Location and Background. Holtspur Valley, two miles west of Beaconsfield and three miles east of High Wycombe (all in Buckinghamshire), is a small dry valley running from Penn down to the valley of the river Wye at Loudwater. The London to Birmingham railway line runs across the valley and an equestrian centre is situated in the lowest part. The sides of the valley are mainly chalk with the Beaconsfield gravel plateau on the highest levels. The resultant chalk soils are thin, alkaline, poor in nutrients and dry. When the original woodlands were cleared and the land used for grazing, many plants flourished, which in richer soils would have been overwhelmed by stronger growing plants. The habitat which developed on both sides of the valley is renowned for its rich flora and fauna.
Context of the reserve
Although Holtspur Bank is relatively small in area for a nature reserve, it is adjacent to large areas of open pasture with hedgerows and fully developed trees, close to areas of mature woodland and open green space, and close to a large area of gardens with well established trees, shrubs and diverse habitat. About 50 species of birds (more than recorded on the reserve), including red kite and buzzard at both places and 74 species of wildflower (much less than the reserve), including bee orchid and Chiltern gentians have been recorded on the verges and in gardens and open spaces nearby. Fox, weasel, bank vole, common shrew and wood mice have all been sighted in adjacent gardens and fields but not yet recorded on the reserve as have the frog, the toad and common newt.
To a degree this results from continual observation in gardens, woods and open spaces and only intermittent surveying of the reserve. However, the overall species diversity of the reserve and the neighbouring land serves to demonstrate that the Holtspur Bank reserve is an important refuge for wildlife and forms a continuum with that adjacent land, maintaining the local biodiversity. Consequently, it may be that the value of this reserve is greater than its small size would at first sight suggest.
Creation of a Local Nature Reserve
When the boundaries were drawn for the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the early 1990s, both Holtspur Bank, on the northern side of the valley and Holtspur Bottom, on the opposite side, were just outside of the area. This fact was brought to the notice of Beaconsfield Town Council, which owns both sites, by the late Maurice Young, a very talented naturalist, and Howard Sledmere, the then chairman of BBONT (now BBOWT, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust). It was thought wise to have the value of the site recognised in some way, although it was already protected by Green Belt status. Lack of grazing for many years had caused the chalk bank to scrub over, which in turn was leading to the disappearance of valuable flora and fauna, therefore, management of the site to benefit the wildlife was urgent.
In October 1993 approval was given by the Town Council for the production of a management plan which Maurice Young drew up. This detailed document was sent to South Bucks District Council and English Nature who gave it their support for designation as a Local Nature Reserve. SBDC went on to arrange the designation.
Opening of the Reserve
The Reserve was officially opened by the Mayor, Councillor Jo Roundell Greene on 22nd September 1995. Subsequently the opposite side of the valley was leased from Beaconsfield Town Council by Butterfly Conservation to create a butterfly reserve which is known as Holtspur Bottom.
In 2001 Buckinghamshire County Council classified the reserve as a Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphological Site (RIGS) and in 2002 as a County Wildlife Site. Holtspur Bank was described as a reserve set in a small, but distinctive, dry valley and a good site to illustrate the link between geology and soils, as well as a place where rare animals and plants live.
Mention must be made here of Shirley Scrivener who sadly died on Wednesday 6th May 2020 after a short illness.
Shirley was heavily involved in getting Holtspur Bank designated as a Local Nature Reserve before it was opened in 1995. She subsequently founded the Friends of Holtspur Bank, was its Chairman until 2012 and remained a committee member until early in 2020. She was the Town Council’s Reserve Co-ordinator until 2016 (she always resisted the job title Reserve Warden) and, with other Friends, liaised with Beaconsfield Town Council over management of the Reserve.
Much of what has been achieved at the Reserve is testimony to her keen interest in “all things natural”, her determination to get things done and always being there. We will miss her experience and wise counsel.
To fulfil one of Shirley’s final wishes, her husband Brian assisted in the construction of an inscribed memorial bench which was installed on the Chalk Bank on 15th October 2020.