Valley Park lies just beyond the western outskirts of Chandler's Ford, and comprises five separate woods. Until quite recently these were set within an agricultural landscape that was characterised by a patchwork of small fields used for pasture, and to a lesser extent for arable. Since the 1980’s extensive residential development, in line with the requirements of the South Hampshire Structure Plan, has absorbed most of the former farmland, leaving the woods relatively isolated in what is now predominantly suburban setting.
Taken together the five woods cover some 42.5 hectares and fall into the category of Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland. The woods are owned by Test Valley Borough Council and managed by the Council’s Leisure Services department for conservation and education, along with informal access to local residents for various recreational purposes. The chief habitats are created by oak, ash, neglected hazel coppice, alder carr and small areas of heath land. The ancient woods have a high conservation value and are greatly prized by local residents. These qualities are emphasised in the Borough Council's current Management Plan, which underlines the ecological fragility and amenity potential of the woods.
Several sites of archaeological interest in the area have been recorded or excavated in recent years, and these have produced information about the settlement and shaping of the landscape before the present woods existed. Other findings relate directly to the origins, development and management of the woods down to the present day
Since their purchase by Test Valley Borough Council, the conservation and amenity potential of Valley Park Woods has been the subject of detailed ecological assessment. The five woods are on the English Nature Register of Ancient Woodland in Hampshire, and the principal objective of the current Management Plan is to preserve and enhance their ancient character. This will be achieved by reviving the economic sustainability of the woods, while at the same time maintaining a balance between conservation interests and the public enjoyment of the area.
There is a popular annual wood fair held in Zionshill Copse, and its success is a measure of the growing public interest in the woods and their future. In addition to their habitat diversity and value for wildlife, Valley Park Woods are an important archaeological and historic resource. It is clear from the various surveys and excavations that the area retains significant evidence for past settlement and land-use. The landscape evidence for this survive in the form of boundary banks and other features that are the physical reminder of the long vanished relationship between rural communities and the woods, heaths and commons, which played such a prominent role in their lives.
[Images on this page are reproduced with kind permission of Test Valley Borough Council]