Ryewater Farm

Location: Corscombe, Dorset

Grid Reference: ST 512 064

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The geology of Ryewater Farm reserve helps explain why it is such a riot of colour in summer.

The rocks underneath the site date back 170 million years, and are full of fossils that once lived on the seabed. The rock is overlain with clays that are critical to the reserve.

In the past, these slumped down the slope towards the stream on the reserve’s northern edge, and this instability created bare ground and conditions for a greater diversity of species. Water trickles from springs, making the clay waterlogged in winter, but in hot summers it can bake as hard as brick. Intensive cultivation is therefore impractical, and traditional farming remains the only realistic agricultural use of the land.

Ryewater consists of five fields – the three to the east are meadows, and the other two are pasture. Around the edges, a beautiful strip of woodland runs steeply down to the boundary stream. An old green lane cuts across the reserve and is now used as a public footpath. The farm is part of the wider Bracket’s Coppice and Ryewater Farm Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Meadow colour

Walking over the meadows in summer, red and white clover are abundant, along with the yellow of lesser trefoil and bird’s-foot-trefoil, the starry white flowers of common mouse-ear and the purple of selfheal. More conspicuous are oxeye daisy and the striking purple heads of meadow thistle. Saw-wort, with knapweed-like flowers and saw-edged, lobed leaves is a little more difficult to spot, but common spotted-orchids are easier to see in the shorter grassland.

Less common meadow species include three members of the carrot family: corky-fruited water-dropwort, a plant of old pastures and hay meadows, burnetsaxifrage and, occasionally, pepper-saxifrage.

The permanently grazed pasture fields are less spectacular, although more diverse. Bitter-vetch and common knapweed add colour, with “codlins and cream” or great willowherb, growing in damper areas. The fringe of ancient woodland of hazel, hawthorn, ash and holly adds to the diversity of the site. It is rich in fungi and home to dormice and several protected bat species.

Purchase of the reserve was made possible by Unilever (Timotei) and the Heritage Lottery Fund.