Langley Mead: The University’s lesser-known wilderness

As staff and students at the University of Reading, we are lucky to work and study amongst the wilderness of Whiteknights campus. But, if you’ve ever thought of travelling just a little further afield for your biodiversity-fix, read on…

Just a 10-minute bus ride south of Whiteknights, you’ll find Langley Mead – just over 18 hectares of countryside sitting on the banks of the river Loddon. The area is owned and managed by the University of Reading as a Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG). What does that mean? It starts with local development. In the Spencers Wood and Shinfield area, a large number of residential properties have been built in recent years. The growing residential population raised concerns that the nearby Thames Basin Heath Special Protection Area would see increased footfall and pressure on these habitats. Langley Mead and other SANGs have therefore been established to provide an alternative greenspace for people to enjoy.

Langley Mead boasts an exciting array of plant and animal species. Check out the signs around the site for more information.

On top of the biodiversity benefits Langley Mead offers as a SANG, it has also become part of an ecological restoration project. After years of intensive agricultural use, active management of the site since 2013 has been working to restore the lost wildlife-rich landscape that once existed here.

Prior to agricultural intensification during the 20th century, the Langley Mead site was a typical “ancient” landscape, comprising hedgerows, wildflower meadows, pasture, common land and coppiced woodlands. This low intensity management would have accommodated far more biodiversity than the agricultural landscapes common today.

Current management practices at Langley Mead are trying to restore this ancient matrix and the biodiversity it supported. Efforts have included the spreading of wildflower-rich green hay imported from nearby surviving species-rich meadows and sowing wildflower seed mixes, installation of bird boxes (including barn owl boxes), creation of habitat piles and even an otter holt. New woodland has been planted in place of a long-lost ancient coppiced woodland, hedgerows have been restored, and a small herd of cows are regularly employed to carry out conservation (low intensity) grazing on the site.

As a result of these efforts, Langley Mead now boasts an abundance of plant and animal species, including some that are rare in Berkshire or of wider conservation importance, and records are growing year on year. The wildflower meadows provide a particular highlight in spring and summer, but you can find important plant species all year-round if you look hard enough.

An example of broomrape found in October 2021. Broomrape is a parasitic plant and so it’s presence is a good indicator that conditions at Langley Mead are not only good for the broomrape, but for its host plant too.

You’re almost guaranteed to see a number of bird species – including the local red kites, buzzards and woodpeckers, and if you visit early enough, maybe even the local kingfisher – but don’t forget to look out for the smaller things too, like the Robin’s pincushion shown below! If you’re visiting Langley Mead at dusk during the summer, keep your eyes peeled for breeding barn owls searching for food over the meadows, and head to the Millworth Lane entrance to witness the bat super-highway!

A robin’s pincushion: a gall found on roses in late summer caused by the larvae of a small wasp. The larvae will feed and overwinter in the gall and emerge as adults in the spring.

So, if you fancy a change from the wilds of Whiteknights campus, Langley Mead is well worth a visit. Entrance to the site (and parking) is free and it’s only a short drive south of campus (or why not be extra environmentally-friendly and jump on the number 3 or 8 bus towards Shinfield or Spencers Wood from the SportsPark bus stop?). More information about the site can be found on the Langley Mead website: www.langleymead.co.uk

Dogs are welcome at Langley Mead. This doggo is pictured alongside the bat superhighway!

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