Natural England - Barton Hills NNR

Barton Hills NNR

Barton Hills NNR is a fine example of downland and woodland in the north Chilterns

Barton Hills NNR

County: Bedfordshire

Main habitats: Lowland chalk grassland, beech woodland. The whole 44 hectares of this reserve is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Why visit: Barton Hills NNR is mostly flower rich chalk grassland typical of the north Chilterns, including a large population of the nationally rare pasque flower. The reserve also includes areas of Chilterns beech woodland and ash-maple woodland, plus a number of springs flowing into a chalk stream at the foot of the valley.

Barton Hills is a popular destination for walkers, families and wildlife enthusiasts alike. The whole site is open access, and there are a number of footpaths throughout.

Star species: Colourful wild flowers cover the chalk grassland, including rarities such as the Pasque flower, greater pignut and field fleawort, plus classic downland plants like marjoram, rock rose and scabious. In summer you will see plenty of butterflies including chalkhill blue, marbled white and dark green fritillary.

The woodland contains an important population of large leaved lime trees and is also home to the scarce plant herb paris. Also, look out for mammals including stoats, weasels and hares.

Seasonal highlights


The purple pasque flower is in full bloom between late April and early June. Other early flowering plants you will come across include cowslip and dog violet. If you are lucky you may also spot the greater pignut in the grassland or herb paris in the wet edges of the woodland. Some butterflies also start appearing, such as the dingy skipper and grizzled skipper.


The grassland is in riotous colour with purples, pinks and yellows including clustered bellflower, wild marjoram and rock rose. The north east corner of the site is home to several species of orchid such as the common spotted orchid, fragrant orchid and the muted twayblade.

Butterflies will flit energetically from flower to flower and dragonflies can be seen on the water’s edge. If you venture out after dark in June or July, you may get a glimpse of female glow worms shining brightly from the tops of grass stalks.


Late blooms, such as the Chiltern and autumn gentians are still around. The woodland on the eastern slopes takes on a stunning palette of autumn colours. Red kites have spread north since they were introduced in the Chilterns 20 years ago. Fungi of all kinds can be found on dead or dying trees and rotting logs, as well as in the grassland.


A good time to watch the birds feeding on black sloe berries on blackthorn, pink spindle berries with orange centres and the bright red fruits of the yew tree.


In the north-eastern part of Barton Hills, there is a good, visible example of a lynchet field system. This is where hillsides were terraced to provide flat agricultural land. Another example of industrial archaeology in this part of the site is an open chalk pit, exposing the geology of the reserve which is integral to its varied habitats and species.

The area around the springs includes the remnants of a water supply system which used to feed a series of watercress beds, once an important local enterprise.

How to get there

By train

The nearest train stations are in Lutonexternal link and Hitchinexternal link.

By bus

Local bus No.81- Luton to Barton-le-Clayexternal link.

By car

Barton Hills is immediately south of the B655 between the town of Barton-le-Clay (0.5 km west of the reserve) and the village of Hexton (one km to the east).

On foot

Access to the site is via footpaths from the B655. In Barton-le-Clay paths leading to the reserve can be found at the end of two roads: Old Road and Church Road, both off the B655.

The terrain at Barton Hills is steep and difficult in places and is mostly unsuitable for wheelchairs. Depending on the weather, the path alongside the stream from the hay meadow towards the spring can be suitable for wheelchair access.

Visiting the reserve

There are well defined paths around the site including a circular trail. There are welcome boards with a map of the site at most entrances and a number of benches around the site.

The terrain at Barton Hills is steep and difficult in places and is mostly unsuitable for wheelchairs. Depending on the weather, the path alongside the stream from the hay meadow towards the springs can be suitable for wheelchair access.

School and community groups

Contact if you are a school group interested in visiting the site.

Want to get involved?

There are ongoing opportunities to help look after Barton Hills and help to keep it a special place for all to enjoy. No previous experience is necessary, as all necessary training will be given and equipment provided.

Practical volunteering tasks take place on the second Thursday of every month from 10am to 4pm to carry out a variety of tasks such as scrub management, installing fencing and gates, footpath maintenance and woodland management. For dates and further details of each task visit northchilternsvolunteering.comexternal link which also includes details of other conservation volunteering tasks, training and events in the local area.

We are always keen to hear from people who would like to carry out wildlife surveys at Barton Hills. This allows us to monitor habitats and species across the reserve and make sure we are carrying out effective management.

Further information

For further information about Barton Hills or to get involved, please contact the Reserve Manager on 01844 351833 or by email