Highland cows graze upon it, wildfowl swim through it and there are hosts of squirrels in the trees around Alverstone Mead. This 30 acre nature reserve is beautifully kept and much loved by those who visit, under the care of the Wight Nature Fund the Mead is flourishing in its marshy splendour.
Mead is the ancient word for water meadow and it has channels of water flowing through the land to drain it sufficiently to produce hay, although it is cut late in the year to encourage wildlife during the summer months.
At the south of the reserve is the spectacular hide accessed via a raised walkway just beneath the canopy of the surrounding trees and it's a great place to spot the red squirrels.
The hide has a wonderful view across the Mead and offers good facilities to nature watchers with binoculars to borrow, bird and animal charts and books to consult and good disabled access and aids. Visitors can leave their observations in a file on the window sill.
Lots of sturdy food containers hang from the trees and are covered in birds – blue tits and chaffinches on the day we visited. Looking out over the mead you could see the flailed bullrushes that had been cut to give the grass a chance and moorhens were swimming in the 'pond' in front of the hide.
The Wight Nature Fund wardens lift the sluices before Christmas and the beds flood and then the wildfowl return: ducks, geese and snipe. Kingfisher will come up to the pond and the barn owl hunt and nest there as they like rough scrub. Barn owls take a long time to fledge their babies and late summer is the best time to see them as they venture out before dusk.
The Mead is home to little owls nesting, wood crickets and white admiral butterflies in the woods. It also attracts buzzards, kestrel and sparrow hawk; there is a kestrel nest in a box by the river. Sometimes Siskins, visit in winter, as do hares who have their babies in the meadow.
The meadow is named after Elsie Skinner, a local lady who tirelessly raised money for charity, and it is a superb wild flower meadow that Wight Nature Fund and its volunteers harvest as organic hay late in the summer. Walking down the lane that skirts the meadow you can spy the prickly Butchers Broom with its red berries – indicative of ancient woodland.
The old railway line forms part of the walkway around the reserve and there are wooden board walks for keeping dry in the marshy ground. Sometimes in severe weather both can flood. The highland cows try to keep their feet dry on the higher ground as they graze the lush grass.
There are rare plants here such as the Marsh Cinquefoil, the Native Bogbean and also Ragged Robin. In the extensive woodland to the edge of the Mead buzzards nest in the higher trees and there are boxes where the owls nest too. Badgers make their setts beneath the bracken on the higher ground.
The Mead was 'saved' when it came up for sale about 20 years ago and a pressure group that included members of the council purchased it to keep a sustained environment for all of the wildlife and the many visitors to enjoy. Make sure to visit and follow the walk that's been created to the eastern end of the Mead.