The trail around the Knapp and Papermill starts in an apple orchard with old lichen-encrusted trees that attract nuthatches and green woodpeckers. In autumn and early winter visitors should keep an eye out for butterflies such as red admiral and peacock or birds like fieldfare and redwing feasting on the fallen fruit. There’s an observation screen in the orchard by the Leigh Brook that overlooks a bank where kingfishers often nest.
The Leigh Brook has cut a winding valley with steep woodlands and rich meadows. Look for grey wagtails and dippers on the brook and, during the winter months, listen for flocks of long-tailed tits and siskins in the brook-side alders. Dragonflies and damselflies thrive on the brook during spring and summer but only the luckiest of visitors may catch sight of an otter. The trail takes visitors along the brook, around meadows and through woodland.
Big Meadow is a hay meadow with flowers such as knapweed, ox-eye daisy and yellow rattle together with a scattering of green-winged and common spotted orchids. Papermill Meadow is an old pasture on slightly more acid soil. This meadow is a favourite hunting ground for buzzards that breed in the valley. The much smaller Tor Meadow has orchids and cowslips. Butterflies frequent all three meadows and more than 30 species have been recorded here including common and holly blue, brimstone, purple hairstreak and white admiral. Each meadow is maintained by hay cutting and/or grazing.
Woodland occupies about half the reserve and some areas are managed by coppicing. This traditional method of cutting down young stems to near ground level on a rotation ensures that trees never die and there is always a range of habitats for wildlife at different stages of re-growth. Coppicing helps to encourage the marvellous carpet of bluebells and other wildflowers (yellow archangel, stitchwort and wild garlic) that can be seen each spring. Wild service trees grow in profusion here along with both small and large-leaved lime as well as oaks and hazels. Dormice are encouraged through the provision of nest boxes, as are many species of birds and bats. The reserve is important for bats and 11 of the UK’s 15 regular breeding species are found here.
A trail leaflet and family guide are available from the small information centre near the entrance or to download below. You're more than welcome to bring a picnic but please eat it in our designated picnic area between the entrance and information centre; you won't need to carry your food so far and will help protect delicate flowers and wildlife from being trampled and sat on.