Friday, 12 April 2013

A golden opportunity ...

Mere Sands Wood, Lancashire

Simply stunning ...


Passport in hand (and phrase book at the ready), I recently took a long overdue opportunity to travel north and visit several locations in west Lancashire with friend and professional wildlife photographer Steven Round. Steve, who is based on the Wirral and specialises in bird photography, has had many hundreds of photographs published in books, calendars, advertising, educational literature and magazines (including many front covers). His images have also appeared on television, including the BBC programmes Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Countryfile. Steve's website can be found at www.stevenround-birdphotography.com. I highly recommend a look ...

Mere Sands Wood is a wildlife-rich haven in the heart of agricultural west Lancashire. It is owned and managed by Lancashire Wildlife Trust. The reserve covers 42 hectares (105 acres) of lakes, mature broadleaved and conifer woodland, sandy, wet meadows and heaths. In addition to its geology the site is of national importance for wildfowl and dragonflies and has a fascinating history. It stands on a large area of layered sand and peat, which was deposited by the wind over boulder clay during the last Ice Age and by periods of water logging following this period. The sand and peat layers have remained almost undisturbed since this time and are therefore of international importance in the understanding of the changes that occurred to the Lancashire coastline since the ice retreated northwards. In addition to the site's status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the geological interest warranted the reserve being designated as a Geological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1985.



The name 'Mere Sands' dates back to medieval times when the area was on the shore of a vast lake called 'Martin Mere'. Over time the area was gradually drained for agriculture along with large areas of surrounding peatland. Prior to drainage it formed the largest body of fresh water in England.

The sand proved to be of value for glass-making and extraction companies quarried the site between 1974 and 1982. During this period, the Wildlife Trust, its members and the local community worked with Lancashire County Council to require the extraction company, under a planning agreement, to landscape the site into a nature reserve once the extraction was completed. Close liaison with the quarrying company ensured that belts of the best woodland were left undisturbed during extraction to save as much wildlife as possible and screen the works. Extracted areas were landscaped into shallow-edged lakes with marsh and dry heath conditions nearby. On completion of the sand-winning, restoration and landscaping the Trust acquired the site in its entirety in 1982.

The mature woodland is mainly Birch with some Oak but there is also a mature Scots Pine plantation in the south-east corner of the reserve, which supports a small population of red squirrels. Large amounts of Rhododendron have been removed from the reserve, which has allowed the re-establishment of native flora such as Broad Buckler Fern and several species of Bramble. Over 200 species of fungi have been recorded. The lakes are developing an interesting aquatic flora; some of this has been augmented with the establishment of locally sourced reed beds on the lake shores. Wet grasslands and dry heaths occur on areas refilled after sand extraction and now support many wildflowers including Marsh Helleborine, Common Spotted, Early and Southern Marsh and Bee Orchids and notable populations of Golden Dock, Yellow Bartsia, Yellow-wort, Lesser Centaury and Royal Fern.


From a personal perspective, the main wildlife interest at Mere Sands is the over-wintering birds; particularly wildfowl. Winter populations include nationally important numbers of Gadwall and Teal, as well as Wigeon, Pintail, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye (males pictured above) and Goosander. Locally important species include Mandarin Duck and Kingfisher and there are annual sightings of Willow Tit and Lesser-spotted Woodpecker. Tree Sparrow and Reed Bunting (female pictured above) can be found feeding amongst the Phragmites. Breeding species include Great Crested and Little Grebes, Shelduck (male pictured above), Gadwall, Pochard and Tufted Duck, alongside Little Ringed Plover and Lapwing. Over 170 bird species have been recorded on the reserve, of which 60 are known to have bred.

I highly recommend a visit ...

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