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Orton Moss

A quiet and peaceful place with wet meadow and woodland habitat. Flowers are abundant in the wet areas and woodcock and willow warblers can be seen.


  • Woodland is alive with bird song in the spring.
  • Summer is a good time to spot butterflies such as ringlet and painted lady.
  • Later in the summer the knapweed and devil's bit scabious is in flower.

Moss modified by human activity

Orton Moss is a former raised mire which has been greatly modified by human activities. The moss is divided into a large number of strips and fields which would traditionally have been used for peat cutting and grazing during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

To early naturalists it was a very important wildlife site, particularly noted for its butterflies. It was once the haunt of the rare wood white, now extinct in Cumbria, the large heath, a species of open raised mire habitats, and the marsh fritillary which was last recorded in 1980. Most of the fields have now been abandoned and this has led to an increase in woodland cover and these species have disappeared.

Diverse habitats

Much of the southern end of the reserve is grassland, interspersed with scrub and woodland. Here you can find devil's bit scabious, knapweed, sneezewort, meadow sweet and angelica in the wetter areas.  To the north of the grassland,extending across the site from east to west, is wet woodland, dominated by willows, downy birch and alder. Here the carpets of remote sedge and mosses give many areas of this woodland a swampy feel. Look out for Royal Fern which grows here.

On the more northern half of the reserve the woodland becomes drier with some areas of regionally important oak woodland.  The ground flora in these woods is varied.  In some areas mosses and ferns are dominant, whilst in others grassland or heathland plants such as bilberry are more common.

On the wing

Orton Moss is an important site for invertebrates.  In the grassland area this is due to the rich variety of food plants and the complex edge habitat between the grassland and the scrub and woodland. In summer look out for small pearl bordered fritillary, dingy skipper, wall butterfly and small heath butterflies.  Birds likely to be seen include willow tit, woodcock, great spotted woodpecker and willow warbler.

Keeping it special

Scrub is now being cleared from the meadow areas and grazing is being introduced so that the fields can once again become species-rich grassland. In the woodland non-native trees including beech are being felled.

Bucknill's Field was purchased in 1964 with money donated by Canon E G Bucknill. Two of the areas woodland are leased from Natural England. A third area (1.3ha) was purchase in 2009 while the rest was acquired in 2010 after an appeal to members.

Getting here

By Car: From Carlisle take the A595 towards Thursby. Just south of the town take the ring road west. At the first roundabout take the exit for Great Orton. Continue on this road for 1.7km and take the first right, signposted for Great Ortion.  Follow this road for 1.2km. Park by the track on  the right, just before some bungalows on the left. To access the reserve walk down the track for 200m.

By bicycle: The reserve lies between National Route 72 and 7, and is approximately 5km from both.

By public transport: Buses run from Carlisle, Aspatria and Wigton to Great Orton.


Species and habitats

Grassland, Wetland, Woodland
Devil's-bit Scabious, Woodcock

Nearby nature reserves

Gosling Sike
5 miles - Cumbria Wildlife Trust
Drumburgh Moss
6 miles - Cumbria Wildlife Trust
Wreay Woods
7 miles - Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Nature reserve map

Reserve information

Near Great Orton
Map reference
NY 339 543
Great for...
Best time to visit
Apr - Aug
Get directions
Find out here
Public transport
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Opening Times
Open at all times
16.60 hectares
Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
Walking information
Orton Moss can be extremely wet so wellington boots are recommended. The southern end of the reserve is usually relatively dry and easily navigated but the path can become muddy. There are no waymarked paths in the woodland areas and it is easy to become disorientated as there are few internal boundaries.
Park on track leading to reserve
Dogs must be on lead
Grazing animals
Longhorn Cattle
Reserve manager
Kevin Scott
Tel: 01228 829570