Letcome Regis

Letcombe Valley Community Nature Reserve

The Letcombe Valley Community Nature Reserve extends to about 7.5 hectares (25 acres), lying between the road from Letcombe Regis to Letcombe Bassett and a public footpath that runs parallel to the road.  One end is close to the centre of Letcombe Regis: there are entrances to it from the bridleway at the top of South Street, through Richmond Retirement Village and from the footpath to Letcombe Bassett.

The central feature of the reserve is a chalk stream (the Letcombe Brook), a rare habitat of which there are only two in Oxfordshire and 161 UK-wide. Numerous springs create "calcareous flushes" (moist chalky areas) along the stream margins: these habitats can attract a range of rare invertebrate species, particularly specialist flies.  The clear waters of the stream are home to some unusual and interesting wildlife including bullhead fish, brook lamprey - a primitive jawless fish, brown trout and water vole. Kingfishers are regularly seen by the stream, and little egrets have visited each winter since 2007. The reserve contains a 500-metre stretch of the Letcombe Brook, running through a steep-sided valley, which probably formed at the end of the last Ice Age, when the chalky ground (now porous) was frozen.  At the Letcombe Regis end the stream was dammed about 100 years ago, to provide hydro-electric power to the Manor house.  While the stream and its banks are damp, wooded, and shady, the higher ground comprises well-drained chalky soils. Managed as chalk grassland, it provides a very different but important habitat for a wide range of wildflowers and the insects, particularly butterflies, that depend on them.

The Reserve occupies part of the land which belonged to the most recent of Letcombe Regis's three manor houses, the others being The Old Manor and Antwick's Manor.  It was previously known as Benhams, and was bought in 1851 by Thomas Parr, a leading racehorse owner and trainer.  It was sold in 1885 to Stephen Silver, who purchased the Manorial Rights and renamed it the Manor.

There is a story that a later owner, an Edwardian lady, was so shocked by two naked statues in the grounds that she ordered them to be sunk in the lake. In 1982, when the lake was dredged, the 6-foot high white marble statue of a man was found - a 2nd century Roman statue of the hero Hercules, which was later sold for £28,000. His female companion could not be traced, but there used to be tales of a woman in white who haunted the banks of the Letcombe Brook after drowning herself for love.

After the Second World War, Letcombe Manor became a centre for scientific research and in 1968 it was renamed Letcombe Laboratory.  (There is a story that the Letcombe Laboratory was visited by a ghostly but friendly nun.)  It was then owned  by the Agricultural Research Council, and its main area of study was the plant root system.  In 1985 it was acquired by Dow Agricultural Products (later Dow Elanco), and used mainly for research on fungicides.  Dow Elanco established a Nature Reserve in an area of the site bordering the Letcombe Brook that was relatively undisturbed, and developed a management plan for improving it for both wildlife and amenity.  A signposted Nature Trail was laid out and opened to the public.  The Laboratory closed in 2002, and the main part of the site redeveloped as Richmond Retirement Village.  As part of the planning gain to the local community, this part remained a nature reserve with public access.   Following agreement for the reserve to be managed by the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) on a 50-year lease, it was opened in March 2010.

Since then an active group of local volunteers (Friends of the Reserve) has been working hard to remove scrub from chalk grassland, replace old uneven steps and level and surface footpaths, install handrails and nest boxes. Funding from BIG Lottery Fund: Awards for All has enabled the replacement of dilapidated stiles and gates with high mobility kissing gates. The main route into the reserve has been levelled and surfaced to ensure that a wide range of users can visit the reserve year round.

Events are held to observe and identify bats, birds, and moths with guidance from local experts, and an annual Family Wildlife Discovery Day.

For more information please go to the drop down menu select Local Information and then Friends of Letcombe Valley Nature Reserve.

For further information please use the contact form.