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Christmas week walk

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A winter walk that combines wildlife with history

Bowdown Woods Picture: Rob Appleby
Bowdown Woods Picture: Rob Appleby

IF you head south away from the Nature Discovery Centre you can begin a six-mile circular walk through the West Berkshire Living Landscape, which features wonderful wildlife and amazing local history.

Living Landscapes involve landowners, farmers, councils, businesses, individuals and communities working with the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust to make more space for nature and enable more people to enjoy it.

A landscape-scale approach to wildlife conservation, by reconnecting habitats to create functioning landscapes, is the only way to halt and reverse biodiversity losses.

The Living Landscape contains at least 97 threatened or endangered species such as the Dartford warbler, nightjar and woodlark.

At the Thatcham Reedbeds look out for the bloody-nosed beetle that gets its name from emitting a blood-like substance from its mouth when it feels threatened.

If you go over a bridge at the canal towpath and pass the Bull’s Lock you can follow an uphill track which takes you to Bowdown Woods nature reserve with its majestic, ancient oak trees. The bark of oak was once used in the tanning of leather and acorns were fed to the pigs.

Today, there are more than 300 species of fungi in Bowdown Woods. Look out for the yellowy sulphur knight with its unpleasant gas-like smell.

A little further on you will get to the Old Bomb Site. Formerly a wartime munition site this military structure was demolished, with the remaining bricks providing shelter for lizards, snakes and small mammals.

If it's open stop off at Greenham Common’s Control Tower. The present tower, which was built in 1951, is now a refurbished Grade II-listed building with outstanding views across what was, at 12,000 feet, one of the longest runways in Western Europe.

You can resume your walk at the flagpole, going east along the common on a wide gravel track. Here you may see the rare Exmoor ponies grazing, which help to manage the heathland habitat.

As you follow the path, look out for black and white lapwings circling over the pools.

Cross the River Kennet to Chamberhouse Farm, where evidence of late Bronze Age activity has been found. The farm is also reputed to have been the site of a late medieval castle.

As you continue along to the canal you will get to Monkey Marsh Lock, which has been restored as an old traditional ‘turf-sided’ lock using modern materials.

South of the lock you will find a Second World War pillbox, a small concrete fort so called because of its shape.

The final stretch of the walk takes you back to the Nature Discovery Centre via Widmead Lock.

West Berkshire Living Landscape: www.bbowt.org.uk/wildlife/living-landscapes/west-berkshire-living-landscape

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