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12 beautiful British nature reserves for a wild summer stay


Wicken Fen, Suffolk

Why go? Wicken Fen is the oldest National Trust nature reserve. Dried up in the 17th century, it was re-wild and is home to 9,000 species of plants, birds and mammals, including more than 150 threatened species.

Lie of the land Over the past 20 years, Wicken has more than doubled in size to 2,000 acres, recreating wetland and reed bed habitats. The Wicken Fen Vision, launched in 1999, is a 100-year plan to increase the area to 20 square miles for future generations.

Wildlife Highlights: Bittern, marsh harrier, great crested newt, little pipistrelle bat as well as butterflies (commas, guardians, meadow browns, green-veined whites), dragonflies and damselflies are all abundant. Since rewilding began, many species of birds have returned, including cranes, short-eared owls, and lapwings. nationaltrust.org.uk

How to explore: Visitors can walk, cycle or ride horseback along more than 30 miles of footpaths, cycle paths and bridleways. The Boardwalk and Wooded Boardwalk on Sedge Fen is accessible and suitable for strollers, mobility scooters and wheelchairs.

Where to stay: The Old Hall, Ely (01353 663275; theoldhallely.co.uk) from £171 B&B for a double room.

Derbyshire Dales, Peak District

Why go? South-west of Sheffield, in the center of the Peak District National Park, the reserve is made up of five valleys covering 385 hectares, 87% of which are listed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Together they represent some of the best limestone scenery in England.

Lie of the land The main habitats of the reserve are limestone grasslands, woods, hay meadows, streams and dew ponds. The meadows are some of the most flower-rich in Britain with a single square meter containing up to 40 different species including Jacob’s Ladder, Cranesbill, Globe Flower and a variety of orchids.

Wildlife Highlights: Dippers, kingfishers and gray wagtails as well as other breeding birds including buzzards, crows, wheatears, redstarts, curlews and golden plovers. Water voles can be spotted along river banks and brown hares in open spaces. visit derbyshire.co.uk

How to explore: Lathkill Dale, one of the five valleys, is the easiest to negotiate on foot with the other valleys better for seasoned walkers. The Limestone Way and the Monsal Trail cross or are near the NNR. The nearest stations are at Buxton and Matlock.

Where to stay: The Oakhill near Matlock (01629 822211; oakhillcromford.co.uk) has rooms from £119.