Old Winchester Hill has a range of habitats, with distinct differences between the plants found on the warm, dry, south-facing slopes and those on the steep north-facing areas - and in hollows - which are much damper. Flower-rich grasslands have developed on the thin chalky soils that are low in nutrients.
To conserve the variety of habitats found at this site, the grassland on the Reserve is grazed by sheep. Visitors are reminded that dogs should always be kept under close control to avoid disturbing livestock.
How to get there
Old Winchester Hill is situated between the A3 and A32 approximately 10 km north of Waterlooville and 10 km west of Petersfield. The nearest village is Warnford 3 km to the North West from which the Reserve is signposted via minor roads.
There is a car park at the northern end of the Reserve that gives access to a picnic area and an interpretation unit. RADAR key holders may use another car park some 400 metres further south on Old Winchester Hill lane and follow an Easy Access Trail to the hill fort. There is also parking for disabled visitors at the viewpoint along the lane.
The Reserve is on Section 1 of the South Downs Way (leading from Winchester to Eastbourne), a foot, cycle and bridle path that forms part of the National Trails network. Where the trail meets the hill, horse-riders and cyclists must follow the signposted route around the Reserve's southern boundary.
The nearest railway station is in Petersfield and a regular service is provided by South West Trains.
The site exhibits many overlapping layers of history. Bronze Age burial mounds - known as barrows - were erected on the crest of the hill between 4500 and 3500 years ago. Some smaller mounds were partially engulfed when the southern and western ramparts of a fort were constructed some 2500 years ago. These earthworks provide a varied topography that increases the diversity of the chalk downland habitats.
The fort - believed to have been the settlement of a Celtic chieftain - overlies a pattern of prehistoric fields. Its defences comprise a single bank and ditch enclosing about four hectares. Within the fort, the site of huts can be seen as subtle hollows.
Some of the smaller hollows at the site were created during World War II, when the army used the hill as a mortar firing range. Some sections were never fully cleared of ordnance so, for your own safety, please keep to the well-marked paths that avoid these areas.
Please report any metallic or suspicious objects, either to the voluntary wardens, Natural England staff, or to the police. Do not pick them up.
Several types of orchids are found on the Reserve. They include greater-butterfly, bee, fly, frog, common spotted and fragrant orchids, all of which are found on the slopes around the hill fort in May and June. Field fleawort, a very localised species, also flowers at this time amongst a large population of cowslips.
Ox-eye daisies are in flower during July, as well as the rare round-headed rampion that occurs on the south-facing slope of the hill fort. Later in the year, visitors can see small and devil's bit scabious, along with the autumn lady's-tresses. All these plants are found amongst the herb-rich grassland, which is mainly dominated by sheep's fescue grass. Elsewhere, scrub and woodland provides a valuable contrast for wildlife.
Butterflies, like the chalkhill blue, can be seen in significant numbers on the hill during the summer months, whilst the Reserve's woodland is home to dormice, badgers and deer.
Old Winchester Hill needs constant management to conserve the variety of habitats and to maintain the grassland that has been created by centuries of livestock grazing. We achieve this by continuing the traditional sheep grazing and by mechanically clearing some areas of scrub during the winter. Our management work helps to provide ideal conditions for a wonderful diversity of wildlife.