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Planning your school trip to Skipwith Common

By Helen Pentith  //  Wed 20th August 2014

Yorkshire is one of the most varied and vibrant regions in the UK, packed with bustling cities, picturesque market towns and beautiful countryside. We’re lucky enough to be home to two national parks, not to mention around a dozen national nature reserves – including the most recently designated national reserve, Skipwith Common, which lies only a few miles from the Escrick Park estate. Skipwith Common’s eventful history and current status as a national nature reserve makes it the perfect location for school trips, with something for children (and adults!) of all ages to learn and enjoy. If you’re planning a school trip in Yorkshire and want to teach your students about the value of conservation, archaeology, and even a hint of history, Skipwith Common might well be of interest.


What is Skipwith Common?

Skipwith Common is an area of lowland heath located between Selby and York. The 274 hectare site is managed jointly by Natural England and Escrick Park, but both parties have the same goal in mind – to maximise the conservation value of the area. Visitors will find both wet and dry heathland at Skipwith Common, in addition to scrub woodland. These habitats are magnets for biodiversity. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot rare birds like nightjars and woodlarks, in addition to heathland plants, dragonflies, deer and reptiles. Visitors will also notice that this nature reserve is being grazed by Hebridean sheep, Longhorn cattle and Exmoor ponies.


The Common was used as an airfield in World War II. You’ll spot glimpses of the old landing strips, in addition to many archaeological features. In recent years, the encroaching trees have been removed to allow the re-establishment of heathland – a type of habitat that is extremely rare in the UK in the 21st century.


Why visit on a school trip?

Younger age groups will enjoy spotting the many different animals and plants that live on Skipwith Common, and exploring the scrub woodland. Guided walks can be arranged so that groups stand a great chance of finding some wildlife. Alternatively, follow a waymarked path with one of our leaflets as guidance. GPS devices, environmental games and other educational resources are available on site. In addition there are opportunities for students to help out with some of the practical conservation activities that take place on site – not to mention having a go at an archaeological dig!


A visit to Skipwith Common can also provide a valuable experience for older students who are studying geography. The Common’s rich history and recent transformation into a wildlife haven makes for an engaging case study. With so much to see, the Common’s innovative (and successful!) management solutions can only truly be appreciated and understood if you visit the site in person.


Skipwith Common frequently plays host to group visits. However, there are no toilets on-site so we recommend half-day visits. Given that the Common is less than half an hour’s drive from York and Selby, and less than an hour from Leeds, we’re easy to get to. For more details about school visits to Skipwith Common, email Craig Ralston on craig.ralston@naturalengland.org.uk – and take a more detailed look at Escrick Park’s approach to conservation.


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