Know before you go
Firm, sandy paths with some slopes
From A507 travelling east from Woburn turn left onto B530 towards Ampthill town centre. After 150m, park in lay-by opposite the football club.
When to visit
Opening timesOpen at all times
Best time to visitAugust and September
About the reserve
Bedfordshire's largest remaining area of heathland
This reserve, owned by Ampthill Town Council, is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. It sits on the Greensand Ridge, a geological feature stretching from Leighton Buzzard to Gamlingay in south Cambridgeshire.
The reserve consists of rare and endangered open heath, patches of gorse and broom and isolated trees, surrounded by pockets of woodland.
Local records indicate that Cooper’s Hill was once known as Ampthill Warren. (The Normans are thought to have introduced rabbits to Britain in the 11th century, and warrens were set up on light soil like this.) Over the years the site was grazed by sheep or cattle and the heather used by locals as fuel, bedding and thatch. Later, conifers were planted here, and then felled in 1917 to help the war effort.
We remove bracken from the open heath to prevent it smothering the heather. Nutrients from fallen leaf litter enrich the soil and encourage the growth of rough grasses which outcompetes the heather, so we thin out the trees and strip back the turf to create bare ground where heather seedlings can flourish.
The northwest corner of the reserve supports a small area of acidic mire and ponds, where the water table reaches the surface above the impermeable Ampthill clay. Marsh violet and willow carr gently shade the water. The open heath provides a home to lizards and to insects such as solitary bees and wasps. Woodland towards the north of the site grows over gently undulating ground, with beech and lime in addition to the birch and oak. Nesting birds take advantage of the protection of the spiky gorse, which gives off its distinctive coconut smell in summer. We have some work parties at Cooper’s Hill; see our website for details.