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A Walk with the Warden - Weston-super-Mare

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Posted: Thursday 1st November 2018 by WildBlog

By Joe McSorley, Living Landscape Manager

We have three wonderful wildflower-rich grassland reserves on the limestone outcrops in the Weston-super-Mare area: Hellenge Hill, Purn Hill and Walborough.

Limestone grassland is a nationally rare habitat and supports a range of flowering species that occur in very few other places. These three reserves are rich in biodiversity from spring through to summer.

At Hellenge Hill and Purn Hill we have regular volunteering groups that meet weekly, undertaking a range of tasks to help keep the reserves in good condition. Over the winter, we’ll be clearing areas of scrub to encourage more wildflowers to grow without having to compete with tree saplings, bramble and rank grasses. We’ll also be fixing fences to keep our grazing cattle in and carrying out a range of other tasks that keep the reserves open and accessible to the public.

Our local volunteer group has been co-ordinated by Cynthia Sparks for around ten years. We decided to have a look round Hellenge Hill with her, to pick her brains on her knowledge and the history of the reserve.

Hellenge Hill is a lovely mix of flower-rich grassland and shrubby gullies that provide a range of habitats for lots of species, including one of our rarer native reptiles, the adder. As a regular visitor to the site with her volunteer group, Cynthia often sees adders basking in the morning sunlight. “I saw eight here in one day sitting at the hedge line, all curled up and soaking up the sun”.

It’s not just wildlife that draws the volunteers out every week. There’s also a fascinating history of traditional land management in the area. We’ve recently cleared out an old stone-lined pond on the site that would once upon a time have been a drinking place for the livestock, as well as somewhere to wash horses and farm equipment. These days, we’re hoping that with some minor repairs it will retain water and become a wildlife haven for frogs, newts and dragonflies. Steve, one of our regular volunteers, has been looking up old maps and has discovered that the pond is much older than we’d appreciated. “The pond is on the maps from at least the early 1800s and is continuously referenced on maps through the following decades and well into the 20th century”. These snippets of local history and local wildlife make Hellenge Hill an enticing site to visit, whatever time of year.


• At Hellenge Hill we’ve recently renovated a stone-lined cattle pond which dates from at least the early 19th century as it appears on maps from the early 1800s.

• The egg yolk yellow rock rose is fairly common in the region on limestone grassland, but Purn Hill is home to the very rare white variety which crops up on the west facing slopes.

• The steeper slopes at Hellenge Hill are home to one of the rarest wild members of the carrot family, a diminutive little plant called honewort.

• Purn and Hellenge Hill sit on exposed limestone outcrops with wondrous views over the Somerset Levels and the Bristol channel. With their elevated viewpoints, they are fantastic sites to watch soaring buzzards and flocks of over wintering thrushes on cold, still days.

• Walborough Nature Reserve has one of the very few saltmarsh habitats in the Severn Estuary and is home to scarce plants including sea clover and sea barley.

For more information about these reserves and how to get there visit:

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