Bentley Priory

 

Steve Bolsover & Peter Peretti

 

Bentley Priory nature reserve is the only biological SSSI in the London Borough of Harrow and is a Metropolitan Site of importance for nature conservation.It was the gardens of the former stately home of Bentley Priory and now comprises about one third each of woodland, grass and pasture.Management of the nature reserve aims to diversify the habitats as well as maintaining existing ones.The reserve has a band of compacted Claygate Beds gravels through the middle, with Summerhouse Lake bedded in gravel and Furze Heath in the northern part is on Quaternary gravels.There are a number of springs and streams, with water emerging from the gravels onto the Claygate Beds and London Clay.Boot Pond does not have a stream inlet but takes the drainage fro Old Lodge Meadow.

 

For management cattle are used, firstly Dexters, then 40 head of longhorns and now 30 cows.Mowing and, particularly, carting away would be prohibitively expensive.Some funding is received from Harrow Council but management largely relies on voluntary work. As well as the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), General Electric has corporate workdays providing voluntary labour.

 

Boot Pond is a big problem because of youths tipping material into it.It has totally deteriorated from what it was like 10-15 years ago.Water is coffee-coloured and no light gets through.Even so, a survey done 3 weeks ago found 9 species of dragonflies.The Dell is cut every year.There used to be a lot of siskins and redpolls in the winter.There are problems with sewer misconnections in the stream running through the Dell.The deer park has a managed herd of 30-35 fallow deer, which serve a useful purpose in reducing the effects of human intrusion elsewhere.

 

Furze Heath has an excellent view across the London Basin past the Harrow-on-the-Hill ridge to Box Hill and Leith Hill in the North Downs.A lot of the ragwort has been cut back this year. Spring Meadow has lots of springs because of the underlying geology.10 years ago there were 6 different warblers on site but the willow warbler has been lost and the garden warbler is no longer abundant.The western edge of Spring Meadow has a thick belt of hawthorn and BTCV volunteers were used to cut a new ride to a spring in the middle of it that was choked with Himalayan balsam.3 volunteer parties have been pulling it up in the last month.

 

The Bentley Priory management committee used to get a regular grant from the council but it has become much more bureaucratic and applications have been made through the small grants scheme (£1,700 this year).Major schemes have included a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £59,000 to cut back scrub and young woodland from the top of Furze Heath.There was a lot of straightforward bramble and scrub clearance last winter the Harrowís Green Grid project has £200,000 per year fro projects to link and improve green spaces.