Chalky Guildford

Having settled comfortably in my new town, I decided to have a look at the (wonderfully made) website of Surrey Wildlife Trust, which manages dozens of nature reserves in the county, to find walk ideas in the area.

The first reserve we decided to visit, located on the South-Eastern boundaries of Guildford town is called Newlands Corner. It covers 103 hectares, and offers great views over Surrey countryside, as you can see! For those who wonder, the tall pink flowers in the foreground belong to a common pioneer species, Epilobium angustifolium (or Rosebay Willowherb).

The trail we chose starts with a walk into a shady woodland, with beautiful oaks and yew trees and then transforms into open calcareous grasslands. Some of the well represented plant species include St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), which has a medicinal use against depression and Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), whose root is edible. Have you seen these orange insects mating on every grassland plant at the moment? They are Common Red Soldier beetles (Rhagonycha fulva), a precious ally to gardeners because the larvae eat slugs and snails…one more reason to keep a wildflower meadow in your garden! 😉

Even more common is the Small Scabious (Scabiosa columbaria) with its lovely pale lilac flowers, and the Wild carrot (Daucus carota…the root is perfectly edible, but don’t expect anything as fleshy as a supermarket carrot!)

Other nice plants I have found are an eyebright (Euphrasia sp. ;I won’t risk an ID though, because there are 23 species in the UK, plus hybrids…), which is a parasite of grass species ; Common Vervein (Verbena officinalis, yes, the one used to make a calming herbal tea) and Silene vulgaris (aka Bladder Campion…because the pinkish calyx is inflated, resembling a bladder).

Grasslands are not only a great place to spot specific plants, there are also filled with many invertebrate species, feeding, mating and living there. I can’t resist showing you some of the insects we spotted (©L. Harvengt – my fiancé 😀 ). Two butterflies to begin with : the Large skipper (Ochlodes faunus), living in tall grasses ; and the Marbled White (Melanargia galathea), typical of chalk grasslands.

And to conclude, a nice sawfly (probably Tenthredo sp., which feeds on umbellifers) and a Meadow grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus), one of the most common species of grasshoppers.

The second reserve we decided to explore, Pewley Down, is located just a few minutes from Guildford High Street…and what a pleasant surprise! As well as a nice view over the town, it displays a great diversity of plants and insects.
As expected on a chalk grassland, we found “Mediterranean-looking” (and smelling!) plants like Oregano (Origanum vulgare), Wild Thyme shown here (Thymus sp.), but also orchids! Here is a Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis).

Two fluffy looking inflorescences, which are not related. The left one is Wild Basil (Clinopodium vulgare), a mint & basil family member, while the right one is a pea family member, Kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria).

Another pink flowered plant seems to thrive here : Centaurea scabiosa (Greater Knapweed). I have been wanting to see this species for many years, so I was really happy to spot several individuals of this beautiful moth, the Six Spot Burnet Moth (Zygaena filipendulae), with some even mating. Despite its innocent look, it’s a poisonous moth, containing cyanide. It might act as a sexual pheromone, and it’s also an effective way to avoid being eaten by birds!

Here’s a view of the reserve just before sunset, with Guildford cathedral in the distance : nice view, isn’t it? 🙂


  1. we live at the other end of the downs, in Temple Ewell (near Dover) so lovely to have this rich grassland on our doorstep. Have you seen any lady’s tresses orchids, we have noticed them for the first time this year ( getting into orchids in a big way…!)

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