Living history at Skipwith Common National Nature Reserve

02 September 2011

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Air Raid Shelter, Skipwith CommonAir Raid Shelter, Skipwith Common

Skipwith Common is a very special place, not just for its tranquil open areas which transport you back to another time, or for its wildlife, it is also a place of history to be discovered with your family.  Seventy years ago Skipwith Common resonated to the sounds of Riccall airfield, now birdsong and the native-breed sheep and cattle grazing the heath are all that disturb the peace at England’s newest National Nature Reserve. 

RAF Riccall was built specially for training men to fly missions in Halifax bombers during the Second

World. Thousands of men learnt there and a massive 61,577 sorties were made. Unfortunately there were many crashes and other accidents and 221 personnel, including six Australians, lost their lives as part of the war effort.

Handley Page Halifax Bomber © Steve Hiner

After the war, the site was abandoned with only a few foundations, runways and buildings still visible today. Nature is slowly beginning to reclaim the airfield and as the concrete surfaces weather and crack, chalk-loving plants have found a toehold in the heath’s acid soil. The remains of laboratories blossom with foxgloves and honeysuckle in summer whilst grass snakes, adders and common lizards bask in the defunct bomb bunkers, retreating into the brickwork to hibernate.

Common lizard on old 'bomb bays' on Skipwith Common © Steve Hiner

These hard surfaces now form the basis of an easy access walk allowing people to visit the memorial and enjoy this haven. Enigmatically named, Bombs and Lizards, this is one of three new routes visitors can download and follow around the site.

Look out for wildlife discovery events, walks and archaeological events on Skipwith Common, or find out more about the site at Natural England or email

Posted by Kerry Netherway, Natural England

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