We here so much these days about children being slaves to their laptops and games consoles, and not being in touch with nature enough. Well while ever there are places like Potteric Carr in existence then there should be no excuse for any child - or adult - not to experience the joys of the natural world in a relatively safe and controlled environment.
Potteric Carr is a nature reserve not far from the centre of Doncaster, South Yorkshire. It is operated by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and covers five hundred acres of wetland, woodland and grassland. It is open seven days per week and can be found close by junction 3 of the M18. As at June 2013 the entrance fee was adults £4, children £2 although there are concessions available. There is a well-stocked shop with lots of books, toys, bird feeders and binoculars and, at the centre of the property, a little café which serves wonderful home cooked light meals and snacks. I'd suggest getting to that early though as they some of the more popular items sell out quickly!
There are around seven miles of clearly signed walking paths on the reserve of which about five miles are easily accessible to wheelchair users. They are all very easy with no hills and there is a free map available to all visitors so it's difficult to lose your way. Much of it winds through mature woodland (which kids love) but there are also paths that overlook meadows and marshes, which are the perfect habitats for some creatures. You have to keep to the paths though for your own safety and that of the nesting birds. Just a little word of caution though: a couple of the paths at the furthest fringes of the reserve cross a fairly busy railway track. Take extreme care should you chose these particular routes.
Birdwatchers are especially well catered for at the reserve by fifteen bird watching hides and screens around the complex. For the less experienced these contain notices explaining what creatures to look out for. The friendly staff and volunteers help too. I really wanted to see a Kingfisher when we were there and they pointed out the most likely place to find them. Within seconds of arriving at the spot they'd told me to go to a beautiful little electric blue Kingfisher flew right past me! Obviously nature isn't always so accommodating but the people at Potteric Carr will always help with whatever you want to know about.
Some people visit Potteric Carr to educate their children. Some go to see the wild birds, insects and plants that are found in abundance there. Others simply go just for a nice walk in the fresh air.
There are many reasons to go. I'd urge everyone to find a reason for themselves and visit this magnificent nature reserve. As a charity they need all the support that they can get.
Potteric Carr Nature Reserve lies just to the south of Doncaster in South Yorkshire. It is within a short walking distance (approx 20 minutes) from the town centre and about a 10 minute walk from Lakeside, which is a popular shopping complex where most of the buses terminate. Unfortunately though for those travelling by car it isn't particularly well sign posted and can be quite hard to find. It can only be accessed by car from the A6182 (White Rose Way) from Doncaster town centre. The reserve occupies a 500-acre site adjacent to the M18 motorway and is close to the A1, although it cannot be reached by vehicle from either of those main roads.
The reserve is one of 80 nature reserves in the care of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and it is generally considered to be their flagship site as it is both the largest by area and the most popular in terms of numbers of visitors, attracting around 33,000 visitors every year. The area consists of marshland with reedbeds, large areas of open spaces, grassland and woodland, all of which provide an important habitat for wildlife. It is however especially noted for its bird life.
When I was in my teens I used to visit here fairly regularly but when I visited recently on Sunday 25th April this was my first visit here for many years and was therefore well overdue. It was one of the first warm Spring days of the year and all of the birds were in song and within just a few minutes of arriving I encountered a Grass Snake sunning itself on the footpath very close to the visitor centre. It quickly scurried away as we approached but we had a great view but little did I know that I would see a further 3 Grass Snakes before the day was through! I have only ever seen a few Grass Snakes in my life and never more than one on the same day. I guess the sunshine must have brought them all out of hibernation.
There is an admission fee to enter the reserve for non Yorkshire Wildlife Trust members, which is payable at the visitor centre. Current charges are £3.00 per adult, £2.50 concession and £1.50 per child. A family ticket is available for £6.50 that covers 2 adults and up to 3 children.
The visitor centre closes at 5pm but it's worth noting that once inside you can exit through the automated gates even if the visitor centre is closed. This was especially useful for me to know as we didn't arrive until about 3pm and it was after 6pm when we left.
The visitor centre includes a small gift shop and toilets with facilities for disabled visitors and children. Further toilets are located within the reserve adjacent to the café but these close around 4.30pm when the café closes.
From the visitor centre footpaths lead either straight ahead or off to the left and there are several different colour coded routes that can be taken. We chose the longest route, which I think was the blue one. This involves about a 5 mile walk and covers all of the reserve but since the main 2 areas of open water form a "figure of 8" it is possible to change your route part way along, which is what we ended doing as we were pushed for time. The footpaths are very flat but they are quite narrow in places so only the area close to the visitor centre would be accessible by wheelchair users or those with pushchairs. Also close to the visitor centre there is a small garden that has been specifically designed for blind or partially sighted visitors. Here the emphasis is on strong smelling plants, vivid contrasting colours and "touchy feely objects". There are also signs in Braille describing the various plants and objects that can be found in this area.
Large wooden observation hides are located all along the route wherever there is a expanse of water. These enable sheltered views across the habitat and also minimise disturbance to the wildlife. Again those closest to the visitor centre are larger and can be entered by wheelchair users but those further away are smaller and cannot. The walls of the hides are covered in posters showing typical birds and mammals that might be seen throughout the year.
Whilst it is fair to say that Potteric Carr attracts a large number of birdwatchers during my visit I also encountered several families that seemed to just be enjoying a day out in the fresh air. It really is a wonderful oasis despite its close proximity to Doncaster town centre and therefore I'd recommend this place to anyone that enjoys walking and the outdoors.
When I recently visited it was great to see that some of the ducks already had small chicks and there were also birds including swans sat on nests. For those interested in the bird life there are several hundred pairs of noisy Black Headed Gulls that nest here but there are other scarcer species too. In recent years Avocets (the symbol of the RSPB) have bred but one its greatest claims to fame dates back to 1983 when a pair of Little Bitterns successfully raised young. This was only the second time this Mediterranean species of bird has ever bred in Britain and the event even made the national news at the time. It really goes to show that you never know what you might spot!
So would I recommend a visit to Potteric Carr Nature Reserve? The answer is yes but I would also point out that there are many other similar places that can be visited for free. On the other hand I don't personally mind paying a small admission charge as I know that it goes towards the upkeep of the reserve and helps to protect it for future generations to enjoy.
Potteric Carr Nature Reserve
Potteric Carr nature reserve, managed by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, is found just 2 miles from the centre of Doncaster, South Yorkshire, and very close to the Lakeland Shopping Centre. This unlikely location is home to one of Yorkshire's best-loved nature reserves, 500 acres of managed habitats that attracts birdwatchers from miles around.
The reserve houses several lakes, which are the result of subsidence of former coal mining in the area. Around these lakes have grown reedbeds, which are an endangered habitat and attract many rare birds.
The reserve's star species include the bittern, a bulky, brown heron that is perfectly adapted to reedbed habitats. This elusive species can be seen with relative ease from the reserve's Piper Marsh hide. Another elusive wetland species, the water rail, is uncharacteristically cocky here, and can be seen strutting around under the reserve's bird feeders.
The reserve not only contains reedbeds, but a wide range of habitats including open water and woodlands. It is home to wading birds, such as lapwing and golden plover, and in winter houses a large number of ducks that can include wigeon, teal, pintail, goldeneye and shoveler. Other rare birds include lesser spotted woodpecker, which can be seen occasionally near the bird feeders, and recent rare gulls have included the Caspain Gull.
The site attracts over 25,000 visitors a year, and is ideal for anyone who enjoys wildlife. There is a visitors' centre, cafe, and 8km of pathways, 5km of which are suitable for wheelchair users. There are 14 hides en route to watch birds from, all of which are comfortable and well-maintained.
Entry is £3.00, family £6.50 (a family is up to two adults and up to three children), child £1.50, and concessions £2.50. There is a discount for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust members.
See http://www.potteric-carr.org.uk/ for more details.