Charfield Meadow – a Wildlife Haven

Quiet and secluded, Charfield Meadow sits beside a railway line in South Gloucestershire. British Rail sold the hectare-and-half of land to Avon Wildlife Trust in 1988, making it one of the Trust’s oldest reserves. It was used to mine materials such as sand, gravel and crushed stone during the construction of the railway. Later it housed a signal box, the remains of which can still be seen.

What better guide than Fen Marshall, its volunteer reserve warden, for the last seven years? Our volunteer wardens know the land like the back of their hand, playing a vital role protecting and enhancing wildlife.

“After the railway was built, we believe the site was left more-or-less to its own devices. This is one reason why Charfield Meadow, despite its tiny size, is so rich in biodiversity,” says Fen who sometimes patrols the reserve with his infant daughter on his back.

“It’s very quiet,” says Fen who is also a warden for the parish church. “Except for the sudden roar of a passing train, which seems to enhance the peace once it’s gone past. It’s always different and I’m always spotting something I haven’t seen before. It is interesting at any time of year, even February has some lovely orange cup fungus. But I like it in May when the cowslips are at their best.”

Summer brings even more wildlife variety. “The insects are worth seeing, such as dark bush crickets in large numbers and a good variety of butterflies. You often catch a glimpse of slow worms and grass snakes under the sheets left out for them. And I usually disturb a deer or two on my visits,” says Fen.

Charfield Meadow is special because its grassland has never been ploughed or sown, nor have pesticides and artificial fertilisers been used. Wild things have been allowed to develop. The large anthills, undisturbed over generations, are a popular site for green woodpeckers (locally known as ‘yaffle’ due to their call) which gorge on yellow-meadow ants. The anthills are also a top spot for common lizards to bask on summer mornings before scurrying off to hunt.

The meadow has over 180 species of wildflowers including classics of the meadow, such as saw-wort and dyer’s greenweed, as well as bee orchid, with its velvety lip like a female bee to attract male ones. Once a year volunteers cut back the grass using scythes, allowing these wildflowers to thrive. Traditionally after scything, meadows are grazed by livestock because the shorter grass allows the plants to re-emerge in spring. Thanks to support from the Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society and the work of volunteers, outworn fencing is being replaced so livestock will return next year to graze.

While one half of Charfield Meadow nature reserve (the section nearest the railway line) is grassland, the other half is a steep bank, thick with blackthorn, hawthorn and spindle. These shrubs support a wealth of tits, blackbirds and thrushes, and small mammals through autumn and winter.  It also has young elm trees, the specific food plant for the rare and endangered white-letter hairstreak butterflies. Hidden at the bottom of the bank is a pond built by Alan Burberry, who was a warden for some 24 years, retiring in his late 80s.

Thanks to the tireless work of Avon Wildlife Trust volunteers, the path is accessible, and steps now lead down to the pond. Charfield Meadow near Wooton-under-Edge is a lovely place to visit with its wild meadow and wooded bank to wander-in on one shortish loop.

Plan your visit to Charfield Meadow here.