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Butterburn Flow

Wild and remote area of blanket bog on the Cumbria-Northumberland border alive in spring to the haunting cries of the curlew. Cloudberry, great sundew and bog rosemary and several species of sphagnum moss are found.


  • The wildness and remoteness.
  • See plants typical of mires as well as some more unusual species.
  • Upland birds such as curlew.

A watery world where peat is still forming

In this wild and remote place the most abundant plant you will find is Sphagnum moss, forming extensive lawns and hummocks (known as patterned mire). Sphagnum magellanicum and Sphagnum papillosum are the main species, but there are many other sphagna including several uncommon species. Growing amongst the Sphagnum are many other species typical of this wet habitat.  You can find  bog asphodel, cross-leaved heath, cranberry, common heather, cottongrass and white beak-sedge.  At Butterburn flow you can also find great sundew, an insectivorous plant, and bog rosemary.  In summer look out for the distinctive white flowers of cloudberry, a plant more usually found at higher altitudes.

Border mires  

Butterburn Flow is the largest of 58 mires which straddle the border between Cumbria and Northumberland, collectively known as the Border Mires. Butterburn is bounded on two sides by the River Irthing which itself forms the border between the two counties. During the 20th century, this area was planted with conifers by the Forestry Commission, forming Kielder Forest, the largest forest in England at 50,000 hectares. The peat bogs within the area were generally avoided although some planting and drainage did occur on the edges of the bogs and some sites were drained in preparation for afforestation. Unlike the Trust's other mire nature reserves, which are raised bogs, Butterburn Flow is a blanket bog, meaning that it receives moisture from groundwater as well as from rainfall. Unlike the other sites, the bog is relatively intact with little artificial drainage and therefore a high water table.

Keeping it special

Butterburn Flow is owned by the Forestry Commission and managed by Northumberland Wildlife Trust.

Getting here

By car: Butterburn Flow lies 16km/9.5 miles north of Gilsland. From the centre of the village, cross the Irthing and take the first right signed for Butterburn, Gilsland Spa and Spadeadam. After 3km/2 miles, the road ahead becomes private MoD access. Bear right here (the road is signed as a dead end). Follow this road for 8 km/5 miles to Butterburn Farm and continue for a further 3km/2 miles to the end of the surfaced road. There is no official access point and no signs, however access is best gained from the high point in the road at Grid Ref NY 660 758.
By bicycle: 4 miles from a National Cycle Network on-road route.
By public transport: Buses run from Brampton to Gilsland.

Nature Reserves Guide

Cumbria Wildlife Trust's Nature Reserve Guide, which provides information about all the Trust's reserves is available to buy now from our online shop.

Species and habitats

Curlew, Dunlin, Sphagnum Moss

Nearby nature reserves

Butterburn Flow
1 miles - Northumberland Wildlife Trust
The Border Mires
7 miles - Northumberland Wildlife Trust
Falstone Moss
7 miles - Northumberland Wildlife Trust

Nature reserve map

Reserve information

Near Gilsland
Map reference
NY 660 758
Great for...
getting away from it all
Best time to visit
Jun - Aug
Get directions
Find out here
Public transport
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Opening Times
Open at all times
400.00 hectares
Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)
Walking information
There are no paths on the reserve and the terrain is uneven with regular blocked drains. Wellingtons or good walking boots should be worn and great care taken when walking on site.
Dogs must be on lead
Grazing animals
Reserve manager
Tel: 01539 816300