On the common opposite us, they have been clearing the invasion of rhododendrons. The result looks shocking: a post-apocalyptic landscape of bare earth and lone tree stumps. But it’s part of a long tradition of man’s intervention on this southern heathland, which results in glorious purple swatches of heather.
In the past, locals used to cut the birch for firewood and the gorse for animal fodder, but now it’s the efforts of the local conservation group that maintain its unique ecological condition, home to rare species such as the silver-studded blue butterfly, dartford warbler and snakes.
During a tour with an expert, we were allowed to handle smooth snakes, natterjack toads and slow worms, although not the venomous adders. Catching a lizard darting through mature stems of woody heather requires the lightning reflexes of a contestant at a village fête’s ‘whack the rat’ stall.
The wildlife trust leaves strategically placed corrugated-iron sheets for reptiles seeking warmth. As a corner is lifted to find what’s underneath, the tension is similar to that at the Oval as the crowd wait for the last wicket to fall. The nest of slow worms that rapidly slithers off may not be the same as an Ashes urn, but it gets the crowd going.