From industrial site to national gem

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Your weekend walk with Bob Clare of www.lancashirewalks.com

In the annuals of nature conservation the story of Mere Sands Wood near Rufford in West Lancashire is a remarkable one.The site was laid out as a covert for game birds in the early 19th century and planted with oak and rhododendron. Geologically the wood is located on a bed of sand which was formed when the area had a vast lake Martin Mere which was England’s largest until it was drained in the 18th century to create fertile arable land. The sand had value – especially in the process of glass making. In 1958 the wood was sold to a sand extraction company which during the years of its operation supplied the Pilkington glassworks at St Helens. Now comes the remarkable bit – as a condition of planning permission it was agreed that once the sand was extracted the wood would become a nature reserve. In 1982 a conservation group of what would later be renamed as the Wildlife Trust (Lancashire, Greater Manchester and North Merseyside) bought the wood for a nominal sum and started work on the reserve.

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Today the 100 acre site is a haven for wildlife. At its heart are the lakes created by the extraction process which attract waterfowl. These are surrounded by woodland mainly broadleaf with birch predominating but also oak, beech, sycamore and pine. In all there are over 30 species of tree to be seen. The woodland provides a habitat for birds, small mammals and insects.

This time of year is a rewarding time to visit Mere Sands Wood. Winter wildfowl populations include nationally important numbers of Teal and Gadwall together with Widgeon, Pintail and Shoveler. On the trails look out for fungi. Over 200 species have been recorded on the reserve including Fly Agaric, Dead-man’s Fingers, Tawny Grissette and Chicken of the Woods. The Friends of Mere Sands Wood have produced a series of leaflets detailing the flora and fauna of the reserve. Better still sign up for one of guided walks on offer.

From a walking perspective Mere Sands Wood is a wonderful place to bring families even if they are not into serious bird-watching. The paths are well laid out and maintained, the routes are clearly signed and there are numerous information boards explaining what there is to be seen. For those of you who prefer longer walks it offers a base to explore this fascinating area of Lancashire with footpaths link it to the WWF Reserve of Martin Mere (and has been previously described on this page).

Thanks to the Wildlife Trust its officers and volunteers what was an industrial site has been turned into a national gem. I was able to see the reserve almost as the diggers were pulling out back in the summer of 1982 when a colleague and I from nearby Tarleton High School were given a tour by one of the volunteers. I have been back many times over the years most recently with my son and grandson in August. Mere Sands Wood never fails to provide interest and enjoyment no matter what age you are.

For further information go to www.lancswt.org.uk/nature-reserves/mere-sands-wood-nature-reserve

Walk Facts

Start: Mere Sands Wood visitors centre L40 1TG Car park pay & display.

Distance: 1.5miles

Time: 1 hour but much longer if intent on bird watching.

Summary: Easy – pushchair and wheelchair friendly

Map: OS Explorer 285 Southport and Chorley

Directions

From the visitor centre armed with a map of the reserve return to the car park and on the far side turn left between a cabin and the fence of kennels. The White Trail edges along the perimeter of the reserve at times some distance from the water relatively speaking but you’ll have an early opportunity to see it at Marshall Hide. If you are not expert in identifying birds worry not at there is a comprehensive poster displayed on the walk of the hide. Polite inquiry to anyone with binoculars may also give you an idea of what might be seen. At this time of year (autumn) the first of the winter migratory birds arrive. The next hide up is Ainscough. When we checked the walk out we were informed that a there was a parliament of Tawny Owls in the vicinity but we contrived to miss them.

At the west end of the reserve a footpath leads out towards Holmeswood village. Keep left heading south through birch and rhododendron and then after a bridge bear left to come to the path leading to first Redwing Hide and a short way further along Rufford Hide. Soon after the track divides with the Blue Trail taking you through an area of wet heath. The White Trail goes right through pine woodland following a drainage channel (Rufford Boundary Sluice) on the edge of arable land. When the path reaches the exit to the cricket ground keep left and after another footpath exit to the right come to the path for the Cyril Gibbons Hide. The final part of the circuit passes by yet another habitat – the meadow which in spring and summer supports many species of wildflowers and insects. Shortly after this arrive back at the start.

- Walk devised and described by Bob Clare www.lancashirewalks.com Checked out by Darling Frank.