Why you should visit Priestcliffe Lees Nature Reserve

Willow Warbler Photo: Amy Lewis

Willow Warbler Photo: Amy Lewis - Credit: Amy Lewis

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s vision is of landscapes rich in wildlife, valued by everyone. They will achieve this by pursuing their mission of creating Living Landscapes. Here Julia Gow, the White Peak Reserve Officer at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust tells us about the reserve above the River Wye

Brown Hare Photo: Jamie Hall

Brown Hare Photo: Jamie Hall - Credit: Jamie Hall

Priestcliffe Lees Nature Reserve lies on a steep limestone hillside above the River Wye and the Monsal Trail. It is best known for its wild flowers and you can see most of these from two public footpaths that climb up through the reserve. If you can’t manage the stiff climb, you can still enjoy the breathtaking views over the Wye Valley by approaching the top of the reserve from the village of Priestcliffe.

On the reserve, bumpy lead spoil heaps are a reminder of the area’s lead mining past. They are also renowned for the special flowers they support and are distinctive to Derbyshire. In summer these top areas are alive with yellow mountain pansy and the tiny white flowers of leadwort. Breathe in the fresh hilltop air and you will be rewarded with the fragrant scent of thyme.

Other limestone flowers are more suited to the sheltered conditions lower down the slopes. Among these are several varieties of orchid, including early purple, common spotted and fragrant. The flowers here attract various butterflies, including dark green fritillary. Many birds enjoy the cover of the trees lower down.

The ash woodland contains wych elm, bird cherry and purging buckthorn. Some birds, such as redstarts, blackcaps and willow warblers, visit for the summer. Among the year-round residents are treecreepers, green woodpeckers and nuthatches.

Where the woodland merges into the grassland on the slopes of Priestcliffe Lees there is a belt of hazel. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has started managing this as a coppice, which means it is cut back every ten or so years. A dark woodland floor suddenly becomes bathed in sunlight, resulting in a flush of spring growth and you will often find some very interesting plants here. You might also see a brown hare running through the fields. Unlike rabbits they are solitary creatures and do not use burrows but shelter on the woodland edge. In the spring they make a form in the grass where they give birth to well-developed young leverets which they only return to feed once a day.

After a fall of snow Priestcliffe Lees is a great place to look for mammal tracks. Some tracks are much easier to identify than others, for instance the badger has particularly long back feet which distinguishes its tracks from those left by other large animals.

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The presence of small mammals such as bank vole are also far more evident in the autumn. Bank voles store berries and nuts in preparation for winter and you might find one of their larders if you look very carefully. u

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust believes that people are part of nature; everything we value ultimately comes from it and everything we do impacts upon it. If you would like to know more about Derbyshire Wildlife Trust please call the Trust on 01773 881188 or visit their website www.derbyshirewildlifetrust.org.uk.

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