Places to see birds

The Spectacular Sefton Coast- Freshfield, Ainsdale & Formby Reserves

The Spectacular Sefton Coast- Freshfield, Ainsdale & Formby Reserves
Ainsdale Sand Dunes - Laura Bimson

The Sefton Coast is one of the largest and most spectacular unspoilt sand dune systems in the country, stretching 20 miles it supports a huge variety of plants and animals. The pine woodlands of Corsican, Austrian, and Scots Pine were planted to protect the dunes and surrounding area in the 19th & 20th centuries by the landowners of the time Charles Weld Blundell and Jonathan Formby.

Natural England has 2 national nature Reserves on the Sefton Coast, Ainsdale and Cabin Hill NNR covers an area of 500+ ha. The reserves falls within the coastal Special Protection Area and are Ramsar areas. Ravenmeols Sandhills LNR & Ainsdale and Birkdale Sandhills LNR are managed by Sefton Council , Coast and Countryside Service.The National Trust has the reserve at Freshfield.

The habitat ranges from the tidal sand flats, mobile and fixed dunes- ridges and valleys, with wet areas within the dunes or slacks these are low hollows formed by windblown which often fill with fresh water in winter (Formby beach alone has 500 acres of sand dunes) Saltmarsh, and a large area of pine woodland and mixed scrub. On clear, sunny days the mountains of North Wales, far across Liverpool Bay, seem close enough to touch!

The Green beach is a incredibly, special place, it has grown from a few scattered patches of Common Saltmarsh-grass (which trapped sand and formed low hummocks) into 4km of new salt-marsh and sand dune habitat. The Green beach consists of 2 new parallel dune ridges between which salt, freshwater marsh and seasonally -flooded freshwater lagoons have developed. It's situated on the foreshore between weld round roundabout, Birkdale to the Ainsdale beach barrier.

Flora & Fauna
Along the shoreline, particularly during the autumn & winter months, large flocks of several species of waders and gulls can be seen moving and feeding up and down the coast. Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Grey, Ringed & Golden Plover, Bar-tailed & Black-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew, Turnstone, Lapwing, Little Stints, Whimbrel, Ruff, Green, Wood, Common & Curlew Sandpipers. Offshore : Divers, Grebes, Sea-duck, Shearwaters, Auks, Skua & Leach's & Storm Petrels, Fulmar, Gannet, Common & Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck.
In the dunes and woodland, wintering Siskin's, Crossbills, Redpolls, Brambling, Goldcrest, Long Tailed Tit's ,Redwings, Fieldfare and Blackcap. Jack Snipe and Water Rail can be found in the saltmarsh from late October. Snow Buntings, Linnets and Twite are regular winter visitors to the green beach.

Summer and Breeding species Woodcock, Grey Partridge, Yellowhammer, Skylark, Reed Bunting and Stonechat. Good numbers of breeding migrants that include Willow and Wood Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Meadow Pipit and Cuckoo. Recognisable garden birds such as Chaffinch, Robins, Great & Blue Tit's and Blackbirds. Magpies, Jackdaws and Crows. Notable Others Reed and Grasshopper Warblers, Whinchat, Redstart, Ring Ouzel and White and Yellow Wagtails on the beach.
Not forgetting the birds of prey such as Short-eared Owl, Peregrine, Merlin, Hen and Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and even fly over Osprey.

The rich plant life of the reserves holds upto 460 species of flowering plant, including 33 that are locally or regionally rare like Petalwort - a rare liverworts found around the edges of damp slacks. Other flowers that carpet the slacks are Yellow Bartsia, round-leaved Wintergreen, early Marsh Orchid, Dune Helleborine and pendulous flowered Helleborine. In Woodland glades Bluebell and Celandine flower in spring. Others Herb Robert, Rose bay Willow herb, Red Campion and White Deadnettle.

With so many flowers around it's hardly surprising to find large numbers of, butterflies , dragonflies and other invertebrates on the reserves, the only place on Merseyside that the Dark green fritillary can be found, is along the Sefton Coast with Ainsdale being a hotspot. A reserve speciality is the nationally scarce dune tiger beetle which can frequently be found hunting on the patches of bare sand along the footpaths.

Other national rarities found on the reserves are the Natterjack Toad, Gt Crested Newts and Sand Lizard, all are still breeding amongst the dunes and slacks.

There are various walking routes throughout the area ie Fishermans path, the Woodland path and the Circular walk covering Lifeboat Road and Ravenmeols LNR.

Formby Point & the Squirrel Reserve.
The National Trust reserve at Freshfield, is one of the best places in Great Britain to see, feed and photograph red squirrels. The Scots and Corsican pine at Formby Point have provided an important food source for the red squirrel in the area. Essential land management work, including thinning and under planting is undertaken to aid the survival of the squirrel.
Red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) have lived in Britain since the end of the last Ice Age. It is the only squirrel which is native to Britain and is specially protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Red squirrel numbers have declined dramatically in the last 50 years. Restricted mainly to pine woodlands their main food is conifer seeds, but tree seeds such as hazel as well as fungi, berries, tree sap and even bird eggs may also be eaten. The squirrels do not hibernate over the winter, and can still be seen searching for food and their buried larder.Breeding usually begins in January and may continue through the summer. The life expectancy of a squirrel is 4 or 5 years, most deaths in a population being juveniles under the age of 1 year. Starvation is the main threat, although in woodlands close to urban areas road deaths are frequent.
Formby Point Red Squirrel Reserve, National Trust, Victoria Road, Freshfield, Formby, Merseyside, L371LJ 01704-878591

Sands Lake Nature Trail, part of the Ainsdale and Birkdale Sandhills Local Nature Reserve.
The A565 heading towards Southport, follow the coast road and take the first round-about left by Pontins Holiday Camp, the lake is opposite next to Sands Pub.

Sands Lake is easily accessible, giving good views of many species from wooden boardwalks that circle the lake. Dunes, Beach, saltmarsh and mixed scrub.

A good selection of birds, dependant on season can be seen. On the lake: Mute Swan, Mallard, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Coot, Garganey, Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Moorhen, Gt Crested & Little Grebe, Water Rail, Black headed Gull. Birds found in the surrounding berry laden shrubbery, woodland and dune area: Siskin, Brambling, Twite, Bullfinch, Swift, Swallow, House Martin, Chiffchaff, Great & Blue Tits, Whitethroat , Skylark, Blackcap, Blackbird, corn bunting, Starling, Sedge and Grasshopper warblers, Willow Warbler, Whinchat, Redstart, Robin, Spotted Flycatcher, Linnet, Thrushes, Redwing and Fieldfare in Winter. Snow Buntings are regular winter visitors to the beach Jack Snipe and Water Rail can be found in the saltmarsh from late October.