Ferruginous Duck. The muddy edges of the shallower waters attract passage waders, which in the past have included Grey Plover, Little Stint, Temminck’s Stint, Pectoral Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Purple Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank and Wood Sandpiper. Lapwing and Little Ringed Plover breed at the reserve.
The woodland and reed beds attract a range of passerines, including breeding warblers in summer and flocks of siskins and redpolls in winter.
Resident near-passerines include all three British species of woodpecker. In summer Sand Martin have a significant colony in a sand face towards the south of the site.
A birds site list for the reserve can be found here.
Other vertebrates Can anyone provide information about the reserve’s mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish?
Invertebrates Thirteen species of dragonfly and damselfly have been recorded at the site, including the sparsely distributed Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea), which lives only in deciduous woodland near to lakes and ponds. The site also apparently features the Glow Worm (Lampyris noctiluca).
Car — The reserve is not far from the M25 and M26 motorways. From M25 Junction 5, take the motorway spur towards Sevenoaks and almost immediately fork left on the A25 Westerham Road. At a mini-roundabout, go left on a short stretch of dual carriageway and then right on Maidstone Road (still A25). After passing under a railway bridge you are on Bradbourne Vale Road. Look out for the reserve entrance on the left.
If approaching from the east on the M26, turn off left on the A20 at Junction 2a and after half a mile turn right on the A25 through Borough Green, Oldbury and Seal. Half a mile after crossing the A225, look out for the reserve entrance on the right.
Public transport — The visitor centre is about a mile from Bat & Ball Station and slightly further from Sevenoaks Station. Several bus routes pass along Bradbourne Vale Road.
The reserve is open daily from dawn to dusk, with free admission. Parts of the reserve have restricted access and other areas may be closed from time to time for management or wildlife reasons. The reserve has a number of waymarked trails, but because some of these pass close to deep water, under-16s must be accompanied by an adult.
Parking at the reserve is free, but overnight parking is not allowed. Bicycle racks are provided near the visitor centre but cyclists are not allowed to ride elsewhere on the reserve. Running and jogging around the reserve is also prohibited. Picnicking is forbidden other than in the designated picnic area.
Guide dogs are allowed on the reserve, but dogs are otherwise restricted to the car park and picnic area, where they must be on a lead.
Visitors in wheelchairs have access to three of the hides, most of the nature trail and the visitor centre (apart from one first floor display).
Facilities include seven bird hides and a visitor centre with a shop and cafe, open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 4pm. The cafe serves hot and cold drinks, sandwiches and a selection of snacks. The shop sells local produce, bird food and accessories and a range of binoculars and telescopes. Toilets include disabled facilities. Within the visitor centre are displays illustrating the prehistory and history of the site, the creation of the reserve, its habitats and the wildlife they support.
A £2 million new visitor centre — a “nature and wellbeing centre” — is to be built, designed by the winner of a competition run by the Royal Institute of British Architects. Proposals had to be environmentally sustainable, have a minimal carbon footprint and address the sensitivities of the site.
Much of this information has been cobbled together from various internet sources by someone who has not visited the site but thinks that it deserves a detailed description on the London Bird Club Wiki. If you are familiar with the site, please correct, expand and/or update this information.