Draycott Sleights Nature Reserve, Somerset


Draycott and the Somerset Levels
View northwest, towards Cheddar

Nature reserve at the southern edge of the Mendip Hills, containing calcareous grassland with limestone exposures; home to over 150 wildflower species
Photo Tour (32 images)
Draycott Sleights, a nature reserve and site of special scientific interest, is one of the best locations in the Mendip Hills for wildflowers, with over 150 species living here including several dozen rare varieties. The reserve is a hundred acres in area, mostly unimproved calcareous grassland, extending half a mile along the southern edge of the hills, incorporating a flat area along the rim, a series of limestone exposures just below, and a larger section of the steep slopes beneath, and is notable for the far-reaching views south over the Somerset Levels in addition to the varied plant life.

Elevations range from 890 feet, at a minor summit along the northeast edge, down to 300 feet to the south, where the reserve borders a patch of woodland. The meadows are also a good location for butterflies (including several blue species), peak months being July and August, and they harbour a few terrestrial creatures of interest such as grasshoppers, slow worms and adders. Less common plant species include horseshoe vetch, autumn gentian, spring cinquefoil, dwarf mouse-ear, and the early purple, pyramidal and bee orchids. Sleights is a local word for sheep pasture, and these animals still graze here at some times of the year.

The Reserve

Entry to the nature reserve is on the south side, along a narrow road running northeast from Draycott on the A371; there is sparking parking space for about half a dozen vehicles, beside the road. Directly opposite is the smaller Draycott House Grounds Reserve, which has similar scenery, and a slightly smaller selection of flowers. Draycott Sleights is crossed by an old vehicle track, partly lined by trees, and approximately dividing the reserve into upper and lower halves, but the best area, for both views and flowers is the highest section, which is traversed by a north-south path running just above the line of low limestone cliffs, where the majority of the rare wildflowers are found. The reserve also contains a few ruined stone structures, including a cottage and a limekiln next to an excavated pit, plus several old quarry workings. Towards the southeast edge is a small ravine, partly wooded, containing a seasonal stream and home to a different set of plants to those on the open slopes. The reserve can also be seen along a circular, 2.3 mile walking trail starting in the village of Draycott, following paths (two sections of the West Mendip Way) that climb the slopes on either side and meet via the old track across the centre.