It’s not the pits

Lancashire Life - - PLACES TO VISIT -

Once a land­scape scarred by min­ing, this is now an in­ter­na­tion­ally-im­por­tant area for wildlife

The breeze rus­tles through the reed beds as un­seen birds chirrup and peep in the warmth of the sum­mer sun. It’s a pic­ture of ru­ral beauty and seren­ity you’d be hard-pushed to beat any­where. But this wasn’t al­ways the case. Un­til rel­a­tively re­cently this area was alive with the sounds and smells of the mines.

Wi­gan coal once pow­ered Bri­tain’s heavy in­dus­try and up to the mid­dle of the last cen­tury hun­dreds of the town’s men, women and chil­dren worked in and around the pits.

Now, the in­dus­trial land­scape of pit heads and slag heaps they would have known has been re­placed by trees, mead­ows and wet­lands which are home to an in­ter­na­tion­ally-im­por­tant range of plants and an­i­mals.

The Flashes – the se­ries of eight shal­low ponds cre­ated by sub­si­dence caused by the mines – are now part of a na­ture re­serve owned by the Lan­cashire Wildlife Trust.

The mines here closed in the 1950s and in the years that fol­lowed, na­tive trees were planted as part of an in­no­va­tive land recla­ma­tion scheme.

The re­serve is now man­aged by Mark Cham­pion, who said: ‘Be­cause of the style of min­ing used in Wi­gan the sub­si­dence was very quick, it hap­pened al­most overnight – 99.9% of the sub­si­dence oc­curred within ten years of the mines open­ing in the 1890s.

‘Wi­gan was at the cutting edge of tech­niques such as plant­ing wood­lands and let­ting them de­velop. The mod­ern ap­proach is to force devel­op­ment and to cre­ate a fairly bland su­per­im­posed thing. Here it has been largely left to na­ture and that makes it much more ex­cit­ing.

‘It means we have hay mead­ows and since 97% of our hay mead­ows have been lost since the war, that makes this an im­por­tant site. We have reed beds and wet­lands and species of na­tional and even Euro­pean im­por­tance. It’s re­ally im­por­tant for birds like wa­ter rails, reed war­blers and wil­low tits; a species which has seen a 96% drop in the num­bers since the 1970s. Th­ese are re­ally quite im­por­tant na­tional species and this is also the only place in the world where the north­ern marsh or­chid and the southern marsh or­chid meet.’

‘It’s re­ally im­por­tant for birds like wa­ter rails, reed war­blers and wil­low tits; a species which has seen a 96% drop in the num­bers since the 1970s’

There are about 10km of paths around the re­serve, which lies just a mile-or-so from Wi­gan town cen­tre and is a favourite with walk­ers, bird­watch­ers, school groups and fam­i­lies.

Mark, who is orig­i­nally from Farn­bor­ough, has been work­ing in Wi­gan for 20 years and he added: ‘The ground­work done ini­tially didn’t nec­es­sar­ily re­store all the eco-sys­tems so it’s ex­cit­ing for me to be here now. You don’t get many chances to recre­ate the world and that’s why I love it here.’

ABOVE: Lan­cashire Wildlife Trust’s Mark Cham­pion at Wi­gan Flashes BE­LOW: The re­serve is an im­por­tant site for wil­low tits

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