If you hear the words ‘trail’ and South Downs, your first thought is probably of the world-famous South Downs Way.
But there’s also a lesser-known trail that reveals some of the most beautiful and rare heathland found in Europe – a colourful habitat teeming with reptiles, amphibians and rare birds.
Now the 65-mile long Serpent Trail – so-called because of its resemblance to a snake on a map – has been upgraded and given a new lease of life.
As well as re-routing parts of the trail to move them on to more scenic paths, the trail is now colour coded by direction so that walkers can follow the route from the head or tail and start from any point.
A brand-new colourful downloadable guide has also been produced to help walkers navigate the trail.
The trail snakes its away from Haslemere in Surrey (the head and tongue), climbing up to its highest point in the National Park at Black Down, then weaving its way onward to Petersfield in Hampshire.
Depending on the time of the year, walkers may be lucky enough to spot some of the rare, and often secretive, wildlife on the route, including sand lizards, smooth snakes, the silver-studded blue butterfly or the Dartford Warbler.
The trail shows off the outstanding landscape of the greensand hills, its wildlife, and rich history, as well as more recent conservation efforts to protect the incredibly fragile lowland heath habitats.
The trail originally launched in 2005 and has been updated thanks to the Heathlands Reunited Project, a partnership between 11 organisations that is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The partners are: National Trust, Ministry of Defence, Lynchmere Society, Forestry England, Sussex Wildlife Trust, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, Natural England, Hampshire County Council, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, RSPB and the South Downs National Park Authority
Olivia French, Activities and Engagement Officer for Heathlands Reunited, said: “We’re excited to be reviving this beautiful trail and highlighting the threatened habitat which is actually as rare as the rainforest.
“The Serpent Trail is a fantastic opportunity to see some of the most magical and inspiring lowland heaths you’ll see anywhere in Europe.
“It’s obviously a very fragile habitat so we would always ask walkers to leave no trace, but we also want people to get out and enjoy this fantastic trail. By more people understanding and appreciating how amazing our heaths are, the more chance they have of surviving and flourishing.
“The trail connects two towns that are very accessible by train, so it’s a great way to explore the South Downs National Park and leave the car at home.”
The patchwork of lowland heath sites along the Serpent Trail are a stronghold for all six of the UK’s native reptile species, including the elusive smooth snake and the striking sand lizard. In the spring, lizards can often be seen sunning themselves on south-facing spots at various heathland sites along the trail. Look out for the males that take on a bright green hue during mating season during late-April and May!
For more information on the Serpent Trail and to download a copy of the new trail guide visit www.southdowns.gov.uk/get-active/on-foot/serpent-trail/
Watch a video about the Serpent Trail here.