Breary Marsh lies adjacent to Golden Acre Park in Bramhope and can be reached from the car park for Golden Acre Park just off the A660 Otley Road, or from the network of paths which enter the site from various points leading from Bramhope and Cookridge which also provide excellent access through the site.
The reserve is the best and most diverse example of a wet valley alder wood and associated floodplain habitat known in West Yorkshire, which is why much of the site is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest. These habitats were once frequent along stream and river valleys in the county but they are now sadly localised and fragmented.
As the name of the reserve implies, it contains a number of “wet” habitats such as fen, alder and willow carr (another name for wet woodland) and wet meadow. These are mainly to be found on the northern side of the site, adjacent to the car park. Here the ground is low-lying and the soils are waterlogged. However, as you walk into the site, the ground begins to rise slightly, and the soils become progressively drier. Now the wet woodland gives way to a drier woodland habitat dominated by oak and birch with localised planted beech, hornbeam and sycamore dating back to the 19th century. The drier ground conditions are also reflected in the woodland flora as carpets of bluebell, wood anemone, wood sorrel and lesser celandine intermingle with ferns and creeping soft grass replaces moisture-loving reeds, rushes and sedges, the most significant being the large mounds of the tussock sedge. Similarly, the triangular area of meadow adjacent to the Otley Road also grades from wetter ground on the northern side of the site, to become drier as the meadow runs parallel with the road. The wet meadow feature plants such as meadowsweet, ragged robin and wild angelica whilst common spotted orchid, valerian, bird’s-foot trefoil and greater stitchwort can be found in the drier meadow.
The southern-most end of the reserve contains Paul’s Pond, a fish pond belonging to the Cookridge Hall estate, which was dug in the 1820s by Richard Wormald to provide fish and ice to the kitchens, but actually named after William Paul who bought the estate in 1890. The pond is popular with waterfowl, particularly in the winter and if you’re very lucky, kingfisher may also be seen.