Linford Lakes Nature Reserve is 37 hectares of open water, wet woodland and meadow north of Stantonbury in the Ouse valley. Owned and managed by The Parks Trust, the reserve is arguably the best wildlife site in the area, especially for birds. Visitors must buy an annual permit to gain access to the reserve and use the three bird hides. The reserve hosts a monthly Open Day and Work Sunday, both of which are open to non-members. Several wildlife and conservation groups regularly work and study there, and The Trust uses it for community environmental education activities. Sorry! Dogs are not allowed on the reserve.
The reserve started life as gravel pits in the 1940’s, with much of what was extracted going into the concrete of Milton Keynes. In 1970, the quarrying company ARC Ltd (subsequently part of Hanson Plc) approached the Game Conservancy (now the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust), and together they instigated the “Wildfowl Research Project” at the site. By studying the ecology of water birds they set out to find how best to manage new water bodies for shooting, with the effects of fish on the availability of food for ducklings being of prime concern. The results of the first twenty years of this research are summarised in the fascinating book, “Wildlife After Gravel” by Nick Giles.
When the gravel pits finally ceased to be worked in the 1980’s, Milton Keynes Council took over the reserve and its buildings, known as the Hanson Environmental Centre; and in March 2015, the Council sold both to The Parks Trust, which now manages and maintains them to improve biodiversity and to promote education.
The reserve has three main water bodies – the large Stantonbury lake, St Peter’s Lake, and Stanton Low Lake – and about 30 smaller ponds. Together these occupy almost half of the area. The wet woodland that grew up when the pits fell out of use is now mature and the finest of its kind locally. There are three wildflower meadows, and between Stanton Low Lake and the reserve’s southern border is an area of ungrazed grassland.
What To Look For
Linford Lakes is good in any season for wetland and woodland birds. The three, secure bird hides require an entry code provided with the permit.
Apart from the “usual suspects” – Wigeon, Pochard, Gadwall, Shoveler and Teal – winter wildfowl at the reserve regularly include less-common visitors, such as Goosander, Smew, Bittern, Woodcock and Great White Egret. Regular passage migrants include Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Redstart and Wheatear. In spring and summer you can encounter eight species of warbler – including resident Cetti’s – and the reserve is the best place in Milton Keynes for Cuckoos. Breeding around the lakes are Water Rail, Heron, Little Egret and Common Tern, and in recent years Garganey has also nested. Other notable species include Spotted Flycatchers in summer, Willow and Marsh Tits all year round. The eastern boundary of the reserve gives views across Stanton Low fields, where the long grass provides hunting for birds of prey, including breeding Barn Owls and, in winter, Short-eared Owls. Various BTO bird monitoring projects keep tabs on the feathered inhabitants, including the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), and regular bird ringing.
Notable Mammals at the reserve include Water Shrew, Badger, Noctule Bat, and the occasional Otter. Unfortunately, Mink are frequent visitors, and probably explain the absence of Water Voles.
Reptiles, Amphibians and Fish
All the amphibians common in Milton Keynes occur at the reserve – including Great Crested Newts – and there are also plenty of Grass Snakes to feed on them. Along with commoner coarse fish, the rare and protected Spined Loach haunts the lakes and streams.
Surprisingly, insects are not well recorded from Linford Lakes, with the exception of Dragonflies and Moths (with year-round light-trapping of the latter). To correct this imbalance, Butterfly transects are now being walked during the flight season.
The wet woodland consists predominantly of Osier coppice, Alder and Birch. Important plants at the reserve are the Fringed Water Lily (native to a few parts of Britain, but an invasive weed in some countries) and the Sea Club-rush. From Spring 2016 there will be a botanical surveys of the meadows to find out exactly what is growing there.
How to get there
The entrance to Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (SP 839429) is on the North side of the Wolverton Road, and shared with The Marle Inn. After leaving the main road, turn left at the first junction before the Inn and follow the track for almost half a mile to the reserve car park.
The Friends of Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (FoLLNR – formerly the Friends of the Hanson Environmental Study Centre – FoHESC)) is a volunteer group of permit holders who enjoy, study and conserve the reserve’s wildlife and environment. On the third Sunday of each month they host an open day to which everyone – including non-permit holders – is invited.