Discovering Southwell with Albus

Potwell Dyke Grasslands Nature Reserve


What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.  (extract from "Leisure" by W.H. Davis)

A carpet of purple knapweed

Walk three started early with the hope of seeing the captives of a moth trapping exercise last night. (The type of moth trap used by conservationists to survey what sort of moths are in an area, it doesn’t harm the moths which are released in the morning.) Sadly, the rains hadn’t abated enough through the night and the trapping had been called off.

Still, the sun was shining and Malcolm Rose of the Potwell Dyke Grasslands Action Group (PODGAG), the would-be lepidopterists, offered to show Albus, D2 and myself around this 1.72 hectare site so we could see for ourselves what makes it so special.

Mal & Albus

Just a five-minute walk from the town centre, the reserve is a designated Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) and is free to access for everyone. Owned by Southwell Minster, the grasslands are the last natural remnants of the Archbishop of York’s deer park and hunting ground, which dates back over 800 years, and is surrounded by an area rich in 2000 years of history and archaeology from Roman settlement onwards. The Minster have an agreement with Natural England to actively preserve the rare and special site. The passionate conservation volunteers of PODGAG actively manage the site using traditional methods like sheep grazing in autumn, mowing the meadows after mid-summer; maintaining the hedgerows and woodland and clearing invasive plants.

The grasslands are composed of discreet areas some of which differ in character due to their underlying geology that encourages particular types of flora to grow there. Such as the abundance of cowslips on the tufa (a limestone deposit formed when the mineral precipitates out of ambient temperature water) and the alluvial deposits on the wet meadows which favour the orchids its renown for.

Cowslips cover one of the meadows in late April/ealry May


Though after the main flowering period for these two key species, the different areas still have a distinct feel. Some areas were purple with knapweed, in others billows of creamy meadowsweet filled the air with their heady scent. Here and there delicate harebells nodded in the breeze. Hemlock and nettle lurked at the margins. Lady’s Bedstraw was strewn golden across the adjoining field left unmown for the first time this year.

Lady's bedstraw

15 years of dedicated volunteer work has seen a huge increase in biodiversity over all areas of the site. Over 200 plant species, including 4 types of orchid (Bee, Pyramid, Southern Marsh, and Common Spotted), rare sedges and the Adder’s Tongue Fern can be found here, all indicators of ancient meadows. 44 species of birds have been recorded here and work is ongoing to survey the huge numbers of insects, moths and butterflies on site. (hence the moth trapping). This is hugely important in these times of environmental pressures and ‘extinction crisis’. More than 95% of UK traditional pastures and wet meadows have been lost in the last 50 years.

A 200 year old Field Maple

Here are rich and varied habitats. A dying tree trunk in the wooded fringe is home to a population of Tree Bumblebees. A vast and ancient badger set neighbours onto the reserve. An ancient two-hundred-year-old Field Maple oversees the meadow. Habitats have been augmented too with bird and bat boxes, and an invertebrate hotel and a pond area, which provide visiting school children with easy access to view the life that teams in this special place. This is a place to explore, to take time to stand and stare.

Invertebrate hotel created habitat is a great place for children to discover bug life

Pond area

This success story is testament to community action and passionate conservation but it is an ongoing battle with invasive species, management budgeting challenges and changes wrought to the site by neighbouring areas. The group has limited resources and new volunteers to the action group are always welcome and group and school visits can be arranged, see .

Anyone living in or visiting Southwell should visit this important site. Parents, take your children; children, take your parents, grandparents and friends; take your dog! Learn about what is there, get to know it, cherish it, share it, help preserve it! It’s good for the soul and the planet!