• Water rail regularly seen from Lancaster Hide
Visitor Centre Opening Hours
Tues 24 December Closed
Weds 1 January Open 10am-4pm
Thurs 2 January Open 10am-4pm
Public footpaths open every day. Car Park open 9am-5pm every day. Nature Reserve permissive paths closed Christmas Day only.
The reserve is owned by the Wildlife Trust and is notified as a SSSI on the basis of its geological features and identified as a Wildlife Site (Lancashire Biological Heritage Site) for its biodiversity. It is also nationally important for wintering ducks and breeding dragonflies.
No permit is required for access to the nature reserve, but a donation of £2.00 per adult is recommended. Non-members may join the Trust at the reserve. A visitor centre with literature, toilets and displays adjoins the car park and there are six hides and a viewing platform distributed around the reserve. A trail (4.0km) passes through all the terrestrial habitats; there is also a shorter trail (2.5km).
Wildlife societies and other community groups can be given a guided tour catering for their needs and interests. Evening talks on all aspects of wildlife conservation are given in the visitor centre, arranged by the 'Friends of Mere Sands Wood'. The Visitor Centre's Teaching room is available for education groups wanting to use the reserve for fieldwork.
Three circular trails, leading from the car park through the main areas of the Reserve, are accessible to most wheelchair users with the white trail (1.5m) suitable for most motorised wheelchairs. Six hides and a viewing platform plus the well-equipped visitor centre with picnic area, are also fully accessible.
Mere Sands Wood is a wildlife-rich haven in the heart of agricultural west Lancashire. The reserve covers 42 hectares (105 acres) and is made up of lakes, mature broadleaved and conifer woodland, sandy, wet meadows and heaths. The management of the reserve is designed not only to encourage wildlife, but also to provide facilities for people to visit and enjoy seeing the wildlife. The site is nationally important for wildfowl and dragonflies, as well as its geology, and has a fascinating history. It stands on an area of layered sand and peat, which was deposited by the wind over boulder clay during the last Ice Age, and by periods of water logging following this period.
The sand and peat layers have remained almost undisturbed since this time and are therefore of international importance in the understanding of the changes that occurred to the Lancashire coastline since the ice retreated northwards.
This geological interest warranted the reserve being designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1985. The name 'Mere Sands' dates back to medieval times when the area was on the shore of a large lake called 'Martin Mere'. The lake was gradually drained for agriculture along with large areas of surrounding peatland. Lord Hesketh planted the original woodland on the site in the mid-nineteenth century and Rhododendron was added later.
The sand proved to be of value for glass-making and extraction companies quarried the site between 1974 and 1982. During this period, the Trust members and the local community worked with Lancashire County Council to require the extraction company, under a planning agreement, to landscape the site into a nature reserve once the extraction was completed.
Close liaison with the quarrying company ensured that belts of the best woodland were left undisturbed during extraction to save as much wildlife as possible and screen the works. Extracted areas were landscaped into shallow-edged lakes with marsh and dry heath conditions nearby. On completion of the sand winning in 1982, the Trust acquired the site.
Since 1982, many thousands of hours have been invested by Trust volunteers, government trainees and staff developing the site into its present form. Hides have been built, footpaths established and reedbeds have been encouraged. The Reserve continues to develop and there are many opportunities for people to share in this work.
The mature woodland is mainly Birch with some Oak but there is also a mature Scots Pine plantation in the south-east corner, which supports a small population of red squirrels. Other mammals that inhabit or visit the reserve include foxes, rabbits, stoats and roe deer. Water voles and hares are found on neighbouring arable land.
Much Rhododendron has been removed from the reserve, which has allowed the re-establishment of the native flora such as Broad Bucker Fern, and several species of Bramble. Over 200 species of fungi have been recorded on the reserve. The lakes are developing an interesting aquatic flora; some of this has been augmented with the establishment of locally sourced reed beds on the lake shores. Wet grasslands and dry heaths occur on areas refilled after sand extraction and now support many wildflowers including Marsh Helleborine, Common Spotted, Early and Southern Marsh and Bee Orchids and notable populations of Golden Dock, Yellow Bartsia, Yellow-wort, Lesser Centaury and Royal Fern.
Perhaps the main wildlife interest at Mere Sands Wood is the over-wintering birds. Winter wildfowl populations include nationally important numbers of Gadwall and Teal, as well as Wigeon, Pintail, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and Goosander. Locally important species include Mandarin Duck and Kingfisher and there are annual sightings of Willow Tit and Lesser-spotted Woodpecker. Breeding species include Great Crested and Little Grebes, Shelduck, Gadwall, Pochard and Tufted Duck, alongside Little Ringed Plover and Lapwing. Birds that breed in the woodland include Sparrowhawk, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper, and Redpoll alongside the common tit and warbler species. Turtle Dove and Quail breed occasionally. In all, over 170 bird species have been seen on the reserve, of these 60 are known to have bred.
For more hidden gems in the Ribble Coast click here to visit the Ribble Coast and Wetlands site