To appreciate Burley in Wharfedale’s Sun Lane Nature Reserve in July you really need to know something of its history. For many years the site was used as the village rubbish tip. Mounds of domestic waste rose to a height of ten feet or more before it was finally grassed over. With the adjacent lane, it rapidly became a wonderful site for wild flowers and butterflies. Then, in 1993, disaster! Toxins began to leak into the local stream, and, thence, to the Wharfe. Something had to be done, and the solution was drastic. The site was completely cleared and reshaped by huge earth moving machines, a special membrane encased the hillside and a pumping system was installed which moved the water through a series of purifying reed-beds to a large pond at the foot of the slope. It looked like the surface of the moon. But nature is a wizard at regeneration, and soon plants and animals were re-colonising in a remarkable way. In 2003 a group of volunteers took over the maintenance of the area and now help to manage it in collaboration with Bradford Council. It has become a little gem.
As soon as you enter you are dazzled by the flowers. Many a keen gardener must have wept envious tears at what nature – with a little judicious help – has created here. The rounded heads of purple Self Heal float in sheets of brilliant yellow Bird’s-foot Trefoil, a plant encouraged at Sun Lane to attract Common Blue butterflies. Forty-two Common Blues were recorded together in 2006, but the torrential rain and cold this year have hit them hard. However, brown butterflies – Ringlets and Gatekeepers – are here in good numbers if you choose a sunny afternoon to visit.
But back to the flowers. Because of the introduction of materials for the reclamation, you are continually startled by plants which just shouldn’t be here at all – like the magnificent Sea Holly by the top gate, a plant of sea-side shingle – and here resplendent in contrasting tones of light and dark turquoise – or the Viper’s Bugloss whose intense blue spikes give a zing to banks of more familiar flowers. A pebble-filled gully runs across the reserve, and here familiar plants like Red Campion and Purple Loosestrife rub shoulders with pink and white Musk Mallow, yellow Evening Primrose and, of course, Viper’s Bugloss. Even the Rosebay Willowherb along the field edge seems a more intense pink here than elsewhere. And everywhere there are geraniums, the heavenly blue Meadow Crane’s-bill, the dainty pink flowers of Herb Robert and Shining Crane’s-bill, the tiny Cut-leaved geranium among the rabbit nibbled turf, and several different garden escapees adding their various shades of pink to the palette. Monet would reach for his paintbrush!