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Mere Sands Wood Nature Reserve

A wildlife-rich haven in the heart of agricultural west Lancashire.

Nearest Village: Rufford (1 mile)

Nearest town: Burscough (3 miles)


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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 members of the Trust and the local community worked with Lancashire County Council to draw up a planning agreement with the extraction company, 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 areas nearby. On completion of the sand winning in 1982, the Trust acquired the site.


Since 1982, Trust volunteers and staff have spent many thousands of hours developing the site into its present form. Hides have been built, footpaths established and reedbeds have been encouraged. The woodland is managed using traditional methods of coppicing to create more open areas within the woods to benefit wildlife. 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 and reedbeds provide habitat and food for fish, amphibians and birds suchas Reed Buntings, Water Rail, Great Crested and Little Grebes and many overwintering waterfowl. 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 large numbers of Gadwall and Teal, as well as Wigeon, Pintail, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and Goosander, with Bittern also often visiting.


Breeding species include Great Crested and Little Grebes, Lapwing and Tufted Duck. Birds that breed in the woodland include Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Tree Sparrow, Treecreeper, alongside the common tit and warbler species.


In all, over 170 bird species have been seen on the reserve, of which 60 are known to have bred.


Mere Sands Wood is one of our reserves that allows well-behaved dogs on leads. Our dog-friendly reserves are featured on Bauwow, a brilliant app where pooch lovers can find great places for their pets. Click on the Bauwow logo for more details.

Nearby nature reserves

Freemans Pasture Local Nature Reserve
7 miles - The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside
Haskayne Cutting Nature Reserve
7 miles - The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside
Cop Lane
9 miles - The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside

Nature reserve map

Reserve information

Holmeswood Road, Rufford
L40 1TG
Map reference
SD 447 157
Great for...
a family day out
getting away from it all
overwintering birds
stunning views
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Opening Times
Visitor centre open Tue-Sun, 9:30am to 4:30pm. Closed Mondays (open on Bank Holiday Mondays). A small selection of refreshments are available to purchase .
Gift shop
Visitor centre
Picnic facilities
42.00 hectares

There is no charge for access to the reserve. A parking fee of £2 per vehicle for all day parking applies and an annual pass costing £30 may be purchased in the Visitor Centre. Parking is £2 per day payable either in cash on the day or online within 48 hours at: Non-members may join the Trust at the reserve. There is a visitor centre with literature, toilets and a small shop selling gifts, hot and cold drinks and confectionery. There are six hides and a viewing platform distributed around the reserve. There are a number of surfaced trails through the woods between 400m & 4k in length. 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'. A children's Wildlife WATCH group meets on the first Saturday of each month and there are regular activities for children during school holidays. The Visitor Centre's activity room is available for hire by groups, for meetings or as a base for fieldwork. WHEELCHAIR ACCESS - there are 3 circular trails, leading from the car park through the main areas of the reserve, which are accessible to most wheelchair users. The white trail (1.5km) is suitable for most motorised wheelchairs. Six hides and a viewing platform, plus the visitor centre (with picnic area) are also fully accessible. Two motorised buggies are available for loan from the Visitor Centre.
Walking information
The site is accessible by foot at all times.
Car park is open 9am-8pm in summer and 9am - 5pm in winter.
Dogs must be on lead
Reserve manager
Lindsay Beaton
Tel: 01704 821809