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Watchtree Nature Reserve

Watchtree Farm, as Watchtree Nature Reserve was once known, has a fascinating history.

Its land was requisitioned during the Second World War to become Great Orton Airfield.  It had three runways alongside hangars, a control tower, offices workshops and accommodation blocks. After the war, it was used to store munitions until its closure in 1952.

In the 1960s it became farmland once more, then parts of it became a car rally facility, a flying school, clay pigeon shooting club and a site for Great Orton Wind Farm.

Then, in 2001, the land became unintentionally famous, for a purpose which could have scarred this place for good were it not for the efforts of the local community. Pictures were broadcast around the world of Watchtree becoming a huge burial ground for more than half a million animals culled because of foot and mouth disease.

When the devastating episode was over, local people worked with Defra and other organisations to transform this into Watchtree Nature Reserve, the wildlife haven we see today.

Brown hares, roe deer, foxes stoats and weasels are just some of the mammals which roam these fields. In the sky, more than 60 species of bird have been spotted.

There are skylarks, little grebe, tufted duck and mute swans are just some of the feathered visitors. This is also a breeding colony for sand martins, and there’s a bird ringing initiative which captures, rings and releases birds through the year to help wildlife organisations monitor populations and assist with research.

Watchtree has a fantastic variety of habitats. There are woodlands, planted with red squirrels in mind, and wetlands which have become great breeding grounds for insects and amphibians, as well as traditional hay meadows, ideal for boosting the bird population.


Getting here…

Take the B5307 or A595 from Carlisle, or the A596 from Wigton. Follow signs for Wiggonby.

Head for the Watchtree Nature Reserve visitor centre to find out more.


  • Parking
  • Disabled access
  • Café
  • Toilets
  • Visitor centre
  • Information points
  • Trails
  • Cycle routes
  • Themed events

Did you know…?

Watchtree Farm was named after a tree from which local people kept watch for Border Reivers heading down from Scotland.

Look for…

The great cycle routes created by the Watchtree Wheelers scheme to give disabled and disadvantaged people the chance to get out on a bike.