Rushmere Country Park is 210 acres of conifer plantation, deciduous woodland, lowland heath and meadow straddling the Bucks/Beds border north of Leighton Buzzard. To the north it merges with Stockgrove Country Park (including Baker’s Wood SSSI) and Oak Wood, and together they enclose 400 acres with public access. Originally a Georgian country estate, much of which was planted with pine, fir and spruce in the 1940s, the park is now managed by the Greensand Trust environmental charity.
How To Get There
The main entrance is on the Old Linslade Road (SP 9162 2785), where a barrier ensures that drivers pay a small charge before leaving. The main car park, visitor centre and café (SP 912 284) are about half a mile from the entrance, and are very popular with families and their dogs (the park is heavily promoted for recreation); but away from there it is quieter, with only the more energetic walkers plus the odd cyclist or equestrian for company. The visitor centre is, however, an excellent vantage point from which to watch the heronry beside the lake below. There is a second, quieter visitor centre and café at the Stockgrove entrance and car park (SP 9202 2938).
What To See
Come to the park in the spring for the woodland flowers – Bluebell, Lily of the Valley, Primrose, Wood Anemone and Wood Sorrel – and for the Warblers. In the summer you may encounter Purple Hairstreak and White Admiral in the rides and along the woodland edge; while on the heath you can find Adders, Common Lizards and Slow Worms among the Heather, Gorse and Bilberry. In autumn and winter, head back to the woodland for Fungi and birds, including – for the diligent or lucky – Woodcock, Siskin, Redpoll and Crossbill.
Up to ten pairs of Grey Heron breed in the heronry during the spring and summer, and you can view them with binoculars from the decking behind the visitor centre or via a special CCTV link.
The Greensand Trust is restoring some of the plantation to heathland to encourage Tree Pipits and Woodlarks. One of these conservation areas has been named “Nightjar Valley”, but there are, as yet, no records of the bird from the park.
Stockgrove Country Park
Stockgrove Country Park is famous for its lake, which has been home to a breeding colony of Mandarin Ducks since 1997, and which also hosts a large population Daubenton’s bats. The Bedfordshire Bat Group has also recorded Barbastelles and Noctules from the park, as well as the usual Pipistrelles and Brown Long-ears. Along with Kings Wood, Baker’s Wood SSSI forms the largest area of deciduous woodland in Bedfordshire, and has existed for at least 800 years and probably a lot longer. The many multi-stemmed Sessile Oaks reveal a history of coppicing that continued until the early 20th century. Locally rare Great Woodrush and Wood Vetch can be found in the wood, while knapweed-like Saw-wort grows in the meadow areas. The woodland is also excellent for birds such as Nuthatches, Tree Creepers and Goldcrests.
For those with an interest in Earth Science, Stockgrove is also a Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphological Site (RIGS) because of its ice age landforms.
King’s Wood and Rammamere Heath
Some of the best wildlife sites in the area are actually just outside the park, at King’s Wood (SP 928 298) and Rammamere Heath (SP 922 301), to the north-east between the Brickhill Road and Watling Street. These are both part of the same SSSI; the former with ancient trees and old coppice of Oaks, Small-leaved Lime and Hornbeam, and there are Silver Birch that give way to Downy Birch on the wetter soils. Natural England has recently extended the National Nature Reserve at King’s Wood in recognition of the high quality of the habitats here, notable for rarities such as the Purple Emperor.
Heathland is a rare habitat in this part of England, and owes its existence to the underlying Woburn Sand formation, which was deposited in a Lower Cretaceous estuary, 100-125 million years ago. The sandstone has eroded to infertile, acid soils, ideal for heathland vegetation, which has been prevented from becoming woodland by grazing and fuel gathering.