Nature Reserves of Southwest UK

Lancaut Cheddar Complex Coaley Peak Ban-y-Gor Woods

Most UK nature reserves are administered by county-based wildlife trusts, charitable organisations, though a few are more local, run by the council or other groups, while the RSPB have a separate collection of riparian reserves. There are also a number of national nature reserves, which protect larger or more scientifically important sites, and these are managed by the government and/or the National Trust. The national reserves are not necessarily the most photogenic or scenically interesting places, however, and some are poorly signed, often with limited access; instead it is the wildlife trust reserves that tend to be the most well-known, and varied. Although primarily managed for plants and wildlife - typically birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, fish and other aquatic species - many, perhaps half of them, are also of interest for the natural landscapes, either within the reserve itself, or the immediate surroundings.

Nature reserves may contain meadows, ancient woodland, heath, gorges, hills, lakes, wetlands, coastline, abandoned railway lines and old quarries, and in southwest UK they range in size from a few acres, for example the seven acre Badgeworth Nature Reserve near Gloucester, protecting a rare buttercup species, to several hundred acres, such as Lower Woods or Lancaut. All are free to enter and virtually all are open all year without restrictions; only a very few need permission to access, or are currently closed to the public. Some charge a fee for parking, however. For about half of the reserves, the main reasons for visiting - the plants and wildlife - are seasonal, so such places are not generally of interest from late autumn to early spring, while others are worthwhile any time of the year. Most nature reserves are not well signposted, perhaps marked only by small sign at the entrance, usually but not always accompanied by a map and information board, so visits generally need to be researched in advance.

In southwest England, nature reserves are concentrated in geologically interesting regions, especially the Cotswolds, the Mendip Hills, the Quantock Hills, Exmoor, Cranborne Chase, and along the coast, while in south Wales they are more evenly distributed, reflecting the generally more rural landscapes.

Featured Nature Reserves

Blaenau Gwent

★★★★★Silent Valley - deep, wooded valley containing a small stream


★★★★★Merthyr Mawr National Nature Reserve - extensive, overgrown sand dunes beside the mouth of the River Ogmore
★★★★Kenfig National Nature Reserve - varied coastal dune habitats south of Port Talbot


★★★★The Rough - sloping, boggy grassland


★★★★★Fontmell Down - extensive area of chalk downland


★★★★Ban-y-Gor Woods - shady woodland in the Wye valley
★★★★Barrow Wake - steep-sided limestone hill in the Cotswolds
★★★★★Coaley Peak - high point along the west edge of the Cotswolds
★★★★★Crickley Hill - prominent, flower-covered summit at the edge of the Cotswolds
★★★★★Daneway Banks - sloping calcareous grassland; many wildflowers
★★★★Edgehills Bog - pools and boggy land on a ridgetop on the east side of the Forest of Dean
★★★★Kilkenny - unimproved calcareous grassland, in the Cotswolds
★★★★★Lancaut - steeply-sloping woodland in the Wye valley
★★★★Laymoor Quag - boggy heath in the Forest of Dean
★★★★Lippets Grove - remote patch of ancient woodland on the rim of the Wye valley
★★★★★Lower Woods - large area of ancient woodland, crossed by grassy tracks
★★★★★Midger Wood - ancient woodland and a tufa-lined stream
★★★★Old London Road - narrow grassland, home to a very rare plant
★★★★The Park and Poor's Allotment - acidic heathland near the River Wye
★★★★★Pasqueflower - rare wildflowers in a peaceful valley
★★★★★Sapperton Valley - woodland and wet meadows along the River Frome
★★★★Stenders Quarry - abandoned limestone quarry
★★★★Strawberry Banks - tree-lined, steeply-sloping grassland
★★★★★Swift's Hill - hillside reserve at the edge of the Cotswolds
★★★★★Wigpool - ponds, marsh and acidic heath


★★★★Brockwells Meadows - four fields of calcareous grassland
★★★★★Prisk Wood - ancient, atmospheric woodland beside the River Wye
★★★★Springdale Farm - meadows, pasture, streams and ancient deciduous woodland


★★★★Great Traston Meadows - marshy grassland crossed by drainage ditches


★★★★Tuckmill Meadow - dry and marshy grassland, partly calcareous


★★★★Bubwith Acres - fields on the southern slopes of the Mendip Hills
★★★★★Cheddar Complex - three adjacent, contrasting reserves at the upper end of Cheddar Gorge
★★★★★Draycott Sleights - grassland and limestone outcrops at the edge of the Mendip Hills
★★★★Hellenge Hill - grassland in the western Mendips
★★★★Hollow Marsh Meadow - remote meadows, woodland and a stream
★★★★★Leigh Woods National Nature Reserve - ancient woodland bordering the Avon Gorge
★★★★Purn Hill - minor limestone peak at the west edge of the Mendips
★★★★★Stephen's Vale - woodland, a stream and a waterfall
★★★★Tor Hole Fields - sloping fields in the Mendips
★★★★Ubley Warren- field and old mine workings, within the Mendip Hills
★★★★★Walborough and Uphill Hill - hill and grassland beside the coast
★★★★★Walton Common - secluded ridgetop overlooking the coast
★★★★Yarley Fields - fields on the Somerset Levels


★★★★★Whiteford National Nature Reserve - beaches, dunes, wetlands and forest


★★★★Henllys Bog - remote lowland mire with rare plant species


★★★★Coombe Bissett Down - dry valley within chalk downland
★★★★Dunscombe Bottom - west-facing side of a dry, grassy, chalk valley
★★★★★Lower Moor Farm - four adjacent reserves, with lakes, woodland, pasture and wildflower meadows
★★★★★Middleton Down - remote, branched, grassy valley in the chalk downland
★★★★Oysters Coppice - woodland and shallow streams
★★★★Parsonage Down National Nature Reserve - large expanse of grassland and fields across undulating chalk hills