Springs and streams
Alongside the stream and in wetter areas look out for plants like marsh marigold with its large, showy yellow flowers in the spring and its kidney shaped leaves. Look out for water mint at the edge of the water, and water cress growing in the stream. In summer, yellow flag iris provides a colourful display. In the clear stream water you may catch a glimpse of sticklebacks while dragonflies hunt along the banks.
On the steep side of the valley the soil is drier. Here in the shade of huge oak and ash trees grow primroses, bluebells and violets. Many insects such as the yellow brimstone butterfly feed on nectar from the flowers. Woodland birds such as woodpeckers, treecreepers and nuthatches nest and feed in the trees while voles and mice scurry, unseen, along the woodland floor.
The dry, sandy soils of the heathland are ideal for a range of plants and animals not found elsewhere on the reserve. Some of the easier plants to find are the spiny gorse bushes with their bright yellow pea-like flowers, and bracken which covers large areas. In the grassy area, heather can be seen and sheep's sorrel with its arrow-shaped leaves. Butterflies like the common blue flutter about on the heath in summer, frequently sunning themselves on grass stems. Listen for the scratchy call of the bush crickets and the melodious bursts of song from the nightingales.
Swamp woodland known as "alder carr"
In the boggy soils of the valley bottom grows a woodland mostly made up of alder trees. These have roundish leaves and fruits that look like little cones. Willow tits nest in the alders and birds like siskins feed on their seeds in winter. Red currant bushes can be seen amongst the alders and in the drier areas the common twayblade orchid with its tall green flower-spike and its single pair of broad leaves.
Downstream of the alder woodland, fen and a reedbed have developed on marshes which used to be grazed by cattle. Large areas are covered by reeds. These tall grasses with their shaggy flowerheads provide homes for reed and sedge warblers.
Across the road from the car park is a disused crag pit. Pits like this one were in use during the nineteenth century providing a special sort of fossil-rich clay, called "coprolite" which was made into fertiliser. The old pit is now rich in wildlife. Climbing plants such as bryony, bindweed and hop grow here, and birds such as the long-tailed tit nest in the elder scrub. Sand martins dig their nest holes in the steep, red crag slopes.
How is the reserve managed for wildlife?
In the swamp woodland some of the alders have been re-coppiced. The many log piles you see on your walk are left for the little animals which eat and live in rotting wood. These in turn provide food for the breeding and wintering birds. In the great storm of 1987 many trees were blown down. The ones that fell across paths or tracks had to be cleared. Virtually all the mature elms on the reserve succumbed to Dutch elm disease, many of them have been cleared and replaced with birches and oaks. The heathland area had been virtually taken over by bracken, which provides a much less rich habitat for wildlife. This has been cleared and mown. A new pond has been dug and is proving very popular with moorhens and damselflies as well as frogs and toads. A winter-visiting wader called a green sandpiper has also been seen here.