Back to Nature with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust
PUBLISHED: 10:19 23 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:19 20 February 2013
While many of us see the summer as a time to relax and recharge our batteries, the incredibly diverse world of nature has other ideas. The next few months will see the countryside burst into a hive of activity with flowers blooming, insects buzzin...
Clattinger Farm, near Minety - Wildflower Meadow
There are fewer things more glorious on a summer's day than standing knee high in a meadow full of wild flowers, while brightly coloured butterflies flutter by and skylarks fill the air with song. Clattinger Farm is a place where moments like these can be captured. The reserve is part of an extensive network of traditional hay meadows, a habitat that has been in decline since the 1950s as farming became more intensified. Clattinger is considered to be the finest remaining example of unimproved lowland grassland in the country, and is of international importance for its hay meadow wildflowers. From May onwards the fields are ablaze with colourful flowers - here we can find the green winged orchid, the crimson coloured great burnet, devil's bit scabious, yellow rattle, and the rare southern marsh orchid. One of the floral highlights of this reserve - and something to note for next year - are the snake's head fritillaries, which bloom in late April. These delicate bell-shaped flowers with their distinctive chequer-board patterned petals were once a common species, but now only survive in few protected places.
If you'd like to see the reserve in all its summer glory, then you'll need to be quick as the fields are cut for hay in July after the flowers have seeded. To some this may seem like the wanton destruction of a beautiful wildlife site, but in fact it's this very process that enables the flowers to return the following year. By cutting and removing the hay, nutrients are taken away from the soil - if these were allowed to build up, the ground would become nutrient-rich encouraging more vigorous plants to set seed, spelling disaster for the more delicate species. Clattinger Farm neighbours a number of other Trust nature reserves and forms part of a large-scale effort to restore woods and meadows across the landscape, encouraging the return of the wildflowers, butterflies, curlews and barn owls that depend on them.
Ordnance survey map reference: SU 017 937.
Coombe Bissett, near Salisbury - Chalk Grassland
Chalk grasslands are synonymous with Wiltshire - but did you know that 80% of the world's unimproved chalk grasslands are in the UK, and that 50% of these are found in our county? It's an astonishing fact. They also happen to be one of the most diverse habitats in the world, able to support 60 different species in any single square metre, many of which cannot survive in any other environment. Coombe Bissett is a fine example of such a habitat. In summer the slopes erupt into colour when flowers like the tiny blue chalk milkwort, the rare burnt orchid and wild carrot come out of hiding. The flowers attract butterflies like the chalkhill blue, dingy skipper and marbled white. While overhead, skylarks, yellowhammers, goldfinches and whitethroats can be seen and heard. The reserve is carefully partitioned to allow for different degrees of grazing, which in turn will encourage different types of species. One section, for example, supports the rare miner bee which feeds on scabious pollen; another supports the rare Adonis blue butterfly and its food source the horseshoe vetch. Without this form of management, the reserve would quickly become overgrown with scrub, and these species would be lost.
The reserve is a joy to visit all year round for its dramatic contour of curves and steep slopes. It also offers fantastic far-reaching views across the countryside from its highest points. And those with an interest in archaeology will not be disappointed with the medieval 'strip lynchets' (terraces for farming) that were cut into the slopes centuries ago.
Ordnance survey map reference: SU 111 256.
Jones's Mill, near Pewsey - Fenland
Situated on the outskirts of Pewsey, is Wiltshire's only fenland reserve - a wetland habitat fed by natural springs. The River Avon runs through the reserve on its way to Salisbury, and numerous springs, dotted along the northern valley slopes, nourish the surrounding water meadows and wet woodland. In the summer, the fen bursts into colour with the yellow flag iris, rare bog bean and delicate water avens, and in the water meadows marsh marigold, cuckoo flower, and southern marsh and common spotted orchids take hold. Here you are likely to see the green-veined and orange-tip butterflies which both feed on the cuckoo flower, one preferring its flower, the other its leaves. A number of rare plant species also thrive here - the marsh arrow grass and the bog pimpernel, which is only found in three other places in Wiltshire.
The rare and minuscule Desmoulin's whorl-snail is also found here, climbing up the stems of the wet grasses in September. This time of year also sees the devil's bit scabious in full bloom, the favourite food of the rare marsh fritillary butterfly.
The reserve is home to animals that thrive in wet conditions - water voles, dragonflies, the elusive water shrew and birds such as kingfisher, snipe and heron. In the woodland make sure you listen out for the great spotted woodpecker and long-tailed tit.
But what gives Jones's Mill a unique - and almost prehistoric - feel is the wet woodland, also known as 'carr'. One can be forgiven for feeling like an intrepid explorer when delving into its depths: Inside the carr, the towering alders blot out the sun even on a bright summer's day, casting a surreal cool shade. Here, every sound is heightened -the squelching of the black peaty soil with every step, the eerie creaking of the trees in the slightest of breezes, the trickling of water from the nearby river.
The bristly and primitive horsetail, with its armoured body of spikes, lines the soggy trail through the woodland. This is one of the world's oldest plants, having been around for an estimated 350 million years - a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Their high silica content is thought to have protected them from these fierce creatures.
Jones's Mill is wet all year round - so it's a good idea to wear a pair of wellies - even on a summer's day - and to stick to the suggested routes marked in places by a railway sleeper boardwalk, which raise you above the wet ground. Following the trail will take you through the mosaic of habitats that makes up this reserve.
Ordnance survey map reference: SU 169 611.
Wiltshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves are open every day of the year, and all are free-of-charge. For more information on these, and for directions on how to get there, visit the Trust's website www.wiltshirewildlife.org. To request a copy of the Trust's nature reserve guide,