The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust manages around 100 nature reserves in the historic county of Lincolnshire (including North-east Lincolnshire and North Lincolnshire). Most of the nature reserves are available for educational visits and public use by arrangement, and a good many have general public access. At four principal sites - Gibraltar Point (near Skegness), Whisby Nature Park (near Lincoln), Snipe Dales (near Horncastle) and Far Ings (near Barton-on-Humber) - there are special visitor facilities. Except for a few sites where special restrictions apply members are entitled to visit all the nature reserves with their membership card, which is also a visiting permit. Please carry it with you at all times when visiting the reserves.
If you are not already a member of the Trust, please join! A membership application form is available from the Trust's headquarters, from the four nature reserves with visitor facilities (see above) and also here on our website.
Many Trust reserves are fragile environments, often being the last safe haven of rare plants and animals. Please take care when visiting and follow the Country Code, especially being careful to shut gates behind you. Do not light fires or leave litter. Do not take dogs (except where specified in Terms and Conditions for visiting nature reserves).
In order to understand their importance and the reasons for creating and protecting nature reserves it is helpful to know a little of the history of our countryside.
The countryside as we see it today has evolved from Man's use of the land over thousands of years. Around twelve thousand years ago Britain was still joined to the continent of Europe. As the glaciers of the last Ice Age retreated so wild plants and animals recolonised these islands, forming ecological associations determined by millions of years of evolution. When Neolithic man arrived, much of England was covered with deciduous woodland - the prehistoric wildwood. Since then, woodland has been cleared for agriculture, towns and industry.
For over 6000 years the landscape changed relatively slowly, allowing wildlife to take advantage of the new conditions and to adapt to changed habitats. Many of our most attractive and valued habitats today have been created and maintained by traditional uses of the countryside. For instance, ancient woodland, which has links going back to the wildwood, has been modified by thousands of years of management for timber and fuel. Similarly, meadows and downland result from centuries of hay-making and grazing.
Since medieval times the pace of change has increased dramatically. By the early nineteenth century the last of Lincolnshire's great fenland areas had been drained and its downlands ploughed and enclosed. During the past 50 years developments in farming technology have removed most of the old meadows and hedgerows, and the proportion of permanent grassland has been drastically reduced in favour of intensively managed arable land.
Other significant impacts have been the intensification of river and drainage management and the use of pesticides - organochlorine insecticides caused untold damage in the 1950s and 1960s. Agriculture, housing and industry now occupy most of the land surface; consequently, semi-natural areas have become scarce and the survival of wildlife has become increasingly threatened.
The situation today
Nature reserves therefore offer havens for wildlife, where they may retreat and be given special care. Although wildlife continues to live on farmland and in urban areas it is no longer as varied and as widespread as it used to be. The richest communities of wildflowers, birds, insects and mammals in our county are now mostly to be found in nature reserves and in other specially protected areas.
Nature reserves are also important as reservoirs from which wildlife can recolonise the surrounding countryside if conditions become favourable. Furthermore, they are valuable places for scientific study of wildlife and for the public to visit and enjoy. As well as enjoying the reserves it is hoped that visitors will come to appreciate and understand more about wildlife and be encouraged to help protect it.
Many reserves are managed by the Trust under lease or agreements with the owners or tenants of the land. However, the freehold of the majority has been purchased by the Trust with funds from numerous sources - individual donations, appeals, grants and legacies. Legacies are especially important to the Trust and a special leaflet is available about how to leave a legacy in your Will for our work.
All nature reserves require management. There are very few areas that can be left alone completely and many wildlife habitats require intensive management. There are several reasons for this.
||First, we have very little land in the British Isles that can be set aside solely for wildlife, so we have to make the most of what is available.|
||Second, habitats have become fragmented and no longer have the natural variety formerly created by large herbivores and fire.|
||Third, without intervention (by natural or artificial means) all habitats tend towards woodland through a process known as succession. If we are to continue to enjoy the earlier stages of succession, such as meadows and heathland, we must maintain management input to halt the successional process.|
In addition, we must manage nature reserves to facilitate access so that people may enjoy their visit without harming what they come to see. The most appropriate way of caring for many nature reserves is to return to traditional techniques, such as coppicing of woodland, managing meadows for hay and aftermath grazing, and extensive grazing systems on chalk and limestone grasslands.
The old methods of farming grassland created conditions suited to a wide variety of wildflowers and associated insect species. Meadows were cut for hay and the re-growth, or 'aftermath', grazed later in the year. Since 1938 more than 99 percent of Lincolnshire's hay meadows have been converted to arable or to improved grassland. Farming improvements, such as re-seeding, drainage and fertilising, encourage coarser species, which become dominant, leaving no opportunities for the finer herbs and grasses.
The Trust manages its hay meadow reserves by taking a late hay crop in July or August. The removal of the hay helps to keep fertility low and of course no fertilisers are used. Sheep or cattle are brought in from September onwards.
Meadows are at their best from May onwards until the hay is ready for cutting in mid-July.
Examples of hay meadows are:
Grassland: Chalk and Limestone
Flower-rich grassland occurs on the chalk and limestone where there is a thin calcareous soil. Most of these areas were traditionally grazed by sheep. In order to maintain the floristic and invertebrate diversity of these sites the Trust either lets out the land for sheep grazing or, where this is not practicable, arranges for mowing and removal of the cuttings.
The best time for seeing the wildflowers of chalk and limestone is from early to late summer.
Examples on the chalk are: Red Hill and Mill Hill Quarry
Examples on the limestone are: Duke's Covert, Robert's Field and Ancaster Valley
The richest wildlife woods are those that have a continuous wooded history, perhaps with links going back to the original wildwood that covered much of England after the last Ice Age.
Traditional management, which reached a peak of sophistication in the medieval period, was to grow large widely-spaced timber trees, with an understorey of smaller trees, which were cut on rotation to produce small wood for tools, fuel, poles and charcoal. This practice produces great variety, in some ways mimicking the conditions that would have existed in the wildwood.
Many birds, for example nightingale, find a particular stage of the coppice cycle to their liking, moving from year to year to nest in the right stage of coppice re-growth. Other birds and many insects are adapted to woodland edge conditions, so that young coppice, glades and rides are important to them. The Trust is restoring traditional coppice working to many of its woods.
Examples of coppiced woods are: Tortoiseshell, Hoplands, Muckton, Goslings Corner and Rigsby.
Other woods, known as secondary woodland, have grown up on land that was previously heathland or farmland. Although generally less rich than ancient (or primary) woodland, they nevertheless have special characteristics and support a different range of species.
Examples of secondary woodland include: Roughton Moor Wood, Langholme Wood, Friskney Decoy Wood and the wooded parts of Moor Farm and Kirkby Moor.
A special type of woodland, known as carr woodland, occurs in the small valleys of the southern Wolds, on the Spilsby Sandstone. These are wet woodlands, which are dominated by ash and alder, and have a specialised range of plants, including golden-saxifrage and kingcup.
Examples of carr woodland are: Keal Carr and Upper Sow Dale.
Heaths are usually found on poor acidic soils and have characteristic grasses, heathers and other wildflowers. In Lincolnshire the majority of heaths are on the sandy soils of the Fen Edge around Woodhall Spa, the Trent Valley and the Cover Sands of north-west Lincolnshire.
Heathland once occupied large tracts of the county, covering around 5000 acres until the 1920s, but forestry and agricultural reclamation have since destroyed the majority of this. Probably less than 600 acres now survive and much of that has suffered from increased drainage of surrounding land.
Examples of heathland are: Scotton Common, Linwood Warren, Kirkby Moor and Moor Farm.
Poorly drained soils under certain conditions develop a special bog vegetation that is often dominated by Sphagnum mosses, which over long periods produce great depths of peat. There are few such places in lowland England but the great area of the Humberhead levels extends into north-west Lincolnshire. These raised bogs have great interest for their variety of acid-loving plants, such as sundew and bog rosemary. In some areas the vegetation is similar to heathland, with an abundance of heathers - ling, cross-leaved heath and bell heather.
Most bogs in Britain have been drained and cut over for peat but some good areas remain in Lincolnshire and are being managed to restore water-levels and to control invading scrub.
Bog areas managed by the Trust are all in the Isle of Axholme: Crowle Moor (now part of the Humberhead Peatlands National Nature Reserve), Haxey Turbary and Epworth Turbary.
Fen, reedbed and open water habitats in Lincolnshire are almost all artificial in origin, but they may be regarded as substitutes for the great fenland areas drained in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some wetlands arose as a result of industrial activities, such as tile and brick making, and sand and gravel extraction. Others were borrow-pits used in the construction of sea banks and railways. Still others were formed as washlands to protect farmland from flooding.
Today these places offer a great variety of habitats for aquatic wildlife, ranging from reed warblers and bearded tits - found almost exclusively in reedbeds - to grebes, ducks and wading birds.
Examples of open water are: Boultham Mere and Fairfield Pit
Reedbeds are situated at: Far Ings, Pasture Wharf, Barrow Haven, Huttoft Bank Pit, Chapel Pit
Resulting from sand and gravel extraction: Whisby Nature Park, Messingham Sand Quarry and Kirkby Gravel Pit
Washlands are to be found at Baston Fen and Thurlby Fen Slipe
Of all Lincolnshire's wild places, it is the coast that is the most nearly natural. Although reclamation, sea defences and industry have altered large stretches, there is a great deal that remains unspoilt. The whole of the Wash is one of England's finest wildlife areas, especially noted for wading birds and wildfowl which inhabit the sand and mudflats.
Between Grimsby and Gibraltar Point there are extensive sand dunes, clothed in dune grassland and scrub of mainly sea buckthorn. There are also saltmarshes, freshwater slacks, and seashore of shingle and sandy beaches.
The processes of accretion and erosion, and tides and storms make the coast a dynamic place that is forever changing. It is the ability of plants and animals to adapt to these shifting conditions that makes the coastland so rich and interesting. From the first colonisers of the bare mud, through saltmarsh, to mobile and stable dunes, and damp hollows and open shore, the coast is a kaleidoscope of habitats.
Examples of coastal nature reserves are: Gibraltar Point, Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe Dunes, Donna Nook and Frampton Marsh.
As well as the characteristic habitats described above, there are many other habitats in the county, almost all of which occur on Trust nature reserves. Rivers provide a special environment, some of which is protected in reserves.
Examples of rivers are: the River Bain at Kirkby Gravel Pit and the River Glen at Baston Fen.
Hedgerows are best represented at Heath's Meadows, Sotby Meadows, Kingerby Beck Meadows and Hatton Meadows.
Disused railway lines with scrub and grassland make fine wildlife sanctuaries.
Examples of railway lines are: Horbling and Willoughby Branch.
Sites of Special Scientific Interest are notified by the government's conservation agency, English Nature. They are selected as the best and most representative examples of wildlife habitats in the country. Many Trust nature reserves have this status, which is indicated at the head of each entry.