Vinters Valley Nature Reserve is your local wildlife oasis tucked away between the Vinters Park and Grove Green housing estates and also close to Vinters Community School. Whatever the season there is always something to see, something to enjoy and something to treasure. Comprising 90 acres and once part of a large 18th century country estate the area has been transformed, with the help of people from the local community, into a much loved nature reserve.
There is a variety of habitats to enjoy including woodland, grassland, scrub, lake, stream and marshland and being former parkland there is a mixture of both native and exotic flora to enjoy with some magnificent trees to admire. There is always a variety of bird life to see from ducks and geese swimming on the lake, kingfishers along the stream and songbirds throughout the woods. In spring and summer the grasslands are alive with the buzz of insects and the gentle flight of butterflies as they flutter amongst the wildflowers. If you are quiet, you may also catch a glimpse of a fox sleeping in a sunny glade, or maybe a rabbit chewing at the grass or see voles scampering along the banks of the stream.
You are welcome to visit on any day of the year and spend some time exploring the reserve on one of the many pathways provided, or just to sit and breathe in the quiet atmosphere on one of the seats dotted around the reserve. The entrances to the reserve are via New Cut Road, Lodge Road, Bargrove Road, Newenden Close, Netley Close or the footpath running between Huntsman Lane and New Cut Road. So whether you want to spend 20 minutes or a couple of hours, re-acquainting yourself with nature, do come and see the joys available in your local wildlife reserve.
Leased from the Kent County Council and Maidstone Borough Council the reserve is managed by a Trust set up by local people. It is through the support of both of the local community and especially Boxley Parish Council that we are able to ensure that this wildlife oasis is available to the community. We run a “Friends of the Reserve” scheme where people can contribute money towards the upkeep of the reserve. In return you will receive exclusive access to our Vinters Gaia Facebook page and the opportunity to participate in wildlife events on the reserve. Additionally, we also organise monthly volunteer workdays during the autumn and winter each year, where you can gain hands on experience on the practical side of conservation. If you would like to find out more about this schemes look out for details on the notice boards around the reserve.
So, whether you just visit the reserve on sunny days or become one of our more regular visitors or supporters, I hope you enjoy the little oasis of wildlife, close to the heart of Maidstone, that is Vinters Valley Nature Reserve.
Steve Songhurst – Reserve Warden
Vinters Valley Nature Reserve History
Vinters Valley Nature Reserve is a green oasis to the North East of Maidstone, surrounded by two housing estates, a school and the M20 motorway. The site covers about 90 acres, and is the remaining part of a large country estate with a long and eventful history.
Roman remains have been found on the site in the past, but the first recorded history was when a Roger de Vinter bought the land from the Abbott of Boxley in 1343, and built the first house. He also created the park and gave his name to the property.
There were many other owners from then on, one of the most notorious was Henry Isley. In 1554, he took part in the Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger’s Rebellion and was executed for his trouble. His property was seized by Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary) who bequeathed it to a Henry Cutts of Bynbury. After several more owners including Sir William Tufton the Governor of Barbados, the Vinters house was bought by a local businessman, James Whatman of Vinters. His father (James Whatman the elder) had married into Turkey Court Paper Mill nearby, and although he didn’t ever live in Vinters his son did. James Whatman of Vinters moved into the house in 1782, having bought it some time previously from the then Lord Ongley. The estate then covered 86 acres, and was extensively improved before they moved in, spending the princely sum of £5000. During 1797 after his retirement at 53 following a stroke, he bought more land and property, adding Newnham Court Farm and some local houses.
He died in 1798 aged 57, and like many Whatmans was buried at Boxley Church. His son also called James, inherited the estate and had three sons. The estate passed again onto his eldest son James in 1852. Around this time there were extensive alterations made to the house with many rooms added such as a Diary, Brew House, Still room, Larder, Servants hall, Pantry Study and Bathroom. Like many fine houses of the day, it could boast an icehouse, boat house, landscaped grounds with many exotic trees and plants, and a large walled kitchen garden with heated glasshouses and extensive stables. This James died in 1887 where his widow remained there until 1905. They had had daughters who one by one inherited the estate until the last Whatman was Miss Louisa who died in 1950 aged 92. She hadn’t lived in Vinters for many years, residing instead in Newnham Court, and had rented out the estate to various occupiers.
During the war the house was taken over for Military purposes and many Army units passed through the park. The fine furniture and effects were locked away. The ATS girls stayed in the house, with the men in billets near the kitchen garden. Having been empty for a few years the entire estate comprising of 660 acres was sold to a property developer in 1956. Shortly after this the house burnt down, and was demolished. Vinters housing estate was built on the hop gardens and wheat fields to the West, and later Grove Green covered the former market garden on the East. Parkland became school playing fields, and the rest of the land fell into ruin. A local couple Donal and Lida MacGrory found the site one day looking like a neglected wild garden and set about saving the land from further development. With the support of other local residents further planning permission was reduced and eventually the Kent County Council bought the remaining land.
Lida worked as unpaid warden and Donal became a parish councillor then a Borough Councilor to fight for the park. Eventually the KCC opened the land up as a park in 1987 and began to employ Lida, and was transferred to a Trust in 1987 with a 99 year lease. The site was awarded Local Nature Reserve status in 1992 and has become a thriving and much loved Nature Reserve from that time.
The Trusts principal aims are to:
- Preserve a valuable wildlife habitat
- Preserve threatened species
- Provide an education source for local schools and community groups
- Provide a peaceful and tranquil site for members of the local community and beyond
Lida retired in 1999. Her place was taken by Helen Morley. The Warden now is Steve Songhurst, and is contracted for 25/30 hours a week, otherwise the Trust is run by volunteers. The Trust is made up of the Trustee and the Management Committees who are responsible for the charitable status and fundraising, and the daily management of the park and producing the annual management plan respectively. The Trust endeavours to ensure the maintenance of the diverse habitats while also providing an important leisure facility for residents seeking peace and quiet and an educational facility for nearby schools.
Photos © VVPT and Harry Lowder. History Photos © Pauline Preece