Scarlet tiger moths, seen in June in Reading's gardens
The Museum’s collection shows how the local environment has evolved over millions of years into the landscape we see today.
65 million years ago, the whole region lay under a vast tropical sea. The chalk downs, to the north and south of Reading, consist of countless microscopic algae that had built up on the sea floor. When the sea retreated the Reading area was a huge river delta with mudflats and sandbars, which later formed into rocks called the Reading Beds.
Nearly two million years ago the Pleistocene Ice Ages began. Long, intensely cold periods saw ice sheets spread from the north, diverting the River Thames south to its present course. The landscape around Reading was treeless arctic tundra. Reindeer, woolly rhinoceros and mammoth lived here. The shorter interglacials were often warmer than today. Then, grassland and open woodland were home to elephants, hippopotamus and aurochs (wild ox). The first people arrived in the later Ice Ages, and their tools are found in the layers of gravel that were carried by the rivers from retreating glaciers.
In the present climate the area’s natural vegetation should be oak forest. However, when farming arrived about 6000 years ago people cleared trees, encouraging grassland plants and animals. The balance between forest and farmland has shifted over the centuries - but from the 1840s industrialisation brought rapid growth to Reading, creating an urban landscape.
A surprising diversity of wildlife lives across the town, especially in undisturbed parts of cemeteries and parks with a variety of plants and mature trees. Animals you might see include muntjac deer and tawny owls. Bats and cliff-nesting birds, like the swift, use buildings instead of natural sites, and many woodland birds have adapted to gardens, the largest area of green space in the suburbs.
Some ancient woodland still exists in Reading Borough, such as Clayfield Copse - a locally important nature reserve for wildflowers, fungi and insects. Water and wetland habitats are also a prominent feature of the district. These include the rivers Thames and Kennet, other smaller watercourses, gravel pits and ponds.
Date updated: 09 Mar 2012