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The Nature Reserves You Never Knew Were There

· Joseph Sheerin · Culture

Discover a side to Leeds you've never seen before with these nature reserves full of flora and fauna.

St Aidan's

Take in a bit of the natural world in the city at these great nature reserves you never even knew existed.

Protecting the natural, local environment is a big deal – and even though you might not realise it as you walk around the streets of Leeds, there are plenty of nature reserves just waiting to be discovered. From fish ponds to former pits and mines, you might be surprised at the green space that’s practically on your doorstep.

Breary Marsh

Just adjacent to Golden Acre Park in Bramhope, Breary Marsh is one of the most important nature reserves in West Yorkshire. It’s because of the sheer diversity of the wet valley alder wood and the habitats that come with it – few remain of the ilk of Breary Marsh. You’ll see carpets of bluebell, wood anemone and wood sorrel as well as meadowsweet, ragged robin and wild angelica, while at the southern end, you could catch a glimpse of waterfowl and maybe even a kingfisher at Paul’s Pond.

Breary Marsh, Otley Road, Bramhope, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS16 9JX.

Farnley Hall Fishpond

Surrounded on all sides by a beech and sycamore heavy woodland, Farnley Hall Fishpond has only been a nature reserve since 2004, but it has actually been there in some form for over 100 years. Here, the dead trees, leaves and fallen timber provide shelter for a huge range of fungi, woodlice, millipedes and beetles, while the pond itself is home to mallards, coots, moorhen and even the common frog and toad.

Farnley Hall, Hall Lane, Farnley, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS12 5HA.

Letchmire Pastures

Damselfly

Based on a former colliery site in Allerton Bywater, Letchmire Pastures is a wild and reclaimed nature reserve with young meadow and woodland featuring a range of wetland, bare earth and grassland habitats. Using soil transferred from Stourton Marsh back in the mid-nineties, it has slowly become a thriving reserve, home to all kinds of water features, colliery spoil, scrub and hedgerows.

Letchmire Pastures, Station Road, Allerton Bywater, Leeds, West Yorkshire, WF10 2BW.

RSPB St Aidan’s Nature Park

St Aidan's Dog Walking

Credit: David Botgam

One of Leeds’ best kept secrets, St Aidan’s is a 400 hectare nature park in Swillington. It was once an open cast mine, but it’s now been reclaimed by nature, and it’s managed by the RSPB. Thanks to them, it’s now home to almost 60 hectares of reedbeds, where bittern, marsh harriers and bearded tits breed. They have over 12 kilometres of trails for you to explore, with family and buggy friendly routes – and it’s dog-friendly too.

RSPB St Aidan’s Nature Park, Queen Street, Great Preston, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS26 8AL.

Meanwood Valley

Crayfish

Just a stone’s throw from the city centre, the Meanwood Valley Nature Reserve stretches from the Meanwood Valley Trail in Woodhouse all the way up the more rural areas of Adel and Alwoodley. The trail is probably the best way to explore it, with a range of woodland, lowland heath, meadow, watercourses and ponds. Keep an eye on Meanwood Beck too, which holds loach and bullhead as well as the endangered white-clawed crayfish.

Meanwood Valley Nature Reserve, Sugarwell Road, Meanwood, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS7 2QG.

Middleton Woods

Treecreeper

Head to South Leeds to discover the largest ancient woodland site in West Yorkshire at Middleton Woods. A vibrant sprawl of history, the Woods often pit nature against invention, with bell pits and tram lines separating trees like birch, hazel and elder. You’ll also find spiders, woodlice and beetles alongside mice, voles, bats and treecreepers – it’s got a little bit of everything.

Middleton Woods, Middleton Grove, Middleton, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 4HX.

Townclose Hills

Glowworm

There’s something beneath all the greenery that makes Townclose Hills Nature Reserve special. It’s the largest area of magnesium limestone soil in West Yorkshire. This makes for some pretty interesting fauna, whether on the knoll or on the surrounding arable land. Keep your eyes peeled for butterflies, birds and even glowworms should you come at the right time of day.

Townclose Hills Nature Reserve, Westfield Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS25 5AW.

Chevin Forest Park

Sandpiper, Chevin Forest Park

The Chevin is one of Otley’s biggest attractions and the Forest Park around it has its own unique pull which is all about being home to a diverse spread of wildlife. Once you’re done with those stunning views, look around the woodland, heathland and meadowland, where you might just see the great hairstreak butterfly, sandpiper or a woodcock, for which it was designated a local nature reserve.

Chevin Forest Park, East Chevin Road, Otley, West Yorkshire, LS21 3DD.

Rodley Nature Reserve

Newt

Taking over a former sewage works and turning it a wildlife paradise makes Rodley Nature Reserve one of the finest examples in Leeds. Alongside woodland, grassland and scrubland, there are nine ponds that were built to create the perfect habitat for dragonflies, while it’s also home to a range of species like frogs, toads, newts and seasonal birds.

Rodley Nature Reserve, Moss Bridge Road, Rodley, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS13 1HP.

Water Haigh Woodland Park

Water Haigh Woodland Park, Joanna Richards

Credit: Joanna Richards

Just off Fleet Lane in Woodlesford, Water Haigh Woodland Park is another former colliery that has been transformed into an invaluable nature reserve. The former spoil heap has slowly but surely become a green oasis with woodland and hedgerows all around, while the new public footpaths that go right along the River Aire shows you the best of both worlds.

Water Haigh Woodland Park, Fleet Lane, Woodlesford, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS26 8AB.

Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve

Kirkstall Valley, Caroline Thorogood

Credit: Caroline Thorogood

Just two miles out of the city centre lies a remarkably undisturbed nature spot. The Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve was created on the site of the old Kirkstall Power Station and features wildflower meadow, ponds, bogs and reedbeds, which attract creatures as varied as foxes, badgers, otters, and bats, so be on the lookout.

Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve, Redcote Lane, Kirkstall, Leeds, LS4 2AW.

Hetchell Wood Nature Reserve

Hetchell Wood, Joanna Richards

Credit: Joanna Richards

At the northeastern edge of Leeds lies the picturesque Hetchell Wood Nature Reserve. With a mixture of woodland, grassland and wet flushes, Hetchell Wood’s range of habitats makes it a haven for a diverse range of wildlife. Look out for the stream at the bottom of the woods, which is the perfect destination for a leisurely stroll.

Hetchell Wood Nature Reserve, Milner Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS23 6NA.

Wyke Beck Valley

Wyke Beck Woods, Ian Jelley

Running from Roundhay Park, through Gipton, Halton and Seacroft before ending at Rothwell Country Park, Wyke Beck Valley is home to some of the city’s greenest areas. It seeks to protect and promote the environment as well as protecting the wildlife within. Through Wykebeck Woods, Arthur’s Rein, Fearnville Fields, Killingbeck Fields, Primrose Valley, Halton Moor, Temple Newsam and Skelton Lake – the sheer range of nature on show makes it a walk you have to try for yourself.

Start at Roundhay Park, Princes Avenue, Roundhay, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS8 1DF.

Denso Marston Nature Reserve

Dragonfly, Denso Marsten Nature Reserve

Set across seven miles stretching from the River Aire to the Denso Marston factory in Shipley, this nature reserve was set up by the company to benefit local wildlife and that’s exactly what it does. There are recordings of 114 species of bird, 25 species of butterfly, 12 species of dragonfly, 16 species of mammal and 150 varieties of plants. What’s more, it boasts across two ponds, the River Aire itself, and plenty of woodland, grassland and hedgerows.

Denso Marston Nature Reserve, Otley Road, Baildon, West Yorkshire, BD17 7JR.

Adel Dam Nature Reserve

Adel Dam, Joanna Richards

Credit: Joanna Richards

It’s not every day you come across wet and dry woodland in such a small area, but down at Adel Dam Nature Reserve that’s exactly what you’ve got. Straddling Adel Beck, there are as many as 36 different kinds of native and exotic trees. You‘ll also be able to spot kingfishers, chaffinches, nuthatches, woodpeckers, sparrowhawks and buzzards hidden in the plants and shrubbery, which make for quite a picturesque nature reserve.

Adel Nam Nature Reserve, Next to Golden Acre Park, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS16 9JY.

Hollinhurst Wood

Hollinhurst Woods, Paige GOuld

Credit: Paige Gould

Back in the medieval times, Hollinhurst Wood was used for growing food but, these days, it’s all about its stunning beauty. A range of semi-natural woodland springs up around you, but it’s the colourful summer plants, such as devil’s bit scabious, meadowsweet and wild angelica that turn Hollinhurst Wood and surrounding meadow into one of the most stunning landscapes in Leeds.

Hollinhurst Wood, Wood Lane, Hollinhurst, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS26 8AW.

Hall Park Meadows

Bullfinch, Hall Park meadows

It might only be small but Hall Park Meadows in Kippax is perfectly formed – so much so that it’s a Site of Ecological and Geographic Importance. It’s because the rich grassland provides the perfect habitat for butterflies and a wide range of birds, as well as the scrub, which is the perfect habitat for birds looking to breed. There’s space for picnics and plenty of footpaths too, so you’ll have no trouble getting about to spot bullfinches, yellowhammers and linnets.

Hall Park Meadows, Kippax, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS25 7QL.

Ledsham Bank

Ledsham Bank, Ian Wilson

Credit: Ian Wilson

Running north to south on a bed of magnesium limestone, if you’re a fan of vibrant, colourful plants, you’ll soon be wondering why you haven’t visited Ledsham Bank before. It’s a wildflower haven featuring pyramidal, common spotted and fragrant orchids, as well as hoary plantain, yellow-wort, and the rarely spotted dyer’s greenweed.

Ledsham Bank Nature Reserve, Holyrood Lane, Ledsham, West Yorkshire, LS25 5LL.

Ledston Luck

Ledston Luck, Karen McDiarmid

CRedit: Karen McDiarmid

The pit here closed up in 1986 and since then the transformation has been quite remarkable. At Ledston Luck you’ll see a range of wildlife habitats, and importantly, many of them have just developed naturally. There’s a huge pond, with a range of impressive pondlife, while the grasslands become a vivid display in summer with thousands of orchids popping up – just don’t drive right past it.

Ledston Luck, Ridge Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS25 7BF.

Owl Wood and Pit Plantation

Owl Wood by Harry Hogg

Credit: Harry Hogg

Get two for the price of one in Allerton Bywater, because Owl Wood and Pit Plantation are two separate but connected woodlands just a short drive out of the city. Owl Wood has been there for over 300 years, and together with the Pit Plantation, introduced at the start of the 20th century, they’ve become important for local wildlife, providing a habitat for the house sparrow, song thrush and bullfinch

Owl Wood and Pit Plantation, Doctors Lane, Allerton Bywater, Leeds, West Yorkshire, WF10 2AN.

Rothwell Country Park

Rothwell Country Park, Kate Wright

Credit: Kate Wright

Another former colliery turned into a nature reserve, Rothwell Country Park only opened in 2000 after years of work, but it has quickly become a haven for both people and wildlife. There’s a sculpture trail and a pond trail to try out, complementing the wide range of grassland, woodland and natural habitats, making it a reserve rich in diversity.

Rothwell Country Park, Rothwell Colliery, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS26 0JY.

The Lines Way

The Lines Way

Credit: Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

Ever imagine a four-mile stretch of old railway lines could be transformed into a cool access point to some fine nature reserves? Well, it has been and The Lines Way is a remarkable example of making use of old surroundings. The rails have been taken off to form a footpath instead and as you pass through the old arches there’s an abundance of wildlife and greenery either side of you. There are also routes through to four of the above nature reserves – Letchmire Pastures, Hollinghurst Wood, Owl Wood and Pit Plantation and Townclose Hills.

The Lines Way, 1 Blands Crescent, Allerton Bywater, West Yorkshire, WF10 2AF.