Eden’s top nature reserve set to welcome more visitors

Kirkby Stephen’s stunning Smardale Nature Reserve, which lies on part of the old Tebay to Darlington railway line, has always been popular with wildlife tourists, locals and walkers.

Now visitors arriving by car will find plenty of parking spaces in the newly created car park and visitor entrance.

Cumbria Wildlife Trust, who owns the nature reserve, has also created an accessible walkway linking the new car park to the original entrance to Smardale Gill only 300 metres away on the other side of Smardale village.

The new car park is part of a project to link two of Cumbia Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves together, Smardale Gill and Waitby Greenriggs, now known collectively as Smardale Nature Reserve. The linking land was purchased thanks to a very generous donation from Michael and Elizabeth Lamb of Orton. The whole of Smardale Nature Reserve now extends from Newbiggin-on-Lune almost as far as Kirkby Stephen and lies within the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The new car park was made possible thanks to grants from LEADERYDNPA sustainability fund and the Eden Community Fund.The plans don’t stop there. The new car park will also feature railway-style cabins, to link it to its railway heritage, where visitors can find information explaining the beautiful wildlife that can be seen at Smardale Nature Reserve, such as the unusual Scotch argus butterfly, orchids and red squirrels. A red squirrel feeding station and rope bridge will be built behind the visitor cabins which will act as a hide, giving people the chance to see this iconic Cumbrian species close up.

David Harpley, Conservation Manager at Cumbria Wildlife Trust said: “Smardale Nature Reserve is an important wildlife habitat. It is one of the only two sites in England home to the Scotch argus butterfly, red squirrels forage for hazelnuts here and there are 200 plant species including rare and beautiful orchids. The new car park and visitor information will make it much easier and more enjoyable for people to access the nature reserve.”

A new leaflet about the reserve has also been published and can be picked up at the nature reserve or from Upper Eden Visitor Centre.

Smardale Nature Reserve – a gem in the Westmorland Dales

Ancient woodland, flower-filled grasslands and stunning scenery ensure there’s interest in every step of your visit to Smardale Nature Reserve.

Lying within the picturesque landscape of the Upper Eden Valley, the nature reserve occupies a section of the now disused railway line that once ran from Tebay to Darlington.

From easily-accessible low-gradient paths along the former track bed, dramatic scenery and interesting wildlife await. Whether it’s the steep wooded slopes that plunge to meet the beck below, or the enclosed cuttings and reas of unspoilt limestone grassland, you’ll be enchanted by truly peaceful place.

What is now the nature reserve was carved from the underlying carboniferous limestone during the construction of the Stainmore railway, which was built to transport coke for the thriving iron industry. The railway opened in 1861 and closed in 1962, after just over 100 years.

Ironically, Smardale’s industrial past has created new areas of fantastic wildlife habitat and has saved others. Within the woodland, the banks on either side of the track would have been kept clear of trees when the railway was in operation. They have now been colonised by ash, birch, hazel and willow, providing a woodland-edge habitat enjoyed by birds like redstart, wood warbler, treecreeper and long-tailed tit.

Fragments of flower-rich grassland that once covered surrounding fields were also saved. These areas around the tracks escaped the agricultural improvements of the twentieth century, which is why the nature reserve is so rich in flowers today.

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Smardale nature reserve and viaduct © John Morrison