Places to see birds

Wharncliffe Heath and Chase

male stonechat perched on bramble

Located six miles north-north-west of Sheffield city centre between Grenoside and Deepcar, this extensive area consists of a combination of heath, grassland and woodland.

At the northernmost end is Wharncliffe Heath Local Nature Reserve. The impressive rocky outcrop of Wharncliffe Crags runs north-south along the length of this, providing some great views to the north and west. Below, open ground grades into the trees of Wharncliffe Wood. Occupying an east-facing slope at the top of the crags is an area of heathland, dominated by heather but with scattered birch, oak and pine. Along the full length of the eastern boundary is more mature woodland with widely varying proportions of broadleaves and conifers.

The rest of the area comprises the former deer park of Wharncliffe Chase, still surrounded by its high boundary wall. Now mostly upland pasture with bracken, the area also has patches of mature trees and several small areas of open water as well as some more rocky areas such as the Hobb Stones on Brownlow Rocher. To the west and south of the boundary wall lies the rest of Wharncliffe Wood -here mainly dominated by oak.

Wharncliffe Chase has a fascinating history. Following the Norman Conquest, it was set aside as a hunting park for the Lords of Hallamshire. Around the turn of the 16th/17th centuries, the way in which the Wortley family extended the deer park destroying two villages in the process led to conflict with locals and the creation of the satirical ballad, 'The Dragon of Wantley.' In the 19th century, as well as being used for grouse shooting, the area even had a resident herd of bison - one of which once escaped and found its way to Attercliffe where it was apprehended by a policeman on his rounds! There is even a picture of these bison in the J Paul Getty Museum in California.

Birds on the more open parts of Wharncliffe Heath include tree pipit, linnet and nightjar. The open grassy areas of Wharncliffe Chase can have kestrel, cuckoo, green woodpecker, skylark, stonechat, wheatear on passage, and raven can also be seen. Woodland species inevitably reflect the varying ages and proportions of conifers and broadleaved trees but can include sparrowhawk, buzzard, woodcock, great-spotted woodpecker, tawny owl, nuthatch, treecreeper, redstart, goldcrest, coal tit, siskin, crossbill and redpoll with warblers including chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap, garden warbler, wood warbler and whitethroat in the summer, along with spotted and pied flycatchers - the latter appearing to prefer wood pasture here over more dense woodland. Other wildlife includes green tiger beetles, grass snake, common (or viviparous) lizard, at least six species of bat and the ponds can be good for dragonflies.

The high wall surrounding Wharncliffe Chase means that access points are somewhat limited. There are though entrances from the woodland in the south and through a gate at the north-eastern corner, as well as at several points along the west edge adjacent to the upper part of Wharncliffe Wood. However, once inside, most of the area is open access land for pedestrians. Wharncliffe Heath can either be accessed using public footpaths from near the Woodhead Road/Bank Lane road junction (Cundy Cross) or uphill from Deepcar. Though parking along the relatively minor Woodhead Road is limited, there is a car park at Wheata Wood to the south as well as smaller 'pull ins' at the northern end of Greno Wood and around Cundy Cross.

This is a large area which takes a good half day to explore properly. For those wanting to make a day of it, it can easily be combined with Greno Woods (see separate listing in this section of our website which also includes details of nearby pubs and other eating places).