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                        Happy Valley

Click here for THE FUTURE OF HAPPY VALLEY (Perspective by Friends of Farthing Downs) – July 2017

Click here for Friends of Happy Valley and Surrounding Commons (sister group facebook page)


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Happy Valley Getting There.jpg


Happy Valley Park history   (Click for SSSI Status)


When it was purchased under the Green Belt Scheme in 1937, Happy Valley was described as 'One of the most beautiful valleys in the whole neighbourhood'. Under this scheme, a total of 860 acres of Green Belt Land were brought by the old Urban District Council of Coulsdon and Purley and the cost equally shared by the London County Council, Surrey County Council and the UDC.


In addition to Happy Valley, the areas purchased included Foxley Wood, Kingswood and Coulsdon Court among others, the idea being to keep an area of unspoilt countryside within the easy reach of Londoners.


Happy Valley was acquired, in part, to link town neighbouring areas of open owned and managed by the City of London - farthing Downs and Coulsdon Common. The area included the steep-sided valley itself, and the adjoining areas of Devilsden Wood, Glebelands (given by Caterham and Warlingham Urban District Council) and at a later date the Parson Pightle Estate.


Originally known as the 'Coulsdon Greenbelt Lands', the name 'Happy Valley park' was adopted for the whole area in 1970. More recently the site has become known simply as Happy Valley, reflecting the fact that it is now regarded and managed more as an area of open countryside than a formal park.


Happy Valley consists of just over 250 acres of downland grass and wooded slopes, dominated by a steep-sided dry valley at the centre. For centuries the natural regeneration of woodland and shrubs on both Farthing Downs and Happy Valley was held back by sheep and rabbit grazing, but in 1937 systematic grazing was discontinued and 'scrub' was also due to the drop in numbers of nature's lawn mower, the rabbit, which was greatly reduced by the disease Myxomatosis.


Between 1956 and 1966 much of the area was leased to a local farmer for hay crops, which were not taken, and during these years scrub invaded many of the fields that had previously been open land. When the lease on the land was terminated, the Surrey Wildlife Trust gave advice on the clearance of some of the scrub, and in 1968 and 1969 large areas of the south facing slopes were cleared, creating a wealth of new downland flora and fauna. Some dense areas of scrub were left for nesting birds and as cover for foxes and badgers.


Happy Valley is an important reserve for all kinds of animal and plant life, including many rarities. The majority of the site lies within the Farthing Downs and Happy Valley Site for Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature (SMNI).


The valley is of nature conservation value for its extensive chalk and neutral grassland and ancient woodland habitats. All the grasslands are important for their populations of the nationally rare plant 'greater yellow rattle'. In addition, the chalk slopes support many notable plants, including round-headed rampion and eight species of wild orchid. The chalk grassland on the steep valley slopes is particularly rich in wild flowers, and this in turn attracts a wide variety of insects and other invertebrates. Over 25 species of butterfly have been recorded in Happy Valley.


Bird life in the valley includes skylark, kestrel, cuckoo, nightingale, green and great spotted woodpecker, yellowhammer and several varieties of warbler. Among the mammals found in the valley are roe deer, badgers, foxes, stoats, weasels and the nationally rare and elusive dormouse, which breeds in the woodland.


The ancient woodland is very diverse and contains a wide variety of trees, including oak, beech, ash, cherry, sweet chestnut, field maple and hazel. Throughout the site there are a number of large ancient yew trees which were planted in lines many years ago to define the property and parish boundaries.


The variety of Happy Valley's wildlife can only be maintained by careful maintenance and management of the area. Most of the grassland is managed by a variety of hay cuts at different times of year, depending on the type of plants growing in each area. Since 2002 parts of the chalk grassland have been summer grazed by cattle, sheep and goats, which provides more effective scrub control and gives more wildlife diversity than cutting the fields by tractor.


Much of the woodland is coppiced on a 15 year rotation and this again provides a greater variety of habitat for plants and animals to make use of.


A nature trail, which was originally devised in the 1970's to guide visitors around the area, has recently been updated, and a booklet is available to explain what can be seen on a walk around Happy Valley and the adjoining Farthing Downs.


During 1968, permissive horse rides were opened across the park to connect with horse rides on Farthing Downs and Coulsdon Common as well as the bridle roads Drive Road and Magazine Road, creating a total of five miles of horse rides.


From an archaeological point of view, little is known about the valley, but there are interesting sites close-by. The nearest is the Saxon settlement on Farthing Downs which borders Happy Valley to the west.


Status: Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

Notified under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

Farthing Downs and Happy Valley

County: Greater London, Borough: Croydon


Local Planning Authority: LONDON BOROUGH OF CROYDON


National Grid Reference: TQ 303572                 Area: 120.5 (ha.) 297.8 (ac.)


Ordnance Survey Sheet 1:50,000: 187               1:10.000: 25 NE & 35 NW


Date Notified (Under 1949 Act): 1975               Date of Last Revision: –


Date Notified (Under 1981 Act): 1987               Date of Last Revision: –


Other Information: This site was formerly known as Farthing Downs and Devil’s Den. There are several boundary changes, including extensions at Happy Valley.


Reasons for Notification: Farthing Downs and Happy Valley support the most extensive area of semi-natural downland habitats remaining in Greater London. The site is of particular interest for its species-rich chalk and neutral grasslands, and for an area of ancient woodland known as Devilsden Wood. These habitats hold a large variety of herb species of restricted distribution in the County, including some which are nationally scarce. In addition the grasslands support the largest British colony of the nationally rare greater yellow-rattle Rhinanthus angustifolius.


The chalk of the North Downs comes to the surface over most of the site but is overlain by clay-with-flints on the western slopes of Happy Valley. The distribution of grassland and woodland communities reflects this variation in geology and the associated changes in soil types.


The most diverse chalk grasslands occur on the thin rendzina soils on the eastern and north western sides of Happy Valley. The sward is dominated by upright brome Bromus erectus with quaking grass Briza media and other typical chalkland grasses. The herb flora is especially rich containing many species that are characteristic of unimproved chalk grassland but are of restricted occurrence in London owing to loss of this habitat. These include dwarf thistle Cirsium acaule, wild basil Clinopodium vulgare, horseshoe vetch Hippocrepis comosa, field scabious Knautia arvensis, common milkwort Polygala vulgaris, sainfoin Onobrychis viciifolia and hairy violet Viola hirta. These grasslands are also noted for their orchid flora with eight species being recorded, including the nationally scarce man orchid Aceras anthropophorum. Round-headed rampion Phyteuma orbiculare, another nationally scarce plant, also occurs.


The clay soils support a neutral grassland community. Sweet vernal-grass Anthoxanthum odoratum and red fescue Festuca rubra are the most abundant grass species, with crested dog’s-tail Cynosurus cristatus, tall fescue Festuca arundinacea and a range of other meadow species. Amongst the rich herb component are meadow and bulbous buttercup Ranunculus acris and R. bulbosus, common sorrel Rumex acetosa and yellow-rattle Rhinanthus minor. Woolly thistle Cirsium eriophorum, an uncommon species in the county is found on the lower slopes.


The chalk grasslands of Farthing Downs have been disturbed by the encroachment and subsequent removal of thick scrub. In consequence the flora is intermediate between the chalk and neutral grasslands of Happy Valley. This area contains a large population of dropwort Filipendula vulgaris, an uncommon plant in London.


All three grassland communities are of particular importance for the great abundance of greater yellow-rattle. This plant is nationally rare and specially protected by legislation, being known from only six localities in Great Britain. Farthing Downs and Happy Valley supports the major part of the total British population and is actively managed to safeguard and increase its abundance.


Devilsden Wood lies on the western side of Happy Valley and straddles both chalk and clay soils. It has a high forest structure with ash Fraxinus excelsior, pedunculate oak Quercus robur and hazel Corylus avellana throughout. Over chalk, yew Taxus baccata features in the understorey with a diverse ground flora predominated by dog’s mercury Mercurialis perennis. Small groves of small beech Fagus sylvatica are also found here with white helleborine Cephalanthera damasonium, a scarce London plant, on the forest floor. The woodland over the clay-with-flints is distinguished by large stands of mature wild cherry Prunus avium. Species indicative of ancient woodland include midland hawthorn Crataegus monogyna, sweet woodruff Galium odoratum, bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta, yellow archangel Lamiastrum galeobdolon and bird’s-nest orchid Neottia nidus-avis.