Wild Britain: Week 1. The Best of the Wildlife Trust's sites

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Even for those of us who live in big cities, wild places are often within easy reach. In the first of a two-part series, David Randall explains why there are reasons to be cheerful about our environment and recommends 100 Wildlife Trust spots across Britain. Next week: The IoS highlights Woodland Trust sites

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You might be excused – if all you read of wildlife was the news pages of daily papers – for thinking that every species is threatened, every habitat being spoiled, and we are managing to convey our flora and fauna to hell in the swiftest of handcarts. The conservation groups – who otherwise do much good – also do a brisk trade with journalism's perpetual pessimists by producing a succession of reports on the demise of this or the disappearance of that. "Populations of the lesser spotted knick-knack bird have declined more than 60 per cent since 1970," might go one of their gloomy surveys, "and unless drastic action is taken, this beautiful creature will be extinct in Britain by 2030." And, with a twist of hysteria added by the headline writers, this is what you will read.

Well, I'm not so sure. The more I read specialist books and magazines, and speak to naturalists, the less convincing do I find these cries of woe. The idea that our flora and fauna are in inexorable decline from some pre-industrial Eden-like state is questionable. First, because they are tougher, more regenerative, than we usually admit; second because they are, and always have been, in a state of flux (to take birds, for every species leaving there is at least one arriving); and, third, because of the achievements of what is so wrongly called the conservation movement.

In the past few decades, efforts by government and non-government bodies have led to: more birds of prey than at any time for a century; orchids and water voles recovering; more wetlands than for 60 years; deer populations expanding (too much, actually); heathland increasing; more trees than 850 years ago; and a host of species, from corncrakes, red kites and bitterns, to avocets, peregrines and heathers, vigorously coming back from various brinks. "Revivalist" would be a better word for the movement which has brought this about, and among its unsung leaders have been our county wildlife trusts. They run 2,282 reserves, covering more than 360 square miles, many of them former gravel pits, quarries, opencast mines or land thought beyond any rescue or value because of its exploitation and pollution by industry. And on to these rejuvenated sites, and their lakes, grasslands, woods, bogs, streams and reedbeds, have come birds, plants, dragonflies, beetles and butterflies, including some of the country's rarest species. Here they grow, breed and multiply.

It is remarkable – and continuing – work. To celebrate this, and what we know to be our readers' interest in new places to explore nature, we have produced this two-part summer series, each highlighting 100 sites around the country. This week, we showcase the reserves of the UK's 47 wildlife trusts. Next week, we will bring you some of the Woodland Trust's best places. We hope you enjoy them, and the extraordinary range of species they contain.

London & South-east

Wilderness Island

Near Carshalton, Greater London

Small but fascinating reserve of ponds, woods, wetland and meadows between two arms of the River Wandle, once a dumping ground for supermarket trolleys and garbage but now a thriving chalk stream. Birds include kingfisher, grey wagtail and blackcap; and among the many butterflies are holly blue and small copper.

Hutchinson's Bank, Chapel Bank and Threecorner Grove

Croydon

One of the best butterfly sites in Britain – just a few miles from Croydon town centre. Two areas of chalkland grass separated by a small wood, it is visited by 28 butterfly species in a good year, including the small blue and dark-green fritillary. Plus rare flowers such as man orchid and white helleborine.

Wisley Common, Ockham & Chatley Heath

Leatherhead, Surrey

An intense restoration programme has seen the amount of heath increase to 247 acres – 20 times its 1986 size. There are ponds, a large lake and a wetland area. Woodlarks, hobbies and buzzards are among the many birds that breed here. Chatley Heath has England's only remaining semaphore tower.

Oare Marshes

Faversham, Kent

Internationally important wetland and reedbeds. Among the breeding birds are bearded tits, reed buntings, avocets, water rails, snipe and shovellers. Seals can sometimes be seen resting on the sand banks, and among the plants are spiny restharrow, golden samphire and sea lavender.

Sandwich and Pegwell Bay

Ramsgate, Kent

Complex of different habitats contains cliffs, sand dunes, shingle, mudflats, saltmarsh and ancient dune pastures. Plants range from the rare golden samphire to sea holly, and southern marsh, bee, lizard and pyramidal orchids. The birds are at their best in the autumn, with great numbers of grey plover and sanderling.



Filsham Reedbed

Hastings, East Sussex

The largest reedbed in Sussex, plus lagoons and ditches is a refuelling station for migrant birds, including thousands of swallows. You may also see visiting marsh harriers and bitterns. Rare water plants found here include frogbit, water violet and carnivorous bladderwort.



Malling Down

Lewes, East Sussex

Chalk grassland vies with invading scrub, but enough of it survives to make this a superb site for wild flowers. In 2002, more than two million cowslips bloomed here, and there are round-headed rampion and autumn gentian. Butterflies include the brilliant Adonis blue and Chalkhill blue.

Ebernoe Common

Petworth, West Sussex

Low Weald woodland which is probably the finest site in the country for bats. Some 14 of the 16 species in Britain have been recorded here. Plants include the lemon-scented fern, and the site has more than 840 different kinds of fungi.



Dancersend

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

Woods and grassland in a valley. Uncommon plants include adders' tongue fern, great butterfly orchid and fly orchid, plus the Chiltern gentian. The Duke of Burgundy butterfly lives here, as do green hairstreaks, ringlets and grizzled skippers. Excellent for autumn fungi, especially the earth star.



Wildmoor Heath

Bracknell, Berkshire

Lowland heath with good reptile population. Species include grass snake, adder, slow worm and common lizard. The other attractions are nightjars, Dartford warblers, bats and glow-worms. Butterflies abound, with the star being the silver-studded blue. Among the dragonflies are the downy emerald and keeled skimmer.



Bowdown Woods

Newbury, Berkshire

Woodland, glades, hidden valleys and heathland stretching to the banks of the River Kennet. One of the few places left in Britain where you might see the lesser spotted woodpecker, it is also home to more than 30 species of butterfly, including the white admiral and silver-washed fritillary.



Stocker's Lake

Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

Huge old gravel pit with hides to observe impressive birdlife. Some 42 species regularly breed here, including terns, herons and reed buntings. Hobbies fly here to feed on the dragonflies, and there are great numbers of wildfowl, including gadwall and shoveller, which winter here.



College Lake

Tring, Hertfordshire

Former chalk quarry with marsh area, this has fossils as well as teeming wildlife. Ten species of orchid are found here, plus hares, lapwing, sand martins and enough dragonflies to attract hobbies. Butterflies include the small blue, and it is a prime spot for migrating birds, including ospreys.



Wilstone Reservoir

Aston Clinton, Hertfordshire

Natural springs feed the reservoir, which is surrounded by ancient marshes, reedswamp and willow carr. There is a large heronry, and tufted duck and pochard come here for their summer moult. In the winter, there can be as many as 20,000 gulls roosting here. Wilstone is also the place where the little ringed plover first bred in Britain, in 1938.



Cooper's Hill

Bedfordshire

This is Bedfordshire's largest remaining area of heath, and is a stirring sight when in bloom in late summer. Common lizards live here, as do some notable species of solitary bees. There is also a small area of acidic bog and ponds where the uncommon marsh violet grows.



Warburg

Near Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Woods and grassland in a winding chalk valley that is rich in wildlife. There are fallow, muntjac and roe deer; dormice, adders, common lizards; plus noctule and pipistrelle bats. Butterflies present include the purple emperor, and there are 15 species of orchid and 900 varieties of fungus.



Homefield Wood

Near Marlow, Buckinghamshire

For many years, the military orchid was thought to be extinct. Today, this pink and white orchid – so called because the flowers resemble a tiny soldier complete with legs, arms, buttoned jacket and helmet – thrives here. The care of wildlife trust volunteers has seen it multiply from six plants in 1977 to more than 200 now.

South & south-west

Noar Hill

Near Selborne, Hampshire

One of the best chalk grassland sites in the UK, it has recorded more than 35 species of butterfly, among them the Duke of Burgundy, marbled white and brown hairstreak. Bee orchids here have been known to reach a height of more than 1ft.



St Catherine's Hill

Winchester, Hampshire

A flower-rich chalk grassland with spectacular views over Winchester and the Itchen Valley. Orchids here include the musk, frog and autumn lady's tresses. Notable for its butterflies, among the most striking regulars are the marbled white, chalkhill blue and brown argus, which, despite its name and colour, is a blue.



Pamber Forest

Basingstoke, Hampshire

Large ancient woodland whose insect and plant populations have made it an SSSI. Most of the wood is oak and birch, with some sweet chestnut. The richest flora is found in the two stream valleys, and notable plants include tutsan, Star of Bethlehem and orpine.



Keyhaven and Pennington Marshes

Lymington, Hampshire

The mudflats here attract ringer plover, oystercatchers, terns, dunlin and black-tailed godwit. Little egrets have settled here in good numbers, as have herons, and both are often seen fishing with their dagger-like beaks. Plants include little robin, the diminutive relative of the common herb-Robert.



Jones Mill

Pewsey, Wiltshire

Fenland which is home to snipe, heron, kingfisher, dragonflies and the scarlet tiger moth. Plants include the bog pimpernel, southern marsh, common spotted orchids and the extraordinary giant horsetail. The rare water shrew lives here.



Langford Lakes

Salisbury, Wiltshire

Three lakes which were once gravel pits, plus the beautiful River Wylye, a classic southern chalk stream. Otters, kingfishers and water voles are here, and this is a great spot to watch birds on migration, including the osprey. An important place for wintering gadwall, wigeon and teal.



Powerstock Common

Beaminster, Dorset

A real mosaic of habitats – grassland, wet and dry woods, ponds, streams and the remains of an old railway track. Birds include warblers, whitethroats, ravens and buzzards. In the ponds are the great crested newt, and among the butterflies are the wood white and marsh fritillary.



Tadnoll and Winfrith

Dorchester, Dorset

Nearly 400 acres of mixed heaths, bogs, pools, meadows and streams. This is a prime site for both the sand lizard and smooth snake, and for birds such as the Dartford warbler, merlin, snipe, nightjar and woodcock. Butterflies include the silver-studded blue.



Dunsdon

Holsworthy, Devon

One of the best examples of Culm grassland in the county, which gives an idea how much of north-west Devon once looked. Home to the marsh fritillary butterfly, which is threatened throughout Europe and whose larva spins its web at the base of the devil's-bit scabious. Has buzzards, snipe and woodcock.



Dunsford

Exeter, Devon

Woods, meadows and river inside the Dartmoor National Park. The bird population is good and includes the increasingly uncommon pied flycatcher. Among the butterflies are the high brown and pearl-bordered fritillaries. There are otters in the river.



Halsdon

Great Torrington, Devon

Attractive valley of deciduous woodland and pasture beside a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of the river Torridge. This is one of the most important rivers in England for otters, and they are regularly seen from the hide. There are also kingfishers and salmon.



Helman Tor

Bodmin, Cornwall

Dry and wet heath, mire, sphagnum bog, wet woodland and ponds. There is plenty of birdlife in the willow carr, including the well-named grasshopper warbler. Among butterflies is the marsh fritillary. One of the attractions of the bog areas is the sundew, the nearest we have in this country to the venus fly trap.



Cabilla and Redrice Woods

Bodmin, Cornwall

Large woodland, parts of which have not changed in more than 400 years. Among the birds are pied flycatcher, treecreeper and nuthatch; and there are otters in the adjacent River Fowey. And, in the old lead and silver mines, live five species of bat.



St George's Island

Looe, Cornwall

A pre-booked short boat ride takes you to this, one of Cornwall's few inhabited islands. Here are 22 acres of marine nature reserve, with woods, grassland, cliffs, sand, shingle and reef. One of the best places to spot grey seals and great black-backed gulls.



Black Rock

Cheddar, Somerset

Limestone grassland, woods and scree at the head of Cheddar Gorge. Plants include the limestone fern and brittle bladder fern; among the butterflies are the small blue and brown argus; and the woods contain a good population of dormice, secretive little mammals which sleep for half the year.

Brown's Folly

Bath, Avon

Reserve of quarries and woodland which commands a great view towards Bath. Nine species of orchid grow here, including the fly; there is wild thyme and harebell, plus the rare Bath asparagus. And in some of the old mines live greater horseshoe bats.



Walborough

Weston-super-Mare, Avon

Saltmarsh and grassland on the Axe estuary. Flowers include the green-winged and early purple orchid, plus autumn lady's tresses. The marshes always have good numbers of waders and wildfowl, and among the butterflies here are the brown argus, grizzled and dingy skippers and the grayling.



Greystones Farm and Salmonsbury Meadows

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Meadow and stream near Bourton-on-the-Water. In the fields have been found more than 100 plants, including early and southern marsh orchids, meadow rue, pepper saxifrage and ragged robin. Visit in the evening and you may see a barn owl quartering the grass for voles.



Lower Woods

Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire

One of England's largest ancient oak-ash woods, plus meadows and river. A prime place to hear nightingales and, if you're lucky, see a dormouse. Butterflies include white admiral and the silver-washed fritillary, and among the plants are devil's-bit scabious and adder's tongue fern.



Holywell

Dingle, Eardisley, Herefordshire

You are never far from the sound of running water in this steep-sided wooded valley. A stream runs through it, with numerous small waterfalls and rapids, which attract kingfisher and dipper. In the mossy wooded parts, there are treecreeper, nuthatch and the great spotted woodpecker.

East Anglia

Fingringhoe Wick

Colchester, Essex

Here, on old gravel workings, has been created grassland, gorse heath, reedbeds, ponds and a large lake – plus great views of the Colne estuary. It is important for wintering waders, and is also noted for its nightingales – and adders.



Redgrave and Lopham Fen

Diss, Suffolk

The largest remaining valley fen in England, and a wetland of international importance. The reserve is grazed by a herd of Polish Konik ponies, cattle and Hebridean sheep. Dragonflies – and therefore hobbies – abound, and this is one of the only three sites in the UK where the fen raft spider lives.



Carlton Marshes

Lowestoft, Suffolk

Lying at the southern tip of the Broads, these marshes are drained by a series of dykes. In them are water voles and one of Britain's rarest plants, the water soldier. It is also a prime site for dragonflies, with 15 species recorded, and, at night, glow-worms are visible.



Lackford Lakes

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

These former gravel pits beside the River Lark are now a prime wetland. No fewer than 17 species of dragonfly have been seen here, but most people come for the birds. From several hides can be seen kingfisher, migrating osprey and, especially in winter, locust-like clouds of starlings.



Cley Marshes

Norfolk

Reedbeds, marsh, pools, and a great visitor centre by the shingle coast. Birdlife includes avocets and, the great pride of this area, the marsh harrier. Two centuries ago these were common, but reduced habitat and shooting had rendered them extinct by 1900. Today, more than a hundred females nest in the county each year.



Thompson Common

Watton, Norfolk

Hundreds of acres of ancient wet and dry grassland, heath, woods and, most famously, pingos – shallow pools in depressions created by the last Ice Age. Plants include marestail, marsh pennywort, bogbean and marsh orchid, and it is one of the best places for water beetles in Britain.



Weeting Heath

Brandon, Norfolk

Area of Breckland heath which is home to one of Britain's rarest and most engaging birds – the yellow eyed, permanently startled-looking knobbly-kneed stone curlew. Here are also little owls, hobbies and woodlark. Butterflies include the brown argus and small copper.



Hickling Broad

Norfolk

This has the largest expanse of open water in the Broads. There are rare water plants which grow here, but its real fame is due to the yellow and black swallowtail butterfly, Britain's largest, with a wingspan of up to nine centimetres. It lays its eggs on milk parsley.



Upton Broad and Marshes

Norfolk

There are plans to connect this with other sites to create a huge protected wetland. Even before that happens, this is a special place, home to otters and water voles and the rare Norfolk hawker dragonfly. This has clear wings, green eyes and a yellow triangle marking on its body.



Grafham Water

Cambridgeshire

Large expanse of open water surrounded by wetlands, grasslands and ancient woods. A great place to see rare birds, with the osprey and occasional Slavonian grebe dropping by. In summer, the meadows give a great show of wild flowers, including the common spotted and bee orchids.

Midlands

Old Sulehay

Northamptonshire

A fragment of the ancient Rockingham Forest, this is now a mixture of old limestone quarries, grassland, woods and wetland. Notable insects include the green tiger beetle, and there are glow-worms in the tall grass. Among the birds are whitethroat, bullfinch and turtle dove.



Summer Leys

Near Great Doddington, Northamptonshire

Former gravel pits, flood meadows, scrapes and grassland in the Upper Nene Valley. Common tern and ringed plover breed, barn owls hunt here, and winter brings large numbers of wildfowl. Sixteen species of dragonflies and damselflies have been recorded, hence the hobbies which hunt them each summer.



Crowle Moor

Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire

Moor, bog and fen on one large site. More than 30 species of birds have bred here, including woodcock, long-eared owl, nightjar and tree pipit. The drier areas, which have heather, bracken and birch scrub, are good for butterflies.



Snipe Dales

Horncastle, Lincolnshire

These two valleys in the Lincolnshire Wolds are laced with streams and it's one of the few places in the country where you can see our smallest bird – the less than 10cm goldcrest. It is also, if you visit at dusk, a good place to see owls.



Lea Meadows

Newton Linford, Leicestershire

On the site of medieval protected farmland, this site has grassland sporting hundreds of common spotted and heath spotted orchids, plus devil's-bit scabious. Butterflies include the small copper, and there are native crayfish and brook lamprey in the stream.



Narborough Bog

Leicestershire

This is an area of wet woodland, reeds, thickets and damp meadows. The birdlife is especially rich. All three species of British woodpecker have been recorded here, as well as sparrowhawk, kingfisher, tawny owl and no fewer than six species of tit.



Prior's Coppice

Uppingham, Rutland

A relic of the ancient wood that once covered Leicestershire and Rutland. More than 230 species of plants and ferns have been found here, including herb paris, ragged robin and common spotted orchid. Among the birds are nuthatches and the lesser spotted woodpecker.



Besthorpe

Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire

Open water, reedbeds and meadows on the Trent floodplain, beside an estate once owned by Lady Godiva. Home to one of Britain's few inland breeding colonies of cormorants (of the unusual continental sub-species), it also has little ringed plover, goosander and a large heronry.



Treswell Wood

Treswell, Nottinghamshire

Ancient woodlands and ponds which are sufficiently rich in wildlife to be a frequent subject of research. The ponds have great crested newt and many different kinds of water beetle; and birds here include woodpeckers, warblers, jays and woodcocks. The dormouse was reintroduced into Nottinghamshire here in 1995.



Attenborough

Beeston, Nottinghamshire

These old gravel pits are one of the best places in Britain to see the rare black tern. Ospreys often refuel here on migration, and winter brings large numbers of pochard, goldeneye, shovellers and goosander. The dragonflies – especially southern and migrant hawker – can be very good.



The Knapp and Papermill

Worcester

Meadow, woods, old orchards and the Leigh Brook, where signs of otter can be seen. The wild service tree grows here, and in the Big Meadow are plants such as yellow-rattle, ox-eye daisy, green winged and common spotted orchids. The orchard has Annie Elizabeth and Bramley apple trees.



Piper's Hill and Dodderhill Common

Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

Some of the oldest trees in the county are found here, among them beech, sweet chestnut and oaks which may be as much as 400 years old. Plants include the bird's nest orchid, and the fungi includes both beefsteak and bracket fungus.



Tiddesley Wood

Pershore, Worcestershire

Ancient wood which is good for spring bluebells and wood anemones, and, come summer, violet helleborine, greater butterfly orchid and twayblade. Butterflies include the white admiral, and the site is also home to the rare noble chafer beetle, living in the wood of old fruit trees.



Snitterfield Bushes

Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

Woodland which is always colourful, from spring's bluebells and early-purple orchid, through to autumn fungi such as milkcaps, bonnets and puffballs. In summer, there are 250 species of plant, including meadow saffron, broad-leaved helleborine and bird's nest orchid. All this, plus the purple hairstreak butterfly.



Brandon Marsh

Coventry, Warwickshire

A wonderful wetland with pools, marsh, reedbed, grassland and woods. There are three different kinds of newt here – great crested, palmate and smooth – and rare birds, including the long-eared owl, are often seen. In autumn, more than 600 species of fungi can be found, from waxcaps to woodland jelly babies.



Rhos Fiddle

Ludlow, Shropshire

Moorland, heath and grassland high on the border between England and Wales close to the Clun Forest. Among the birds here are curlew, raven, buzzard and skylark, and the plants include heathers, cotton grass and the yellow mountain pansy, which sometimes flowers into September.



Wem Moss

Ellesmere, Shropshire

A rare lowland raised bog and home to one, possibly two, species of the carnivorous sundew, plus wetland plants such as the bog asphodel, bog myrtle and bog rosemary. Here also are tiny raft spiders and excellent numbers of large heath butterflies. There are adders here, too. Lots of them.



Granville

Telford, Shropshire

Once a centre of mining and industry, this site has been reclaimed. There are still old furnaces and a winding house, but they are now perches for birds, and the spoil tips are covered in ox-eye daisies and orchids. Butterflies include dingy skipper, green hairstreak and the speckled wood.



Cotton Dell

Cheadle, Staffordshire

Less than three miles from the commercial madness of Alton Towers is this large reserve with some ancient mixed woodland. Bisected by a brook which is often a place where the dipper can be found, the site has a wide variety of plants in the grassland, including scabious, orchids and betony.

The North

Swettenham Meadows

Holmes Chapel, Cheshire

Cheshire is "pond capital" of the UK, and this reserve of meadow and water is a superb place for dragonflies and damselflies, and the rare water shrew and great crested newt. Plants include horsetails, ragged robin, common and heath spotted orchids; among butterflies are the green-veined white and orange tip.



Gowy Meadows

Chester, Cheshire

Lowland grazing marsh with water-filled broad ditches which support water vole and rare plants such as water violet and carnivorous bladderwort, which feeds on water fleas. Birds include snipe and buzzard, and the site is also home to the rare lesser silver diving beetle, otters and great crested newts.



Warton Crag

Near Carnforth, Lancashire

Steep, rocky, part-wooded reserve with great views across Morecambe Bay. The limestone pavement and terraces are home to lime-loving plants such as rock-rose, blue moor-grass and the pale St John's wort. Twenty-five species of butterfly breed here, plus many more species of moth.



Hutton Roof Crags

Kendal, Cumbria

Here is some of the best limestone pavement in the country. This habitat supports such plants as the rigid buckler fern, dark red helleborine and Solomon's seal. Butterflies include the high brown, dark green and pearl-bordered fritillaries. Plus views across Morecambe Bay.



Smardale Gill

Near Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria

Hidden, wooded valley which includes old trackbed and viaduct of the Tebay-Darlington railway. There are red squirrels and ravens here, and rare butterflies including the northern brown argus, dark green fritillary and Scotch argus – one of only two English sites where it is found.



South Walney

Near Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria

Coastal reserve of shingle, dunes and sandy beaches which houses the largest colony of lesser black-backed and herring gulls in Europe. Altogether some 28,000 pairs breed here, as does, since 1949, the beautiful eider duck. It is also the only place in Cumbria where you can see grey seals on the beach.



Blacka Moor

Near Sheffield

Woods and heath on an upland site with no fewer than 123 archaeological features on it. And all within easy reach of Sheffield. The birdlife here includes stonechat, linnet, reed bunting, sparrowhawk, wheatear, willow warbler and woodcock. Along the plants are bilberry and bog asphodel.



Wyming Brook/Fox Hagg

Sheffield

Grassy hillside beside the tumbling, boulder-strewn brook which descends into woodland. Among the birds here are the goshawk, linnet and meadow pipit. On the dry heathland can be found the viviparous lizard. All with magnificent views of Sheffield's Rivelin Valley.



Wheldrake Ings

Yorkshire

Seasonal wetland, flooded every winter by the River Derwent. There are otters here, and birds include whimbrel, curlew, snipe, lapwing, redshank and short-eared owl. Among the plants are great brunet and the rare narrow-leaved water dropwort. Winter brings thousands more wildfowl and waders.



Hannah's Meadow

Barnard Castle, County Durham

Formerly owned and organically managed by the famous Hannah Hauxwell, here is grassland so free of chemical and other interferences of modern agriculture that it supports flora that make it worthy of being a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Flowers include ragged robin, wood cranesbill, yellow-rattle and globeflower.

Hawthorne Dene

Sunderland, County Durham

Britain's second largest coastal dene – a steep ravine of woodland cutting through limestone. Rare plants include the early-purple orchid, birds' nest orchid, herb paris, fairy flax, bloody cranesbill and dyer's greenweed. Among the birds here are jay, treecreeper and greater spotted woodpecker.



Rainton Meadows

Houghton-le-Spring, County Durham

Once this was an open-cast coal mine. Now it is lakes, scrapes, marsh and grassland. Skylark, meadow pipit and lapwing breed here; all five species of owl have been recorded here, with the long-eared and short-eared regularly to be seen hunting over the grass. And redshank, little ringed plover, snipe and oystercatcher have all moved in.



Saltburn Gill

Middlesbrough, Tees Valley

Some 52 acres of oak and ash woodland, with waters flowing through it that betray, in their sometimes orange colour, the ironstone mine that was once here. Plants include the sweet woodruff, bugle, moschatel and wood avens, plus a good variety of ferns.



Coatham Marsh

Near Redcar, Tees Valley

Large wetland which attracts some rare birds, including the wood sandpiper, Temminck's stint, black redstart, curlew sandpiper, ruff and even a stone curlew. In the summertime, the grasslands have marsh and bee orchids; and, in winter, there are considerable flocks of gadwall, pochard and tufted duck.



Hauxley

Amble, Northumberland

This former opencast coal mine is now a reserve with lake, reedbeds, and woodlands. There are seven hides either overlooking the lake, or looking out to sea. Grasslands at their colourful best in high summer, with butterflies and dragonflies in abundance.



Whitelee Moor

Redesdale, Northumberland

From blanket bog on the hilltops to heather and grassland lower down, this large reserve is home to birds such as dunlin, golden plover and stonechat. Otter and dipper use the streams, and birds of prey such as merlin and peregrine can often be seen overhead.

Scotland

Knapdale

Lochgilphead, Argyll & Bute

Hidden glens, secret lochs, 11 miles of coastline, conifer and Atlantic oakwoods. Here are red squirrel; ravens, curlew, eider, merganser and buzzard. This is also a site where, as part of a trial introduction, the beaver has been returned to Britain after an absence of 400 years.

Loch of the Lowes

Perth, Perthshire

Probably the best place to see ospreys in Scotland, here until late August. The female now resident is famed as the oldest breeding osprey in the UK, aged about 24. There is an excellent visitor centre, with ospreys viewable on HD CCTV. Plus otters, red squirrel, roe and fallow deer.



Gight Wood

Near Methlick, Aberdeenshire

Woods on the north bank of the deep ravine of the River Ythan, near the ruins of Gight Castle, once home to Lord Byron's mother. A good place to see red squirrels, which have their own rope bridge across the river. There are also hares and otters.



Loch Ardinning

Strathblane, near Glasgow

Lochs, moorland, and woods, all just 15 miles from Glasgow. Among the rare plants to be found here is the water lobelia, and there are bog cranberry, bog myrtle and bog asphodel. The increasingly threatened black grouse is resident, and insects include the rare azure damselfly.



Loch Fleet

Dornoch, north Highlands

Sand dunes and beaches, mudflats, heath and pine woods. Birds include common terns, ospreys, Scottish crossbills, and crested tits. There are also pine marten here, and red squirrel, common seals in their hundreds, and dolphins and porpoises can be watched from the beach.

Wales

Burfa Bog

Near Presteigne, Radnorshire

Meadows, streams and woods. Flowers include the heath spotted orchid, marsh valerian and lesser spearwort. Among the 39 species of birds that breed here are bullfinch and yellow-hammer; and grey partridge, snipe and peregrine visit. Butterflies include dark-green fritillary, small heath and ringlet.

Cors Goch

Benllech, Anglesey

Fen, heath and grassland in a narrow valley. The reserve is famous for orchids, with the early-purple, green winged, early marsh, northern marsh, fragrant and lesser butterfly all flowering here. It is also home to the rare medicinal leech, plus hen and marsh harriers.



Gilfach Farm

Radnorshire

River, woods and meadows in a traditional farming setting. Special insects to be found here are: glow-worm, bloody-nosed beetle, golden-ringed dragonfly and butterflies such as the small pearl-bordered fritillary and green and purple hairstreaks. Breeding birds include: dipper, grey wagtail, common sandpiper, siskin, bullfinch and barn owl.



Dan-y-Graig

Near Newport, Gwent

Small but fascinating reserve on the site of a Roman lead mine. Here are woods, grassland, streams, pond and bog. Wild strawberry grows here, as do three species of horsetail. The pond is home to the water shrew, minnows and dragonflies.



Dolydd Hafren

Newtown, Powys

River flood valley with oxbow lakes and meadow. Two hides give good views of curlew, goosander, yellow wagtail and little ringed plover. The reserve, whose river often surges over the rough pasture, is also home to the brown hare and otter.

Gors Maen Llwyd

Denbigh, Clwyd

By far the largest trust reserve in north Wales, this has upland heath, conifer plantation and reservoirs. It is home to both black and red grouse, wheatear, hen harrier and merlin. Water voles live in the stream, and plants include bogbean, cranberry and mountain pansy.



Spinnies

Aberogwen, Bangor, Gwynedd

Open water, woods and pasture near the coast. More than 190 species of bird have been seen here, including the tiny firecrest. There is a seaward hide to watch the spring and autumn migrations, a feature of which can be a "raft" of several hundred red-breasted mergansers.

Northern Ireland

Bog Meadows

Near Belfast

If you want to see where some of the Peace and Reconciliation Fund went, here it is: reedbeds, meadow, streams, four spring-fed ponds and woods beside the M1 motorway. More than 50 species of bird have bred here, and it is the last breeding site in the area for the corncrake.



Slievenacloy

Near Stoneyford

Lush valley with stunning views across Northern Ireland. It has heath, rushes and old unimproved grassland where flowers include orchids such as greater and lesser butterfly, frog, northern marsh and purple. Highland and belted Galloway cattle roam the hills, where Irish hares can also be seen. Dippers often present on the river.



Ecos Wood

Ballymena

Lake, scrapes, meadows, rivers and woods. In the 10 years since a rather uninteresting parkland was transformed into this reserve, more than 110 species of birds have been recorded. Someone has estimated that there are more than 10,000 frogs on site, and it was possibly the same statistician who counted 341 small tortoiseshell butterflies on one day in August 2001.



Milford Cutting

Near Armagh

Small, secluded reserve on the site of an old railway cutting just outside the city. The steep banks are full of orchids in high summer, including the common spotted, fragrant, common twayblade and the extremely rare marsh helleborine. There is also a colony of an unusual tree, the Irish whitebeam.

The help of Britain's county wildlife trusts, and their national organisation, has been vital in compiling this guide. For more information about the many Wildlife Trust sites, plus the work of the trusts and how you can be part of it, go to the individual county wildlife trust websites, or to wildlifetrusts.org

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