As we are celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, once a week, I am looking into some element of our past. So far, since the start of the year, I have looked back at a brief overview of our 50 golden years of giving nature a home, our official anniversary on 1 February, the old permit system, the original Public hide and last week, the story of our awesome avocets (we missed a couple of weeks when I was on holiday in January, but it's OK because that just means we'll have 50 posts by the end of the year, for our 50 years).

In my sightings blog yesterday, I mentioned that one of our Assistant Wardens, Alasdair has spotted a couple of barn owls hunting over Barrow Scout Fields early in the mornings this week. I thought it might be good therefore to look back at the history of this possibly less well known part of the reserve....

So where are Barrow Scout Fields and what are they?

If you have been down to the Eric Morecambe and Allen hides, travelled to Carnforth via the railway level crossing or indeed got the train here from the south, you will have seen (perhaps unknowingly) Barrow Scout Fields. They are a reedbed that runs inbetween the road and the railway, right on the edge of the saltmarsh, cut off from the tide by the railway embankment. The track that takes you to the saltmarsh car park, runs across the top of them. Are you with me? Here's a map which might make things clearer. Barrow Scout Fields are labelled just abover the markers for Eric Morecambe and Allen hides. 

So what is so special about Barrow Scout Fields? Barrow Scout Fields are a reedbed, created as a satellite site for Leighton Moss. Reedbed would have once been common throughout the UK, but much of it has been drained for agriculture and development, so they are now a rare and important habitat. They support a huge variety of special wildlife, including some reedbed specialists-bitterns, bearded tits and marsh harriers.

Historically Barrow Scout Fields were intensively managed agricultural fields, but they were wet for most of the year until a drainage pump was installed in the 1970s. In 2000, we purchased them from three farmers with a plan to reverse the drainage regime and return the fields into a wetland. The area is about the size of 35 football pitches and was purchased thanks to the generosity of our supporters who contributed to the John Wilson Appeal, RSPB members’ groups, Lancashire Waste Services (through the Land Fill Tax Scheme) and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

  View of Barrow Scout Fields before work began (you can see the Eric Morecambe and Allen pools in the backgoround

Once we had purchased the area, landscaping work was done to shape the site for its transformation back to wetland. Over time it was re-wetted and then the reedbed work began. Staff and volunteers transplanted reeds from the main Leighton Moss reedbed, and also reed seed was brought in from our Conwy reserve. This work took around four years. The new reed was fenced in to stop coots pulling it up and geese eating it whilst it established.

The ongoing work now involves keeping the water levels high, to allow the reed to spread. One of our Assistant Wardens, Richard, goes in with a special digger, called the Beaver, to clear rush which can dominate some of the areas, to allow the reed to spread out.

  The Beaver by Richard Miller

For the past few years, Barrow Scout Fields have flourished into a stunning reedbed. Our Wardens and volunteers carry out bird counts every week. We've had many bittern sightings on there and last year, for the first time, a bittern boomed on the site which casused much excitement!  Marsh harriers use Barrow Scout Fields for hunting, little egrets feed on there, reed buntings are plentiful, water rails can be heard squealing, barn owls hunt low over the site, the starlings have roosted there, the otters love to fish on it, and there is a great variety of ducks too. Public access is not possible due to the site establishing and its location constraints at the moment, but if you are heading to the saltmarsh, passing on the train, or a passenger in a car, you can't fail to spot something special every time you go by.

  Barrow Scout Fields today by Richard Miller