Cooper's Hill

Cooper's Hill


The main objective of management is to retain open heathland over the greater part of the site. Invasion by bracken and trees threatens to destroy this habitat. Bracken, although an attractive plant, allows little else to survive and management involves cutting or pulling the bracken regularly where it is invading the heather. Birch, oak and pine trees are also attractive but they have increased in numbers enormously and are still doing so. To prevent the heather from being destroyed it is necessary to remove tree seedlings regularly and to remove some older trees. Traditionally trees have been prevented from taking over heathland by the action of grazing animals. In an area like Cooper's Hill, where grazing is not possible, management work must achieve the same thing if we are not to lose this beautiful and unusual habitat.

How to Get There by Public Transport

Bus: Bedfordshire Bus Info line: 01234 228337, Mon - Fri 8.30am - 5pm
Travel Line: 0870 6082608, 7 days a week, 7am -10pm
Train: National Rail Enquiries: 08457 484950 24 hour service
Click here for the National Rail Enquiries website

How to Get There by Car

Ampthill is 8 miles south of Bedford on the B530 and 1.5 miles north of Flitwick, on the junction of the A5120 and A507.
There are parking lay-bys on Woburn Road

Start/Finish Point

The site is accessed from Woburn Road past the Rugby Club or from Station Road, Ampthill.

Access and General Information

Surface types: You will walk across a range of surfaces from hard but variable surface with loose, variable sized stones to sandy surfaces.
Linear Gradient: There are slopes of between 1:6-1:9 and between 1:10-1:13.
Cross Falls: There are cross falls of 1:9 or steeper at Point 3.
Width Restriction: There are three points with a minimum width of 700-800mm.
Steps: Look out for prominent tree roots throughout the walk.
Barriers: None recorded.
Public Toilets: Located at Ampthill Park and in Ampthill itself.
Picnic Tables: None recorded.
Refreshments: There are pubs and shops in Ampthill.
Seats: None recorded.

The Nature Trail Point 1

The hillside shows the change from open heath to birch woodland with thick bracken. The woodland is important for providing a variety of habitats, but it must not be allowed to take over the open heath. Where the hillside is dominated by birch trees and bracken little else gets a chance to grow.
Without bracken clearance there is a danger that much of Cooper's Hill will become like this, with no heather and few other plants. Look out for the brackets of the birch polypore fungus on dead branches of the birch trees.

Point 2

As you walk along the main path you can see the best open area of heather on Cooper's Hill, with clumps of gorse and broom near the edges. This area was burned in a large accidental fire in 1976, but fortunately it has recovered very well. Fires are a serious hazard, because they frequently allow bracken and grasses to flourish at the expense of the heather. You may notice small areas damaged by more recent fires in some parts of the reserve. Bracken clearance is carried out here each year.

Point 3

Oak trees are abundant in this area and the heather is less vigorous. Many of the oak leaves have large numbers of spangle galls, caused by wasps laying eggs in the leaves. The path is badly eroded here, due partly to the pressure of many visitors and partly to rain washing the loose sandy soil down the hill. Management work is planned to limit further erosion. In summer watch out for sand wasps flying very low over the sand. This unusual species of wasp requires open sand in which to dig burrows and the heathland habitat is ideal for it. You may also see or hear the noisy green tiger beetles.

Point 4

The hillside has abundant heather but also oak, birch and pine trees of various sizes. It is important that the number of trees is controlled here so that the heather remains, with a variety of habitats for animals. The relatively open vegetation and the sunny south-facing aspect make it suitable for lizards and a wide range of insects in summer.

Point 5

The small plantation of pines is the result of a bequest from an Ampthill resident. Beneath the pines the heather is heavily shaded, its growth is reduced and it becomes very straggly and sparse. Behind the pine plantation is Ampthill's War Memorial and the lines of lime trees forming the Alameda walk. Some cultivated plants have spread into the edge of the reserve here.

Point 6

Notice that the heather is sparser and less healthy here. Wavy hair-grass is taking over in places because it can grow in the shade of the trees. Recent management work has attempted to halt these changes by felling some trees to give more light for the heather, and by closing an unofficial path to reduce soil erosion and encourage heather growth.

Point 7

The slope here still has a good cover of heather, but succession to woodland is beginning to take place. Management work will be carried out to control the trees, and experimental cutting of a small area of heather has been carried out to stimulate new growth. On the opposite side of the bridleway is a large piece of birch woodland, most of which is outside the Local Nature Reserve.

Why a Nature Reserve?

Cooper's Hill is a lowland heathland of national importance. Throughout Europe the area of heathland has declined dramatically during this century and it is now one of Britain's most threatened habitats. The site has been designated a site of Special Scientific Interest by English Nature and was declared a Local Nature Reserve in 1980 by Bedfordshire County Council. Owned by Ampthill Town Council the heathland is managed by a group including local volunteers and representatives from Town and County Councils, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust, Bedfordshire Natural History Society and English Nature. All management requires the approval of the owners and English Nature.

What can I do to protect Cooper's Hill?

When you visit the reserve keep to the footpaths and discourage other people from doing the things that may cause damage such as dumping litter, riding horses or bikes on the footpaths or being careless with matches.
Help with the voluntary work parties organised by the Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust.
Join the Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust and the Bedfordshire Natural History Society.
For more details please contact: Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust, Priory Country Park, Barkers Lane, Bedford MK41 9SH. Tel: Bedford (01234) 364213
Bedfordshire Natural History Society, 28 Chestnut Hill, Linslade, Leighton Buzzard. Tel: (01525) 378245