Know before you go
Parking informationCar parks off A246 (by St Mary’s Church: KT24 6AP) Shere Road (KT24 6EP) & Green Dene (KT24 5TA)
Public access managed by Surrey County Council, conservation managed by Surrey Wildlife Trust
Not suitable for wheelchair users or those with limited mobility
When to visit
Opening timesOpen at all times
Best time to visitApril to August
About the reserve
At first sight, Sheepleas feels like a typical patch of Surrey woodland. But go a bit deeper and you’ll uncover a few surprises.
One of the original 284 Rothschild Reserves, Sheepleas was once described as ‘the finest piece of botanical and entomological ground within 30 miles of London’. Today it’s home to more than 30 species of butterfly, including the brown argus, grizzled skipper, dingy skipper, silver-washed fritillary and purple emperor, along with a rich variety of fungi and lichens.
As its name suggests, Sheepleas was used for grazing for hundreds of years. These days, with the sheep long gone, trees have recolonised much of the site. Hazels are being coppiced, encouraging ground flora and improving habitat for the dormouse. 12 species of orchid have been recorded, including fly, yellow bird’s nest, greater butterfly, pyramidal, common spotted and chalk fragrant.
Among the woodland, there are some fine examples of chalk grassland, including a central valley and smaller glades. However, the biggest surprises of all are Summerhouse (or Wildflower) and Coronation (or Cowslip) Meadows. These examples of unimproved grassland provide spectacular, ever-changing displays of wild flowers throughout the spring and summer.
You can see early violets and primroses as early as March; in April the bluebells arrive along with an extraordinary display of cowslips; and in May the orchids start appearing. However, July may be the best time of all. The orchids have gone, but there’s a glorious array of blues and yellows from species such as St John’s wort and harebell, along with the pink of wild marjoram, which you can smell everywhere. By the end of summer it’s mainly knapweed, small scabious and, finally, autumn gentian.