Watlington Hill was originally part of the nearby Watlington Park, which began life as a royal park in the 13th Century. In the 18th Century, a mansion was built in the Park by the Tilson family. Years later in the mid 20th Century, it was donated to the National Trust and designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest thanks to its mix of woodland and chalk grassland habitats. Nowadays the Hill is open to the public and provides spectacular views of the Oxfordshire countryside. The rich grassland habitats on site support up to 25 species of butterflies including chalkhill blues, silver-spotted skippers, brimstones, small tortoiseshells, and dark-green fritillaries. However, its most famous wildlife visitors are the freewheeling red kites which flock to the Hill in large numbers.
Average rating: 5.0 (very good)
Average cost: free!
Best time to visit: you can visit year-round but the views are best in Spring and Summer when the grassland is home to an abundance of butterflies.
How to get there: the Hill is just off the M40. It’s a great place to stop for lunch or a quick walk to break up a journey. There’s a free car park around 1.5 miles up Hill Road from Watlington town centre on the right-hand side. The National Trust has prepared a short walking route around the Hill which you can access here.
Typical activities: bird watching, picnicking, walking
Number of reports: 1
WILDLIFE IN Watlington Hill
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
Red Kite – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Red kites were driven to extinction in England by the end of the 19th Century. Between 1989 and 1994, kites from Spain were imported and released into the Chilterns by the RSPB and English Nature (now Natural England). They started breeding in 1992 and there are now over 1,000 pairs in the area. The reintroduction has been so successful that the Chilterns area, and the M40 motorway, are famous for their red kite populations. And Watlington Hill is one of the best spots to see these incredible birds.
Red kites can be found at the Hill in large numbers year-round. All you have to do is turn up and the chances are they’ll be wheeling above your head in minutes. They have little fear of humans and will fly in close proximity – making it a great spot for photos. Seeing them soar above the English countryside again after so many years can’t help but make you feel a bit more positive about the future of our wildlife!
Photo credit: WildSide team member Chris White