There is such a plethora of beauty overflowing in the countryside that one nature reserve is not enough to see the best of British wildlife this summer. As such, we have put together ten of England’s best nature reserves where you can watch birds bursting into song, butterflies fluttering by, flowers providing a mesmerising scent and various mammals scurrying about on the hunt for food.
Get on some country clothing, sturdy walking boots and don’t forget your binoculars before heading out on a day trip to one of these nature reserves, located around the UK.
The Hawthorn Dene Nature Reserve on the North Sea coast covers a steep-sided wooded ravine and exploring it provides a wonderful experience for the whole family. It is common to catch a glimpse of roe deer here, in between the native yew, ash and elm trees. The ground is covered with wild garlic, dog’s mercury and wild orchids. Keep an ear out for chiffchaffs and willow warblers. The reserve stretches all the way to the shoreline, and you can pass through the meadow at the bottom of the ravine to get to the beach.
Bodenham Lake Nature Reserve, Herefordshire
Bodenham Lake is the largest body of water found in Herefordshire and is home to otters, waterfowl and hobby falcons. In addition to the lake and surrounding meadows full of wildflowers, there are also beautiful orchards which are part of the reserve and are very popular with kestrels. The River Lugg borders the reserve, and it is along here you will have the best chance of seeing otters at dawn or dusk. Throughout the day, you might be able to spot their footprints in the muddy banks of the river.
Mere Sands Wood has lakes, woodland, meadows and heaths, making it a great location to spot a variety of wildlife. The name of the reserve can be traced back to medieval times when it was on the shore of a large lake called Martin Mere. Keep an eye out for some of Britain’s most shy animals: roe deer and red squirrels. There are at least six breeding pairs of red squirrel in the pine woods so keep your eyes peeled for signs they are around, including discarded hazelnut shells and nibbled pine cones.
The clay deposits which border the Humber Estuary have been used to make tiles, bricks and cement since Roman times, but since being abandoned in the 1950s, the pits have filled with water. As you wander the nature reserve, you can hear water voles among the reed beds, and warblers and bearded tits calling out to each other. Perhaps the most exciting thing to see at Far Ings is the bittern. This large, streaky brown bird can be hard to spot as it is well camouflaged, but its call can be heard from up to two miles away. The call, performed by the male, is a booming call that sounds deep and with a slight echo.
Set among the Chiltern Hills, Warburg Nature Reserve has flowery grasslands flanked by wooded hills. From spring onwards, 15 different species of orchid begin to flower, and the air is full of birdsong. You can hear the calls of red kites, tawny owls and the repetitive drumming of woodpeckers. The great spotted woodpecker can be seen at the reserve which drums on trees to communicate. Green woodpeckers also live on the reserve but give out a laughing call, known as a yaffle.
At Farlington Marshes, you can walk the sea wall, which stretches over two miles and listen for skylarks and bearded reedlings. There are mature cattle which feed here, and the marsh has been used for grazing cattle since the 1760s. This nature reserve is also one of the best to see the stunning displays of male lapwings as they perform swooping and diving manoeuvres during the mating season. These wading birds thrive on Farlington Marshes.
Hutton Roof Crags contain some of the best natural limestone pavement found in the UK. Formed by the exposure of 350 million-year-old carboniferous rock, it has been scoured by glaciers and weathered to produce paving stones. There is plenty of wildlife to seek out in the rocky woodland, grassland and heath. In the spring, there is lily-of-the-valley, fly orchids and blue moor-grass flowers. Butterflies make the most of the wildflowers with brimstone and green hairstreak butterflies the first to appear.
Bough Beech is perfect for bird watching due to the diverse mix of habitats. There are meadows, orchards, a large reservoir and ancient woodland to explore at the reserve so keep your binoculars in hand. More than 200 species of bird have been recorded here, including rare breeds like wrynecks, ospreys and little crakes. Spring to early summer is the time to spot warblers, great crested grebes and the occasional egret. By the reservoir, keep an eye out for the blue flash of a kingfisher. They perch on branches above the water, waiting for the perfect moment to dive down and snatch up a fish. There are several aquatic animals at Bough Beech too, such as great crested newts, freshwater shrimps and common toads.
The Cheddar Complex incorporates three nature reserves, all within the Mendip Hills and not far from Cheddar Gorge: Black Rock, Long Wood and Velvet Bottom. The limestone grassland at Black Rock has more than 30 plant species per square mile. The ancient woodland at Long Wood has many mosses and ferns, and is carpeted with wild garlic. The turfy grassland at Velvet Bottom is kept short by rabbits and covered in flowers. Look for reptiles such as adders and slow worms. The adder is small and shy with a distinctive pattern on its grey-brown back. It is also the only venomous snake in Britain, so keep a distance!
Located in St Ives Bay, Upton Towans is a wildlife sanctuary covering several windswept sand dunes. Further inland from the sea, the dunes have all types of plant life growing on them, including orchids. In the spring and summer, the grasslands are filled with skylarks. These crested brown birds are most easy to spot when performing their long song-filled flights. Males rise vertically above the grass, effortlessly hovering and singing simultaneously, for fairly long periods of time, which is impressive for such a small bird. They can also be heard singing from perches, such as rocks.