Silverdale - one of Lancashire's most beautiful places is becoming even better
PUBLISHED: 00:01 13 August 2012 | UPDATED: 18:34 12 May 2016
Changes are planned to make one of Lancashire's most beautiful spots even more appealing, as Susan Riley reports.
The secret lives of creatures living in one of England’s rarest habitats are about to be revealed as part of a three-year project in North Lancashire.
Five cameras are being installed in the reed beds and at other locations in Leighton Moss which will beam back images onto screens in the café of the internationally important nature reserve. The CCTV project is one of many being planned as part of a £700,000 upgrade of the flagship RSPB site.
More than 100,000 people visit the Silverdale reserve every year, many of them keen birders although lots of families stop by to see the marsh harriers, red deer, otters, lapwings, dragonflies and other wildlife. With the largest reed bed in the north west it has seen some real success stories since it opened in 1964, perhaps its greatest achievement is that it is now home to breeding bitterns although this summer the secretive Cetti’s warbler also bred there for the first time.
By the end of this year visitors to the reserve will see some major improvements – plans are under way to turn one of the car parks into a sensory garden, a new discovery area for children is being created, an outdoor classroom has been built and four of the existing seven hides are being replaced with more spacious ones, although work has been delayed as bitterns were breeding close to one of them.
A community officer has also been appointed who will work with the public to encourage individuals, schools and other groups to visit and become more involved in the reserve. Next year a platform will be built high up in the trees to provide views to Farleton Knot and over Morecambe Bay and they are also buying several metal sculptures of red deer created by Kirkby Lonsdale artist Andrew Kay.
‘We have wanted this for so many years. It was a dream come true for the whole team when the money came through,’ said Jacqui Fereday, visitor services manager. ‘The cameras will open up the world outside the reed bed. If the reed bed was not managed it would turn to woodland. It’s a full on job, I guess all we are doing is stopping time.’
Two hundred years ago Leighton Moss consisted of mudflats, then farmers drained the land and the wonderful crops they grew led to the area becoming known as the Golden Valley. Looking across the water visitors can still see one of the farms with its pump which stopped working during World War One because of fuel costs, leading to the land flooding again.
Jacqui is keen to point out the cash – £370,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund with more from Natural England, Lancashire Environmental Fund, Rural Development Programme for England and Arnside and Silverdale AONB – will benefit the whole of Morecambe Bay.
The RSPB owns almost 2,000 hectares of land locally, including all the major habitats of sandflats, limestone pavement and mature woodland and Jacqui added: ‘There are several jewels where we can enjoy the natural world, we want people to be part of the bigger picture in inspiring them and doing things about the wildlife in their area or in their gardens.
‘We want to act as a springboard, a hub to show people. It’s not just about birds, it’s about the whole conservation package. It’s a haven for wildlife and a haven for people, it’s a beautiful place to visit.’
Most visitors come from Lancashire, including Manchester and Liverpool, and many go on to become volunteers who help the 24 members of staff based at Silverdale. As part of the three-year development plan they aim to increase their 120-strong volunteer base who will be able to talk to the public about the history of the reserve as well as its flora and fauna.
Some volunteers are assigned specific tasks, such as Keith Kellett who became a volunteer 14 years ago when he retired and now spends his days counting marsh harriers. ‘I watch for the number of marsh harriers and pairings and nest sites – there’s fewer marsh harriers than golden eagles in the UK,’ the 66-year-old said. He also does bittern counts and in the winter helps out with monitoring bearded tits.
Telling the difference between the birds can be tricky but Keith says you have to look for something subtle, like a missing feather. He also does a monthly count of wading birds in Morecambe Bay, his patch is from Hest Bank to the stone jetty at Morecambe, near to where he lives.
Ted Sharples, who works for a railway company, is on the dry stone walling team as well as other bird counting tasks. He joined when he was between jobs in 1999 and since getting another job has continued to volunteer. Others have worked at the reserve and decided to volunteer in retirement. That includes the reserve’s first warden John Wilson who is an authority on the bearded tit.
‘I think one of the best things in my job is when people come for the first time and they leave and have had a magical experience. It could be something really simple – a young boy came in with his dad and had a dragonfly land on his arm. He went home and bought a book on dragonflies, he has been changed by something really simple.. I am just so proud of this place.’
It’s a beautiful bay
Susannah Bleakley knows she has taken on a task which may never end. She is working with the Morecambe Bay Partnership to improve the quality of life for people who live around the Bay, and to make the area even more appealing to visitors.
‘It is a tremendously important place,’ she said. ‘And although Morecambe Bay could be seen as being on the edge of Lancashire and on the edge of the Lake District, we want to make sure it is at the heart of things and I am really excited about the possibilities.
‘There is a huge number of people all round the bay doing fantastic work and building really important partnerships to make people more aware of the importance of the bay and its cultural and natural significance.’
To do that the partnership is applying for grants to improve access, understanding and enjoyment of the bay, give tourism a boost and to develop a Nature Improvement Area to help landowners and wildlife.
‘Morecambe Bay is a kaleidoscope of sea, sky, colour and sound – it’s a real feast for the sense,’ Susannah added. ‘The views, the scale and the grandeur of the bay is awesome and we want to make sure that visitors have the best experience they can.
‘There’s a wonderful richness to the bay. Man has been tied to and shaping the bay for millennia through fishing and farming and many people find the area very spiritual as well, the scale of the place helps give a sense of perspective and helps people transcend their every day worries.’
For Susannah though, a former geologist for oil giants Shell, the bay is her every day worry. ‘The work is never done. There will always be new opportunities, new ideas and new ways of bringing the story alive.
‘I know what an amazing place it is because I spent holidays here as a child with my grandfather who lived near Grange, and because I live and work here now. Now I want everyone else to realize
The road to Silverdale
Where it is: Silverdale stands on the north eastern edge of Morecambe Bay, about five miles from junction 35 on the M6.
Where to park: There is free on street parking around Silverdale and since plans to convert The Royal Hotel in flats have been withdrawn, the old pub car park is free, too.
What to do: Admire the views, watch the sunset, spot the birds and enjoy the fresh air and big skies.
Did you know: Silverdale stands at the dividing point between the Lancashire and Cumbria coastal paths. Heading south out of the village, the Lancashire path stretches to Freckleton on the Fylde coast, while walkers heading north can reach Gretna.
And don’t forget your camera – upload your photographs of Silverdale to our website and they could win you great prizes in our super photo competition. Upload your photos by clicking the red button