Visiting Wiltshire Nature Reserves

112 TUTOR: Sean Dempster (Marlborough College)

You will visit five different nature reserves in Wiltshire that display the extensive range of habitats in the county. All are classified as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and some are European Special Areas of Conservation. You will learn how they are managed for both wildlife and people and see some of the special flora and fauna that live there. The Reserves Section of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust will coordinate the visits, all of which will be guided by a staff member or volunteer from the Trust with expert knowledge of the site.

1 PM
PM course

Course Notes


Jones's Mill is a fen, made up of wet woodland (called alder carr), ponds and wet grassland. Its peaty soils are fed by natural springs and the Salisbury Avon flows through its centre. In the wet areas it's best to stick to the boardwalks as water bubbles and shimmers at your feet. Paths through the rest of the reserve can be a little uneven. In the past a watermill was believed to have been built on the site but more recently the land was grazed by cattle to supply milk. Watercress was also grown here for markets in London. The central part of the reserve was given to us in 1980 by local resident Miss Vera Jeans.

The reserve has ditches, ridges and furrows - evidence of its past use as water meadows. It is home to wildlife that thrives in wet conditions - water voles, dragonflies, the elusive water shrew and birds such as kingfisher, snipe and heron. Great horsetail grows in the alder carr; their bristles have a high silica content making them look like bottle brushes. The alder carr leads to the tussock sedge fen. As the plant grows, the dying leaves build up around the base making little 'tussocks'.

We graze the wet grassland with belted Galloway cattle. In spring and summer it bursts into colour with yellow flag iris, lady's smock and water avens, southern marsh and common spotted orchid. Rare plants include the bog bean, bog pimpernel and flea sedge. If it wasn't grazed the fen would turn into woodland. By keeping vegetation in check the cattle help to maintain a rich diversity of plants.


Nestled in the Wylye Valley between Salisbury and Warminster, Langford Lakesnaturereserve is an ideal place for bird watching. The four lakes provide a vital stopping off point and resident habitat for about 150 different bird species. The reserve has a relaxing atmosphere with good level paths and you can enjoy watching wildfowl from five hides overlooking the lakes. You may even see some rarities, such as osprey. Residents include kingfisher, water rail and gadwall.

In spring watch for great-crested grebes shaking their heads in courtship. Reed warbler, waders and terns drop in on their summer migration. As winter advances shoveler and wigeon join the other ducks present all year round and occasionally the endangered and secretive bittern pays a visit.

When gravel was excavated during the 1960s and 1970s the process left behind holes that filled with water and were turned into a commercial fishery. Since we acquired the lakes in 2001, we have created islands, ponds and wader scrapes that provide habitat for birds such as redshank and sandpiper that probe the mud for food. We have improved the 800m stretch of Wylye River for fish, designated a Special Area of Conservation. And we have transformed a neighbouring field into the Great Meadow wetland, which opened in September 2012.

We run many family and educational activities from our two centres, which are also available to hire. You can get day tickets to fish on the Wylye for wild brown trout and grayling - catch and release only. Coarse fishing is available by joining our Langford Lakes Fishing Club. You can also buy day fishing passes. Access is provided for wheelchair anglers.


Lower Moor (LM)opened in 2007 and is the gateway to Clattinger Farm, Oaksey Moor Farm Meadow and Sandpool nature reserves. From LM you can walk into the other reserves and explore a landscape of fascinating contrasts.The reserve is a mosaic of three lakes, two brooks, ponds and wetland scrapes linked together by boardwalks, ancient hedges, woodland and meadows.The lakes were created by gravel extraction in the 1970s. Mallard Lake is a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its distinctive aquatic plants, which include rare stoneworts. The visitor centre is a resource for education groups and volunteers and a replica Iron Age hut is a focus for our educational activities. Large populations of wildfowl swim in the lakes - great crested grebe, teal, shoveler duck and goosander to name a few. You can enjoy the birdlife from hides at Swallow Pool and Cottage Lake - the latter is accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs. Water voles and otters use the Flagham Brook. On sunny days see if you can spot the emperor, southern hawker and downy emerald dragonflies. When it rains heavily we move our livestock off Clattinger's incredibly valuable but wet wildflower meadows to drier pastures at LMF and Sandpool where they can be housed.

Mallard Lake - 9 hectares - Lake 52 (Cotswold Water Park)

The Mallard Flyfishers Syndicate leases the private trout fly fishing rights on Mallard lake from Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. The lake is located on the Lower Moor Nature Reserve Centre near Oaksey in north Wiltshire. We are approximately 12 miles from Swindon and close to the market towns of Cirencester, Malmesbury and Tetbury. Mallard Lake is one of over 150 lakes which forms the Cotswold Water Park, spanning the counties of Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and west Oxfordshire.

Clattinger Farm - 60.33 hectares

This is the UK's finest remaining example of enclosed lowland grassland. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its fabulous wildflowers and is part of a Special Area of Conservation. It lies on the Thames floodplain and its hay meadows drain into the Swill Brook. It is so rich in wildlife because previous owners farmed the land traditionally without artificial fertilisers. We bought it in 1996. Come in late April to see thousands of delicately patterned snakeshead fritillaries. Walk through the meadows in June to see wildflowers - meadow saffron, tubular water-dropwort, orchids and downy-fruited sedge - a Red Data Book plant. In winter wading birds such as teal, lapwing and snipe forage on the wet meadows.

Sandpool - 19.85 hectares

You can walk from Lower Moor Farm to Sandpool or follow a path alongside the Flagham Brook into Clattinger Farm. Sandpool has seen many transformations, from hay meadow to gravel quarry and inert landfill site. Since 2009 we have been restoring it. The reserve is part of our farming enterprise -the roundhouse shelters cattle in winter. As at LMF, we move our belted Galloway cattle here from Clattinger in wet weather. Most of the reserve is lush grass for grazing. A grassy path leads into wet woodland full of bees and birds such as willow warbler and chiffchaff. Come at dusk and you may spot barn owl and bats. Watch from the bird hide the herons raising their chicks in twiggy nests between January and June.

Oaksey Moor Farm Meadow - 7.65 hectares

This is another link in this chain of incredibly special grasslands, full of wildflowers. In the summer you can see devil's-bit scabious, green-winged orchid, pignut and pepper saxifrage. Look for ruddy darter and four-spotted chaser dragonflies hovering above the pond.


Morgan's Hill between Devizes and Calne offers incredible views of Cherhill Down and the plains of north Wiltshire. The reserve is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its orchids, butterflies and for the general quality of chalk grassland and wildflowers.

A Roman road runs along its northern edge and the fifth century Wansdyke defines its southern border - built to defend the northern territory of Wessex. This large bank with a deep ditch is home to early purple orchids and round-headed rampion. It is believed the hill was named after a local man, John Morgan, who in 1720 was hung at this prominent site for murdering his uncle.

Unusually all three of the UK's native conifer trees grow here - Scots pine, juniper and yew - possibly planted as way-markers to signpost the drovers' route. Keep your eyes peeled for cowslips, primroses and violets in spring, and wild thyme, horseshoe vetch, common rock rose and marsh helleborine in summer. Where there are flowers, butterflies follow. Along the Wansdyke you can find the Adonis, chalkhill, common and small blues. Further down the slopes look for the marsh fritillary - one of the UK's most endangered species of butterfly, which feeds on devil's-bit scabious. The reserve is a magnet for moths such as the Mother Shipton, named after a Yorkshire witch because its wing pattern is thought to resemble an unpleasant face. Birds found at the reserve include kestrel, buzzard, yellow hammer and skylark.

We are improving the grassland by removing scrub and grazing with our Dexter cattle and Herdwick sheep. We have cleared an area of invasive tor-grass, scraping back to the bare chalk, so that different plants and invertebrates can colonise.

Course Tutor

Sean Dempster

Marlborough College

About Sean

Sean taught Biology at Marlborough College for 23 years. He was Head of Department for 9 years and a House Master for 12 years. Before Marlborough, he managed a fisheries project on Lake Titicaca, Bolivia.

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