“ Address: Holmeswood Road / Rufford / Ormskirk / Lancashire / L40 1TG / England „
Mere Sands Wood Nature Reserve is located near the town of Ormskirk in west Lancashire. The nature reserve is wildlife rich, with many breeding birds, fifteen species of dragonfly, as well as the swiftly declining water vole. In winter, the reserve hosts nationally important numbers of wildfowl which find shelter and food in this beautiful setting.
The reserve is situated on layers of sand and peat, wind blown there after the last ice age. This sand and peat lay undisturbed for 10,000 years so provides an important history of the land since the ice retreated. The geological importance of the site led to it being designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Sand extraction was authorised in the 1970's with the proviso that the company landscape the area after extraction was completed. Once the sand extraction had finished, Lancashire Wildlife Trust obtained the land and, over the last twenty five years, many thousands of hours have been spent, by trust staff and volunteers, developing the reserve into what it is today.
The result is the flagship of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust's reserves. Mere Sands Wood is comprised of a wide variety of landscapes; conifer woodland, broadleaved woodland, dry heath, lakes, marshy areas and extensive reed beds. In quite a small area of 42 hectares, a truly beautiful, peaceful, and varied reserve has been created.
As well as being a haven for wildlife, the trust has ensured that it is very accessible for people, making it a popular stopping point for walkers, wildlife watchers, and people who simply enjoy the peace and quiet that this reserve enables.
The reserve is easily reached from the main A59 at Rufford. Turn off onto the B5246, travel for around a mile until a sign saying "Nature Reserve" is reached. Turn left into this narrow lane and there is a large car park at the end close to the entrance to the reserve.
There is no charge for using the car park or entering the reserve, but the trust appreciates a small donation of £2 towards the running costs.
The donation should be left in the box provided in the visitor centre. The centre has toilets, a sightings board for unusual or rare species that have been spotted, and a range of attractive displays about the reserve and its wildlife. The centre is manned by very friendly volunteers who are only too happy to talk about the reserve and its wildlife. There are no catering facilities at the centre, but there is a nice picnic area just outside.
The visitor centre contains an entrance to a large hide overlooking a secluded shallow pool surrounded by trees. Here, wading birds such as lapwings and little ringed plovers (absolutely lovely little birds!) breed. This is also the best place to see that most colourful waterside bird, the kingfisher.
On my last visit, we were treated to extended views of a male kingfisher fishing from a post only yards away from the hide. Myself and the others in the hide watched entranced as this gorgeous little bird repeatedly dived from its perch into the water, emerging moments later with a fish in his mouth.
There were several children in the hide that day. Seeing the wonder on their faces as they watched their first kingfisher was almost as nice as seeing the bird for myself!
The reserve has a network of well surfaced paths that cover three miles. All of these are suitable for wheelchairs, and the white trail is suitable for motorised chairs.
All of the paths wind through the woodland, with the canopy of the trees closed overhead, limiting the view to the lovely woodland surroundings, before emerging suddenly into the open air at the side of one of the five lakes, where bird hides are conveniently situated.
These hides are beautifully constructed of dark wood, blending into their surroundings, are spotlessly clean, and are surprisingly comfortable. Sitting in them, watching the many species of bird on and over the water is really relaxing; many people stay here all day.
Birds that may be seen on the water include goosander, goldeneye, pochard, great crested grebe, and shelduck. Sand martins and swifts can often be seen swooping low over the water hunting hatches of flies.
The woodlands contain the nationally scarce lesser spotted woodpecker as well as its larger cousin, the great spotted woodpecker.
In spring and summer, the woods resound with the sound of song birds trying to attract a mate. These include chiffchaff, willow warbler, and whitethroat. On occasion, common crossbills inhabit the conifer woodland areas.
As well as the animals and birds, Mere Sands Wood is home to some wonderful flowers and plants. Orchids thrive here and species such as bee orchids, common spotted orchids, and southern marsh orchids can be seen at appropriate times of the year. Other flowers include golden dock, yellow bartista, and lesser centaury. The flower meadow area in particular, is a riot of colour in spring and summer and worth seeing if you're visiting the reserve.
In visiting here, I've had the opportunity to chat to many of the volunteers who give their time willingly to help maintain Mere Sands Wood. The pride in their reserve and its achievements is evident in them all. They should be proud too, as they have helped to create a wonderful reserve for wildlife and a wonderful resource for visitors.
Mere Sands Wood is a local treasure that appears to be in safe hands with Lancashire Wildlife Trust. It is possible to while away a whole afternoon exploring the woodland, watching the birds on the lakes, enjoying a picnic, and chatting to the staff. The donation of £2 is a paltry amount for being able to spend time in a gorgeous place like this. I've visited here many times and plan to do so again soon.