Ulverscroft is a 56-hectare (140-acre) nature reserve north of Markfield in Leicestershire, England. It is managed by the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust (LRWT) and part of it is owned by the National Trust and part by the LRWT. The site is partly in Ulverscroft Valley, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and which also contains Ulverscroft Mill.
The site has diverse habitats with woodland, heath, wet grassland, a pond, a meadow, marshes and sphagnum bog. The meadow has a rich flora, including fragrant orchid, devil's-bit scabious and bitter vetch. There is access from Whitcrofts Lane.
The southern part of the reserve was left to the National Trust by the late Charles Cliffe Jones. In 1966, the National Trust declared the area a nature reserve under a deed of management with the Wildlife Trust. This part of the reserve consists of four habitats: mature, planted woodland mostly of oak with some beech and a few conifers; a 1960s plantation with a similar mix of species; an area of 'heathland' with bracken but with also a variety of invasive shrubs; and two fields now also partly colonised by scrub.
The heathland and fields were grazed until the 1950s but when grazing ceased the vegetation changed rapidly, with the loss of many species associated with dry heathland. The Trust has recently embarked on a major management programme to restore both the heathland and the two fields to their former state by selective scrub control. Cattle grazing was re-introduced in 2002. The bracken is being actively controlled with the aim of increasing the amounts of heather and bilberry.
Poultney Wood and Fox Covert were purchased freehold by the Trust in 1968. Poultney Wood is known to be of ancient origin, one indication of this being the bank and ditch on its boundary. Both woods were planted (Fox Covert having previously been farmland) with a mixture of conifers and hardwoods in the 1920s. The trees in these areas were mostly alien species and large sections were felled and replanted with oak and other local native species in the early 1990s. A phased programme of felling and replanting of Poultney Wood was introduced in 2005. In the long term, these will produce a woodland habitat attractive to a wide diversity of plants and animals.
In the late 1960s the Trust exchanged part of its holding in Poultney Wood for the two nearby fields in the valley bottom. They exhibit a wide range of marshland habitats from alder carr to open marsh. This is one of the most species-rich fields in Leicestershire, partly as a consequence of the complex of soil conditions found within it, but also because it has not received any agricultural 'improvement' (ploughing, fertilising or spraying with herbicides) for many decades.
In 1986, the adjacent field together with a small area of wet woodland were purchased by the Trust, thereby increasing the diversity of the reserve. Herbert's Meadow is managed by cattle grazing and occasional cutting for hay.
The National Trust woodlands consist largely of native trees and are left as sanctuary areas with very little access or management.
The Ulverscroft reserve covers the whole range of habitats from hilltop (250 metres) to valley bottom.
The mature planted oak and beech woods are fairly rich in bird life with treecreeper, nuthatch, green and great spotted woodpeckers and tits. The ground flora is not very rich and the even-aged trees and lack of a shrub layer make the woods less attractive to warblers and other species which favour a dense understorey. There are patches of wood-sorrel, wood anemone and greater stitchwort in the ground layer; a wide variety of fungi appear in autumn.
The 'heathland' is dominated by bracken, although extensive patches of bilberry remain around the rocky hilltops and these attract a variety of bees. Patches of heather are developing along the paths together with an interesting association of wavy hairgrass, tormentil and sheep's sorrel. Tree pipits use the isolated trees as song posts and woodcock can be seen roding at dusk here in the late spring. Within the rocky outcrops (which are in fact syenite - a very hard granitic rock) are extensive badger setts; although the animals can only be seen rarely, their tracks can be found throughout the reserve.
Close by the heathland there is a pond which has become filled with leaves. Although at certain times of the year it smells strongly, it is the breeding site of a variety of aquatic life including dragonflies.
The former grassland is largely covered with gorse, bramble, heather, sallow, oak and birch scrub. This is very rich in insects; butterflies, such as the large and small skippers, common blue, small copper and meadow brown, may all be seen in some numbers.
In Poultney Wood there is a spectacular display of bluebells each May. Greater stitchwort, wood-sorrel, yellow pimpernel and yellow archangel grow along the edges of the rides. At the western end of Fox Covert, small areas of sphagnum bog occur. Bird life in these woods is limited, although sparrowhawks breed there.
The valley marshes are rich in marsh plants and the stream's sides are clothed in opposite-leaved golden-saxifrage and marsh-marigold.
Herbert's Meadow has a very rich flora, partly due to the variety of soil conditions found within its 4 hectares. Flowering plants present include fragrant orchid, quaking grass, devil's-bit scabious, bitter-vetch, meadow vetchling, heath spotted-orchid and tormentil. Parts of the meadow are very wet with sedge communities, great bird's-foot-trefoil and marsh thistle in profusion.
The wet grassland is particularly sensitive to trampling during the spring and early summer. When visiting these areas, please keep to the drier ground on the south and east of the fields.
** – Visiting – **
The nearest post code is LE67 9QE . The reserve is 0.5 km east of Copt Oak in Charnwood Forest. Access is from Whitcroft's Lane, which leaves the B591 Copt Oak to Loughborough road 300 m north of Copt Oak. Limited parking is available along Whitcroft's Lane adjacent to the reserve.
A public footpath connects Poultney Wood to the Marshes; please do not stray from this when outside the reserve. There are stiles to cross so that access is sverely limited for wheelchair users. Part of the reserve has restricted access for members of the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust (who can use their membership cards as permits) and National Trust members by permit only. There is a self-guide/leaflet available from the Trust office.
When high winds and storms arise they advise that the public take extra care on the reserve. Please be alert for fallen trees and branches and avoid visiting woods where possible. If you spot wind or storm damage at an LRWT Nature Reserve, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
We encourage visitors to use environmentally friendly forms of transport wherever possible. Most of their reserves are easily accessible by bicycle, with many close to the National Cycle Network. Please note that cycling is not permitted on the nature reserve itself. Public transport - contact Traveline for further information www.traveline.info or phone 0871 200 22 33.
Dogs are not allowed on this nature reserve due to the sensitive wildlife.
Additional Information. Assistance dogs are welcome, and water can be provided upon request. Selected staff have received disability training. They have a wheelchair available for use.
Location : Ulverscroft, Copt Oak, near Loughborough, Leicestershire LE67 9QE
Transport: Loughborough (National Rail) then taxi (07886 433667) 6 miles. Bus routes: 120X then 15 minutes.
Opening Times : Access by permit only from The Secretary, Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, The Old Mill, 9 Soar Lane, Leicester, LE3 5DE. Please allow a week to receive permit.
Tickets : Free.
Tel. : 0116 262 9968