Corporate report

Bedfordshire's National Nature Reserves

Updated 8 December 2020

Applies to England

Barton Hills

Barton Hills National Nature Reserve (NNR) is a fine example of downland and woodland in the north Chilterns. It is a popular destination for walkers, families and wildlife enthusiasts. The whole site is open access, and there are a number of footpaths throughout.

Main habitats: lowland chalk grassland, beech woodland

Features of interest

Colourful wild flowers cover the chalk grassland, including rarities such as the Pasque flower, greater pignut and field fleawort, plus classic downland plants like marjoram, rock rose and scabious. In summer you will see plenty of butterflies including chalkhill blue, marbled white and dark green fritillary.

The woodland contains an important population of large leaved lime trees and is also home to the scarce plant herb paris. Also, look out for mammals including stoats, weasels and hares.


The nearest train stations are in Luton and Hitchin.

Take local bus number 81 which runs from Luton to Barton-le-Clay.

Barton Hills is immediately south of the B655 between the town of Barton-le-Clay (0.5 kilometres west of the reserve) and the village of Hexton (1 kilometres to the east).

Access to the site is via footpaths from the B655. In Barton-le-Clay paths leading to the reserve are at the end of 2 roads: Old Road and Church Road, both off the B655.

There is no dedicated parking.

The terrain at Barton Hills is steep and difficult in places and is mostly unsuitable for wheelchairs. Depending on the weather, the path alongside the stream from the hay meadow towards the spring can be suitable for wheelchair access.


For more information about the reserve, or to enquire about volunteering:

Telephone: 01844 351833

King’s Wood and Rushmere

The reserve is an important area of ancient semi-natural woodland. In early mediaeval times it was part of the royal manorial estate of Leighton, hence the name ‘King’s Wood’. Part of Rushmere Country Park is included in the reserve.

Main habitats: woodland, acid grassland and lowland heath

Area: 191.68 hectares

Management: jointly owned and managed by Central Bedfordshire Council, the Greensand Trust, the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, and Tarmac.

Features of interest

The site lies on an unusual mixture of soils. Birch, sessile oak, bracken and heather grow in the sandy areas, with pedunculate oak, hornbeam and dog’s mercury on the clay. There are small-leaved lime trees here and a large population of lily-of-the-valley. The site is also home to rare mosses and fungi and there are recent records of the purple emperor butterfly here.

Additional information about the reserve and which areas are available for public access is available from the Greensand Trust.


The reserve is 0.5 kilometres north of Heath and Reach village on the outskirts of Leighton Buzzard, 2 kilometres to the south.

By car, access is via minor roads from the A5, A4146 and A4012. The park is reached via the minor road from Heath and Reach to Great Brickhill. This road also marks the reserve’s southern boundary.

The nearest train station is Leighton Buzzard.

For details of bus services from Leighton Buzzard to Heath and Reach, go to the Travel Search website.

The reserve is on the route of the Greensand Ridge Walk.

Knocking Hoe

Knocking Hoe NNR is an area of species rich chalk grassland at the north end of the Chilterns. The site is of exceptional importance in supporting large populations of a number of rare plants.

Main habitats: Lowland calcareous grassland

Area: 8 hectares

Knocking Hoe NNR has 5 rare plants: moon carrot, spotted catsear, field fleawort, burnt tip orchid and pasque flower. The site is also of archaeological interest with a prominent strip lynchett field system.

Colourful wildflowers cover the chalk grassland, including horseshoe vetch, small scabious, rock rose and clustered bellflower. The site is also well known for its population of the orchid autumn lady’s-tresses which has been studied continuously on the reserve for 50 years. Various downland butterflies can be seen at Knocking Hoe in summer, including common blue, chalkhill blue and brown argus.


The nearest train station is in Hitchin.

The reserve is 500 metres north of the B655 near to the village of Pegsdon, between Barton le Clay and Hitchin. Access is via footpaths from the B655.


For more information about the reserve, or to enquire about volunteering:

Telephone: 01844 351833