- Take a walk around the reserve on a sunny autumn day and enjoy the sights and sounds of a woodland and its wildlife preparing for winter
- Visit in spring to be rewarded with a rich chorus of bird song throughout the woodland
- The grasslands are at their best in summer, when butterflies and other insects are busy feeding amongst the flower rich pastures
If you go down to the Dell today
Take the path following the course of the Cotton Brook, which flows through the heart of the reserve, and you will find a wonderful diverse range of habitats from steep sided woodland valleys to flower rich grasslands. Ponds, scrub and boggy areas along with the stream itself all add to the wildlife value of the reserve.
The woodland at Cotton Dell is located on an ancient woodland site. This means that the area has been continuously wooded for over 400 years. Despite this, previous management of the woodland has resulted in most of the oldest trees being removed.
In some places individual trees were felled and the resulting spaces were allowed to naturally regenerate. In other areas, entire blocks of woodland were cleared and replanted with conifers. As you follow the track around the reserve, look for the contrasting habitats and their effects on the ground flora and shrub layer of the woodland. In the broadleaf woodland, you'll see young trees growing amongst the shrubs, whilst in spring carpets of wild flowers appear including bluebells, wood anemones and wood sorrel.
By contrast, in the conifer woodlands you'll see a far less diverse range of species. Although conifer woodland has some benefits for wildlife, they tend to support less wildlife than the adjoining broadleaf woodland.
Back to the future
Woodland management involves taking a long term view. Part of the future management of the reserve is to return it to its former glory; a rich broadleaf woodland with a range of tree species such as oak, hazel, alder and birch along with holly, field maple and hazel amongst the shrubby species.
Trees are amongst the longest living things on earth, but nothing lasts forever, so in order to provide a wildlife rich and sustainable woodland for future generations, a woodland needs to include a number of elements:
There need to be gaps in the canopy so that acorns and other seeds can germinate and develop into saplings to become the mature trees of the future
Woodlands are better for wildlife if they have a rich understorey layer of shrubs, such as field maple, hazel and bird cherry, all of which can already be found in the reserve
As mature trees start to age and gradually die, they provide either fallen or standing dead wood. This dead wood is crucial for wildlife rich woodlands as it provides homes and food for a variety of species including woodpeckers and fungi.
We have to start thinking now about any management to ensure that there will be future mature and veteran trees. To achieve this we will be gradually felling some of the trees to open up gaps to encourage natural regeneration or newly planted trees to develop into the woodland of the future
Butterflies, bees, boggy bits and bare ground
One of the main reasons Cotton Dell is so good for wildlife is due to the wide range of habitats found on the reserve. Look carefully and you'll see that different plants have colonised the different areas of the reserve. These areas also support different insects.
Small boggy pools, even temporary ones, can provide homes to opportunistic insects, but one of the most easily identifiable is the Green Tiger Beetle which can be seen on the bare sandy patches in the cattle grazed pastures