Bowness on Solway

A small nature reserve with a surprising diversity of habitats full of interest throughout the year. Great place to see butterflies, moths and dragonflies.


Bowness on Solway village

OS Map Reference

Sheet no.85
Grid reference NY 206 617
A static map of Bowness on Solway

Know before you go

7 hectares

Entry fee

All donations are gratefully received.

Parking information

Park on the verge at the nature reserve entrance. Please do not obstruct the farm track through the reserve.

Bicycle parking


Grazing animals

Yes in autumn and early winter

Walking trails

There is a waymarked circular route around the reserve (1.4km/1 mile), which has boardwalks over wetter areas and a small number of steps. The reserve is divided  by a farm track which provides a short-cut back to the road from several points along the trail.


Gated entrance. Some sections of the paths suitable for wheelchairs.


On a lead

When to visit

Opening times

Open all year round

Best time to visit

All year round

About the reserve

Wildlife highlights

  • Numerous species of butterfly including ringlet, small copper, large skipper and peacock
  • Enjoy the sound of willow warblers, willow tits and linnets in the spring
  • Look out for Britain’s largest dragonfly, the emperor, alongside four-spotted chasers, common hawkers, southern hawkers and darters. You can also see several species of damselflies such as common blue, azure and emerald.  
  • In Spring - a good time to see flocks of migrating birds whilst frogs, toads and newts are at their most active in the ponds.
  • In summer - over 20 species of butterfly can be seen and damsel and dragonfly patrol the ponds. In autumn look out for fungi and watch birds feasting on haws and thistles.
  • In winter - a good time to see birds such as barn owl, kestrel, sparrowhawk and buzzard.

A varied landscape 

Wildlife has recolonised this former gravel quarry at remarkable speed. Now, ponds ranging from temporary pools to open water are surrounded by scrub and grassland.

What makes Bowness-on-Solway so special?

Specialist water plants such as branched bur-reed, yellow iris and distinctive smelling water mint are found around the ponds, and in spring they’re alive with great crested newts, frogs and toads.

Striking dragonflies and damselflies add to the vibrant pondlife during the summer.

The gorse, thorn and willow scrub is a great habitat for breeding birds: several species of warbler have been recorded, as well as willow tit and bullfinch.

Flocks of redwing and fieldfare feed on hawthorn berries as they provide a rich winter food source.

In turn, the grassland flowers provide nectar for a wide range of insects – nearly 400 species of moth and 20 species of butterfly have been recorded

Wildlife around the ponds

The ponds are a major feature of the reserve and range from temporary pools to permanent open water.  Around the ponds you can find specialist water plants such as s branched bur reed, yellow iris and distinctive smelling water mint.

In spring the ponds are alive with great crested newts, frogs and toads which breed in the ponds.

From late spring through to autumn look out for dragonflies such as the emperor, which is the largest dragonfly in Britain and also four spotted chasers, common hawker, southern hawker and darters.

You can also see several species of damselflies such as common blue, azure and emerald.

Some of the ponds have recently been re-excavated to begin the process of colonisation again.

Good habitat for birds

Gorse, thorn and birch scrub grow on the drier areas and willow scrub in the wetter areas. This scrub mix provides an excellent habitat for breeding birds.

In spring you can enjoy the sounds of willow warbler, willow tit and linnet and other song birds.

In autumn and winter you might see wintering flocks of field fares and redwings feeding on the hawthorn which provides a rich winter food source. You may also see flocks of goldfinch feeding on the thistles.  Winter is a good time to see birds such as the barn owl or the hen harrier or even woodcock.

Grassland plants In the open grassland areas you can find common spotted orchid, bird's-foot trefoil, tomentil and bedstraw. 

Later in the summer the grassland is a blaze of purple knapweed.  Some of these areas are grazed in autumn and winter to encourage greater species diversity. The flowers provide nectar for a range of insects.

Butterflies and moths

The knapweed is very attractive to some species of butterfly.  Sunny days in late summer are a good time to see butterflies such as ringlet, small copper, large skipper and peacock.

Over 20 species of butterfly have been recorded on the reserve and more than  350 species of moth!   

Keeping it special

The nature reserve was given to Cumbria Wildlife Trust in 1977 by Tilcon. 

Getting here

By car:

From the B5307 the reserve entrance is from the track near Biglands House approximately 1.25km/0.75 miles from Bowness on Solway village.

By bicycle:

The reserve is on National Route 72 Hadrian's Cycleway.

By public transport:

Buses run from Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway village.

Contact us

Kevin Scott
Contact number: 01228 829570

Environmental designation

Local Wildlife Site (LWS)

Upcoming events at Bowness-on-Solway Nature Reserve

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