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5 great places to view wildlife in and around Cheshire

PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 February 2015 | UPDATED: 09:29 16 February 2015

Grey seal in surf - photo Tom Marshall

Grey seal in surf - photo Tom Marshall

Archant

These five locations should be on your list if you’re planning a really wild day out

Beeston Castle

From its lofty perch on a rocky crag above the Cheshire Plain it is possible, on a clear day, to see eight counties and to gaze across at the Pennines to the north and east and the Welsh mountains to the west. These wonderful views help explain why the site was chosen for the catsle when it was built in the 1220s by the wonderfully named Ranulf de Blondeville, the sixth earl of Chester when he returned from the Crusades. It was later owned by Henry III but was damaged on Cromwell’s orders in 1646, following the English Civil War. Now a ruin, the castle is owned by English Heritage and visitors can the remains of the outer bailey, the walls and the gatehouse of the inner bailey. It is said that Richard II buried some treasure here but no-one has found it yet. Good luck.

 

What’s so great about it:

Home to one of Cheshire’s few pairs of nesting peregrine falcons, this English Heritage medieval castle makes an impressive backdrop for a chance to see the fastest animal in the world. Last year raising four youngsters, late summer sees the adults teaching their offspring the peerless hunting techniques above the fields of the Sandstone Ridge. The unique vantage point also provides a chance to look out for buzzards, kestrels, sparrowhawks and with increasing regularity, exploring red kites from neighbouring Wales.

 

Useful information:

Entrance to the castle costs £6.10 for adults, £3.70 for children aged 5-15, concessions £5.50. Hot and cold snacks and drinks are available. The castle is open 10am-4pm February 14th-20th, for all other opening times and more information go to the Beeston Castle page at www.english-heritage.org.uk

 

 

Hilbre Island and Red Rocks

The island’s name is derived from Saint Hildeburgh, an Anglo Saxon saint, and it has a remarkable history. It was once home to monks from Chester Abbey until the Dissolution of the Monasteries and in the 18th century it was a centre for piracy and smuggling centred round the island’s only pub, The Seagull Inn, now long disappeared.

The Lifeboat Station, now a ruin, was built in 1839 and was in use for 100 years during which time it was crewed by the Hoylake crew and only used at low tide when the Hoylake boat could not be launched. The men had to run or ride on horseback across the sands.

The island is cut off for five hours in every 12. It is safe to cross three hours after high water and you should make the return journey three hours before the next high water. There are no refreshments for visitors and no public toilets on the island.

 

What’s so great about it:

Enjoy curious grey seals ‘spy hopping’ off the northern end of the island, globe-trotting terns patrolling the shores and wading birds like oystercatchers, ringed plovers and dunlin prodding the shallows for dinner. Some of the best rock-pooling in the region makes it a great family day out. Back on the mainland, listen out for rare and secretive natterjack toads at Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Red Rocks reserve during March and April – the only place you can hear this unmistakable night time chorus in Cheshire or the Wirral.

 

Useful information:

Hilbre Island is managed by Wirral Borough Council and access is restricted to a limited number of people per day and by permit only from Wirral Country Park, Thurstaston, 0151 648 4371. Safe route maps and tide times are also available – you should not cross direct to Hilbre Island or from Hoylake.

 

 

Burton Mere Wetlands

Until the late 19th century this site near Neston on the Dee estuary was covered with tidal mudflats. The land was reclaimed and used for farming until it was bought by the RSPB in the 1980s. They created three shallow pools, a footpath and a hide, and the reserve opened, initially to members only, in 1992. It was extended when the RSPB bought a neighbouring farm in 2006 and the Burton Mere Fisheries two years later; new wetland areas have been created and extra visitor facilities added including a reception, hide, new paths and a toilet block. It was named Burton Mere Wetlands in 2011 and was officially opened by television presenter Iolo Williams. The reserve now includes a large area of mixed wetland habitats, bluebell woodlands, and arable fields all managed to attract wildlife.

 

What’s so great about it:

This reserve boasts a range of wetlands and restored reedbeds, fenland and farmland which is home to the iconic RSPB logo, the avocet, which breeds on pools in front of an inviting and relaxing visitor centre. Spring woodlands see the ‘blue carpet’ rolled out with traditional English bluebells, along with migratory songsters like reed warblers and sedge warblers alongside the pools. Large numbers of little egrets can be seen here, along with the chance of a rarity like cattle egrets. Winter sees the arrival of stunning ducks like the pintail, wigeon and Arctic geese.

 

Useful information:

The reception building is open between 9.30am and 5pm. The reserve is open between 9am and 9pm, or dusk if sooner. RSPB members have free entry. £4 adults, £6 family, £1 children, concessions £2. No dogs allowed, except registered assistance dogs. 0151 353 8478, or find the reserve on the RSPB website, www.rspb.org.uk.

 

 

Danes Moss

This Cheshire Wildlife Trust reserve at Gawsforth near Macclesfield is the largest lowland raised bog in Cheshire, a rare and threatened habitat, and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Visitors can follow a boardwalk through a large area of regenerating bog where trees have been removed to allow sphagnum and bog pools to naturally recover. A number of existing pools also make this one of the best places in Cheshire to experience dragonflies and damselflies at close hand – including Britain’s smallest the black darter. The reserve is also one of the places in Cheshire where you’ll see a number of uncommon plants including bottle sedge, Labrador tea and marsh cinquefoil.

 

What’s so great about it:

South of Macclesfield, this Cheshire Wildlife Trust reserve is a real dragon’s den. With more than a dozen species of dragonfly and damselfly and countless butterflies, Danes Moss is a top spot for coming face-to-face with wildlife that once flew with the dinosaurs. A range of boardwalks and footpaths get you close to action; including our biggest dragonfly – the emperor, down to our smallest the black darter. Drumming woodpeckers echo through the adjacent woodlands in spring and there’s always a chance of seeing the dragonfly’s arch nemesis, the hobby.

 

Useful information:

The Danes Moss page at www.cheshirewildlifetrust.org.uk contains all you could need to know.

 

 

The River Gowy

Rivers are great places to spot wildlife and work by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust around the Gowy has made this a particularly good place to start your really wild adventure. The river runs for about 20 miles from the Peckforton hills to Stanlow where it meets the mighty Mersey. The 400 acre Gowy Meadows Nature Reserve is an area of pasture and grassland which was created by the Trust near Thornton-le-Moors, as part of their Living Landscapes project. The scheme aims to help wildlife move around the countryside – and that’s great if you’re hoping to spot all creatures great and small.

 

What’s so great about it:

Flowing from the heart of the county north to Chester and the Mersey, the Gowy is well-stocked with eels and has become home to two of our most secretive mammals – the otter and water vole. Night-vision cameras at Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s reserves at Gowy Meadows and Hockenhull Platts show that these iconic creatures are making regular visits. Photographers have even seen otters during the day close to the Mersey near Warrington. A gentle summer walk may be rewarded with the ‘plop’ of a diving water vole or the sleek body of an otter and the famous ‘ring of bright water’. Little egrets have also been spotted in the Gowy.

 

Useful information:

There are a number of walks close to the Gowy and path from Thornton-le-Moors crosses the Gowy Meadows Nature Reserve.

 

 

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