There is a peace that settles on the lakes of Mere Sands Wood, but it is peace that gets your heart racing, the place is packed with wonderful wildlife.

Redwing hide is especially peaceful and is a personal favourite of mine. What makes Mere Sands Wood so special is the range of wildlife there, attracted to the wonderful mosaic of habitats. This includes multiple lakes, sandy and wet meadows and both broad-leaved and coniferous woodlands, making the site a tranquil oasis. There have been over 170 different bird species recorded at the reserve including little grebes, goldeneyes, reed buntings, and also favourites like kingfishers and bitterns.

When I first started adventuring into my wildlife photography hobby, Mere Sands Wood was one of the first reserves I visited. I was a novice at the time, and I had little knowledge about wildlife, but it didn’t take long before I spotted all kinds of birds I’d never seen before.

Great British Life: The brambling I spotted on my first visit to Mere Sands Wood. PHOTO: Alex CritchleyThe brambling I spotted on my first visit to Mere Sands Wood. PHOTO: Alex Critchley

It was autumn, and winter birds had just started to make their way to our shores, and it was one of our seasonal visitors that first caught my eye: a small, colourful brambling. A similar size to a chaffinch, bramblings have a distinct burnt orange chest with a black head that turns mottled in the winter. As I arrived at redwing, which looks out over the Twin Lakes, I could see cormorants diving under the water fishing and teal and shovelers paddling around.

Coniferous woodland is the perfect habitat for one of our favourite mammals, the red squirrel. They are rarely seen at the reserve but that just makes it even more exciting when you spot one. They aren’t the only mammals that enjoy living at Mere Sands Wood.

If you’re a fan of flying, nocturnal mammals then you’ll love to know that several bat species have made the reserve their home. A hibernaculum (bat roost) has been installed as part of the development project. An old, unusable tower hide was converted into the perfect home for bats. You can see it from one of the newly renovated paths stretching around the reserve, which take you through the various different habitats.

Great British Life: Mere Sands Wood is a great place to spot butterflies. PHOTO: Alex CritchleyMere Sands Wood is a great place to spot butterflies. PHOTO: Alex Critchley

Fans of fungi will find Mere Sands Wood has plenty to showcase. Over 200 species have been identified at the reserve and in autumn, species such as fly agaric start to appear. These beautiful mushrooms have bright scarlet heads covered in white spots. These enchanting fungi give a fairytale feel to the woodland. Other fungi such as earthball and common stinkhorn also start to appear as the seasons change, helping nourish the woodland over the winter.

And before long a wide range of wildflowers will be back on display across the reserve. In the spring and summer, flowers such as Marsh helleborine, yellow-wort and bee orchids bloom, adding a splash of colour to the landscape and attracting lots of lovely pollinators.

Along with the beautiful wildflowers, summer also welcomes back stunning dragonflies. Mere Sands Wood is of national importance for dragonflies and is the perfect environment for these stunning creatures to thrive. Dragonflies can be spotted all over the reserve but my favourite place to watch them is just in front of the visitor centre.

Great British Life: Mere Sands Wood is a great place to spot butterflies. PHOTO: Alex CritchleyMere Sands Wood is a great place to spot butterflies. PHOTO: Alex Critchley

The small, tranquil pond attracts dragonflies as well as smaller damselflies. I love to stand on the bridge and watch them dart around, usually chasing other dragonflies in a stunning aerial display. You’ll also catch glimpses of fluttering butterflies, fumbling gracefully over the meadow. Some dragonfly species such as common darter will still appear during early autumn so there's still a chance of catching a glimpse.

Mere Sands Wood has been working hard and investing a lot of money in the development of many areas of the reserve, making it a better space for both visitors and wildlife.

A new visitor centre was built with a café inside. The wheelchair accessible Marshall and Rufford hides were also built, allowing all visitors the chance to spot the colourful flash of a kingfisher. The bat hibernaculum, and the paths have been improved. They have been made wider with better surfaces, along with new bridges that have been built to allow better access for the public, as well as helping the conservation teams manage the site more effectively.

Great British Life: A kingfisher at Mere Sands Wood. PHOTO: Alex CritchleyA kingfisher at Mere Sands Wood. PHOTO: Alex Critchley