Why we should celebrate the diversity of wildlife in Lancashire

A starling murmuration over Brockholes by Pat Aitchison

A starling murmuration over Brockholes by Pat Aitchison - Credit: Archant

While conservation work is important globally, The Lancashire Wildlife Trust is stressing the need to think locally too. Alan Wright discusses the important of wildlife close to home.

Starling are beautiful birds

Starling are beautiful birds - Credit: Archant

South Africa...wide open game reserves, lions roaring, elephants trumpeting and roaming wildebeest. We all have our own images.

Just listen to the names of the game reserves – Addo Elephant National Park, Camdeboo, Golden Gate Highlands, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, Kruger National Park, Lion Sands, Mala Mala, Mapungubwe, Mountain Zebra National Park, Waterberg Biosphere and Zulu Nyala. All have a little bit of romance about them.

Most of these include the ‘Big Five’ - the lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard – all attracting tourists from far and wide. And without these reserves these animals might now be extinct.

So how do we compete with this vast array of iconic species in Lancashire? Well, there are wildlife spectacles here that do compete. As winter approaches we can look forward to murmurations of up to 2,000 starlings at Blackpool, Brockholes and Leighton Moss.

Hundreds of thousands of geese and wading birds will be making for Morecambe Bay to overwinter away from their Scandinavian nesting grounds.

We are lucky that badgers and foxes, our largest predators wander around our woodland and sometimes encroach into our towns and cities. Herds of deer will also become more noticeable as they join up for winter warmth.

Grey lag geese Number One Pit at Brockholes

Grey lag geese Number One Pit at Brockholes - Credit: Archant

We have spectacular birds of prey – kestrel and buzzard will continue to hunt over the colder months and we have had had fleeting visits from osprey and red kite, both close to returning next summer, hopefully to breed.

And our nature reserves are just as important as any other in the world as we strive to protect and create habitats for some exceptional wildlife. Mere Sands Wood has its kingfishers and Lunt Meadows has short-eared owls.

At Wigan Flashes we have ten percent of the UK’s population of willow tits. OK, it is a lot smaller than the giraffe, but it is the UK’s most endangered small bird. The Flashes, Brockholes and Lunt Meadows are often visited by a larger rarity, the bittern. Again we are hoping they will breed in the reed beds as they become more established here.

Have you ever witnessed thousands of tiny toads heading from ponds across paths to dry land? It happens here every summer as the toadlets seek a safe home over winter. A wildlife miracle under your feet.

Red squirrels are our poster boys and girls for Merseyside, because they have been driven to a small outpost around Formby. We see grey squirrels every day so catching a glimpse of a red is such an uplifting experience.

The red squirrels would definitely be part of our Big Five. What else? Badger, otter, hen harrier and water vole, all in danger in our region for one reason or another. Or would it be the five that are on the majority our reserves? Brown hare, fox, skylark, kestrel and robin.

Tiny toads can be seen wandering across paths in summer by Alan Price

Tiny toads can be seen wandering across paths in summer by Alan Price - Credit: Archant

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The key objective of The Wildlife Trusts is to protect wildlife for the future. Our work on reserves and in a variety of projects helps us to monitor both common and threatened species and their habitats. Our conservation work and expertise helps us to increase biodiversity in the region. This will protect wildlife so it can be enjoyed by future generations.

If an animal becomes extinct it would be to our lasting shame that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would never be able to experience it in the wild.

Many people understand the importance of wildlife on our own doorstep and join the Wildlife Trust or become volunteers and do their bit. Our message is simple: Please continue to give to global appeals for tigers, elephants and polar bears, but never forget the beautiful creatures you can support in your own patch.


Emma’s Nature Moment

Nature moment Emma Ackerley on safari

Nature moment Emma Ackerley on safari - Credit: Archant

Although an African elephant would never consume a human being, this didn’t stop me from feeling significantly knocked down the food chain, as I stood staring up into the eyes of a huge African elephant bull, less than five metres away. It was as if I’d suddenly animorphed, trading bodies with a microscopic tick.

I was standing in a friend’s back yard in South Africa watching all of the lesser-striped swallows swirling around, and hearing the “thwip, thwip, thwip” of a honeyguides’ wings go past my ears, when I noticed a rock begin to move nearby.

This turned out not to be a rock, it was in fact the large backside of an African elephant. The whole herd began to reveal themselves, walking along the fence line.

We quietly followed them on foot to the airstrip to get a better view. As I watched the herd cross, one of the older bulls walked right along the fence line, with us thinking he would just amble past. He didn’t.

When you’re watching elephants, time seems to stop. Everything is in slow motion and you have an enormous sense of awe and veneration for these beings. The bull stopped right in front of us and turned his heads towards us. Any minute now, if we moved, if we breathed, if we put one step forwards, he could have squashed the fence, charged, and killed any one of us.

He stopped, he checked us out, he smelt the air we stood in, and he was just letting us know, who was in charge in that moment. He was in a way, asking us that his family pass through this space without any harm.

I’m not sure I actually breathed for a whole 30 seconds. Looking in their eyes, is I imagine, what it would have been like to look into a dinosaur’s eyes. They are prehistoric and magical, and a world without elephants, is a world where something has gone drastically wrong and a world I don’t want to be part of.

* Emma Ackerley is The Lancashire Wildife Trust’s forest schools communications officer. Forest schools are getting children and teachers into outdoor classrooms to help them appreciate nature. The project in Manchester and, recently, Liverpool, is funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.