Sarah Atwood on visiting Bucks, Berks and Oxon Wildlife Trust reserves on foot

Until lockdown, I’d usually get in the car and drive to a local nature reserve, pootle round it, then drive home. With more time, and a clamouring for adventure, I’ve discovered that one of the most rewarding ways to visit a reserve is by walking to it.

Exploring surrounding areas on foot has given me the opportunity to appreciate how nature reserves play their part in the wider landscape. Then there’s the simple satisfaction of arriving somewhere under your own steam. It’s also a bonus for the reserves too, with many currently struggling from an increase of traffic with very limited parking.

Obviously, our wildlife is completely unaware of nature reserve boundaries and I’ve had some excellent sightings on the surrounding footpaths. A fox passed right in front of me on an early morning wander, I’ve caught sight of a hare racing across a neatly ploughed field and seen peacock butterflies decorate the hedgerows.

Particularly on early morning walks, I’ve also started to notice the subtle signs that I’m close to a nature reserve. The birdsong becomes louder, wild flowers in the verges more prolific and the air fizzes with insects.

An easy way to explore is to visit a reserve that lies on a national trail. Cholsey Marsh, near Wallingford, nestles right up against the Thames Path, a 186-mile route from the source of the River Thames in Gloucestershire to the Thames Barrier in London.

Banbury Cake:

You don’t have to tackle a lengthy trek but following a section of this trail to the reserve means you have a well-marked, simple route to follow. A riverside marsh interspersed with willow scrub, ponds and grassland, Cholsey Marsh is particularly rewarding in spring and summer. The grassland is topped with frothy clouds of cow parsley, the pond edges jewelled with bright yellow marsh-marigold and you’ll see neon flashes of dragonfly and damselflies.

BBOWT’s Blenheim Farm is a tiny patch of meadow to the east of Charlbury in Oxfordshire. Hidden behind a row of houses, you’ll need to follow a public right of way through a field of sheep and past some chickens before you get to it. Here you’ll find a network of footpaths that continue into surrounding woodland and a community park which has become an extension of the reserve. Its grassland now echoes the wildflower-covered meadow of the reserve, with the fluffy, pink flowers of the ragged robin, spear thistle and yellow common bird’s-foot-trefoil attracting butterflies and moths.

If it’s tricky to walk to a reserve from your front door, there are lots of reserves within a walkable distance of a town or village. Glyme Valley is a fragment of limestone grassland south west of Chipping Norton that you can explore on a circular walk from the town centre (it’s also on the Glyme Valley Way, a 16 mile walk from Chipping Norton to Woodstock).

The reserve itself is a bird spotting haven, with a dense scrub of hawthorn and ash that surrounds limestone grassland. But, the tunnel-like footpaths that lead to it provided just as much interest, with enough hedgerow plants to keep the most enthusiastic botanist busy, as well as a sighting of the rare yellowhammer flying between the bushes.

Banbury Cake:

There are lots of ways to plan your own route. A useful tool is the Wild Guide, sent to Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust members, which provides the location of reserves in detail, including OS map references. It also shows neighbouring bridleways and footpaths, as well as nearby towns and villages which may have suitable places to park if you’re not stepping straight from your front door.

For a more technological approach, there are free applications you can download to design your own route. On ViewRanger (available on iPhone and Android) you can see rights of way, plot out your route, then follow your progress as you walk.