A mosaic of ancient & recent woodlands, scrub and open grassland on chalk.

Sheepleas lies on the chalk slopes of the North Downs within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and covers an area approximately 110 hectares (270 acres). The mosaic of woodland (both ancient and recent), grassland, and scrub habitats supports a diverse range of wildlife, and as a result the reserve was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1975 and a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) in 2005. Sheepleas is owned by Surrey County Council and is managed by The Surrey Wildlife Trust for conservation of the semi-natural habitat and landscape, and for the provision of informal public access and recreation.

One of the original 284 ‘Rothschild Reserves’, Sheepleas has long been known as a special place for wildlife. Described in the early 20th century as ‘the finest piece of botanical and entomological ground within 30 miles of London’, the site boasts over 30 species of butterfly, many species of vascular plants and a myriad of invertebrates dependent upon this diverse range of flora. In addition, plentiful deadwood, both standing and lying on the ground provides habitat for a rich variety of fungi, bryophytes and lichens.

This biodiversity can be attributed to both the underlying geology (chalk) and its history of management, with most of the species-rich grassy areas escaping modern farming techniques having been neither ploughed nor artificially fertilised in the past. The site’s name is a pointer to its centuries-old use as sheep-grazed meadows, or ‘leas’, supporting the local wool industry centred around Guildford and Farnham. One of these meadows, The Cowslip Meadow, is a well-known spring phenomenon, and visitors come from far and wide to admire its stunning display of cowslips during April and May. In 2013, this meadow was crowned as Surrey’s ’Coronation Meadow’, a project created by HRH Prince of Wales to select a wildflower meadow in each county of the UK to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Coronation. This project was initiated to highlight the fact that so many of our wildflower meadows have been lost in the last 60 years.  It is hoped that green hay and/or seed can be used for the restoration of other sites and the creation of new wildflower meadows in Surrey.  For more information on Coronation Meadows, follow this link: coronationmeadows.org.uk

The woodland at Sheepleas changed dramatically following the great storm of 1987. Comprised largely of mature beech trees, approximately 75% of these were lost in this single event. Whilst this seemed catastrophic at the time, it opened up new areas for meadow flowers to grow and allowed the open areas to be linked up with wide rides and glades allowing the migration of species. Over the past 20 years, plantations of larch have been removed and replanted with trees more appropriate for this area, like beech, field maple, wild cherry, ash and white beam.

Sustainable woodland management is undertaken throughout the reserve with many areas of hazel regularly coppiced. Traditional forms of woodland management such as coppicing fell out of favour in the 20th century, mainly due to a lack of a market for its products, resulting in a general decline in woodland biodiversity. Cut material at Sheepleas is used for coppice fencing, bean and pea sticks for local community projects, and added to kilns on site to make charcoal.

An informal picnic area is located near to Shere Road car park, with The Millennium Viewpoint nearby, which on a clear day provides views of the London skyline including The Telecom Tower and The Shard.

Species and habitats

Grassland, Woodland

Nearby nature reserves

Shere Woodlands (inc. West Hanger, Combe Bottom & Netley Plantation)
2 miles - Surrey Wildlife Trust
Hackhurst Downs
2 miles - Surrey Wildlife Trust
Colekitchen Down
2 miles - Surrey Wildlife Trust

Nature reserve map

Reserves A-Z

Reserve information

Shere Road
West Horsley
KT24 6AP & KT24 6EP
Map reference
TQ 084 514
Great for...
Best time to visit
Apr - Aug
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Opening Times
Open at all times
110.00 hectares
Ancient Woodland
Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB)
Local Nature Reserve (LNR)
Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
Walking information
A self-guided trail leaflet is available to download
Car parks off A246: By St. Mary's church (KT24 6AP), Shere Road (KT24 6EP) & Green Dene
Dogs allowed
Reserve manager
Tel: 01483 795440


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