There is always something to see at Brockadale Nature Reserve, although for the best experience visit in the spring and summer. The woodland in springtime offers carpets of wood anemone, bluebell, primrose, violet and early purple orchid before being shaded out by the new leaf growth in the canopy above. Whilst in the summer, the flower-covered slopes are alive with a jewel-case of butterflies and other insects.
Brockadale is in the valley of the River Went as it flows through a craggy, steep-sided gorge formed after the last ice-age when glacial melt-water burst through the magnesian limestone rock.
Now the river meanders along the flat-bottomed valley. The nature reserve is particularly important for its flowery slopes, which have never been ploughed. This grassland habitat is now rare, with magnesian limestone only existing in a narrow band stretching from Nottingham to Durham, it's soil producing excellent farmland. The site's flowers only survive because the valley sides are too steep to cultivate.
Walk along the south-facing slopes in July and August when they are purple with clustered bellflower, greater knapweed, common knapweed, and field scabious. Budding photographers shouldn't miss the chance of capturing a butterfly on a sunny day.
Around 350 species of plants grow on the nature reserve, some of which are scarce. Early flowers such as cowslip, common dog-violet and spring cinquefoil, well suited to the limestone soil, can be seen in spring. Native plants such as rock-rose follow, as well as orchids, salad burnet, yellow-wort, betony, field scabious and, in August, a profusion of clustered bellflower. Butterflies abound in the meadows, with the spectacular marbled white and dark green fritillary are unmissable in July. Day-flying moths like six-spot burnet and chimney sweepers are common, with close to 300 species of moths having been identified on site.
The mixed woodland covers the cool, damp valley floor and dry limestone hills. Woodland butterflies like speckled wood and white-letter hairstreak live here. Around 40 species of bird breed on the nature reserve. Great spotted and green woodpeckers, nuthatch and long-tailed tit are resident, whilst warblers such as chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap and whitethroat are summer visitors. Yellowhammer and bullfinch are frequently seen in the hedgerows, kingfisher can be spotted along the river, and buzzard and kestrel may pass overhead.
The nature reserve was initially purchased by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust in 1966, but has since increased in size following the purchases of additional land. The Trust manages the grassland by grazing long-horned cattle and sheep in the winter months, and has support from local volunteers.
From October 2016, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and its partners will be undertaking valuable regeneration work in the woodlands at Brockadale Nature Reserve. We will remove non-native Larch trees and replant this area with varied native tree species and shrubs. We will also carry out thinning works to the beech plantation to reduce crowding and promote a more diverse woodland structure. There will be disruption in the short term but the woodland will quickly recover and be healthier for it.
Discover Yorkshire’s Wildlife
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Discover Yorkshire’s Wildlife book, which has detailed information on all of Yorkshire Wildlife and Sheffield Wildlife Trust’s reserves, is available to buy now from our online shop.
There is an infrequent bus service from Pontefract to Doncaster which stops at either Wentbridge, Kirk Smeaton or Little Smeaton.
From A1 take Wentbridge and Kirk Smeaton turn. Drive east to Kirk Smeaton, go through the village to Little Smeaton and head north west up New Road. Once out of the village turn left down Leys Lane to the car park at the end.
Want to see more of Brockadale before your visit? Have a look below.