Orton Moss

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


Near Great Orton

OS Map Reference

OS 1:50,000 Sheet No. 85
Grid reference NY 339 543
A static map of Orton Moss

Know before you go

17 hectares

Entry fee

All donations are gratefully received.

Parking information

Limited road parking

Bicycle parking


Grazing animals

Longhorn Cattle

Walking trails

There are no waymarked paths in the woodland blocks and, with the exception of Bucknill’s Field, there are few internal boundaries so some of the woodland areas are difficult to navigate. 


Orton Moss can be extremely wet although the southern end of Bucknill’s Field is always dry.


On a lead

When to visit

Opening times

Open all year round

Best time to visit

April to August

About the reserve

Wildlife highlights

  • Listen to springtime birdsong in the atmospheric oak and birch woodland.
  • Common knapweed, devil’s-bit scabious, meadowsweet and wild angelica are abundant in the wetter areas of the grasslands and flower from June until September.
  • Summer is a good time to spot butterflies such as ringlet and painted lady.

A modified mire

Orton Moss is a former raised mire which has been greatly modified by human activities. It was divided into a number of strips (or stints) for peat cutting and grazing in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

To early naturalists it was an important wildlife site noted for rare butterflies, but these have since disappeared due to the increase in woodland cover. 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.

What makes Orton Moss so special?

Outside the restored grassland areas wet woodland dominates. Here willows, downy birch and alder thrive amongst carpets of Sphagnum moss, remote sedge, bottle sedge and ferns, creating a swampy feel.

Drier areas feature oak and birch woodland where the ground flora is more varied with bilberry, broad buckler-fern, wood sorrel and mosses.                           

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 nature 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

Cumbria Wildlife Trust has worked to clear areas of secondary woodland and scrub, and has reinstated grazing to restore these areas of grassland alongside Bucknill’s Field.

In the woodland non-native trees including beech are being felled.

Recent history

Bucknill’s Field was purchased in 1964 with money donated by Canon E J Bucknill.

Two areas of woodland are leased from Natural England.

A third area (1.3ha) was purchased in 2009 while the rest was acquired in 2010 after an appeal to members, with a smaller area managed under lease from other landowners.

Getting here

By Car:

From Carlisle take A595 towards Thursby. Once out of town take first right for Little Orton. Turn left at the crossroads and take the next right. Approx 1.2km/0.7 miles down this road a track goes off to the right. Park here and walk down track onto the reserve (200 metres). Please take care not to obstruct field gates. Other reserve areas can be accessed from the series of footpaths  and bridleways.

By bicycle:

Orton Moss nature reserve is 4.5 km/3miles from National Route 7 Sunderland and Inverness and National Route 72 Hadrian’s Cycleway.

By public transport:

Buses run from Carlisle and Wigton to Great Orton. 

Contact us

Kevin Scott
Contact number: 01228 829570

Environmental designation

Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

Upcoming events at Orton Moss Nature Reserve

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