Author: Annabel Rushton

Funding boosts woodland restoration project for rare butterflies at our Challan Hall Allotment

We’re really pleased to announce an exciting woodland restoration project at our Challan Hall Allotment nature reserve in Silverdale, a satellite site of Leighton Moss. Thanks to generous funding, work can begin later this year to restore the reserve for rare butterflies.

Historically the site had a wonderful mixture of open limestone pavement and grassland, as well as woodland, all of which is required by these butterflies. However, since the 1940s the area has become increasingly overgrown and the open areas that used to benefit a whole host of wildlife have mostly been lost to predominantly woodland.

Since 2001, we have owned the site and our small team of wardens and fantastic volunteers have been maintaining it. Now this larger scale restoration has been able to take place thanks to the generous support of the Lancashire Environmental Fund, Arnside & Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Grants Fund (operated by Arnside & Silverdale AONB and the Arnside/Silverdale Landscape Trust working together), and with assistance from wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation.

The surrounding landscape is home to a number of nationally rare and threatened butterflies. Initial restoration work over two years has been planned in collaboration with Natural England, who manage nearby Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve. The hope is for the work to provide more wildlife corridors between these existing nature reserves to link populations together, as well as creating new areas to try and help boost the numbers of these rare butterflies.

The AONB is a key location for many of our rarest butterflies such as high brown fritillaries and Duke of Burgundy, which are not found in many places in this country. However, like a lot of the UK’s butterflies, their numbers are worryingly in decline. This means it’s critical to think about corridors and connections for wildlife movement. It’s all about working in partnership, making sure nature reserves aren’t isolated and sit within a bigger, better, more connected landscape.

  High brown fritillary by David Mower

Traditional practices using local workers are being restarted in the woodland including coppicing, where trees are cut down in patches over a number of years and then allowed to re-grow. Initially this creates a flush of wild flowers, especially violets for the rare fritillaries to lay their eggs on. A whole range of other wildlife also benefits from having trees at a range of ages, including bats and birds.

Some overgrown areas of limestone pavement and grassland will also be opened up, bringing more sunlight into the reserve. These habitats provide a home not only to specialised plants but also to other rare species like the distinctive white spotted-sable moth.

We are very excited to be working closely with local coppice workers to deliver this project and we look forward to seeing how wildlife responds in the coming years.

Much of Challan Hall Allotment isn’t publicly accessible, but there is a bridleway running through the middle that also gives you great views over Silverdale Moss, one of Leighton Moss’ sister reedbeds. Check out the map of the ANOB here (the Challan Hall Allotment bridleway is the one that runs right through the middle of the Silverdale Moss label).

Blog Post: Upcoming changes at Marshside

The Ribble Estuary is vast, stretching from Lytham St Annes on the north side, down to Southport on the south side. Between the two, the great expanse of marvellous mudflats and saltmarsh are a vital home for nature. Mud might not sound particularly appetising to us, but it’s crucial for quarter of a million birds that are drawn in by it every year. Ribble mud is a canteen – it is packed full of cockles and shrimps and l ugworms , mussels and more. Tasty morsels to feed a variety of appetites. Curlews , dunlin , black-tailed godwits , redshanks , swirling flocks of knot , and oystercatchers in abundance feed on the estuary. Their differing beak lengths and shapes allow them all to find food within the mud layers. Redshank by Tim Melling In winter, the Ribble Estuary is also synonymous with pink-footed geese . Tens of thousands of them come here every year from their breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland, for the comparatively milder weather here on the saltmarsh and fields. You can spot them flying in V-formation overhead and hear their distinctive “wink-wink” sound. They are joined by a variety of ducks that come to spend the colder months here too. At Marshside wigeons , teals , shovelers , tufted ducks and pintails are a colour palette on the pools, brightening up gloomy north west winter days. Pink-footed geese by Chris Gomersall ( It’s not just the wetter months that bring such treasures. In spring elegant avocets arrive to breed at Marshside. As the emblem of the RSPB they represent a remarkable success story . and are a joy to watch, as they raise their young in front of the hide. You can also experience the incredible sight and sound of lapwings as they tumble and swoop overhead, making a noise like a 90s computer game – “peewit, peeeewit” – displaying to a mate and warding off threats to their nest. And when it comes to sound, there’s not much that can beat the glorious, erratic tune of male skylarks as they sing to appeal to the ladies out on the marsh. Avocet by Ben Andrew ( The Ribble Estuary is one of the most important places for birds in Europe and so has been designated as a National Nature Reserve (NNR) and a Special Protection Area (SPA) offering high levels of protection. The Ribble Estuary NNR , which includes our Marshside and Hesketh Out Marsh reserves, is England’s third largest NNR and is one of the Top Ten most important wetlands in the UK for the numbers of water birds that live here, which is why it is so important to protect it. That’s not to mention the abundance of brown hares , butterflies, other incredible insects and specialist plants that live here too. We’ve recently purchased Crossens Inner Marsh to take even more wildlife under our wing. But it isn’t all here by magic. Saving Saltmarsh The saltmarsh and wetlands of Marshside are not only home to a range of incredible creatures, from insects, to plants, mammals and birds that thrive in this harsh environment. They also benefit people, by reducing flood risk to homes and businesses and helping to tackle climate change by storing carbon. Sadly though, much of the saltmarsh and wetlands in this country have been lost to human activity such as development and agriculture, and are further threatened by climate change, making this reserve vitally important for wildlife and people. That is why it is so crucial to protect the landscape here at Marshside and the wildlife that lives in it all year round. When visiting the saltmarsh, we ask that visitors stay on the waymarked track (known as ‘Redshank Road’) only, because venturing onto the marsh can cause serious disturbance to both wintering and nesting birds, and can also be hazardous for people and dogs. Many of the birds here have flown thousands of miles from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to spend the autumn and winter months here. Other birds spend the spring and summer months here and use the saltmarsh to raise their families. The over-wintering birds come here to feed or to ‘roost’ (rest and conserve energy). Winter is a particularly stressful time for these birds, some of which may have lost half of their body weight during migration. They need to be able to rest and feed on the marshes undisturbed, to regain condition and put on enough weight to survive the winter and make the migration back to their breeding grounds in the spring. Unfortunately, the birds here are often unintentionally disturbed by human activities such as dog walking, walking, birdwatching, drones, model airplanes and kites. The birds perceive these to be predators and so the effect of this disturbance is great. Disturbing birds does more than simply causing them to fly away; it uses up their energy reserves, decreasing their chances of survival. Once disturbed, birds take a long time to settle and will remain alert for a long time afterwards. This means they cannot rest properly after a disturbance event. In the breeding season, disturbance often causes parents to leave their nests or young, exposing their eggs or chicks to the weather and to predators and reducing their chances of survival. The nesting birds here nest on the ground and because their nests and young are very well camouflaged, it is very easy for visitors to unintentionally disturb or damage them without being aware that they have done so. There isn’t a very long history of the marsh being used by the general public, as up until sand-winning ceased in 2006 , there was big dumper trucks to contend with during the day, putting off all but the keenest of folk. These large vehicles are now gone, but there are still continuing safety implications for people accessing the marsh. Warning signs are up to highlight the hazards of incoming tides, strong winds, soft mud and gullies. However tempting the landscape looks, visitors should stick to the waymarked route and always be mindful of high tide times, to avoid getting stranded or caught out by the sea. We can’t protect the landscape or wildlife of Marshside without your help. From the end of July 2019, we’re making some changes. Car parking charges will be introduced at Marshside for non-members. These will be as follows: Up to 2 hours – £1.50 Over 2 hours – £3 As a charity, we must maximise our opportunities to raise income wherever possible. This allows us to financially support our charitable purpose of conserving wildlife and habitats, while maintaining our visitor facilities and providing excellent, inspiring experiences for our visitors. The income generated through the car parking charges will contribute to the ongoing cost of running the facilities visitors use at Marshside, including reserve entry for all those arriving in that car and use of all visitor facilities (which includes the car park, visitor centre, toilets, trails and hides). It also supports the vital conservation work we carry out here to help wildlife. RSPB members will of course receive free car parking as a thank you for regularly supporting our nature conservation work – why not join the RSPB today and get free entry to all RSPB nature reserves. Additionally, from summer 2019, a gate will be installed at the entrance to the car park at Marshside. It will mean that the car park is locked of an evening, open during the visitor centre opening hours of 8.30am-5pm, 365 days a year. Unfortunately, we have anti-social behaviour taking place in the car park at night, including a large amount of littering, so we hope that by making the car park inaccessible outside of opening hours, we can discourage this. We appreciate that these hours are not always ideal for those wishing to visit the reserve in the early mornings and evenings. In future, we hope to be able to extend these hours if we can get some additional volunteer help in spring and summer, to support with locking up overnight. We are a small team here, so currently staffing this later is not practical. If you would be interested in becoming a car park attendant volunteer, helping on our conservation work parties, or becoming a guide in our hide, then we’d love to hear from you: Marshside by David Morris

Blog Post: An exciting addition to Marshside!

Thanks to funding from Biffa Award , we are taking even more birds under our wing on the Ribble Estuary after recently purchasing Crossens Inner Marsh, a wet grassland area adjacent to Marshside. The marsh, which is already home to over-wintering birds such as wigeons , pink-footed geese , black-tailed godwits and golden plovers , covers an area about the size of 38 football pitches. Over £464,000 funding from Biffa Award enabled us to purchase the land recently and will also fund major improvements to the marsh, which will benefit rare and unusual wildlife including nesting lapwings , redshanks , and avocets – which are the emblem of the RSPB, along with brown hares . The habitat works, which will take place after the breeding season this summer, will also improve the control of water levels on the reserve helping to prevent prolonged flooding of the rare coastal grassland. Avocet by Ben Andrew ( Purchasing Crossens Inner Marsh is the final piece of the jigsaw for us, not only as an extension to our well known Marshside reserve, but also in the completion of the Ribble Estuary National Nature Reserve (NNR) . We’re working in partnership here with Natural England who oversee England’s NNRs, which enables us to do more for nature by creating opportunities for bigger, better and more joined-up management of these vital wild spaces. Much of the wider Ribble Estuary is managed as England’s third largest NNR and is one of the Top 10 most important wetlands in the UK for the numbers of water birds that live here. Some have travelled thousands of miles from the north to spend the winter months, others choose the area in spring and summer to raise their families, whilst some live here all year round. Our new site at Crossens Inner Marsh, and indeed the whole of the Ribble Estuary NNR, is home to a range of incredible creatures that thrive in this harsh environment. In addition to sheltering birds and mammals from human disturbance, the site is stuffed with mini-beasts, which provide a feast for wetland birds. The marsh also benefits people, by reducing the flood risk from the sea to homes and businesses. Sadly, much of the coastal grassland in this country has been lost to human developments and it is further threatened by rising sea levels caused by climate change, making this place crucial to protect. We’re so thankful to Biffa Award for the funding that has allowed us to purchase and improve Crossens Inner Marsh for nature and for people. Gillian French, Biffa Award Head of Grants, said: “It is really important that we continue to support projects like this which provide and enhance habitats for a wide range of species. We can’t wait to see even more birds using the site following the improvements.” We’re excited to see how this site blossoms for nature over the coming years. Map of Marshside showing the addition of Crossen Inner Marsh highlighted in yellow

Spectacular signs of spring

The sun is shining and spring is well and truly here. Our marsh harriers (two males and four females) have been performing their sky dancing routines to impress each other for the breeding season. Keep your eyes peeled for them all around the reedbed.

The great crested grebes at Causeway Pool can be spotted weed dancing like they’re in the Strictly Come Dancing final. They’re so lovely to watch as they pass weeds and nesting material to one another. 

Most exciting of all is the boom of the bittern which can be heard in the mornings and evenings (and sometimes bits in the day too). If you stand on the Causeway by the ‘Boom goes the bittern’ interpretation panel (very handy), you can hear him in the reeds across the other side of the Causeway Pool at Island Mere. He is distant but his voice is loud and carries well. He often takes three breaths before a sequence of eight-nine booms. It is the strangest, most spectacular sound of spring at Leighton Moss. 

  Bittern by Ben Andrew (

The migrants are also rolling in. A huge flock of 200+ sand martins can be seen feeding on insects over the reedbed. You have to be quick to catch a photo as they zoom past but they are a joy to watch. Of an evening they are almost like a starling murmuration as they fly round en mass together, quite high above the reeds, catching insects. A sure sign of spring, we’re hoping they will take an interest in the sand martin bank at Tim Jackson hide that we installed last year.

Our Visitor Operations Manager Kevin was lucky to have the mother otter and her cubs running towards him on the Causeway this week! Always a delight to see, keep an eye out for them on the Causeway and Lower Pools. 

Avocet numbers are now topping 50 so head to the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides to watch these elegant birds that are the emblem of the RSPB. You will likely discover a huge flock of black-tailed godwits there too – looking fabulous in their rusty-red summer outfits. 

With all of this and more to discover, new migrants like ospreys due in any day (and not forgetting it’s Mother’s Day, the perfect opportunity to treat your mum to a day wildlife watching and some cake in the cafe), we hope to see you soon!

To intervene or not to intervene – that is the question?

With the incredibly exciting news that we have bitterns breeding again for the first time in a decade, our Site Manager Jarrod Sneyd recalls his lifelong passion for this iconic species here at Leighton Moss, and how we’ve made the recovery happen

I did not think much about intervening in anything when I was a boy of 8 yrs old. I was just a bit obsessed by all things birds.

My parents ‘landed’ with their little caravan at Fell End Caravan Park, near Beetham, just a handful of minutes as the crow flies to Leighton Moss. My grandparents stayed in a posh hotel at Cartmel and we would come together as a family. As my gran was a life-fellow of the RSPB, and I had become a Young Ornithologist (now Wildlife Explorers), Leighton Moss would be an essential part of the holiday’s itinerary. My grandad and parents would just have to tag along (or sleep in the car as my granddad would often do!)

I remember the little reception hut (like a garden shed) that was located near the start of the path that now runs to our new boardwalk. There was a charismatic chap there with a flash of blonde hair and an energetic personality (which I realised later was John Wilson, the Senior Warden). He handed us our permits and we wandered along the narrow path, completely enclosed by reeds, to the Y.O.C hide (now Lilian’s hide). This was not simply a journey through reeds to a hide overlooking water and hopefully lots of birds though, it was full of anticipation, full of mystery..the obsession…the bird of the bog…the elusive, the secretive, the mythical…THE BITTERN!

I spent two hours in that hide with my gran, watching every reed to see if it would move. Despite seeing bitterns in bird books I couldn’t imagine how one would look for real. Then someone pointed one out…oh my goodness – where is it? I still couldn’t see it. I kept looking and looking but only had binoculars, and then a sympathetic ‘expert’ let me peer through his telescope. I couldn’t believe it – it was ‘star-pointing’ – stood with its bill straight up in the air, perfectly camouflaged, just in the reeds not far from the edge of the water – and it didn’t move an inch as I watched. I was so excited and have never forgotten this experience.

Ever since then, I have had a connection with Leighton Moss and bitterns – and the place and bird have had a well-known association for many years. It was the place to see bitterns in northern England and for a period, one of the best places in the country to spot them.

And so it was, with the loss of the reedbeds on which they depend, bitterns sadly declined nationally (at their lowest ebb in the 1990s when the population dropped to 11 males), Leighton remained a stronghold.

It continued to be a stronghold through all the years that I made return visits to Leighton Moss after my first bittern initiation. Then in 1990 I came to live on site for 12 months as a residential volunteer. It was still the place to be for bitterns and I remember doing a bittern boom count in the early hours of the day. My shift was one of many, meaning that as a team we counted the ‘boom sequences’ over a full 24 hour period (when a bittern booms, it does several in one go and that set up of booms is called a ‘boom sequence’). Below is an example of a bittern boom count.

The peak booming is just before it comes light and when I did the count it was similar to this one. Imagine that at 4.30am on a May morning – the place was alive with the sound of bitterns booming, so much so that it would be almost impossible to have time to write down the boom sequences. In this case there were 27 booms in a 15 minute period – that’s a bird booming every 30 seconds!

It was in 1990 that we also caught ‘Phil the bittern’. Glen Tyler, researcher extraordinare (in the image below), banged on the door of the volunteers accommodation one day. He had spent many months figuring out how to catch a bittern and finally, there he was, with a bittern! He needed help to weigh, ring and radio-tag the bird, so in a panic I rushed out to help. The radio-tag meant we could follow it around (we did for many months), working out its favourite places. My relationship with bitterns became even more intimate!

   Glen Tyler, bittern researcher, with ‘Phil’the bittern’

After that year, as I headed off on my career in conservation (Symonds Yat, Highnam Woods, the Farne Islands…) I didn’t imagine that I too would become a bittern researcher. Then in 1997 I came back to Leighton Moss to do just that.I located bittern territories and found a nest.

Below is one of the less than technical maps I produced, showing that even then there were three booming bitterns at Leighton Moss and it remained a stronghold, with only 11 left in the country. I became so obsessed that I stayed put for another seven years. I transitioned into the role of Assistant Warden and my personal journey with Leighton and bitterns was almost complete.


And so, back to the question, to intervene or not intervene? Well, after being a stronghold for so long, bitterns sadly declined at Leighton Moss, to the point that from 2003 onwards, there was just a single bird booming and even then, for many years, it just did a half-hearted boom at the beginning of the season and then just gave up. But thanks to conservation efforts, bitterns were actually starting to do well nationally (166 boomers last year), so what was the problem at Leighton? The reedbed was getting old and drier with the year on year build-up of reed litter. The water bodies were becoming shallower with a build-up of silt and there were issues around water quality.

So, why decide to make some big interventions? Why for just one booming bird? That one bird is the reason that Leighton Moss is a European Designated Special Protection Area ,so we have an obligation to make sure it is in good condition for bitterns and to hopefully keep them breeding. Reedbed is also an extremely scarce habitat in north west England (and indeed throughout the UK). Having bitterns is a great indication that you’ve got a good, healthy reedbed, that’s also home to many other reedbed specialists and a variety of more generalist wildlife too. Some might have argued to just let Leighton do its own thing, let nature take its course. It would have become drier and scrubbed over, becoming wet woodland. In a natural landscape without sea walls, embanked rivers and lots of artificial drainage, reedbeds would come and go – aging here, appearing there. But we live in man-made landscapes, reedbeds can’t come and go, so we need to cherish the jewels that remain!  

Maintaining Leighton Moss as a high quality reedbed for bitterns called for radical action! We decided to go on a journey of removing silt from the pools and ditches to take the reedbed back in time. It was getting old and as bitterns like young reedbed, in the earlier stages of development, we needed to dig it out in places. This technique had worked well at Minsmere in Suffolk and had transformed an ailing bittern population (down to just one booming male) to around 10 males there.

  The Kori excavator used to clear the silt from the pools and ditches and dig ‘holes’ in the reedbed

Unfortunately, Leighton was an altogether different ball game! Different ground conditions, different reed condition. Though the silt removal from the pools worked well to improve the water quality and restore fish populations, the areas we excavated to revitalise the reedbed just ended up as gloopy mud. Also, though there were some small signs of reedbed spread, it was also clear that a growing red deer population was impacting on any potential recovery as they were also causing considerable damage elsewhere in the reedbed.

And so, we put in an additional water control structure at Leighton Moss so that we could drain down half the reedbed, the idea being that the muddy, gloopy areas would dry out, the surface of the reedbed would be aerated and stabilise, and suitable conditions for plant colonisation would be created in the excavated areas. We also started to manage deer. Leighton Moss being the only place in the Arnside and Silverdale AONB where there was no form of deer management meant it had become a focal point for the red deer of the area, disproportionately increasing the impact of their damage to the reedbed.

   The new water control system that was installed

It has been a long-winded story – a blog with many branches! But look below and see the recovery of the excavated areas. All the vegetation starting to take hold in the bottom images. Then imagine what it’s like, after all those years of trying new things, trying controversial things (but knowing that if you don’t do anything, bittern demise is near certain), when a bittern starts to boom properly again and for the first time in a decade we have a female bittern nesting (and near the excavated areas and in part of the reedbed we dried out for several years!!!!!) 

As a little boy of 8, marveling at this mythical bird, I was able to see one on my first visit. That’s not been the case as I hit my 40s – whilst we have alwas had regu;ar bitterns through the winter, sightings in recent summer months have been few and far between. This summer, there have been many sightings from the Causeway hide as the female flies backwards and forwards on feeding flights – taking food to her chicks. It has been a long road to recovery, but we are making the first steps. We need to keep intervening, we need to keep Leighton Moss dynamic. It wouldn’t be the special place it is without doing it, for bitterns and for all wildlife here. For me the answer to the original question, is without doubt, ‘To intervene’.  

– Jarrod   

   Two ‘excavated areas before (top) and after (bottom) all this new reedbed management










The sights and sounds of autumn

What’s your favourite season? In this week’s guest blog, our Visitor Operations Manager Kevin Kelly explains why he loves this time of year…..

Autumn is an incredible time for bird migration. The numbers involved are far greater than spring, due to this year’s young joining in on the arduous journey. That is not the only incredible part though. There is also the sheer wonderment that these juvenile birds, are almost pre-programmed to navigate to their winter home.

Later this week I will also be partly migrating. I will be heading north to a gem of an island on the same latitude as parts of Norway. The island of Fair Isle, out on its own in the sea between mainland Shetland to the North and Orkney to the South. It is for the very reason above that I will be making that journey – bird migration.

Late September and through October is an exciting time of year in the calendar for someone interested in birds. Waves of southbound geese begin their movement, accompanied by thousands of winter thrushes. An almost daily conveyer belt of birds pass over Fair Isle, with many making landfall to refuel and rest before ambling south.

One of my highlights of this autumn spectacle is the change in sounds. The distinctive calls of pink-footed geese as they fly in formation, giving way to the high pitched “Tseeep” of redwings as they make their way to our gardens, parks and nature reserves for the coming winter months. A harsh “chatter” of fieldfare contrasting with the gentle “tssit” of the tiny goldcrests. Nature’s musical in full swing.

Fast forward a few weeks and I will be heading south to the Isles of Scilly to witness more migration in action and witness the contrasts and similarities in species involved. This time of year often brings species caught up in the wrong winds, either sent over the Atlantic by strong westerly winds, or pushed across from the east from places like Siberia to the UK. Bushes and trees can be alive with hundreds of goldcrests, chiffchaffs and small numbers of rarer warblers such as the diminutive yellow-browed warbler with its distinct “Tseeweep” call.

Spot the yellow browed warbler by Kevin Kelly

Autumn has been good so far at Leighton Moss, with the best mix being found on the saltmarsh at the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides. The pools have been awash with wading birds. Up to five avocets have been joined by 90 plus little egrets, 26 greenshanks and four spotted redshanks. Other sightings have included little stints, and over one thousand black-tailed godwits too. In the reedbed, otter sightings have been great at the Causeway hide as well as regular calling bearded tits, getting ready to start visiting our grit trays later this month. A single marsh harrier has been keeping an eye on the daily increasing numbers of wintering ducks, with pintails, shovelers and teals starting to grow in numbers. The next few weeks should see a wave of migrants passing through with many stopping here for the winter, the change in sounds will soon become evident as autumn builds through the coming months to its musical crescendo.

If you would like to learn more about the sights and sounds of autumn, why not join us for a Birdwatching for Beginners walk? Details here.


Managing meadows in Middle Earth

This week, our Site Manager (and Legolas of Leighton Moss) Jarrod Sneyd gives his thoughts on the magic of meadows and an exciting area in development at Leighton Moss….

I can imagine Bilbo Baggins, with his hairy feet, dancing through the meadows of the Shire. What I’m less sure of is whether hobbits kept cows or other livestock.  These are, of course, essential for a traditional meadow and clearly for a pasture.  So, I suspect there were cows in Middle Earth, but perhaps they were miniature ones?!

Were there cows in the Shire? (Image by J.Sneyd)

In my last blog I asked what a meadow is. Today I start by referring to a wonderful book by George Peterken aptly named – Meadows (British Wildlife Publishing, 2013).  Of course, all you social media enthusiasts probably ‘Googled’ it in an instant.  We should trust the old naturalists (the wizards of the wild!) more than our computers, though I would say that as I live in a Middle Earth kind of world!  So, what does the wise naturalist say? 

Well, Peterken says that “Meadows are grasslands that are mown for hay, which means they must be ‘shut up’ in spring and allowed to grow without grazing by animals until they are cut in summer.” It’s only after the grass has been cut for hay that animals are put onto the field and can graze.  As they graze the vegetation after it’s been cut – it’s often referred to as a’ftermath grazing’.

A pasture is different in that it can remain available for grazing right through the year. So, a bit of grassland, depending on how you want to manage it, could be termed a ‘meadow’ or a ‘pasture’.

This is a flower rich pasture with common spotted orchids amongst many flowers at Gait Barrows, not far from Leighton Moss. This was being grazed by the cow above (it had some friends to help too) in the period that would normally be ‘closed’ if it was technically to be a meadow. (Image by J.Sneyd)

Really, regardless of whether an area of grassland is a meadow or a lightly grazed pasture, Site Managers and Wardens alike, want to have fields full of flowers and lots of insects.

We have just leased a new field near the visitor centre (alongside the new path to the boardwalk). It hasn’t been managed specifically for wildlife for a while – and now we want make sure it’s got more flowers and insects. 

And here’s where the magic that Gandalf would love comes in – though perhaps not with quite the same thunderbolt effect….!

Yellow rattle by D.Mower

If we take a field that’s got more grass (and just a few species of grass at that) and turn it into one with more species and lots of flowers… then the plant I showed in my last blog… yellow rattle (above), can help  provide that little bit of magic.  Yellow rattle (or hay rattle as it’s often called) parasitizes grasses – it takes nutrients from them – and so can often result in the grass not growing as tall or as densely.  This helps to provide the conditions that allow other plants (that are normally  ‘fighting’ for space to grow), to compete with the grass…..

…….and so begins the Battle for ‘Fieldor’. Wonder what Tolkien would have made of that?

Hopefully, in a future blog we’ll be able to show how school children and hay rattle can start our big adventure and just how together we can make it happen …………


The field at the edge of the reedbed ….. wait and watch (it’ll take a few years) Image by J.Sneyd


Blog Post: Birding at breakfast

Mornings are a magical time to get out and about exploring nature before work. Here, our Membership Recruitment Manager Anya Kuliszewski explains why she loves to do just that….   During my time working and volunteering for the RSPB, I have been lucky enough to visit many of the fantastic nature reserves we have in the north of England. You would think I spend a lot of my time out and about but I can normally be found in the visitor centre. I love to chat to visitors about the important work we do and all the latest wildlife sightings, but I do try and explore as much as I can too – this means I often come down to Leighton Moss in the morning before work. I love the reserve early in the morning. I usually head down to the Causeway and Lower hides.  I regularly spot the family of otters hunting for breakfast. At the moment the three young otter cubs have been delighting visitors throughout the whole day. They are often fishing with their mother and it’s great fun to watch them splashing around. As otters can stay under water for over four minutes, it’s always entertaining to see where they are going to pop up next, often sending flocks of ducks into panic! Mornings are also a great time to spot some of the more secretive resident that call Leighton Moss home –  water rails and bitterns . Could you get a better spot to have breakfast? The path down to Lower hide is one of my favourite spots on the reserve. At the moment it’s fantastic for a range of small birds with regular sightings of marsh tits and even the elusive bearded tit. We are starting to have regular sightings of our iconic bearded tits. Throughout the whole of October they will be visiting the grit trays on the Causeway. It’s always worth listening out for them when you are walking down our new boardwalk too. Their metallic pinging is really distinctive, if you hear it then just stand still and they may pop across the path in front of you!    Over the past few days marsh harriers have once again been seen quartering over the reserve. Lots of these birds will migrate down to Africa but we are lucky and a few usually stick around through the winter – fingers crossed! One of the highlights at Leighton Moss at the moment are definitely the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides. At this time of year we get clouds of wading birds over the saltmarsh.  My personal favourite is the dunlin . They are small, gorgeous silvery wading birds that flock together on the pools throughout winter. I love watching them move with such synchronicity – merlin often disturb them, sending them swirling up into the air. With the stunning backdrop of Morecambe Bay, the wading birds here are one of the most fantastic wildlife spectacles in the UK.   Dunlin flock (   Starlings are another star species that call Leighton Moss home through the autumn. We are starting to get flocks of local birds creating mini-murmurations above the saltmarsh. Let’s hope we get a big influx of starlings from Europe to create those fantastic displays! Keep an eye on future blogs, we will keep you posted!   Starling in the reeds by Ged Gill If you’re new to birdwatching and want to learn more about identifying our feathered friends, why not come along to one of our Birdwatching for Beginners events this autumn – details here

Blog Post: Farewell for now

Last weekend was my final one as Visitor Experience Manager at Leighton Moss for a while. I am excited to have taken up a secondment in the role of Communications Manager, based in the RSPB Lancaster office. My new job involves supporting RSPB reserves in the North West (including Leighton Moss) so I will still be here about one day a month. Having been a visitor to the reserve for the past 20 years, and having worked here for the last 7.5 years, Leighton Moss is a place very close to my heart. There are lots of elements that make it such as special place to be, but for me the three key things are the wonderful wildlife, the stunning setting and the amazing people – staff, volunteers and visitors alike. During my time as a member of staff here, I have been privileged to be within five feet of a bittern (I didn’t even breathe, never mind move!), have half a dozen water rails running round my feet, release a swift back into the skies, hold a tiny goldcrest in the palm of my hand and count thousands of small, glass eels (each one only a few centimetres long) as they arrived into Morecambe Bay from their incredible journey across the Atlantic ocean. These and many more unbelievable memories, I will treasure forever. The staff and volunteers I have worked alongside are the most dedicated, enthusiastic bunch of people you could ever wish to meet.  Regardless of their role or background, the one thing that they all have in common is a passionate desire to save nature and connect people to it. I have met thousands of visitors during my time here too, and it has been a pleasure to meet you all – to share my enthusiasm for the reserve with you, and to hear all about yours. I will never forget a 10 year old boy who told me the difference between a marsh tit and a willow tit when I first started working here, or the teenager who arrived with a surly face and left absolutely buzzing from seeing an otter. I will not be gone forever, it is just time for a new challenge for a while. I will no doubt see many of you when I visit at weekends (I will need my Leighton Moss fix!) Our fabulous Visitor Experience Intern Sophie will be keeping you updated on all the latest sightings, and when my replacement starts, they will too. Enjoy the coming seasons and the riches of nature that they bring. Don’t forget there’s a whole host of exciting events coming up to help you discover more. See you soon! Annabel