Cople Pits Nature Reserve

Cople Pits

This small site provides a variety of habitats for wildlife, including open water and grassland which are becoming rare in the wider landscape. Cople Pits has been managed for the benefit of wildlife and people by the Wildlife Trust since 1975.
Gravel quarries are a common feature in the Ouse Valley; the large ones may be landscaped to provide recreational facilities, but most of the small pits are filled and reclaimed as farmland. Cople Pits were excavated in the 1930s and were about to be reclaimed when its value to wildlife was recognised by the owners of the site who then entered into a management agreement with the Wildlife Trust, which has since been able to purchase the reserve.
You are welcome to visit Cople Pits, but please respect the needs of wildlife and other visitors by keeping dogs on leads.
Cople Pits provides a good example of the way in which areas of land left unmanaged become woodland. In the years since quarrying ceased, the eleven linear pits have become parallel ponds surrounded by scrub and trees, with an area of rough grassland in the northwest corner of the reserve.

How to Get There by Public Transport

BY BUS: Telephone Bedfordshire Bus Information Line : 01234 228337, 8.30am – 5pm open 5 days a week or Travel Line 0870 6082608.
BY TRAIN: For timetable information, please telephone National Rail Enquiries 08457 484950.
Click here for the National Rail Enquiries website

How to Get There by Car

Cople Pits is on the outskirts of the village of Cople, on the A603 east of Bedford.
Park in the layby on the A603, or courteously on the roadside within the village.

Start/Finish Point

A public footpath runs south from the A603 along the western boundary of the reserve,and there is access on paths from within the village.
Start Nat Grid: TL101491

Access and General Information

Surface types: You will walk across a range of surfaces from hard and firm with no stones greater than 5mm to hard and firm with some loose, variable sized stones, to grass or uncultivated earth paths.
Linear Gradient: There are slight inclines on this site.
Cross Falls: There are some relatively minor crossfalls.
Width Restriction: There is no width restriction less than 1000mm.
Steps: None recorded.
Barriers: There are two kissing gates at the entrances with a restriction of between 1000 and 1500mm.
Public Toilets: None recorded
Picnic Tables: None recorded
Refreshments: There is a public house in Cople.
Seats: There is a seat by the entrance from the Dog Field.

Sunlight and Shade

Some of the ponds are kept clear of overhanging scrub to create open, sunny areas ideal for aquatic plants and animals. In summer, dragonflies and damselflies hawk mosquitoes and other insects in the sunlight here, while water-lilies, thread-leaved water crowfoot, rushes and other plants grow in the water and on the margins.
Other ponds in the centre of the reserve are overgrown and shaded by scrub and trees which provide nesting and feeding sites for many birds. The hawthorn and elder probably grew from seeds dropped by birds, while sycamore, ash and willow seeds were blown here by the wind. Common ivy is one of the few plants which can survive in the dense shade under the trees, whose fallen leaves will eventually fill the ponds if they are not occasionally cleaned out.

Willows and Wildlife

White willow, crack willow, grey willow and goat willow (or pussy willow), all grow in the reserve. Both white and crack willow will become trees up to 25m high while the other two remain shrubs or small trees less than 10m high. All are very important to wildlife: of all British trees, only the oak supports more insects which, in turn, provide food for birds and other animals. Many of the largest willows are multi-stemmed, suggesting that they were cut back hard at some time in the past. Willows are not long-lived trees; the oldest are already gently collapsing. These will provide valuable dead wood for fungi, insects and other invertebrates.

The Grassland

Just as the sunlit ponds support more aquatic life, the open grassland has a greater variety of species than the densely shaded woodland floor. Rough grasses provide food and shelter for insects and small mammals. Teasel, clover, vetches and other wildflowers provide nectar to bees and butterflies which prefer sunny areas sheltered from strong winds.


The gravel which was quarried here was probably deposited by the ice sheet which covered Britain during the Anglian glaciation, between 130,000 and 300,000 years ago. It brought rock flour and stones from as far away as Norway, which were left behind as Boulder Clay over much of East Anglia when the ice melted. Meltwater and natural erosion carried the stones into the River Ouse, which deposited the stones in the gravel bars and terraces which are quarried today.

Dog Field

0S grid reference TL 101 491
A site containing newly planted woodland and meadow, managed by the Forest of Marston Vale team.


Support the Wildlife Trust by becoming a member. You can help to protect this and other important sites by joining the Wildlife Trust. If you would like more information about this Nature Reserve or other reserves in Bedfordshire, please contact: Reserves Manager, The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Priory Country Park, Barker's Lane, Bedford MK41 9SH Tel. 01234 364213 Fax. 01234 328520
The Wildlife Trusts are working locally in town and country to make the United Kingdom richer in wildlife.
Produced with the support of Bedford Borough Council and the Forest of Marston Vale.