Claylands covers 8.29 hectares. It lies on the urban fringe of Bishop's Waltham and is well used by local people, comprising secondary woodland, grassy and scrub covered south facing slopes forming the banks of an old clay working, a meadow which was landfill, two neutral grassland meadows and a number of ponds which support a population of Great Crested newts.
Harvey's Meadow (4.3 acres) was acquired from a local farmer in 1997, with the help of local donations. Harvey's Meadow is not currently within the SINC designation but could warrant inclusion following favourable management.
Grazing is currently carried out by between four and six highland cattle in September and October every year over all the grassland habitats in the reserve. The reserve has two small meadows and the banks of the old pit form an important grassland community which is under constant threat of scrubbing over. The grasslands are species rich and excellent for invertebrates with an abundance of nectar sources.
The banks of the pit face south east and therefore form an ideal habitat for invertebrates. Secondary woodland, mainly deciduous, woodland blocks can be found at either end of the banks of the pit. Woodland includes a small number of Scots Pines and Turkey Oaks, but is predominantly Hawthorn, Pendunculate Oak and some Hazel and Ash. The northern most boundary of the site consists of a very old hedge considered to be once part of the parklug of the Palace of Bishop's Waltham. A sessile oak has been identified as growing in this hedge. There are other more indistinct hedges around the boundary of the claypit which in due course are planned to be laid.
Some 14 ponds have been created in recent years to help expand the Great Crested Newt breeding habitat. These ponds vary in size and ability to hold water. Some limited pond work has been carried out most winters to enlarge or reseal existing ponds or to create further small ponds. The ponds are being planted with appropriate local native aquatic and marginal species mainly from existing ponds within the Parish of Bishop's Waltham. Claylands is one of only two sites in Hampshire where French Oat-grass (Gaudinia fragilis) is found (the other is in a meadow at Curdridge.)
Noteable species include Pepper saxifrage (Sileum sileus), corky-fruited dropwort (Oenanthe pimpinelloides), Slender Birds-foot trefoil (Lotus angustissimus), Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia), Strawberry Clover(Trifolium fragiferum), and Quaking Grass (Briza media).There are also large populations of common spotted orchids on the banks of the reserve.
A female Long-tailed Blue butterfly from continental Europe was found on the nature reserve in 2006. This is a very rare species in the UK with very few Hampshire records. The only real invasion year from France and further south was in 1945 when dozens of specimens were recorded in southern England.
The blue was found on the weekly butterfly transect by local volunteers, Jos and Marian Creese on Friday 21 July 2006 and was re-found by Ruth Croger on Monday 24 July and then seen again by butterfly twitchers later in the week.
Other more common species of butterfly occur on the reserve, notably Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow which are both annual migrants from the continent in variable numbers. Ringlets, Marbled White, Small and Essex Skippers occur and it’s always worth checking high in the oaks and ash trees for Purple Hairstreak butterflies dancing around the tree tops.
Glow worms can be found after dark on summer evenings. The flightless female glow worm (which is in fact a beetle) glows to attract the winged males.
In the summer the hay meadows and banks are a blaze of wildflowers, with swathes of white Corky-fruited Water-dropwort, purple Knapweed, yellow Slender and Bird's-foot Trefoil in flower attracting insects to nectar, along with Fleabane and Common Spotted Orchids. Strawberry Clover also flowers on the reserve a scarce species of damp grassland of the coast much rarer inland in Hampshire. A new species of wildflower for the reserve was recorded recently - Sneezewort, a species found in un-improved damp grassland usually on clay.
The ponds which were dug to help increase the breeding habitat for Great Crested Newts and other aquatic life also attract many dragonflies and damselflies.