Lower Moor Farm is the gateway to four linked nature reserves at the edge of Cotswold Water Park, also including the Clattinger Farm, Sandpool and Oaksey Moor Farm Meadow reserves; habitats include lakes, woodland, pasture and wildflower meadows
Six miles west of Cricklade in north Wiltshire is a group of four adjacent nature reserves, totalling 312 acres in area, featuring diverse landscapes of lakes, woodland, swamp, pasture and floral meadows, also incorporating all or part of three working farms. The main reserve is Lower Moor Farm, location of the main entrance and visitor centre, from where tracks and paths lead to the other three, which are Sandpool Farm, a partly grassy, partly wooded region including a pond beside an patch of flooded forest, and also the centre for cattle operations, Clattinger Farm containing only fields, including the premium wildflower site, and the smaller Oaksey Moor Farm Meadow, another notable floral grassland. Lower Moor Farm also has several fields, plus three lakes; the largest, Mallard Lake is a renowned fishing location, and all three are popular for bird watching.
Away from the lakes, and Sandpool Farm's swampy woodland, the overall landscapes are not especially interesting, mostly typical grassy fields, grazed by the cattle and divided by well-established hedgerows, with only two wildflower meadows not used by livestock: Oaksey Moor Farm Meadow, and Bridge Field in Clattinger Farm, described as the finest example of undisturbed lowland grassland in the country. This latter is home to numerous species, blooming all through spring and summer, perhaps the most famous perhaps being the snakeshead fritillary, which can be seen in April and May. At least three visits would be needed to fully appreciate the reserve's wildflowers, in spring, summer and early autumn, while different bird species can be seen at any time.
The four reserves are situated at the west edge of the Cotswold Water Park, a group of over 50 shallow lakes formed in the 1970s by gradual inundation of abandoned gravel pits, excavation of which started in the early 20th century; prior to this, all this area was entirely farm fields, crossed by a few streams, all tributaries of the nascent River Thames, which flows past close by to the south.
Lower Moor Farm, gateway to the four reserves, is reached by a minor road between Oaksey and the A419. The entrance road is just east of the private driveway to the actual farm, and leads south a short distance to the (free) parking area, beside the information centre and cafe, open every day. From here, one path heads east, past the lakes to Sandpool Farm, while the track continues south alongside cattle fields to Clattinger Farm, and links with several other paths. The three lakes - Mallard Lake, Cottage Lake and Swallow Pool - are also within the farm boundaries; all are circled by paths, which pass several viewing areas and bird hides. The lakes are lined with thin belts of woodland, and a selection of common wildflowers can be seen along the tracks. The reserve also contains some small long grass meadows, one the site of a replica Iron Age hut that is used for events and educational activities. Mallard Lake is recognised as a site of special scientific interest on account of its unusual aquatic plants, though these are in general not visible to the casual observer.
Sandpool Farm Nature Reserve occupies the northeastern corner of the complex, and is the location of most of the livestock operations, centred on a large field containing the cattle roundhouse, the bad-weather residence of the (belted galloway) cattle. Some parts of the field are still being restored, having previously been used as a refuse burial site and gravel quarry; the land was only acquired relatively recently, in 2009. Sandpool Farm also contains the most unusual landscape habitat, an atmospheric section of flooded forest, or swamp, adjoining a pond, and all surrounded by a dense patch of woodland, viewable along a half mile loop trail.
Clattinger Farm Nature Reserve covers 150 acres across the southern half of the site, and is bordered to the south by Swill Brook, one of the Thames tributaries. The reserve comprises 14 fields, the best for wildflowers being Bridge Field in the far southeast corner, half a mile from the Lower Moor Farm parking area. Some of the many species found here include meadow saffron, tubular water-dropwort, greater burnet and green-winged orchid, plus the snakeshead fritillary. Other fields have somewhat fewer flower species, partly as they are often grazed, but are still of interest. The species abundance is a result of the traditional farm management methods of previous owners, without use of fertilisers or pesticides.
Oaksey Moor Farm Meadow
Oaksey Moor Farm Meadow is the smallest of the four nature reserves (19 acres); a single field in the northwest corner, covering gently sloping land incorporating two patches of trees, and containing a good range of wildflower species, including pepper saxifrage, devil's-bit scabious and several types of orchid.