Winnall Moors is a large area of the Itchen floodplain to the north of Winchester. Managed by the Hampshire Wildlife Trust, the reserve has a patchwork of habitats including woodland, wet meadows, chalk streams and the largest area of reedbed in Winchester.
Typical resident birds of the reserve include Little Grebe, Kingfisher, Cetti’s Warbler, Grey Wagtail and Reed Bunting. In the summer, Reed and Sedge Warblers arrive to breed, while Grasshopper Warbler has held territory in some years. Cuckoo is regularly heard and seen in April and May and successful breeding was confirmed in 2017. In winter Water Rails are present in good numbers while a few Snipe are often around the main reedbed. A Bittern was seen in 2010, 2011 and 2017. Winter also sees a large roost of Pied Wagtails in the main reedbed, which has numbered up to 400 in recent years. The wet woodland and alders in the southern part of the reserve attracts flocks of Siskins in winter, along with the occasional Redpoll.
The meadows at northern end of the reserve flood in some winters, during which time they can be attractive to flocks of Lapwing, Snipe and gulls. A flock of 43 Wigeon visited in December 2010, but generally any wildfowl other than Mallard, Gadwall, Canada Goose and Mute Swan are irregular. One or two Little Egrets are generally present in winter along the Nun’s Walk stream, where Kingfishers can also be seen very reliably.
The fields to the west of the northern part of the reserve, viewable from Nun’s Walk, generally hold good numbers of farmland birds in winter, with Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer typically present in the dozens, along with Linnets, thrushes, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and one or two Stonechats. The fencelines can also be attractive to migrants, with Whinchat, Wheatear and Black Redstart all being seen in 2018.
The main form of access to the reserve is the public access trail in the southern section of the reserve, which can be reached from the Durngate entrance (SU486296) or via a bridge from North Walls Recreation Ground (SU487301). The majority of the reserve is not publicly accessible but views can be obtained from surrounding public footpaths, in particular the path on the western perimeter of the reserve, known as Nun’s Walk. Nun’s Walk is best accessed from the south, by Winchester City football stadium (SU484305). There is also a public footpath along the eastern side of the reserve, although this offers far more limited views. Guided walks providing access to the normally inaccessible parts of the reserve take place on a regular basis (check Hampshire Wildlife Trust website and magazine for latest events listings).
Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust – Winnall Moors
Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust – Winnall Moors reserve leaflet
Words by Tom Jordan