Local nature

Local Nature Reserves (or LNRs) are for people and wildlife. They are places with wildlife or geological features that are of special interest locally and categorised sites of special scientific interest (SSSI). They give people opportunities to study and learn about local habitats, eco structures and landscapes, or simply enjoy and have contact with nature.

Local nature reserves managed by us are:

  • Afton Marsh
  • Brading Down
  • Dodnor Creek & Dicksons Copse
  • Rew Down
  • Shide Chalk Pit
  • Sibden Hill & Batts Copse.

Local nature reserves are open to the public at all times.

Wight Nature Fund nature reserves

Wight Nature Fund manages sites for nature conservation and people at:

  • Alverstone Mead, Alverstone
  • Copse Mead, Shanklin
  • Pelham Woods, St Lawrence
  • Mill Copse, Yarmouth
  • Youngwoods Copse, Alverstone.

Afton Marsh

The Afton Marsh local nature reserve (PDF, 715KB, 2 pages) is at Freshwater, between Afton Road in the north, and to within 100m of Freshwater Bay in the south. The site covers 15.3 ha of tall fen and open water habitat, with broad-leaved woodland and scrub on the upper reaches of the Western Yar. The site is on the old flood plain of the river, and was once grazing marsh. The river Yar flows northward from Freshwater Bay to Yarmouth, reaching the sea at a sluice gate on the Causeway. This closes at high tide causing the water to back up to the rustic bridge. Weirs further upstream prevent water levels rising in the south marsh.

The public footpath F36 runs along the west side of the south marsh from Blackbridge Road to Freshwater Bay and is open to the public at all times. There is also a permissive path running through the north marsh between Blackbridge Road to Afton Road, but this area is liable to flooding in wet weather and may be closed for safety reasons.

Why Afton Marsh is so special

There are several types of wetland habitat on the site providing a home for a variety of plants and animals. It is part of the Freshwater Marshes SSSI.

Tall fen with common reed covers relatively large areas on deep, wet peat. In the wetter areas of the south marsh there is a varied flora with yellow loosestrife, marsh fern, marsh cinquefoil, greater bird’s-foot trefoil and marsh woundwort. Southern marsh-orchid is found in wetter areas under recently cut scrub. In the drier areas, there is greater pond sedge together with meadowsweet, hemp agrimony, hemlock water dropwort, water mint, great willowherb and yellow flag.

Water voles are present. Breeding birds include the Reed warbler and Sedge warbler. Butterflies include wall, Small tortoiseshell, peacock, Red admiral, Orange tip and three species of whites: large, small, and green-veined. The river and the large pond in the north marsh have areas of open water. The river is shaded along most of its length. In the open areas of the south marsh, bur-reed dominates the open water with fool’s watercress. The pond has been colonised by soft rush, toad rush, remote sedge and clumps of grey club rush. Breeding birds include mallard and moorhen.

The dragonfly fauna includes:

  • southern hawker
  • emperor
  • broad-bodied chaser 
  • common darter
  • large red damselflies 
  • blue-tailed damselflies 
  • common blue damselflies 
  • azure damselflies.

Alder woodland occurs on the south edge of the reserve, and has oak associated with the drier areas. The ground flora varies from mosses and liverworts, through greater tussock sedge and broad- leaved buckler fern to water mint, yellow flag and meadowsweet. Lesser water parsnip and marsh fern are also found here. Oak woodland forms a thin strip along the eastern river bank of the north marsh of the reserve. There is a dense scrub layer of hawthorn, hazel, and sallow. Osier woodland occurs on wet peaty soils to the north of Blackbridge Road. Silver birch woodland occurs in the north marsh on dry sandy soils, forming a screen around the pond.

Birds seen and heard in the wooded areas include cuckoo, Song thrush, blackcap, whitethroat, chiffchaff, Long-tailed tit and Green woodpecker. Dense willow scrub has invaded much of the reserve and an on-going management programme seeks to contain its spread and to open up some areas that have become heavily shaded to encourage reed and other more demanding wetland species.

Brading Down

On 1st March 2011, Brading Down became the seventh Local Nature Reserve to be designated on the Island and the first since 1993.

Brading Down (PDF, 1.1MB, 2 pages) lies at the eastern end of the central part of the chalk downs, to the west of the gap where the town of Brading is situated. It is crossed by the main Newport to Brading road and footpaths B28, B29, B42, B41 and B65 provide access on foot.

Brading Down is always open for walkers. If you are walking over the site with your dog, keep your pet under control so it won't worry the grazing animals.

Why Brading Down is so special

Brading Down provides an impressive viewpoint for visitors to the east of the Island. The Isle of Wight Council owns 35 hectares of south facing chalk grassland, which is crisscrossed by bridleways and footpaths. The main area of Brading Down is fenced and grazed but access is available from the car parks bordering the main Newport to Brading Road. The thin chalk soils to the east of the site support a typical downland plant community with pyramidal orchids being a particular feature in the summer. In recent years a programme of scrub clearance has been undertaken.

The area is good for butterflies including:

  • common blue
  • chalkhill blue
  • small, large and dingy skippers
  • marbled white
  • gatekeeper
  • meadow brown. 

In addition to the wildlife interest of chalk downland, the ancient field system on Brading Down is a scheduled ancient monument. The finest surviving ancient field system on the Island is to be found on the down. This is likely to be of late Iron Age or Roman date and highlights the last time the fields were ploughed. The views over Brading Roman Villa and Sandown Levels reinforce the historical significance of the area.

Dodnor Creek and Dicksons Copse

Dodnor Creek is a brackish inlet of the Medina which is easily viewed from the busy Cowes-Newport Cycleway, although public access is limited due to the wet ground. Dickson's Copse is a woodland that adjoins the creek and holds many ancient woodland plants.

Dodnor Creek and Dickson's Copse reserve (PDF, 490KB, 2 pages) is about a mile north of Newport, and three miles south of Cowes along the cycleway. There is no vehicular access although there is some parking at the riverside picnic site on the northern edge of Newport.

The reserve is visible from the footpath beside the estuary (N30) and the Cycleway viaduct. Both of these are excellent vantage points for bird watching, particularly in the winter. There is a circular footpath around the reserve from a kissing gate just below the cycleway on the north side of the Creek. It can be wet and muddy in places so strong boots or shoes are recommended for walking round it.

Why Dodner Creek and Dickson's Copse are so special

The old millpond, fringed by willow scrub and reed beds, is home to many species of bird. Mallard, coot and swans are regularly seen nesting there. Swallows and swifts swoop and soar over the water catching insects in midsummer. In the autumn and winter, the squeaky call of the water rail can be heard in the reedbeds, and if you are lucky you will see the flash of azure wings as kingfishers dart over the creek.

The area is part of a site of special scientific interest, which stretches along the Medina from the outskirts of Newport to Cowes Harbour. Over the winter, it is host to many migratory birds who spend time feeding on the rich resources in the estuary mud. The copse is located on the eastern side of the nature reserve and is typically made up of ash, oak, field maple with a rich understorey of more shrubby trees including of hazel, spindle and crab apple.

Part of Dickson's Copse is ancient woodland and contains 28 species of plants which help us identify it as such. These include the nationally rare narrow-leaved lungwort and the soft-shield and polypody ferns. The woodland supports a wide variety of mammals including red squirrels dormice and bats.

In spring, flowers such as primroses, bugle and narrow leaved lungwort are found on the woodland floor. In summer, white water lilies make a fine show on the pond – best seen in June. Many dragonfly and damselfly species have been recorded here and there are speckled wood butterflies in the glades.

Rew Down

The Rew Down reserve (PDF, 823KB, 2 pages) is on the western side of Ventnor, on a south-facing slope above the Whitwell Rd. It can be reached from Steephill Down Road, Whitwell Rd or the Stenbury Trail. Map

Several public footpaths cross the area. There are always wonderful views from the site, down to the coast, as far as the downs above Niton to the west and over to St Boniface Down in the east.

If you are walking over the site with your dog, keep it under control so it won't worry the grazing animals.

Why Rew Down is so special

In spring, bluebells form a carpet under the Ash trees, and cowslips cover the lower part of the slopes. Birdsong is heard from the scrub, where yellowhammers and whitethroats nest. Pyramidal orchids make a fine show in late June and early July. Stemless thistles, with their deep purple flower heads and sharp shiny leaf rosettes flat against the ground are a feature of the later part of the summer.

More recently, populations of the Adonis blue butterfly have been seen at Rew Down. The Adonis is the most striking of the blue butterflies. It was once on the endangered species list but it is now making a good recovery thanks to favourable management of the species rich chalk downland habitat it needs to survive.

Highland Cattle on Rew Down

The site has a history of grazing and Highland cattle have been on the site since January 2003, helping to keep down the faster growing grasses that would overwhelm the more delicate chalk plants.

Shide Chalk Pit

The Shide Chalk Pit reserve (PDF, 835KB, 2 pages) covers about 5ha and is on the south-east edge of Newport. It was quarried for chalk during the first half of 20th Century. The prominent west-facing slope is a major landmark on Newport’s skyline.

The entrance is down a flight of steps off Burnt House Lane off St George’s Way. Parking in the vicinity is very difficult.

If you are visiting the reserve and you are coming from Newport, walking along footpath by the River Medina from the bridge at St George’s Approach (Footpath N218) to Shide Path (N22) provides an attractive way to reach the site. Footpath N28, the Bembridge Trail also runs nearby.

Why Shide Chalk Pit is so special

The chalk grassland is particularly attractive in May and June and a variety of butterflies will be seen on warm still days throughout the summer. In autumn, there are attractive tints as the leaves change colour.

Shide Chalk pit is a Site of Special Scientific Interest as it has a chalk grassland flora and a shaded stream, which has a good variety of mosses and liverworts growing by it. Since quarrying stopped, vegetation has been colonising the floor and sides of the pit. As a result, habitats vary from bare rock to emergent woodland, and all stages in between.

The quarry floor supports good quality, short tussocky chalk grassland, which is dominated by sheep's fescue. Other species include horse-shoe vetch, salad burnet, thyme and Autumn gentian. Abandoned chalk pits are often good sites for orchids and Shide is no exception, with populations of bee orchid, pyramidal orchid and southern marsh-orchid. In places, the lichen 'Cladonia rangiformis' has become abundant giving a greyish, crisp character to the turf. Rabbits are a major influence in keeping the turf short and adders and common lizards are known to occur.

There is a good variety of butterflies in the area including:

  • brimstone
  • orange tip
  • holly blue
  • dingy skipper
  • green hairstreak
  • wall brown
  • green-veined white
  • speckled wood
  • comma
  • small tortoiseshell
  • common blue
  • marbled white 
  • chalk hill blue. 

Nests of the yellow meadow ant are noticeable throughout the site.

The woodland is dominated by sycamore and ash, with hawthorn. Ivy covers much of the woodland floor. The northern slope, nearest to human habitation, includes exotic shrubs like holm oak and sweet bay while the southwest corner contains more native woodland species like wild cherry, field maple and spindle.

Scattered scrub areas around the pit slopes are dominated by privet with butterfly bush and cotoneaster. Sallow grows around the spring and along the main stream the ground flora includes glaucous sedge, hard rush, coltsfoot and a good population of southern marsh-orchid. This area has a moist, shady environment, which is ideal for mosses and liverworts.

Many common birds nest within the site including Great tit and Wood pigeon within the wooded areas, Blue tit and chaffinch in the scrub, and jackdaw in holes within the steep eastern cliff face. Other birds which have been seen include Little owl, Green woodpecker, chiffchaff and blackcap, while goldcrest and Long-tailed tit feed here during the winter.

Sibden Hill and Batts Copse

The Sibden Hill and Batts Copse reserve (PDF, 591KB, 2 pages) is on the west side of Shanklin and can be reached by footpaths from Carter Avenue and from Chatsworth Avenue. It is linked by a footpath to Batts Copse. Footpaths SS14 and SS99 cross Sibden Hill and footpaths SS15 and SS90 lead to Batts Copse.

Sibden Hill and Batts Copse are always open to the public by footpath entry.

Why Sibden Hill and Batts Copse Local Nature Reserve is so special

Sibden Hill rises to 95.8 m above sea level and slopes to the south. Drainage is good due to the permeability of the sandy soils. In 1793, the tithe maps recorded Sibden Hill as rough grassland with the surrounding area being agricultural.

By 1842, this land was described as pasture and twenty years later the first areas of scrub are mapped at the top of the hill. In 1908, the land was described as `rough grass`. The present-day vegetation includes woodland, scrub, bracken-dominated acid grassland and amenity grassland.

The woodland is dominated by hazel on the eastern edge of the site with some garden escapes invading, including hydrangea and rhododendron. Moving west, the hazel becomes thinner and mixed woodland of oak, sycamore, hazel, elm, ash, beech and silver birch is found on the top of the hill with some hawthorn, blackthorn, rhododendron and gorse. There is elm scrub at the far west end of the site.

The ground flora is dominated by bracken and bramble. Resident birds include garden species such as Blackcap warbler and Treecreeper, and you may see passage migrants, such as Goldcrest, Siskin, Linnet, and Mistle thrush.

There is some unimproved acid grassland almost completely covered by bracken, interspersed with areas of gorse, bramble and rhododendron. This bracken cover has an understorey of bluebell, sheep’s sorrel, greater stitchwort, rosebay willowherb and red campion. In clearer areas, honeysuckle, foxglove and sheep’s sorrel dominate the flora. The amenity grassland on the western slopes is mown for recreational purposes.

Batts Copse nestles in the relatively steep-sided valley of a small brook, part of which has been modified to accommodate a pipe. The woodland through the gorge is heavily shaded and the ground flora consists of harts tongue and male fern, nettle, bramble and cleavers. The wood south of the gorge, however has a longer history and the ground flora includes wood anemone, bluebell, ransoms and pendulous sedge. The three-cornered leek is a distinctive plant in late spring and early summer.

The canopy on this side of the stream is largely old, with wide-spreading hazel and some oak standards. The northern part of the woodland is dominated by sycamore and wild cherry.

The woodland is home to a variety of mammals including fox, bats, and hedgehog. Badger and red squirrel are known to visit the site.

Scrub areas in Batts Copse have been cleared and planted with hazel and silver birch. The scrub attracts Redwing, Greenfinch, Bullfinch and Song thrush. There are also grass snakes, slow worms, common frog, and common toad.

The site has been managed as public open space since it came into the possession of South Wight Borough Council. In 1988, the Batts Copse Improvement Group was formed to help promote enjoyment of the site and safeguard the wildlife there.