What is Rainton Meadows?

Rainton Meadows is a beautiful nature reserve that was created by the restoration of Rye Hill Opencast Coal Mine in 1996. The restoration was conducted by UK Coal in partnership with Durham Wildlife Trust and the City of Sunderland. The reserve is home to an array of wildlife and has different footpaths that take you on different routes around the reserve.

Typically, the best time of year to visit the reserve is March-September

Wildlife at Rainton Meadows

The wildlife at Rainton Meadows is rich and the reserve is excellent for birdwatching. Over 200 species have visited the reserve, including:

  • Waders such as redshanks, oystercatchers and lapwings
  • Little-ringed plover
  • All 5 UK owls
  • And many more!

As mentioned, the reserve is also home to other beautiful beasts. Roe deer and brown hares can be spotted at Rainton Meadows, as well as stoats and weasels! Not only this but the wetlands attract a number of insects, such as dragonflies and damselflies. Other insects are attracted by Rainton Meadow’s lush grasslands, particularly grassland butterflies! During the winter months, Exmoor ponies and sheep are used to manage the grasslands!

Dogs can visit the reserve. However, to protect the wildlife, keep your furry friend on a lead!

Accessibility and facilities

The terrain at Rainton Meadows is mixed, however, there are a number of level surfaced pathways. Some pathways are sloped, leading to the highest point of the reserve. Here you can look out across the reserve and further afield, the view is breathtaking!

The reserve also has 3 nature trails:

  • Heron
  • Shrew
  • Dragonfly


The reserve has a number of facilities:

  • Visitor’s centre
  • Accessible toilet
  • Toilets
  • Picnic area
  • Outdoor play area
  • Shop
  • Café/ refreshments

The visitor’s centre has wheelchair access! For those wanting to visit the lakeshore and bird hide, access is available via surfaced level footpaths, which is great for wheelchair and pushchair users! The reserve is also home to Durham Wildlife Trust’s headquarters!

Access and parking

The reserve is open 24/7, however, the car park is open 9:30 am- 4:30 pm. Similarly, the visitor centre and play area are open 10am- 4pm, 7 days a week. Entrance to the reserve is free, however, Durham Wildlife Trust suggests a small donation of £2.50 towards parking for non-Trust members.

Rainton Meadows has a network of pathways linking the reserve’s different viewing areas that look across its gorgeous lakes and wetland. The reserve also has stunning grassland and woodland.

Looking for some awesome amphibians and other pretty pondlife? Well, look no further! Joe’s Pond is a short walk from Rainton Meadows and is home to all sorts of aquatic wildlife!

Q How do I get there?

If you're travelling by car, Joe's Pond is 1 mile south-west of Houghton-le-Spring which is west of the A690. If you travel from the B1284 between Chilton Moor and Great Lumley, follow Mallard Way to the Rainton Meadows' visitor centre car park.

If you're travelling by bus, the Sunderland Durham buses stop at Rainton Bride Business Park. The reserve is then only a short walk away.

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