Joe McSorley's column: Walk on the wild side
WHEN the term "nature reserve" crops up most people probably think of huge tracts of land like Exmoor or the few remaining patches of ancient woodland in the region.
In our urban heartlands it's not always as easy to see the value of nature, but there's a lot going on out there that we can all enjoy without having to travel too far from our own front door.
Our everyday parks, gardens and green spaces are a great place to experience the vibrancy and variety of wildlife in the city. And tucked away in the corners of some of our green spaces there's a little more going on, in what are termed "urban nature reserves".
Avon Wildlife Trust manages several of these in and around Bristol and it's especially worth exploring them if they're on your local patch.
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Stockwood Open Space is a nature reserve which features old grassland and unploughed meadows on lime-rich clay soils – fantastic for birds in early spring, wildflowers in late spring and butterflies in summer.
Brandon Hill is in the centre of Bristol and popular with city workers on their lunch breaks as well as visiting tourists and families. The nature reserve is at the bottom of the hill by Jacobs Wells Road. It's a great spot to look for newts and frogs, rising to the surface of the wildlife pond in February and March, and check the woodland edges for birds such as jay, song thrush, bull finch and blackcap. Lawrence Weston Moor is a remnant of the Somerset Levels within the city boundary. This nature reserve offers a glimpse of the past with damp-loving meadow plants sharing the space with marsh-loving birds such as sedge and reed warblers. It's also a great site to see some of our large and less common dragonflies flitting around on sunny summer days.
With its mixed habitat, Willsbridge Valley offers a range of treats for wildlife watchers. The woodlands are at their best in spring, full of bluebells, red campion and the sounds of birdsong. The ponds are important homes for frogs, toads and dragonflies, and dippers and kingfishers may be seen on the stream.
Tucked away at the back of Ashton Court there's a nature reserve, which is particularly memorable in May, when parts of the meadow are full of green-winged orchids. In July, the butterflies are the main attraction. You can see clouds of marbled whites, meadow browns and many other butterfly and moth species, skimming over the grass.
So put some dates in your diary to explore the Trust's urban nature reserves.
Avon Wildlife Trust is the local wildlife charity, supported by 16,500 members, dedicated to securing a strong future for the natural environment and to inspiring people. Please go to avonwildlifetrust.org.uk for further information about nature reserves, walks and educational work plus ways to support the charity, including membership.
Joe McSorley, Avon Wildlife Trust's Reserves Officer