by Stephanie Kuunal
Sylvan is a hidden treasure to both nature lovers and conservationists alike. Like many others during the pandemic, I turned to the outdoors to improve my mental health. I also had another motive. As an ecology graduate, I wanted to get involved with local conservation efforts. This led me to discover Make It Wild and Sylvan Nature Reserve. Tucked away up a farm track through a small pedestrian gate lies Sylvan, a woodland habitat surrounded by the river Nidd. As you walk onto the site, you’re greeted by lush green vegetation accompanied by the peaceful sound of running water.
On this particular sunny day, the riverside footpath was filled with bumble bees, orange-tip butterfly and banded demoiselle, a spectacular metallic coloured species of damselfly with blue males and green females. Sylvan is teeming with insects. This is important, as they are essential for the healthy functioning of the ecosystem, aiding with pollination and decomposition of leaf litter.
As you head further along the riverbank path, the sound of sheep becomes ever louder. This is a striking reminder of how Sylvan has changed. Once a rough grazing pasture, it is now a thriving woodland! Alongside the planting of many species of deciduous trees like silver birch, oak, rowan and hawthorn, native wildflower seeds have been sown at Sylvan. Many more wild flowers have simply arrived, now that the land is no longer grazed. As well as being beautiful and colourful, these flowers are also important to the ecosystem providing soil stability, nectar for insects and food for birds and small mammals.
Towards the centre of the woodland, there is a clearing, and it was encircled with the calls of small songbirds hiding up in the trees. I could recognise the songs of a chiff chaff and a blackbird, unwilling to emerge from the trees as a buzzard soared above. The long grass clearing provides habitat for small mammals, meaning birds of prey are often seen around the site. A barn owl has been spotted frequently at Sylvan, hunting over the fields and often sitting in the mature oak tree on the boundary.
There are several clearings in the woodland. One has a large scrape, and others have ponds. These contain varying levels of water, and sometimes dry out completely. These are important for biodiversity. The regular drying of these pools prevent fish from establishing, and so without any predators other species can succeed here. From where I stood, insects flitted and floated on the water, and snails and tadpoles drifted around under the surface. Amongst the reed beds, I was lucky to catch sight of a male smooth newt in breeding season, meaning he had a distinctive crest on his back and tail.
The clearly marked footpath around the reserve is open to the public for you to enjoy at your leisure. You can read about the route here. If you join an organised volunteer day, you will be allowed to venture into the private conservation areas of the woodland. The Make it Wild team will be happy to tell you about their project, and the biodiversity to be found at Sylvan.
At the last volunteer session I attended, I helped with tree tube removal and pulled out the pesky non-native invasive plant, Himalayan Balsam. Participating in these volunteer days at Sylvan is not only enjoyable, but a way to help local biodiversity and to give back to this wonderful reserve. You can read about volunteering here.
Our hard work was rewarded with the sight of a roe deer fawn, curled up in the long grass.