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In the far north of Scotland lies Munsary Peatlands, Plantlife’s largest and wildest nature reserve.
At nearly 2000 hectares, it can seem vast, but it’s only a small part of the much larger Flow Country -an expanse of blanket bog which extends to 187,000 hectares across the north of Scotland.
It is this blanket bog, one of the UK’s most unique landscapes, which is being proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Munsary Peatlands forms an integral part of the proposed site, which is being put forward for inscription as the world’s first peatland World Heritage Site.
The Flow Country is the world’s the most intact and extensive blanket bog system in the world. As well as being hugely important for biodiversity, it is also an important carbon store, locking up around 400 million tonnes of carbon.
Plantlife manages Munsary, our nature reserve, for its peatland habitat and for its rare plants – including the threatened Marsh Saxifrage.
The proposed World Heritage Site is also an Important Plant Area, identified for its important habitat and rare species. Recognising the Flow Country by awarding it World Heritage Site status would further reinforce how important it is for nature and climate.
One of the species from at Munsary – Grass of Parnassus, image by Alistair Whyte
Munsary Peatlands Nature Reserve
Another species found at Munsary – the Round-leaved Sundew, image by Alistair Whyte
In August this year we were delighted to welcome assessors for UNESCO to the reserve, to highlight some of the important features of the Flow Country and to discuss its management.
The visit was part of a week-long tour of the Flow Country by assessors, who met with land managers, local communities and peatland experts as part of their assessment of the Flow Country bid – led by the Flow Country Partnership.
Here at Plantlife, we are strongly supporting the bid, and will continue to work hard to protect Munsary Peatlands as an important part of this unique landscape.
A decision on whether to award the Flow Country World Heritage Site status is expected next year – stay tuned!
Discover the activities and work that our volunteers in the Cairngorms do with Sam Jones of the Rare Plants and Wild Connections Project.
Learn about why our Munsary Peatlands reserve is being put forward for inscription as the world’s first peatland UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Plantlife’s Artist in Residence, shares her summer journey across our reserves and some top tips for aspiring botanical artists.
Lisa Gardner, Plantlife’s Artist in Residence, shares her summer journey across some of our magical Plantlife reserves, the rare species she discovered and some top tips for aspiring botanical artists.
I always thought that I was someone who immersed themselves in nature. The entire ethos of my work is inspired by the natural world; it’s the seeds that allow my paintings to grow. However, my life-changing trip this summer exploring IPA sites across the UK has opened my eyes. It’s shown me what truly settling into stillness and absorbing the magic of nature really is.
As part of my Artist Residency for Plantlife – and supported by Arts Council England’s Developing your Creative Practice Fund – I set off on a wildflower treasure hunt back in May to uncover rare species; many of which are currently living on the edge.
I have always been fascinated by the juxtaposition of a wildflower, how its strength can rise through rubble and yet its fragility can break at the lightest of touches. A wildflower experiences birth, growth, transformation and decay, often in a thimble of time. It shows courage, hope, resilience, a contentment that is enviable.
Being amongst wildflowers I feel joy, strength, grief and an easeful glimmer of peace. With every wildflower season, I am able to experience this cycle of emotions. I am my raw, honest self, no hiding, nature welcomes you as you are, inviting you to be part of the purposeful chaos. My art helps me grow down through my layers and expand my roots.
My journey started at Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve in Kent. And what a start to the trip! I pulled up in the smallest of car parks where I was met by Ben, the site manager. He was excited to show me the incredibly rare Man Orchid: a handful of this endangered species had decided to make a verge on the side of a busy road their home.
If he hadn’t pointed them out, I would have walked straight past – but the moment you notice them, you cannot look away. Milky lime yellow with stripes of burgundy and tongues like snakes; they were utterly divine.
The juxtaposition of this rare, beautiful flower with the frantic hum of traffic continuously passing by felt like a metaphor for human nature. How much do we miss out on because we’re simply too busy?
My visit up to Scotland was the biggest part of my trip. The colours here were like a symphony; vibrant pops against a rugged landscape. Shades of storm grey into an icy blue, merging into crystalline greens. Soft lavender and silver ribbons. All these colours merged together against the textures of the flagstone rocks and the wildlife that burst from them.
And you had to work to find the rare species among this incredible palette! At one point, I had to lean right over a cliffside to spot the tiniest deep pink Scottish Primrose; it was so small and fragile – around 5cm tall – that you had to seriously tune your eye in to find it.
But I was so glad I made the effort. The Scottish Primrose can only be found in Orkney and the northern coast of Scotland. If it disappears from these sites, it’s gone forever. Our discovery, therefore, felt enormously poignant.
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Spring is an exciting time to be on our nature reserves. This is the season when the meadows really burst into life, with lush growth and seasonal flowers.
Location: Near Hereford, HerefordshireOS: SO547 405What Three Word location:///rent.trophy.cover
Habitat: Lammas Floodplain Meadow
Lugg Meadow is best known for its spectacular displays of fritillaries in spring.
Their nodding, checkerboard, purple flowers are a sure sign that summer is on the way. Visitors admiring these delightful plants probably have little idea of the long history that allows them to flourish. The meadows by the River Lugg were recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.
The meadow is divided into two sections, separated by the A438. In spring time you’ll find a mass of yellow buttercups almost as far as the eye can see. This is the best time of year to follow footpaths through the Upper Lugg Meadow – access into the Lower Lugg section is restricted from March to July to protect breeding curlews.
You’ll also find a host of meadow species, including Oxeye Daisy and the thistle-like purple heads of Common Knapweed. In damper areas, visitors might see the frothy flowerheads of Meadowsweet and the tattered, pink flowers of Ragged-robin.
In summer, the meadow has turned into a swaying hay field, but there is still colour among the hay. After the harvest, Purple-loosestrife and Flowering-rush might be spotted in wet ground by the river.
The river regularly floods its banks, bringing rich soil to fertilise the meadow. But the Lugg Meadow also relies on the ancient management that survives to this day. Patches of the meadow are owned by local families, but have never been enclosed. Instead the boundaries of each parcel are marked by “dole stones’’.
Each owner can take a crop of hay off their patch in July, then from Lammas Day (1 August) to February, the land becomes common grazing. That’s why it’s called a Lammas meadow.
Purchase of the reserve was made possible by Unilever (Timotei) and supported by Dr Diana Griffith and the National Lottery through the Heritage Memorial Fund.
There is space to park in the lane by the entrance, off the A438 opposite the Cock of Tupsley pub.
Access over Upper Lugg Meadow is unrestricted but do not walk in the growing hay between late April and July. Access on Lower Lugg is restricted to public rights of way only from March to the end of July.
We are deeply concerned over proposals to build 360 homes on land in Tupsley, near Hereford, which borders our Lugg Meadows Nature Reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and ecologically-important floodplain meadow.
This Plantlife nature reserve is a legally-protected Site of Special Scientific Interest, with a fragile ecosystem and nationally-scarce plant species including Narrow-leaved Water-dropwort Oenanthe silaifolia. It is also one of the few ancient Lammas floodplain meadows remaining in England, adjacent to the River Lugg and part of the wider River Wye catchment.
The proposed 360-home development would risk irreversible damage to this precious, sensitive ecosystem through increased water pollution, noise and light pollution, road traffic and footfall from visitors.
Lugg Meadows Snakes Head Fritillary
Location: York Road, Escrick, York, North Yorkshire, YO19 6EEOS: SE 628394What Three Words location: ///isolated.nutty.compliant
Habitat: Meadow and woodland
Three Hagges Woodmeadow is Plantlife’s newest reserve, building on the work started by the former Woodmeadow Trust and the local community to safeguard the space for wild plants and fungi to thrive.
Three Hagges’ name dates back to 1600, with ‘Hagges’ coming from the Old Norse name for a portion of woodland marked off for cutting or coppicing. Since 2012, the site has been nurtured by the local community with wildflower seed sown and 25 acres of 10,000 trees and shrubs planted, creating a patchwork of coppice and meadow.
The reserve has grown around the volunteers and community who have cared for it. The ‘Bodger’s Den’, a shelter built using natural materials with a fire pit at its centre, is a communal space for working and gathering. Visitors will also find a volunteer-made bee hotel on the site, which provides a home for the many solitary bees and wasps which are attracted by the wild plants on the reserve.
Three Hagges Woodmeadow is mosaic of woodlands, copse and wildflower meadows, including a lowland wet meadow and a lowland dry meadow, and a pond.
In the Peterken Meadow, a lowland wet meadow, Greater Bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus uliginosus and Ragged Robin Lychnis flos-cuculi bloom in the summer months, and in the lowland dry meadow Common Knapweed Centaurea nigra and Ox-eye Daisy Leucanthemum vulgare can be found alongside Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum.
Planted by the community, the Jubilee Woodland is filled with Common Alder Alnus glutinosa, Downy Birch Betula pubescens, Hazel and Oak.
The Felix, Bones and Sessile Copse are mixed species woodlands, featuring native trees such as Small Leaved Lime Tilia cordata, English Oak Quercus robur, Hazel Corylus avellana and Sessile Oak Quercus petraea.
The Orchard is filled with fruiting trees, providing food and shelter for wildlife and wild plants alike. Blackthorn Prunus spinosa, Hawthorn Crataegus laevigata, Rowan Sorbus aucuparia and Wild cherry Prunus avium all grow here. The King’s Orchard was planted in 2022, expanding the area of fruit trees to include Apple Malus domestica, Gage Prunus domestica and many others.
Three Hagges Woodmeadow lies 7 miles south of York and 5 miles north of Selby.
Follow the brown sign for Hollicarrs Holiday Park and Olivia’s Tea Room and turn into Hollicarrs Holiday Park. Parking for Three Hagges Nature Reserve is on the right, after Millers Tea Room and before you reach the security barrier for Hollicarrs Holiday Park.
For Blue Badge holders there is a parking space at the entrance to the woodmeadow on the left-hand side of the drive opposite the sales office car park. Access to the woodmeadow is via a wheelchair-accessible gate.
On Foot or by Bike
Three Hagges Woodmeadow is situated just under a mile away from the village of Riccall and from the York to Selby Sustrans cycle route. Using the cycle route, you can travel all the way from York city centre to Three Hagges on a traffic-free route.
Arriva Bus operate a regular service (service number 415) from either Selby or York. Bus stops are situated opposite each other on the A19 at Hollicarrs.
Yellow Rattle in the meadows at Three Hagges Woodmeadow
Cowslip and other spring wildflower at Three Hagges Woodmeadow
Bluebell growing in spring at Three Hagges Woodmeadow
A perfect place to walk through and enjoy nature
The meadows at Three Hagges Woodmeadow in summer
Spring is an exciting time to be on our nature reserves.
This is the season when the meadows really burst into life, with lush growth and seasonal flowers.
Cae Blaen-dyffryn is our south Wales nature reserve and can be found close to the town of Lampeter, in Carmarthenshire. It’s best known for its population of Greater and Lesser Butterfly Orchids (Platanthera chlorantha & P. bifolia) which flower in the high summer.
However, a visit in spring is always rewarding. Luxuriant fresh growth in the grassland is fed by a warm sun and abundant rain. Cuckoos call from distant hills. Within the reserve, Meadow Pipits drop from the sky above you with their cascading song, and Stonechats call assertively from the scrub.
You can also find the earliest-flowering plant species breaking through in Cae Blaen-dyffryn in May and June. If you look carefully, you can also find signs of other beauties still in store, like the feathery leaves of Whorled Caraway Carum verticillatum (Carmarthenshire’s ‘County Flower’) poking through.
In May, the most abundant include pink Lousewort (pictured) Pedicularis sylvatica, purple Bugle Ajuga reptans, and yellow Tormentil Potentilla erecta, so the reserve is already a rainbow of colour.
Scattered bushes of Broom (pictured) Cytisus scoparius and Gorse Ulex europaeus are also in their fullest seasonal yellow coat of flowers. As soon as the sun hits them, they are suddenly alive with pollinators.
The speckled leaves of Dactylorhiza Orchids(pictured) can also be found peeking out between the abundant patches of Knapweed Centaurea nigra and Cat’s-ear Hypochaeris radicata.
Our North Wales nature reserve, sitting on a hillside above Clynnog-Fawr on the Llyn peninsula, is equally known for its population of Greater Butterfly Orchids which number in their thousands at the site.
The meadows under the mountain pass face north east, making them a morning spot to visit if you wish to enjoy them in the sunshine at this time of year. They are as equally beautiful in the North Wales rain, however.
The cloddiau (earth and stone bank walls) between the fields are an equal show to the meadows, with their hedgerow tops of Rowan, Damson, Hawthorn and Blackthorn. If you look below the trees the Common Dog Violets Viola riviniana hide amongst the tree roots and the boulders.
The orchids are already visible in the meadow and the Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor is just starting to flower.
A few Celandines (pictured) Ficaria verna are just holding on but the yellow flowers and white clocks of the Dandelions Taraxacum spp contrast beautifully with the blue of the Bluebells Hyacinthus non-scripta, which are equally set off by the feathery leaves of Pignut Conopodium majus.
Spring Sedge Carex caryophyllea abounds at the site but if you look between it and the more prominent species very carefully you will see the leaves and tiny starry green flowers of the Intermediate Lady’s-mantle (pictured) Alchemilla xanthochlora and Smooth Lady’s-mantle Alchemilla glabra. If you visit in the morning on a dew laden spring day, you will catch these plants living up to their other name of ‘Dew Cup’.
There is something wonderful about the sense of promise yielded by flower-rich grasslands at this time of year. And a feeling you can’t wait to come back to see what you might find next.
Caeau Tan y Bwlch is managed on behalf of Plantlife by North Wales Wildlife Trust.
For more details on visiting our Welsh reserves in spring and throughout the year, visit our reserves page here Welsh Nature Reserves – Plantlife
Discover how you can identify the mosses where you live, and read about Lizzie's challenge to learn 10 mosses!
Grasslands like meadows and parks are not just home to wildflowers, they are also an important habitat for waxcap fungi.
Ever wondered why we need to go out and count rare plants? Meg Griffiths reflects on a summer of lichen hunting for the Natur am Byth! Project.
Location: Sheldon, Peak District, Derbyshire OS: SK 165 698 What Three Word location:///announced.hangs.paradise
Habitat: Limestone Grassland
Deep Dale is one of those special places where, if you visit the right part at the right time of year, you will see swathes of colour spreading over the hillsides.
Sitting within the Peak District National Park, this grassland reserve has a rich cultural history including lead mining and the remains of a Romano-British settlement on a steep-sided hill called Fin Cop.
The reserve is an area of grassland between 150-325m above sea level.
It lies within the Peak District National Park where the underlying rock is mainly carboniferous limestone. Most of the grassland is on thin soils over this rock, and so is very calcium-rich.
At the top of the slopes the soil becomes more acidic, while at the foot the soil is deeper and more fertile. Each zone has its own flora.
From Bakewell, take the A6 towards Buxton. Approximately 3.5 miles from Bakewell you reach the White Lodge pay and display car park on the left hand side of the road.
To get to the reserve from the car park, follow the footpath leading southwards. Approximately 200 meters from the car park you reach a stile, which is one of the entrances to the reserve.
Early Purple Orchids at Deep Dale
Early Purple Orchids and Cowslips at Deep Dale
A downloadable pdf with map and guide of a circular 4 mile walk in Peak District National park , starting from White Lodge Carpark
Location: Week St. Mary, Cornwall OS: SX 234963 What Three Word location:///wobbles.cats.digs
Habitat: Culm grassland
Greena Moor is an excellent example of culm grassland where ‘culm’ refers to the rocks underneath the clay soil.
Always sparse, culm grassland suffered a catastrophic decline through agricultural ‘improvements’. The reserve is a fragment of what was once an extensive moorland and mire system, including large areas of culm grassland. It is fringed by wet woodland of alder and willows.
The nationally scarce Wavy St-John’s-wort Hypericum undulatum and Three-lobed Water Crowfoot Ranunculus tripartitus can be found here. Devil’s-bit Scabious Succisa pratensis is an important food plant for the Marsh Fritillary butterfly which are active on the reserve.
Purchase of the reserve was made possible by Unilever. Managed in partnership with Cornwall Wildlife Trust.
Culm measures are a kind of rock from the Carboniferous era that contains thin bands of impure anthracite or culm, found only in Cornwall, Devon, the New Forest and South Wales
Always sparse, culm grassland suffered a catastrophic decline through agricultural “improvements”. The reserve is a fragment of what was once an extensive moorland and mire system, including large areas of culm grassland. It is fringed by wet woodland of alder and willows.
Follow the B3254 south towards Launceston and turn right to Week St Mary.
At the southern end of the village take the minor road signposted to Launceston, and turn right just beyond the Green Inn. The reserve is about a mile further on the left.
Cattle at the Reserve
Three Lobed Crow Foot flower
Location: Cuxton, Medway, KentOS: TQ 716673 What Three Words location: ///hood.pull.drives
Habitat: Chalk grassland, arable fields and ancient woodland
Ranscombe Farm Reserve is Plantlife’s flagship reserve and an Important Plant Area for its arable flowers. The reserve is made up of chalk grassland, arable fields and woodland.
The chalk grassland is full of Common Rock-rose Helianthemum nummularium, Clustered Bellflower Campanula glomerata and Wild Liquorice alongside Skylarks and Common Blue and Marbled White butterflies.
Ranscombe Farm is believed to be the last remaining natural site in the UK for Corncockle and home to the largest UK populations of Broad-leaved Cudweed Filago pyramidata. The first record in Britain of Meadow Clary Salvia pratensis and Marsh Mallow Althaea officinalis were here too. It really is an arable flower haven!
Sessile Oak Quercus petraea and Hornbeam Carpinus betulus grow in the Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa coppice. This woodland has existed here since at least AD 1600 and is an important wildlife corridor in North Kent.
Ranscombe Farm is Plantlife’s largest nature reserve in England, occupying a total area of 560 acres on the slopes of the North Downs in Kent. Recently declared as a country park, the reserve provides opportunities for quiet walks amongst attractive countryside with a fascinating flora.
The Ranscombe Farm landscape includes arable habitats, extensive ancient woodland and fragments of chalk grassland. A large part of the site is within the Cobham Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest, and the whole farm is within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Ranscombe Farm is managed in partnership with Medway Council as a nature reserve, working farm and country park. You are welcome to visit at any time, but please keep to the marked footpaths.
The nearest rail stations are at Cuxton, Strood and Rochester (visit National Rail for more information). There are also several local bus services, details of which can be found at Kent public transport or by calling Traveline on 0870 608 2608.
If you are travelling by car, the main entrance and car park are accessible directly from the A228 shortly before the roundabout (when approaching the M2 from Cuxton).
Please be aware that we are doing some conservation work around the reserve this winter. Large machinery may be operating in this woods. Please pay attention to instructions and signage.
We are currently undertaking exciting work at the reserve:
All these important work are made possible thanks to the support our members gave to this year’s nature reserves appeal and an additional grant of over £60,000 from the Veolia Environmental trust.
Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve
Corncockle at Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve
Poppies at Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve
Delve further into the secrets of Ranscombe Farm Reserve with our family expedition walk map
This education pack is designed to help teachers use Ranscombe Farm Reserve for learning outside the classroom.
Location: near Settle, Yorkshire Dales National Park, North Yorkshire OS: SD 836662 What Three Words location: ///outwards.swims.bigger
Habitat: Limestone pavement and limestone pasture
A unique landscape with spectacular views northwards to the Yorkshire “Three Peaks” of Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-Ghent.
Plantlife bought Winskill Stones with the help of a public appeal to stop the extraction of rock from its limestone pavement and to allow its varied flora to thrive. The deep fissures in the limestone pavement provide a moist, shady hideaway for a range of woodland plants including ramsons, Dog’s Mercury Mercurialis perennis and Green Spleenwort Asplenium viride. In the pasture you will find Mountain Pansy, cowslips and early-purple orchids.
Other species prefer the low cliffs or humpbacks of limestone around the reserve, and the boldest displays of colour can be found on the ledges out of reach of grazing animals. You may see Kidney Vetch, Horseshoe Vetch, Common Rock-rose and 2 saxifrages, with Meadow Saxifrage usually found in grassland whilst Mossy Saxifrage prefers more exposed conditions.
Where the soil is thinner, or on crumbling limestone, you can find cushions of Spring Sandwort, whose flowers have five white petals that are just a little longer than the green sepals between them. Here too are mats of Limestone Bedstraw, with tiny white flowers and narrow leaves in whorls of six to eight up its stems. Herbs such as this and Wild Thyme are beginning to colonise even the desolate patches of rubble waste and pavement remains in two of the reserve’s fields. Rarities that are harder to spot include Green Spleenwort, Common Twayblade and Wall Lettuce.
Please take care on your visit. Be aware of the terrain and of any roads that pass through the reserve. Note that livestock periodically graze many of our reserves as part of their management.
Location: near Settle, Yorkshire Dales National Park, North Yorkshire
Grid Reference: SD 836 662
Wild Thyme at Winskill Stones Nature Reserve
Curlew at Winskill Stones Nature Reserve
Kidney Vetch at Winskill Stones Nature Reserve
Winskill Stones is a 74-acre reserve of limestone pavement and limestone pasture. Discover more about it with this resource.
Come with us to discover this wild space together and see what we can find.
Location: Checkley, Herefordshire OS: SO 592374 What Three Words location: ///paintings.fashion.feels
Habitat: Meadows, pasture and woodland
Joan’s Hill Farm, set in the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a stunning piece of Herefordshire meadowland alongside a small area of woodland. The reserve is one of several of Plantlife’s reserves to hold that generally scarce Pepper-saxifrage as well as the uncommon Dyer’s Greenweed and Greater Butterfly-orchid Platanthera chlorantha.
Some of the meadow species are less common. Also found here is Dyer’s Greenweed. It looks a little like a low-growing broom, although no more than 70cm tall, but it has no spines and its leaves are unlobed. It is a species of old meadows and grassy pastures, and was once used to produce yellow and green dyes.
The eastern block of pasture land, covering around six acres, hosts species like betony, and in the small area of woodland at the west of the reserve you’ll find many typical woodland plants.
A stunning piece of Herefordshire meadowland, set in the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Until relatively recently it was still a working farm (the farmhouse is still privately owned) and our land here is divided into 14 different fields, with one parcel of woodland. Three hundred years ago, the farm had exactly the same boundaries as today, and the pattern of fields has hardly changed since the tithe map of 1843.
The reserve is in two parcels, separated by about 300m, but the largest part is a 40-acre block of meadow. To conserve the flowers and wildlife, we cut the meadows for hay in late summer, after the meadow plants have flowered and set seed. Any regrowth is then grazed by cattle during the autumn, but for the rest of year grazing animals are kept off the meadows to encourage the greatest diversity of plants.
Park at Haugh Wood car park and picnic site, just off the road from Mordiford to Woolhope (grid reference: SO 592 365).
Purchase of the reserve was made possible by Unilever (Timotei) and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Sloping wildflower meadow at Joan’s Hill reserve
A meadow of daisies and orchids at Joan’s Hill Farm
Green-winged Orchid at Joans Hill Farm reserve
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