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Cricklade
OS map 169 Grid ref: SU068936

  • Not suitable for pushchairs or wheelchairs
  • Dogs on leads are welcome
  • 2.82 hectares

Upper Waterhay reserve map © WWT

This stunning wildflower meadow is a stronghold of the snakeshead fritillary, which in the 1950s was so common along the Thames Valley that they were picked and gathered by the armload. Sadly, they now survive only in a few protected places. Uniquely most of them here are creamy white, rather than the more common dark purple. See the bell-shaped flowers from mid-April. The colour palette of the meadow changes throughout the summer and includes the dark crimson heads of great burnet and the golden flowers of rough hawk’s-beard.

The reserve lies on the floodplain of the River Thames and each year the winter floods enrich the meadows by depositing alluvial silt over them. Wetland plants thrive - marsh marigold, ragged robin, water forget-me-not and the mauve lady’s smock - larval food plant of green-veined white and orange-tip butterflies. In spring mayflies, with their three distinctive curving tails, dance in the air. Summer brings clouds of common blue damselflies. In their wake come reed buntings, long-tailed tits and sedge warblers; while during flooding snipe, curlew and gadwall forage in the mud. You may be lucky enough to see the rare marsh harrier and bittern, as well as the more common fox and roe deer.

We bought the reserve in 1970. A farmer grazes it with cattle during the autumn when fritillary bulbs are dormant. The cattle are removed in winter so that hay can grow. We cut the hay in early July after the flower seeds have ripened and dispersed.

Water forget-me-not © Rob Large Snakeshead fritillary © David Hall Orange tip © Darin Smith Long tailed tit © Bob Coyle

Directions

If driving – Reserve is best approached from B4040 between Malmesbury and Cricklade. At Chelworth Upper Green crossroads, about one mile from edge of Cricklade, turn right up minor road towards Ashton Keynes. Follow this for about one mile. The access track to reserve is on right immediately after Manor Farm (there is no sign for reserve here). Park at Waterhay car park. Turn left out of the car park along the road over the Thames towards Cricklade. Just before Manor Farm turn left and climb over stile next to locked double gates and proceed north along farm track for about 400 metres skirting the edge of the lake. Entrance to reserve is in front of you.

If using bus – bus 52 Swindon to Minety via Cricklade. Get off at Chelworth Upper Green crossroads and walk about 20 minutes westwards (towards Ashton Keynes) to reserve. Visit www.wiltshire.gov.uk/parkingtransportandstreets

If cycling – for more information visit www.sustrans.org.uk

Other reserves nearbyBlakehill Farm, Sandpool

What to see locally – Cotswold Water Park (1 mile), Keynes Park (2 miles), North Meadow National Nature Reserve (3 miles), Roman Amphitheatre, Cirencester (5 miles)

 Upper Waterhay location map © WWT

(Photo: Upper Waterhay © Steve Day)