The Ribble Estuary is one of the most important places for birds in Europe and so has been designated as a National Nature Reserve (NNR) and a Special Protection Area (SPA) offering high levels of protection. The Ribble Estuary NNR, which includes our Marshside and Hesketh Out Marsh reserves, is England’s third largest NNR and is one of the Top Ten most important wetlands in the UK for the numbers of water birds that live here, which is why it is so important to protect it. That's not to mention the abundance of brown hares, butterflies, other incredible insects and specialist plants that live there too. 

But it isn't all here by magic......  

Saving Saltmarsh

The saltmarsh and wetlands of Marshside are not only home to a range of incredible creatures, from insects, to plants, mammals and birds that thrive in this harsh environment. They also benefit people, by reducing flood risk to homes and businesses and helping to tackle climate change by storing carbon. Sadly though, much of the saltmarsh and wetlands in this country have been lost to human activity such as development and agriculture, and are further threatened by climate change, making this reserve vitally important for wildlife and people.

That is why it is so crucial to protect the landscape here at Marshside and the wildlife that lives in it all year round.

When visiting any of our Ribble reserves that's Marshside, Hesketh out Marsh and Fairhaven Lake, we ask that visitors please stay on the waymarked paths, keep dogs on leads and #watchyourstep because venturing onto the saltmarshes can cause serious disturbance to both wintering and nesting birds, and can also be hazardous for people and dogs.  

Many of the birds on the Ribble Estuary have flown thousands of miles from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to spend the autumn and winter months here on the Ribble Estuary. Some use the site as a service station to refuel on their migration north or south, such as wheatear on their spring and autumn migration passage.  Other birds spend the spring and summer months here and use the saltmarsh to raise their families.

Unfortunately, the birds are often unintentionally disturbed by human activities such as: dog walking, drones, model airplanes, birdwatching, photography, walking and kite flying.  The birds perceive these to be predators and so the effect of this disturbance is multifaceted.

Disturbing birds does more than simply causing them to fly away; it uses up their energy reserves, decreasing their chances of survival. Once disturbed, birds, especially waders take a long time to settle and will remain alert for a long time afterwards. This means they cannot rest properly after a disturbance event.

The over-wintering birds come here to feed or to ‘roost’ (rest and conserve energy). Winter is a particularly stressful time for these birds, some of which may have lost half of their body weight during migration. They need to be able to rest and feed on the marshes undisturbed, to regain condition and put on enough weight to survive the winter and make the migration back to their breeding grounds in the spring. 

The same can be said for the saltmarsh and sand dune areas of Fairhaven.  Continual disturbance by humans and dogs jeopardises birds fledgling and survival rates.  Just because you cannot see the birds does not mean they are not there.  We have also had to respond to an increasing number of incidents of dogs attacking swans and other birds at Fairhaven.  A swan or goose will protect itself and its young if under threat.  A Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) is now in place, which means dogs do need to be on leads around the lake and it would be sensible to do the same in the sand dune area too.

There isn’t actually a very long history of the marsh at Marshside being used by the general public, as up until 2006, the sand works were still operational.  There were big dumper trucks to contend with during the day, which put off all but the keenest of folk. These large vehicles are now gone, but there are still continuing safety implications for people accessing the marsh. Warning signs are up to highlight the hazards of incoming tides, strong winds, soft mud and gullies. However tempting the landscape looks, we strongly advise that visiors should stick to the waymarked route and always be mindful of high tide times, to avoid getting stranded or caught out by the sea. 

 pink Marshside sunset and wheatear by Wes Davies