OS map ref: SK 506115 (Sheet 129)
Coming from Leicester, drive through Newtown Linford village and take the left hand fork down Ulverscroft Lane. Carry on for 2 km and the reserve entrance is on the left by a public footpath sign at a gate to a 'green lane'. Park on Ulverscroft Lane. Down the 'green lane' is a gate which forms part of a cattle pen. To the right there is a hand gate which leads into the meadows. From May to October there will probably be cattle including a bull grazing the area.
We encourage visitors to use environmentally friendly forms of transport wherever possible. Most of our reserves are easily accessible by bicycle, with many close to the National Cycle Network. Please note that cycling is not permitted on the nature reserve itself.
Public transport - contact Traveline for further information www.traveline.org.uk or phone 0871 200 22 33.
Dogs are permitted on this nature reserve but must be kept on a short lead at all times.
The reserve covers 12 ha. It is owned by the Trust and is part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The old settlement described below is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The Lea Meadows can be traced back over seven centuries and appears to be part of a medieval assart, (an assart being an area of private farmland formed out of common land), Lea Wood being the other part. The boundary of the two parts combined makes a remarkable shape, an ellipse enclosing a hundred acres, which stands out on the map among the more usual rectangular fields. As an insurance against the depredations of grazing animals from the open forest (including wild deer), the formers made a substantial bank and ditch around their assart. Remnants of this medieval bank can be seen just after entering the meadows along the eastern boundary. The Lea Assart is first mentioned in a document of 1287, when 'a piece of meadow called Ley Field worth 40s yearly' formed part of the estate of the late William de Ferrers, lord of the manor of Groby. At that time forty shillings was a large sum and reflects the scarcity value of good meadow land.
When visiting the reserve look out for ridge and furrow underlying some areas. These parts have been ploughed, probably in the 13th or 14th century when grassland had to be sacrificed to meet the immediate demands of a rapidly growing population. The eastern part of the Lea assart (which is not part of the reserve) has been wooded for at least 350 years. In the small meadow adjacent to Polly Botts Lane visitors will notice a number of irregular shallow depressions and slightly elevated mounds; these are most noticeable in the early spring when sedges line the water filled depressions.
A survey has shown that this was the site of an old settlement. Such a settlement may have contained one or two houses and several fenced enclosures in which to hold cattle, pigs or woodland products. The Lea assart was retained by the manor of Groby and not granted to Ulverscroft Priory, as was much land in the area. The manorial land later become known as the Bradgate estate and was sold off in 1925 by auction. The Lea Meadows became part of the Blakeshay farm and the Trust was able to purchase them when the farm was sold by auction in 1986.
The 'green lane', known locally as Scraters Lane, which leads from the road to the reserve, has an interesting woodland relict flora, where moschatel, wood-sorrel and fragrant agrimony have been recorded.
When viewing the reserve from the entrance stile, the visitor sees a large undulating meadow with some very marshy areas. Across the meadows a line of alder trees trace the course of a stream. Surrounding all this, but outside the reserve boundary, are extensive conifer woodlands. The meadows are unimproved neutral to slightly acid grassland, and are rich in flowers. Such a profusion of plants helps to maintain a rich invertebrate faunu and amongst the moths so far recorded are the forester and the ruby tiger. In order to maintain the diverse plant life the reserve is traditionally managed by summer grazing with cattle and occasionally a hay crop is taken. In the marsh, snipe have occasionally nested and it is for this reason that all visitors are requested not to enter these areas, but restrict themselves to the path which is indicated on the map.
The stream is a valued asset to the ecology of the Ulverscroft valley and the Lea Meadows nature reserve in particular. It is a very clean stream and consequently has good invertebrate fauna. Six families of mayfly and five families of molluscs have been recorded from the stream. The continuing presence of alder trees along the stream is vital to its morphology, and active management, such as coppicing of existing trees, can be seen in several streamside enclosures.
Over 240 species of plants have been recorded from the reserve. The meadow flowers are at their most attractive in years when the reserve is cut for hay, but even when cattle grazing begins in May or June the plants are present, though flowering is less exuberant. In early summer pignut attracts chimney sweeper moths, while later in the summer the purple and blue of betony, harebell and devil's-bit scabious predominate, among numerous species of grasses, sedges and rush. In wetter areas, bog pimpernel is hard to find, but in June many hundreds of common and heath spotted-orchids, flower west of the stream, with marsh speedwell and opposite-leaved golden-saxifrage. In drier parts bitter-vetch, great burnet, pepper-saxifrage and a few plants of saw-wort can be seen.
The stream provides a suitable habitat for the legally protected white-clawed crayfish and the brook lamprey. Other fishes such as bullhead, minnow, three-spined stickleback and brown trout have also been recorded.
Seventy-six species of birds have been recorded on the reserve. Kingfishers have occasionally been seen along the stream and the alders alongside are good for wintering flocks of siskin and redpoll.