Nature and wildlife attractions in Berkshire
PUBLISHED: 12:06 06 August 2014 | UPDATED: 12:13 06 August 2014
Discover five of the best places to see Berkshire’s diverse wildlife.
The local nature reserve of Braywick Park in Maidenhead has a rich wildlife waiting to be discovered. Careful planning and management has developed a range of important habitats across the site, part of which is on a reclaimed landfill site, including grassland, woodland and a pond.
The result of this work is a growing diversity of wildlife that can be seen by visitors. The Cut, a flood relief ditch, runs along one side of the reserve providing more variety of wetland habitats and attracting species such as swans and coots.
Many interesting trees grow within the grounds of Braywick Park. Some of them were planted to decorate the gardens of Braywick Lodge, a large house which used to stand where the car park is today. These trees were introduced from different countries around the world over many hundreds of years.
The park also plays host to Braywick Nature Centre, which houses displays and exhibitions on wildlife, sustainability and local history; and has a large classroom for use by schools and other groups.
The centre is open to the public during events throughout the year, such as nature walks or holiday activities for children.
Overlooking the Kennet Valley, Bowdown Woods is the biggest woodland reserves in Berkshire - and for sheer variety of wildlife throughout the year, it’s hard to beat.
Stretching from the vast heathland at Greenham Common down to the River Kennet, this reserve forms part of the West Berkshire Living Landscape, a Wildife Trust project to create space for wildlife and people together.
The Bomb Site is so named because it was an ammunition store during and after the Second World War. It is a great example of how nature can thrive and develop on a site vacated by people. Many old surfaced tracks create a network through the young birch and oak woodland that has colonised the site. Try the ¾ mile Wildlife Walk from the car park - it’s on old surfaced tracks and ideal for less mobile visitors.
This magical dense ancient woodland gives views across the Kennet Valley. A clearing through the wood creates sunny areas where butterflies bask. Look out for the spectacular silver-washed fritillary and the handsome White Admiral. The 1 mile Wildlife Walk takes in some damp clay areas on the lower slopes and steep climbs up to higher, drier ground.
This is the most secretive part of the wood. The dense ancient woodland here has lots of streams and some steep paths. The cool green is a lovely contrast to the open heathland areas. The 1 mile Wildlife Walk has some steep sections, steps and bridges.
The Loddon Nature Reserve’s lake and shallow fringes create ideal conditions for wintering birds, such as gadwall, tufted duck, pochard and snipe.
The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust looks after this community nature reserve with the help of local volunteers, who enjoy this delightful retreat in the heart of Twyford. The shallows of the lake are perfect feeding areas for wetland birds, while its islands provide quiet spots where common terns and oystercatchers can breed safely away from predators such as foxes. During the winter months, the handsome male smew attracts many birdwatchers.
The scrubby perimeter of the lake is home to blackcaps, whitethroats and other songbirds. Look out also for nesting wetland birds such as moorhens and coots. These birds nest among the reeds and aquatic plants below overhanging branches of willow. Herons may be seen like statues waiting to spear a fish. In early spring, you might be lucky enough to spot the elaborate courtship ‘mirror dance’ of the great crested grebe in which the male and female swim beak to beak and rise out of the water whilst shaking their heads.
Dinton Pastures Country Park was opened to the public in 1979 after 14 years of gravel extraction on a site, which was previously farmland. Today the park is enjoyed by several hundred thousand visitors annually and is a haven for wildlife.
The gravel extraction created eight lakes on the original farm site. Part of the Emmbrook was diverted to run alongside the golf course. The remnant of the old course can still be seen today, dividing one of the islands on Black Swan Lake.
As the water areas were created, wildlife and visitors moved in. Wintering wildfowl like wigeon, pochard and goldeneye soon found the lakes as well as familiar species like swans, coots, mallards and gulls. Nightingales found places to nest in the scrub areas and dragonfly species moved into the wetlands. Rarer birds started to arrive like bitterns and smew on Lavell’s Lake and great crested newts have been found in the ponds.
The site has been zoned to include fishing and sailing lakes as well as quieter conservation areas. Over 5,000 school children visit the site annually to learn about their environment. Regular countryside events are organised throughout the year on everything from bat and bird walks to basket making and star gazing as well as bigger ‘fundays’ for families, where there are up to 3,000 people.
Wildlife management is a priority especially for species highlighted in the Authority’s Biodiversity Action Plan. Creating hibernating places for great crested newts, putting up nesting boxes for barn owls, creating reed beds for reed buntings and warblers are all part of the valuable conservation work carried out by the service.
Associated with Kenneth Grahame’s ‘Wind in the Willows’, Moor Copse is a haven of peace and beauty, renowned for its flowers, butterflies and moths.
The four areas of woods are floodplain woodlands that provide homes to many species that love moist ground, such as alder trees and clusters of yellow iris. Plentiful supplies of rotting wood lying in the damp attract a range of fungi, beetles, bees and other insects.
Moor Copse is a wonderful reserve to visit all year round. In spring, woodland flowers and meadow flowers provide a colourful carpet whilst birds sing their hearts out.
In summer, butterflies are abundant, including the handsome silver-washed fritillary whose larvae feed on violets. Dragonflies and damselflies, such as the beautiful demoiselle hunt up and down the river.
In autumn, the woodlands provide vibrant colour as the leaves gradually turn, and a diverse range of fungi. Walks by the River Pang and through the meadows are truly memorable when the landscape is encrusted with a sparkling winter frost.