The Dell is a haven for plants and wildlife
and a pleasant diversion for walkers.
This small part of the estate was for many years leased to Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust as a nature reserve. It is special because it contains flower-rich (‘unimproved’) grassland, something that is becoming increasingly rare these days. Also, the soil in the Dell is quite chalky, in contrast to the clay-with-flints in the surrounding area, which allows chalk-loving plants like cowslips to flourish.
A great variety of wild flowers can be found, including violets and cowslips in the spring, followed by speedwell, buttercups, agrimony, knapweed, scabious and many more. In high summer the valley is alive with bees and butterflies. There is a good colony of Ringlet butterflies, recognised by their dark brown wings marked with bull’s-eye circles. This species is uncommon because it needs a habitat of tall grasses and flowers sheltered by trees and scrub, which is precisely what the Dell provides. The numerous insects in the reserve provide food for birds and a whole variety of other animals, including fieldmice and voles, frogs, rabbits, squirrels and foxes, also live here.
Although the Wildlife trust no longer manages The Dell, the Chorleywood House Friends volunteers maintain the flower-rich grassland to prevent the encroachment of scrub and nettles. The scrub is being pushed back in a scalloped pattern, creating sheltered bays that are ideal for insects and birds. The woodland around the edge will be maintained but thinned a little to allow the trees to develop better and encourage species diversity. Although the Dell is small it acts as a reservoir of plant and animal species that can migrate into other parts of the Estate as suitable habitats are created for them.