This SSSI gives a stunning show of wildflowers, thanks to its magnesian limestone soil. The woodland is traditionally coppiced with managed scrub which is adding to its appeal for nesting birds.
Townclose Hills, or Billy Woods as it is commonly known, is a prominent knoll of magnesian limestone surrounded by low-lying arable land.
The site comprises a steep-sided grassland plateau with woodland, wildflower meadows, extensive scrub and a disused railway cutting with exposed limestone and shallow, spring-fed pools. The grassland plateau was notified as a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) in 1984 due to it being the largest example of a magnesian limestone grassland over 1 hectare recorded in the county. The grassland is important for its diverse assemblage of flora rather than for one rare species in particular, although during the summer it comes alive with species such as clustered bellflower, field scabious and an array of orchids.
From the grassland plateau at the top of the hill beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding countryside can be enjoyed while the woodland provides dappled shade on sunny days.
Like the grassland plateau, the woodland at Townclose Hills is also strongly influenced by the underlying magnesian limestone. The steep undulating ground is a remnant of past quarrying, and the woodland has colonised this previously disturbed site with species such as ash, wych elm and hazel. The natural character of the woodland habitat has resulted from the recolonisation process, with those species best suited to the local environmental conditions thriving at the expense of others.
The area of the SSSI and the two adjoining hay meadows nearest to Kippax leisure centre were designated as a Local Nature Reserve in 1994 and are well worth a visit, especially in the summer months. As you walk through the reserve, keep your eyes open for butterflies such as gatekeeper, speckled wood and comma and birds such as yellowhammer, fieldfare and lesser spotted woodpecker. On a clear day, the views from the grassland plateau are well worth the short but sometimes steep walk to the top. If you fancy a late night stroll, Townclose Hills is home to a small glow worm population and the females can be spotted amongst the grass, shining to attract a mate, during the summer months.
Glow worms abound during humid summer nights.
Townclose Hills is part of a corridor of green spaces in the Lower Aire Valley in Leeds which is currently managed in partnership between Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Leeds City Council.
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Want to see more of Townclose Hills Nature Reserve before your visit? Have a look below.