Special places for wildlife
This large ancient woodland nature reserve is owned by the Woodland Trust. It contains extensive stands of oak/ash woodland with hazel and other shrubs in the understorey. The rich clay soils support a wide variety of flowering plants. Amidst the woodland are a number of small glades, notably the so-called 'Green Patch', visible from Blagdon Hill. This small open area supports a very diverse flora including bee orchids, autumn gentian, common centaury and other plants.
For more information please visit the Woodland Trust site
This Devon Wildlife Trust nature reserve is owned by Hemyock Parish Council. It is common land, which traditionally was used as a source of firewood and common grazing. The reserve sits on the springline - the point on the valley side where the permeable greensand meets the impermeable clays, and where water emerges in a series of constantly-wet springs. Moisture-loving plants on this wet ground include the tussock-forming purple moor grass, willow, birch and alder, and uncommon species such as heath-spotted orchid, round-leaved sundew and devil's-bit scabious. Beware! In some places on this reserve there are treacherous boggy 'quicksands'.
For more information please visit the Devon Wildlife Trust website
This is the largest expanse of dry and wet heath in the northern Blackdown Hills, and it affords breathtaking views west towards Dartmoor, and north to Exmoor, the Brendons, the Quantocks and Wales.
The heathy vegetation is dominated by ling, western gorse, bilberry, purple moor-grass, cross-leaved heath and bell heather. Curlew nest in the open heath, and nightjar also breed on the site.
A favorite place for riders, the Common includes Culmstock Beacon at its southern end (see key historic sites).
This Forestry Commission site, just down the hill from the Merry Harriers, is an important butterfly reserve, and is subject to large scale habitat creation work involving the clearance of conifers and introduction of low-intensity cattle grazing. This work will expand the area of open ground and give the butterflies and other wildlife space to spread and strengthen their populations.
The existing open grassland is rich in wildflowers, including orchids, and supports several fritillary and other butterflies. It also contains the remains of the 'reservoir that never was' - a planned reservoir for Taunton which began to be constucted in the 1940s but was never completed.
This small heathland site is owned and managed by Clayhidon Parish Council. It supports a fine stand of dry and wet heath, with ling, bell heather, western gorse, bracken, purple moor-grass and bilberry. Traditionally it was a common used by parishioners as a source of firewood, peat, and a place to graze livestock. Now, the challenge is to keep the bracken and scrub in check by hand-cutting, and hopefully in future by light grazing.
This complex of pasture and woodland within the Forestry Commission estate is managed by Butterfly Conservation. The site comprises a series of small fields surrounded by thick hedges, scrub and woodland. The fields contain marsh grassland with areas of rush pasture and bracken.
The site is important for a number of rare butterflies. In recent years it has been grazed using ponies, but the intention is for the area to be brought into a wider grazing unit in this part of the forest, to be grazed using Longhorn cattle.
For more information please visit the Butterfly Conservation website
Priors Park Wood
This large ancient woodland is partly managed by the Forestry Commission, and partly is in private ownership. The complex of Priors Park and Adcombe Wood forms the largest area of ancient semi-natural woodland on the Blackdown Hills.
Designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the woodland is mostly dominated by oak and ash, with some areas of conifer plantation. There is extensive scrub made up of hazel (some of it old coppice), alder, willow and hawthorn. The rich clay soils support a diverse ground flora. One rarity present in the wood is Herb Paris.
Quants is now partly managed by the Forestry Commission and the Somerset Wildlife Trust nature reserve. This area is an important butterfly reserve, and is undergoing large-scale habitat creation work involving the clearance of conifers and introduction of low-intensity Longhorn cattle grazing. The existing grassland is rich in wildflowers, including orchids, and supports several fritillary and other butterflies.
For further information please visit the Somerset Wildlife Trust website
Ringdown is a Somerset Wildlife Trust nature reserve, close to the Devon border, just south of the Merry Harriers pub on Downlands Lane.
The reserve covers 59 acres (24 hectares) of sloping ground above a tributary of the River Culm, and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Much of the reserve is marshy, with an excellent example of springline mire in the upper field, plus species-rich flushes, wet woodland, drier woodland, wood pasture and improved grassland.
Particularly in the wood pasture, there is a strong sense of being in an ancient landscape and in spring and summer the marshy grassland and mire provide colourful displays.
Look out for meadow thistle and sundew in early summer, and Devil's-bit scabious later on.
An interesting feature of the reserve is Ringdown Barn, which has an unexpected history - money from the Neroche Scheme is funding the restoration of this barn.
For further information please visit the Somerset Wildlife Trust webpage
Staple Common and Ruttersleigh
This Forestry Commission site is currently subject to a major programme of habitat restoration, involving the clearance of conifers and introduction of low intensity cattle grazing, to create open pasture and wooded glades. This work will give the butterflies and other wildlife currently inhabiting the small open glades, the space they need to expand. The existing open space contains a wealth of wildflowers, and a number of rare butterflies including Wood White. The wooded areas are rich in spring flowers including bluebells, and there are a number of veteran oak trees scattered across the hillside.
Thurlbear Wood is a Somerset Wildlife Trust nature reserve, where human history and natural history combine to create a truly fascinating place.
The 40 acres (16.2 hectares) of the reserve forms part of a larger Forestry Commission holding, and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It lies on a limestone scarp and plateau about 6km SE of Taunton.
The wood consists predominantly of ancient woodland with oak and ash standards over hazel and field maple coppice. There are many open glades and rides, full of flowers and insects, and these make the wood very diverse and a source of surprise and interest however many times you visit.
Large parts of the woodland are species-rich and have a history of traditional management as coppice-with-standards. Pendunculate oak is the dominant canopy tree with ash scattered throughout. The shrub layer is dominated by hazel, but has a diversity of other species including field maple, common dogwood, spindle, guelder rose, wayfaring tree and crab apple. Other woody species like small-leaved lime, wych elm and the rare wild service tree are indicators that the woodland is ancient - ie. that it has been continuously wooded for many centuries. A few sessile oaks occur on an area of more sandy acid soil, and there are scattered conifers in places.
The base-rich soils support an amazing variety of plants, many of which are only here because the site has been wooded for so long. These include greater butterfly orchid, lesser butterfly orchid, bird’s nest orchid and common broomrape. More familiar woodland plants include wood anemone with its pungent garlic smell, sheets of bluebells, loads of primroses, wood violets, sweet woodruff, stinking iris, common cow-wheat, enchanter’s nightshade, wood melick, wood millet, early purple orchid, sanicle, wood vetch and wood speedwell. Autumn gentian is also present.
The moist conditions in the wood support over 100 species of fungi and 50 species of mosses and liverworts.
The secret, sheltered glades contain a rich calcareous flora, including yellow-wort, carline thistle, dyer’s greenweed, wild thyme and bee orchid.
A number of bats live in the wood, including noctule, Daubenton’s and pipistrelle. Dormice are present in most areas and brown hares have been seen in the wood. A number of active badger setts occur within the reserve and roe deer and grey squirrel are common. Adder and slow worm have also been recorded.
A cacophony of bird song is generated amongst other species by green woodpecker and nuthatch, and nightingales nest in the wood, producing the most romantic bird song of all. Woodcock are occasionally recorded in winter and hobby has been recorded in the past. A small rookery remains in trees near the northern boundary of the reserve.
Butterlfies finding refuge in the glades and along the rides include commoner species like speckled wood and silver-washed fritillary, and rarer ones like grizzled skipper, dingy skipper, brown argus,
Duke of Burgundy, white-letter hairstreak, dark green fritillary, white admiral and wood white, though the population levels of these vary considerably, and some may be virtually absent at times. The moth fauna is even more diverse, as is the wider invertebrate list.
The adjacent area of species-rich calcareous grassland and scrub at Quarrylands also forms part of the SSSI, and the interface between woodland and grassland/scrub forms an extremely important wildlife habitat, especially for invertebrates.
Part of the secret of Thurlbear's richness is the way it has been managed down the centuries. Coppice management involves the cutting of hazel and other shrubs to ground level, with a small 'coupe' being cut each winter. The rotation of coppiced blocks, all cut at different times, and the single-stemmed 'standard' trees which overtop them, means there is a full range of stages of growth of trees, from bare ground with stumps, through dense shrubby thicket to tall mature woodland. This in turn offers places to live for all of the species found here - a lot more than might be the case if the wood was more even-aged.
Forestry Commission woodland with open pasture and forest glades.
Wych Lake was created in the 1900s by Henry Berkeley Portman, 3rd Viscount Portman (1860–1923). The lake was created as a duck decoy lake for duck shooting. However the steep surrounding slopes made duck shooting almost impossible and the lake was used instead as a boating and ornamental lake. It is now a stocked coarse fishing lake leased by the Taunton Angling Association.
Yarty moor, near Otterford extends over 26 acres and its a diverse site of mire and wet grassland around the source of the River Yarty. Bog flora and invertebrates are of particular interest.
For more information please visit Somerset Wildlife Trust website