The “Floodplain Forest Nature Reserve” at Old Wolverton (SP808422) – better known to local naturalists as “Manor Farm” – was officially opened to the public on August 25, 2016. Originally grazing land, its 48 hectares were quarried for gravel from 2007 to 2014, but always with a view to returning them to a state similar to that which greeted to the first farmers thousands of years ago.
While the reserve’s pools, streams, scrapes and islands all sit within the Great Ouse Floodplain, and although there are several rows of excellent old pollards – you might wonder “where is the forest?” Well, throughout 2017 and 2018, Parks Trust work parties will be planting Alder and Willow to screen the lakes from the public paths, and make them more attractive to wildlife seeking refuge from disturbance.
The volunteers will also be erecting wooden screens on the north shore, and enhancing the waterside habitat by planting twelve-thousand Reeds.
Meanwhile, hardy “Koniks” (Polish “primitive horses”) and a herd of cattle are being released onto the reserve as surrogate Elk and Aurochs to help clear tall vegetation from the bare areas important to wildfowl and other wildlife.
What To Look For
As you may have guessed, the reserve is especially important for birds; and three excellent hides make their spotting and study simpler and more comfortable, especially during winter, when the usual Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall and Tufted Duck may be joined by Pintail, Goosander and Scaup.
Fishing the waters throughout the year are Cormorant, Kingfisher, Heron, Little Egret and – in summer – Great White Egret (pictured). Osprey also visit on spring and autumn passage, joining the other resident raptors that include Peregrines, and Little and Barn Owls.
In spring, Wheatear and Winchat join resident Stonechats, followed closely by all the common hirundines and breeding warblers. Other notable breeding species include Yellow Wagtail, Skylark, Cuckoo (pictured), Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover, Redshank and Common Tern.
Visiting Green Sandpiper, Dunlin and Curlew are regularly seen on the reserve, with less frequent – and, hence, more exciting – appearances from Little Stint, Black-winged Stilt and Avocet.
During summer dusks, bat-fans can expect to ultrasonically detect – if not actually see – Common (45KHz) and Soprano (55KHz) Pipistrelles, Noctules, Daubenton’s and Brown Long-eareds. And larger mammals are regularly spotted – though never guaranteed – including Fox, Badger and Weasel, with occasional (but, hopefully, increasingly frequent) sightings of Otters.
The lakes and ditches attract Red-eyed and Small Red-eyed Damselflies, while nearly two dozen butterfly species – including Clouded Yellow – have been attracted to the reserve’s wild flowers. In an effort to increase the number and variety meadow plants, the Parks Trust will, over the next few years, be spreading seed-rich green hay onto “Canal Field” at the western end of the reserve; so there is every chance that the butterfly count will increase.
Great wildlife, hides, paths and signage make the reserve an excellent place for naturalists of all abilities to visit.
How to get there
There are three car parks off the Old Wolverton Road: two at Manor Farm Court (entrance SP80984155 and business units SP807418), and one near the canal, SP80604138. You can also park at the Haversham Road car park, (SP817422), and take a short walk under the railway viaduct to the reserve’s Eastern entrance. Alternatively, if you fancy some refreshment with your wildlife, why not start from The Galleon (SP80554135) or G’Ma’s Tearoom at G’dad’s Collectables?
Dogs are welcome on the reserve but must be kept on leads at all times – and please clean up after them!