The town of Doncaster sits at the very heart of a vast metropolitan area, consisting of green open spaces, nature reserves and an amazing variety of flora and fauna.
Doncaster is the largest metropolitan borough in the country, yet remains essentially rural. Whether you’re seriously into bird watching or just fancy a breath of fresh air in beautiful scenery, there is something for everyone in Doncaster’s rural landscape.
Potteric Carr, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is the flagship nature reserve of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and covers approximately 500 acres, supporting a wide variety of wildlife. Over 150 species of bird and 28 different types of butterfly have been recorded here. Its habitats range from open water and marshland to grassy areas and woodland. And it’s only 2 miles from the centre of Doncaster! The nature reserve has around 5 miles of footpaths, approximately 3 miles of which are accessible for wheelchairs. The 14 viewing hides will appeal to the serious birdwatcher and amateur alike, and Potteric Carr is renowned for its successful and growing population of Bittern. Around 70 species of bird breed every year including Kingfisher, Grasshopper-, Reed- and Sedge Warblers, all three Woodpeckers and Woodcock. There have also been 19 different species of dragonfly recorded here, 17 of which are known to have bred. Not only are many brightly coloured, but many have colourful names such as black-tailed skimmer, banded demoiselle, hairy dragonfly, broad-bodied chaser and ruddy darter!
Other Yorkshire Wildlife Trust sites in Doncaster are Denaby Ings and Thorpe Marsh, both of which also support a wide variety of flora and fauna. Denaby Ings is a 100 acre reserve with habitats ranging from wetlands to hay meadows and supports a wide variety of birds, insects and flowers. A good footpath takes visitors around the reserve and the 3 viewing hides give visitors the opportunity to observe the wildlife close up. The marshes attract birds such as Great Crested Grebe, Mallard, Pochard and Tufted Duck. The main feature of Thorpe Marsh is the lake with its two islands. Having been undisturbed for so long they have a rich flora. On the drier 'ridges' frequent species are pepper-saxifrage, sneezewort and great burnet. In the wetter 'furrows' tubular water-dropwort is common. Scattered hawthorn scrub has invaded the grassland and provides feeding and nesting sites for Linnet, Redpoll, Greenfinch and Whitethroat. Good footpaths are available in both reserves.
Nearby, Sprotborough Flash is one of the spectacular features of the Don Gorge and is accessible by riverside paths from Sprotborough Lock and can be viewed by walkers using the Trans Pennine Trail, which cuts through Doncaster’s green countryside. From the Dearne Valley area the trail takes a route along the River Don and through Sprotborough, following peaceful riverside and railway paths to the outskirts of Doncaster town centre. Traffic free paths and quiet lanes take the trail through lovely sleepy villages.
Also situated in Doncaster are Hatfield Moors and Thorne Moors, both part of the Humberhead Peatlands National Nature Reserve (NNR), which is also an SSSI. This vast area of wilderness is what remains of an even more extensive area of wetland several thousand years ago. The area forms the largest complex of raised peat bogs in lowland Britain, with much of the area close to sea level. Over 5,000 different species of plant and animal have been recorded here including the Large Heath Butterfly and the Bog Rush Cricket. Cotton grasses flourish in the area giving a spectacular appearance, but there are also other species which are usually rare in this country such as cranberry, bog myrtle and bog rosemary. Bird species include Common Teal, Common Snipe, Winchat and the rare European Nightjar. Nightingales also breed here on the very northern limit of their range.