1) Rodley Nature Reserve, Leeds
Bringing wetland wildlife closer to home, Rodley does a great job in giving the people of Leeds access to nature.
A lot of hard work has gone into this former water treatment works, which since 2000 has been transformed into a haven for wetland wildlife, with oystercatchers, little grebe, reed warblers and water rail, among many others – very impressive on a site run entirely by volunteers. Even the website deserves plaudits – unusually for reserves, it is actually navigable and informative.
Judge Fergus Collins says: “We thought Rodley was very engaged locally, both with the community and particularly with primary schools, and that it has a really interesting story, as it’s part of flood mitigation proposals on the River Aire. It’s got a wonderful range of species, lots of engaged volunteers, 30,000 visitors a year, and it’s a real hidden gem of Leeds.”
You said: “I love it here. It’s a wonderful day out for a peaceful stroll or to take the kids on a nature adventure with pond dipping and several hides overlooking reed beds and a lagoon. There are dragonfly habitats, sand banks for sand martins and many other types of habitat. In the Boxing Day floods there was a huge amount of damage. It was carefully repaired and tended by the team of wonderful volunteers who care for this treasure of a nature reserve. It is well worth a visit to see the important work that is being done to save our wildlife.” Beckie Bower
2) Ham Wall, Somerset
Part of the Avalon Marshes, this popular wetland is home to bittern, water voles, kingfishers and of course, the stunning starling murmurations.
Judge Fergus Collins says: “Ham Wall is part of one of the greatest habitat conservation stories in England, turning all those old peatlands of the Avalon Marches into fantastic wildlife habitat. Now new species are arriving, bringing massive number of visitors, and the reserve has worked hard to make sure it is accessible to all members of the public.”
You said: “Ham Wall is THE place to go for starling murmurations and bitterns with its vast reedbeds and open water” Des Joffrey Bowring
3) RSPB Arne, Dorset
With old oak woodland and wide open heath, Arne is a very special place with a wide variety of wildlife, from nightjars and Dartford warblers to ospreys and avocets. In summer, look out for the 22 species of colourful dragonflies.
Judge Fergus Collins says: “RSPB Arne has gone from almost completely unknown to being a household name of nature reserves, since appearing on Springwatch in 2017. It’s very different to what we often picture in nature reserves – pretty woodlands and lovely hills – this is wide open heath, some really interesting species, and evocative landscapes.”
You said: “It is a beautiful place to be, on the edge of Poole Harbour in Dorset overlooking the islands. Deer roaming, other wildlife, bird hides, woodland and a little beach. It’s magical – you feel you are miles from anywhere.” Jackie Johnston
4) Clara Vale, Tyne and Wear
This small reserve of 7.5 acres on the site of an old colliery is managed by the Clara Vale Conservation Trust.
The reserve comprises woodland, wetland and meadow, with yew, ash, oak and ancient sycamore. The scrub area shelters small birds while a pond from a nearby spring attracts amphibians, birds and insects.
Judge Phoebe Smith says: “It’s a very small site that was saved by the local community rallying together to save it from being developed. It shows the dedication from the community and how you can be small and still effective.”
You said: “We have our own nature reserve here in Clara Vale, run and maintained by the local community. It’s my favourite by far and I walk through it most days.” Nicki Felix
5) Loch Druidibeg, South Uist
OK, so it’s no longer strictly speaking a nature reserve but rather a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Protection Area and a Special Area of Conservation – but let’s not split hairs. Managed by Scottish Natural Heritage, the 34 square kilometre site offers flowering machair, freshwater lochs, bogland and estuary, with shorelarks, lapwings, corncrake, greylag geese and golden eagle.
Judge Mark Rowe says: “This huge area of peat and loch, overlooked by mountains, has an austere beauty. It’s fantastic for wildlife watching, with birds of prey zipping everywhere, golden plover, and swans, geese and ducks on the water. This is the edge of the British Isles and it really looks the part.”
Images: Getty/ Humphrey Bolton