18 of Britain’s best urban wildlife havens

The joys of rural Britain aren’t exclusive to the countryside, there are flourishing enclaves of flora and fauna in our cities too.

5th August 2015
©

We take a look at some of our favourite urban areas bursting with greenery and wildlife.

York

The St Nicholas Fields in York spreads over 24 acres of former rubbish tip, in between a housing estate and an industrial area just a mile from the city centre. Various bird breeds such as brambling, finches, tits, siskins and kingfishers are regularly seen on the site, which became a nature reserve in 2004. It’s also a haven for butterflies, with over 20 species having been spotted, attracted by the wildflower meadow and rough grassland. The kilometre long tree trail guides visitors around the site as they take in sights and sounds of nature.

Bradford

Bradford Environmental Education Service have created the BEES Urban Nature Reserve on land which they rent from the University of Bradford. The cosy spot has been a nature reserve of some description since 1990. Currently it boasts two ponds and an area of trees and wildflower grassland. In an area historically associated with the Britain’s industrial past, this soothing spot is prime dragonfly and damselfly territory. Teeming with birds and the insects that nourish them, the site is often a favourite to take youngsters on family days out, or school trips.

London

The capital, stretching such a broad area, is bound to have some lovely areas of natural beauty despite the dense levels of human inhabitation. The Ripple Nature Reserve in Dagenham is one such example. Once a dumping ground for pulverised fuel ash, this industrial landscape has been reclaimed and turned into a rich mix of scrub, woodland and grassland. Its former industrial state has caused the soil to become alkaline, as opposed to much of London’s acidic land. This means there are many plants growing here that struggle elsewhere in the city, such as southern marsh orchids, grey club rush and wild basil.

Elsewhere, Camley Street Natural Park in King’s Cross provides a surprise little pocket of preserved wilderness next to the railway station. Created from an old coal yard in 1984, the site’s ponds woodland and meadows are home to all sorts of wildlife, from amphibians to birds and insects.

Sydenham Hill Wood in Southwark is a green mass of ancient and recent woodland combined with a Victorian garden. It’s a perfect spot to find woodpeckers, insects, bats and fungi.

Dundee

The Miley Nature Reserve lies within the Lochee and Beechwood areas of Dundee and has been constructed on what was once an impassable rubbish tip, a mile in length. It is now a thriving habitat for birds and insects, complete with tall herbs, tress, grassland, cycle tracks and footpaths.

Nottingham

On the edge of an industrial estate in Lenton, Nottingham lies the King’s Meadow. This small nature reserves was created in 1992 in order to protect the unusual wildlife of the area, introduced by man thanks to the Wilford Power Station – decommissioned in the 1960s. The site is a veritable hotbed of rare plants and insects, many of which are found nowhere else in the county including the common spotted and southern marsh orchids.

Belfast

To many of us outside of Northern Ireland, Belfast’s Falls Road is an area that not many would associate with natural beauty and wildlife. However, Bog Meadows is a reserve that offers a tranquil, peaceful space in he heart of this reinvigorated city.

Cardiff

Just a mile and half from the centre of the Welsh Capital, the Howardian Local Nature Reserve is a tranquil oasis of wildflower meadows, ponds and reedbeds filled with orchids and butterflies. There’s even a stream and waterfalls hidden away in the woodland. 25,000 trees and shrubs have been planted to expand the coppices that already existed in the area. It all makes for special habitat covering 32 acres that is home to a magical menagerie of animals include newts, dormice, voles, slow worms, shrew, frogs and foxes.

Created in 2002, the Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve, is a massive area along the mouth of the River Taff and Cardiff Bay. Previously saline mudflats were transferred into freshwater marshland and a 400 acre lake. The site is home to many migrating and breeding birds including herons, grebes and kingfishers.

Sheffield

Lurking behind the petrol station at the bottom of Ecclesall Road is the small but perfectly formed Sunnybank Nature Reserve. It’s the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust’s most visited nature reserve, despite its less than salubrious setting. Statues and sculpture of frogs are to be found scattered around the site, which marks the end of a green corridor running through the city from the botanical gardens through Endcliffe Park and Whitely Woods to Derbyshire’s Peak District.

Once part of an industrial site, Sheffield’s Salmon Pastures is one of many areas of land that have been transformed from their original use and become a rural sanctuary in the heart of the urban sprawl. Tucked away, clinging on to the banks of the River Don, surrounded by the industrial estates of Attercliffe, this very small site provides shelter for wildlife, as butterflies warm themselves in the speckled sun filtering through the trees and birds swoop down to catch insects by the river.

Manchester

Manchester’s Moston Fairway developed between 80 and 100 years ago. It once formed part of the Moston Exchange sidings and is now a base-rich marshland. It is unique in the city of Manchester, and rare in the country as a whole, as large marshland areas tend not to occur in urban surroundings. It is an area of special interest and ecological value due to the diversity of plant and animal communities it supports.

The site supports three species of rush and five species of sedge. Three species including White Sedge and Yellow Sedge are uncommon in Greater Manchester. Reed Bunting, Linnet, Kestrel and Snipe have all been seen on the site, which is close to the Manchester to Rochdale railway line. One more for the budding botanists, but still birds and animal life to be found too.

Bristol

Bristol is an increasingly popular place to live. A small city centre with a sprawling residential area, this vibrant conurbation is home to a thriving arts scene and is also spoilt for choice when it comes to great countryside. The Somerset Levels, Mendip Hills, Quantock Hills and the Cotswolds are all a short drive away, but there’s plenty to be found within the city itself too. Leigh Woods and Brandon Hill Nature Park are two of the more are two well-known highlights, but the hidden gem of Coombe Brook Valley is perfect for wild adventures in the heart of the residential city, nestled in the middle of a housing estate in the Fishponds area of town. Visitors will find Oak, sycamore and hazel trees, along with spotted flycatchers, greenfinches, foxes and butterflies.

Birmingham

In the central region of England you’ll find the Centre of the Earth. Birmingham and the Black Country Wildlife Trust’s environmental centre specialises in educating visitors about the environment, sustainable development and wildlife. Situated by the side of the old Birmingham Canal route, the community centre offers learning resources for children and adults, as well as training and inspiration for teachers and community projects.

Deer’s Leap Wood is an evocatively named mix of meadows, ponds, brooks and woodland that can be traced back to the medieval era when the land formed part of the Rotton Park Estate, which is said to take its name from the Anglo Saxon term ‘Rot Ton’, meaning ‘cheerful farm’. Shireland Brook, which flows along the site’s northern boundary, historically formed the county boundary between Staffordshire and Warwickshire. Trees including birch, ash, cherry, oak, field maple, wych elm, hazel, alder, poplar, sycamore and willows can be found in the woodland. Greater Spotted Woodpeckers have been especially keen to make their home amongst them. Newts, moorhens, mallards and herons will often be found in the ponds, which are lined with meadowsweet, water mint, flag iris, and reedmace. This beautiful location, 2.5 miles from the centre of Birmingham, is currently open to the public but prior arrangement only, so please check the website for details.

Photograph: © Copyright Nigel Mykura and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

You are currently reading: 18 of Britain’s best urban wildlife havens - 5th August
Get your first 5 issues for just £5 when you subscribe to BBC Countryfile magazine!

Subscribe to BBC Countryfile Magazine today and you can enjoy generous savings from the shop price plus, free UK delivery and discounts off special editions and back issues.

Countryfile Magazine - Current Issue