Ex-mining site is a nature haven

St Aidan's RSPB nature reserve. Pocture by David Botham.
St Aidan's RSPB nature reserve. Pocture by David Botham.

A new nature reserve on a former mining site is a true urban gem.

St Aidan’s, near Allerton Bywater, has been has been transformed from a bare hole in the ground to a wildlife haven with some of the rarest species in the UK.

The RSPB site between, which opened in April, is now home to species like the bittern. In 1997, there were only nine males left in the whole of the country. St Aidan’s now has three breeding males. A rare Caspian tern has also visited the reserve recently.

The RSPB has been managing the vast site off Astley Lane for a decade. Since 2007, the Aire Valley warden team has been working hard to create the vast and diverse habitats seen today.

Warden John Ingham said: “I’ve been working on the site, along with a dedicated team of local volunteers, for three years now. It’s taken a lot of hard work but it’s an absolute pleasure to now see so many visitors enjoying the site, its habitats and the wildlife that makes its home here. It makes all the effort so worthwhile.”

Assistant warden Andrew Tiffany said: “So much hard work has gone into clearing the shrub and preventing willow overgrowth in the reedbed to encourage bitterns to the site. In the process we have also made brilliant nesting sites for black headed gulls, pochard and black necked grebes.

“Bittern numbers have increased greatly over the last 20 years, all across the UK, which is testament to the conservation efforts in places such as St Aidan’s.”

There is also a busy sand martin ‘wall’ (nesting site).

Visitor experience assistant Alana Skilbeck said: “To be at work and be able to watch the sand martins flit across Bowers Lake and into their nests is really inspiring. Their habitats have been lost elsewhere and climate change is making their winters in Africa harder. So to be able to see them thrive and see the excitement in visitors is a great feeling.”

There is also a vast area of wildflower meadow surrounding the visitor centre. The UK has seen a 97 per cent decline in our wildflower meadows since the Second World War. Only one per cent of the UK’s land area is species rich grassland. Meadows are vital for a huge variety of insects. So the wardens encourage its growth by managing it as a hay meadow.