Chat Moss - home to an enormous variety of wildlife between Manchester and Liverpool

Buzzards often seek prey over the mosses

Buzzards often seek prey over the mosses - Credit: Archant

A vast peat bog in the centre of urban Lancashire is one man’s little bit of heaven. Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Alan Wright reports

Manchester’s mosslands came alive in spring and early summer with sightings of more than 70 kinds of bird along with brown hare, roe deer, stoat and water vole.

The Chat Moss area which covers a huge expanse between Manchester and Liverpool, is home to an enormous variety of wildlife with thousands of insects attracting predators. This proves the work of the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside along with local councils is creating ideal habitats for returning wildlife after decades of industrial-scale peat extraction.

The Trust gets its information from local birders in particular David Steel, a man who sees the moss as his little bit of heaven. In the 31 days of May David spotted more than 50 varieties of bird on various parts of the moss including sparrowhawk, kestrel, rare hobby and more than ten seperate sightings of buzzards. Then, in June that number rose to 71 including raven, goldcrest and the blue-headed wagtail of which there have only been a handful of sightings over the past few years.

Yellowhammer were once common in moorland areas but their population has plummeted over the past 50 years. David has more than 25 records of them on the moss in May. Other rare sightings include willow tit, whimbrel, tree sparrow, siskin, nuthatch, greenshank, garden warbler and crossbill.

And the birds are not just in ones and twos – David has reported flocks of 250 starling, 240 wood pigeon, more than 70 black-headed gull, 70 linnet and 22 swallow and 16 swift.

In 2013 David has seen brown hare a couple of times a month but he also reported stoat and roe deer. These are amazing sightings when you realise the moss is surrounded by housing estates and towns like Wigan, Warrington and Eccles.

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David said: ‘I never tire of this area each time I launch myself out on the moss from what perhaps now should be the ease of a comfy armchair that goes with my seventh decade. I feel I am once more eight years old watching the display flight of the lapwing, a spectacle that launched me into a lifetime love affair with the moss. These birds are still hanging on, albeit in much reduced numbers than they were in the 50s.

‘This love affair with the Salford/Wigan mosslands has caused its rifts - I had a young family to help raise - and some ups and downs. One up was the sight of the Wildlife Trust when they came over the horizon and bought Bedford/Astley Moss a couple of decades ago. One of the downs was the loss of so much wildlife to peat milling and intensive farming.

‘Of late my glass half empty musings whilst out on the moss (52 hours worth during May) have clearly shifted towards one that is half full. Why, you may ask? Well, Cadishead Moss is their oldest acquisition on ‘my patch’ (thus most established) is alive with birds whilst the other two have recently had serious effort put into them and now glow with wildlife potential.

‘All I need is the LWT to find funds to buy Chat Moss, which they valiantly fought and saved from further peat extraction. It could be their crowning glory on this mossland. The area deserves a wider audience to appreciate and enjoy what is a local and national natural history gem. Meanwhile I will quietly sing the praises of an organisation that has my greatest admiration because it has shown respect to My Moss!’

David’s sightings have helped the Wildlife Trust to know when and where they can work on restoring the moss. The Trust owns Cadishead Moss and Astley Moss and manages 12 Yards Road and Highfield Moss. They bought the 90 hectares Little Woolden Moss last year and have worked over winter to ensure this expanse of peat extraction is returned to a carbon-capturing moss landscape.

Project manager Dr Chris Miller said: ‘Chat Moss is an amazing place. The wide range of birds which David has seen is very impressive, especially as some of them are quite rare. I always enjoy bumping into David because of his strong passion for looking after the moss and his impressive knowledge of all its bird life.’

‘On the moss at the moment our attention is turned towards tackling both Himalayan balsam and bracken which are invading parts of our sites and pushing other rarer parts out, and to finding what animals and insects can be found on our sites, whether it is a four spot chaser dragonfly aggressively defending its territory from other dragonflies or a rare bog bush cricket chirping away in the undergrowth.’

Chris is reporting water vole activity in ditches on part of the moss, which is important as these mammals are one of the UK’s most endangered species.

Cadishead Moss is just over four miles south of Leigh, off the A580(T). For full details of how to get there, go onto the trust’s website at

Anyone interested in supporting the mosslands or volunteering to work with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust (balsam bashing is great fun) contact Chat Moss Project Officer Elspeth Ingleby at or call 01204 663754.