Tucked away behind a working quarry full of monster tipper trucks and a busy industrial estate is a little-known nature reserve, where even many locals have never set foot.
Chard Junction Quarry Nature Reserve, between Holditch and Chard Junction just down the road from Forde Abbey, is a little pocket of wetland habitat reclaimed from the remains of a worked-out gravel pit. Opened in 2009, it almost immediately lost one of two hides to arson, but the one that remains gives a great view onto one of the lakes, and the other has been made into a viewing platform, giving a high viewpoint over this (not surprisingly) bowl-shaped reserve.
It doesn’t have the grandeur of Stonebarrow or the views of Golden Cap, but it is quite unusual in that it is primarily a wetland habitat, so you may see many kinds of birds, plants and invertebrates that you may not see anywhere else locally.
The trees are mainly birch and willow, much of which is recently coppiced, and there are boggy, swampy sections with some good bog plants (bog bean, water forget-me-not etc). Being a bowl, it is very sheltered, and the little glades and clearings are fantastic for butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies.
The ponds (I hesitate to call them lakes!) attract waterfowl to breed, and in fact one year we saw a water rail nest just outside the hide window. We thought it was nice, but didn’t realise how lucky we were until Springwatch went mad about finding one on their show that year! The old quarrying has left gravel and sand banks, attracting sand martins, and the reeds attract warblers. We have also spotted a large grass snake hunting in the water just below the bird hide.
There are active badger setts there, and I saw a roe deer disappearing into the trees on my recent flying visit.
It’s not large – it’s a nice quick walk, and can easily be fitted in on the way to or from somewhere, or combined with a trip to Forde Abbey, for total contrast! If you need refreshments, please drop into Thorncombe Village Shop just up the road – it’s a community enterprise and very close to my heart, having been involved for many years. You can buy food & drink to take away, or have a great coffee or Shmoo shake in the cafe. The home-made cakes & bakes in the deli will keep you going nicely, too!
On a practical note, the reserve can be reached from either Headstock Lane (coming from Chard Junction, past the quarry and first left) or from the road between Chard Junction and Forde Abbey (park in the lay by by the quarry entrance and follow the footpath signs). The grid reference is ST345045. Access is not possible for wheelchairs or pushchairs because of stiles and steps, but it is easy walking, and great for children, if kept within sight (the working quarry is just next door). Dogs must be kept on leads because of all the ground-nesting birds, especially wildfowl.
I’m not going to lie – this is not going to rock your world, but it will give you an hour’s peace and quiet, some new butterflies and flowers, some amazing blackberries in the autumn, and a nice, gentle walk where you probably won’t see another soul. It’s a nice little surprise, and if you go now, you may even get to see the ducklings, so who could resist?