Maiden Erlegh Nature Reserve
1965: Maiden Erlegh Lake and surrounding woodland bought for £8,500
Despite there having been a civil parish since the middle of the 19th century, it was not until the middle of the 20th century that Earley Parish Council made it's first known land acquisition. In response to the demands of local residents Coopers Estates agreed to sell Maiden Erlegh Lake and the surrounding woodland to Earley Parish Council in return for being allowed to build on another greenfield site. The land consisted of the lake itself, plus Oakwood, Old Pond Copse and a small part of Moor Copse.
As it was realised the purchase would lead to an increase in the rates, the Council held a public meeting and a referendum. With the backing of the people of Earley, the Council purchased the site for £8,500 in 1965. More recently Old Lane Wood, at the rear of Sellafield Way, was acquired from Wokingham District Council for £1 giving the Park a total area of some 24 acres.
1991: Old Lane Wood bought for £1
The woodlands within the Park are of great historical and ecological importance, with Oak Wood dating from at least the 16th century and contains some 18 indicator species associated with old woodlands. Charcoal and pollen deposits from sediment indicate that the Lake area was once a wet woodland and thus was almost certainly created by building a dam and thus flooding the valley bottom. This practice was common place from the Middle Ages to the 18th century to create fishponds, to provide ice and a landscape feature.
Woods date back to the 16th century
As the woodlands within Oak Wood, Old Pond Copse and Moor Copse are set in a wet valley bottom it is unlikely that the woods were completely cleared for agriculture. Wild and farm animals would have grazed within clearings, and humans would have taken wood for a number of purposes. It is worth being reminded that the rural population of Earley was very small even up to the late 1800s, whilst the nearby population of Reading stood at 32,000 in 1871, thus pressure to build on the land was not immense.
Woodland names give us a clue to their history. In Berkshire the name Oak Wood is a strong indicator that it may date back to the Middle Ages. The 1820 Maps of Enclosures and the Tithe Map of 1844 both show the woodlands and Lake, within Maiden Erlegh Park, as being almost the same size and shape as today.
The Park was designated a Local Nature Reserve in 1996 by English Nature, is a Site of Urban Landscape Value and contains Wildlife Heritage Sites. Species of particular conservation interest which inhabit the Park. Some twenty species of butterflies including the Holly Blue, Speckled Wood and Small Copper; a number of birds including Treecreepers, Bullfinch, Woodpeckers, Kingfisher, Tawny Owl and Song Thrush. Bats are present along with White-clawed Crayfish, Water Vole, Common Shrew, Crickets and the Stag Beetle. Drifts of attractive plants can be enjoyed throughout the warmer weather, these include Bluebells, Wood Anemones, Marsh Marigold, Yellow Loosestrife, Opposite-leafed Golden Saxifrage and Honeysuckle. Tree species which are indicative of old woodlands can be found, such as Oak, Crab Apple, Wild Service, Hornbeam and Hazel.
1996: The Park becomes a Local Nature Reserve