Having recently moved to Hampshire, I’m still discovering places to visit to go for a walk in the local area. One such place that I have now made several returns to is one of Andover’s local nature reserves, Rooksbury Mill. It’s an ideal visit if you want a quick bit of fresh air and enjoy being outside in nature.
Rooksbury Mill consists of two lakes; Barlow and Mill Lake, several ponds and stretches of the River Anton as it journeys south. As the name suggests, it was once the site of a watermill, the mill can still be seen from the distance although now is a private residence.
The two lakes here were created in the 1960s by gravel extraction (as is the common way many lakes in the south are formed) and today they provide a haven for a variety of species of bird, animal and fish.
There’s a circular walk you can take around the lakes and this connects up as well with extended walks along the River Anton Way – you can walk to Anton Lakes nature reserve or into the town centre from here too. Dogs on leads, children and bicycles are welcome on the majority of the paths however there is a designated ‘sensitive wildlife area’ where dogs and bicycles are not permitted.
I always take my camera along when I visit as there are reported sightings of an animal that’s pretty special to me, the otter. To this day, I haven’t been lucky enough to see any here however, after years of trying to spot one in the wild, I had my first otter encounter on the River Anton in Andover so I’m ever-hopeful that I’ll see one here too.
It is in the sensitive wildlife area that I have had all of my kingfisher encounters – one day recently being blessed with seeing three of these majestic birds in quick succession. From one of the wooden bridges I watched on as two kingfishers sat facing each other performing some kind of head bopping routine. I wasn’t sure if this was some kind of courtship display or whether it was a territory thing – kingfishers are notoriously territorial birds. On consulting my Dad, and good old Google later we discovered it was likely to have been the latter as both birds from my photo appear to be male (you can tell the difference by the colour of their beaks – female kingfishers have a lighter underside to their beak).
On the same day, slightly further along the river I watched a female kingfisher dart in and out of the water to catch small fish. I even managed to get a quick photo although typically it happened so fast my camera wasn’t in the right mode so the photo came out blurry! 😊 After that, she sat poised on a branch observing the water and didn’t seem to mind me photographing her from a distance. It was mesmerising to watch, I think they are such beautiful and fascinating birds.
In terms of bird life, it’s not just kingfishers here but a variety of other wetland species – swans, mallard ducks, tufted ducks (I love these especially too), coots and moorhens. You can often spot a heron or egret fishing from the side of the lake or the cormorants in the trees ready to make a catch from the lakes as well. The trees are filled with the sounds of birds too and you’ll find many garden species including robins, coal tits, long tailed tits and blackbirds.
There are several benches that you can take a rest at and if you fancy trying a spot of fishing for yourself then there are permits available at certain times of the year from Test Valley Borough Council, who own the site.
Over recent years there has been quite a bit of work done by the council, the local Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency to restore the River Anton for conservation and recreation purposes and it is thanks to this work that there has been a return of otter, water voles and other species to the area.
Useful information for this walk:
There’s a free car park just off Barlows Lane which is right by an entrance to the nature reserve. The walk is pretty level so is ideal for anyone with mobility problems or with pushchairs. That said, it can get muddy from time to time, particularly in stretches of the sensitive wildlife area so walking boots or wellington boots are probably not a bad shout! My final tip is don’t forget your binoculars or camera.