I have to confess that although Brockholes Nature Reserve opened its doors in 2011 I only made my first visit this year, I suppose better late than never would be an apt adage.
Brockholes is situated in the flood-plain of the River Ribble, near Preston, Lancashire and easily accessed by exiting the M6 motorway at junction 31 and following the signs. The motorway is so close you can even see the cars traversing a flyover whilst exploring Brockholes. Considering how close you are to the motorway there is only a slight hum of traffic in the background and it certainly doesn’t affect the wildlife in the area.
Brockholes is owned by the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside and comprises of 127 hectares of mixed wetlands and ancient woodlands.
There is no charge for entering the reserve but you do have to pay for parking if you arrive by car. There is plenty of space to park so even on busier days you should be able to find a spot. They use a car registration recognition system for parking charges and you can pay by cash or card when you leave.
The gates to the reserve open at 6am and an early start can often provide great rewards. You can encounter spectacular sunrises coupled with sightings of brown hares, deer and the very popular kestrel that appears to frequent the children’s play area, it is very partial to sand baths. The reserve at the early hours is quite peaceful and quiet with only a handful of like minded early risers to be seen.
The Visitor Village opens at 10am and the visitor numbers start to increase throughout the day and the reserve can get quite busy, proving it to be a popular attraction. Decent wildlife spotting is not restricted to the early hours however, I have spent many a late morning having a wander with the family and encountered a vast array of wildlife.
In my opinion the reserve can be split into four areas, all of which provide their own unique attributes.
- The Visitor Village and Meadow Lake
- The walk alongside the River Ribble.
- The wetland area consists of Number 1 Pit, Ribbleton Pool, Nook Pool and Boilton Marsh
- Boilton Wood, an area of ancient woodland
The Brockholes Visitor Centre is made up of floating structures on an island of pontoons which provides it with unlimited flood protection, ideal foresight when the reserve is built on a flood plain. The centre is quite an impressive and photogenic structure and provides the usual facilities, it also has a vantage point for viewing out towards Meadow Lake.
Meadow Lake is quite shallow, especially when water levels are low and there are a large variety of wading birds feeding on small invertebrates in the exposed mud. The reed fringes also are quite impressive and vast array of birds make it their habitat judging by the wide variety of sounds that emanate from the reeds, Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings to name but two. An osprey platform has also been erected in the lake and there have been frequent sightings of an osprey in the area, hopefully I’ll catch sight of one soon.
The walk along the River Ribble can also provide a pleasant saunter, especially during the warmer months and picnickers can be seen decamped along the riverbank. The walk which is tree lined to one side and the river on the other provides plenty of opportunities to see wildlife. Deer and hares have been seen and also egrets and herons fishing in the well stocked river. You may also be lucky enough to see the blue flash of the kingfisher as he swoops by.
The large wetland area covers quite an expanse and you can spend a good few hours walking around the well maintained designated paths.
Number One Pit is the largest body of water and used to be a gravel pit with uniform steep edges, a far cry from how it looks now. With heavy machinery, earth was pushed into the pit to create shallow underwater ledges and peninsulas where birds can roost and feed, safe from predators. Diving ducks now use the lakes to forage for aquatic vegetation and invertebrates, and Great Crested Grebe hunt for fish. You'll also see plenty of other birds like Oystercatchers, Little Ringed Plover and one of my favourites the Lapwing.
Similar fare can be seen at Ribbleton Pool but there is a lot less tree cover surrounding the body of water and as such some spectacular sunrises and sunsets can be had.
Boilton Marsh is a wet grassland habitat and is ideal for breeding wading birds such as Lapwing, Redshank and Snipe. They now have a herd of herd of longhorn cattle to graze the reserve and they thrive on the coarse grasses and rushes and provide the low grassland sward that encourages wading birds to nest.
Boilton Wood is part of the biggest, longest stretch of ancient woodland in Lancashire and is a site of special scientific interest. It has probably covered this slope above the River Ribble for centuries which is highlighted by indicator species such as bluebells which tend to grow naturally only in very old woods. A wide variety of species can be seen and one may even be lucky and catch sight of deer or the elusive woodpecker.
Entering the woods using the path that leads from the River Ribble, there is an area with tree stumps and fallen trunks, here you will find many an opportunity to sit and just watch the woodland birds going about their business. Keep your eyes peeled for one of the many cute bank voles in residence.
All in all my family and I have now had many a good outing to Brockholes, it caters for all tastes and ages and I’d heartily recommended a visit, you won’t be disappointed.