One of the Rabbit Rocks at Lancashire Wildlife Trust's Kirkless nature reserve
A rare willow tit standing on a tree branch

Willow tit by Adam Jones

The hay meadow at Kirkless Local Nature Reserve peppered with bright yellow flowers

Kirkless' hay meadow by Mark Champion

Rare willow tits, flower-rich meadows and industrial relics live in harmony in this green oasis which forms a crucial piece of the Wigan Greenheart.

Location

Ince
West of Wigan
WN2 2EP

OS Map Reference

SD 60470603
A static map of Kirkless Local Nature Reserve

Know before you go

Size
25 hectares

Parking information

Park at Belle Green Lane - from Wigan turn left just after the main traffic lights and go past the doctor's surgery. Park where the Welley Loop Line Trail crosses the road.

Walking trails

There are a number of paths across the reserve and the main ones are accessible to wheelchairs.

Access

Main paths accessible to wheelchair users.

To reach Kirkless from Wigan, turn left just after the main traffic lights and go past the doctor's surgery.

Dogs

On a lead

When to visit

Opening times

Open at all times.

Best time to visit

Spring and summer.

About the reserve

Kirkless Local Nature Reserve has been transformed by nature – from the largest iron and steelworks in Europe to a hidden gem in the Wigan Greenheart where, in partnership with Wigan Council, we’ve helped wildlife to return.

Woodland, meadows and ponds form a rich mosaic where countless species of plants and animals thrive alongside a few remnants of Kirkless’ industrial past. Most famous of these are the striking cylindrical blocks of slag affectionately known by locals as the ‘Rabbit Rocks’. Little did the steel and ironworkers know that when they emptied these blocks from the bottom of their furnaces and dumped them on the hillside, they’d become such an unmistakeable feature of the local landscape, and such an unlikely habitat for wildlife. The gaps between the rocks offer niches for specialist plants and ready-made burrows for rabbits.

The Rabbit Rocks offer the perfect vantage point for anybody wanting to breathe in deep lungfuls of fresh air as they take in the panorama of Wigan Borough. The Leeds-Liverpool Canal glitters serenely below you, and on clear, sunny days you can see all the way to Snowdonia.

At the base of the Rabbit Rocks lies a gorgeous grassland which the industrial history of Kirkless has turned into something of a botanical wonderland. The iron and steelworks left behind alkaline soils, which you’d more commonly find on the coastal dunes of Formby. As a result, the grassland blooms with beautiful plants that are usually at home by the sea, including common broomrape. The sunshine-yellow heads of cat’s-ear and balloon-like sepals of bladder campion are sure to delight wildflower-lovers, too.

Budding botanists won’t want to miss Kirkless’ wildflower meadow, either. Wigan’s only surviving natural hay meadow, it adds magical scent and colour to the reserve right through spring and summer. A local farmer cuts the meadow annually, which helps meadowsweet, lady’s bedstraw, vernal grass and other stunning flora to flourish.

The birdlife of Kirkless Local Nature Reserve may not be as unabashed as its plant life, but it’s no less special. This wildlife refuge is a vital home for the rare willow tit: Britain’s most endangered small bird. These shy and retiring birds nest in the scrubby areas that form part of a wider, critical network for willow tits across the North West.

There are lots of other birds to keep your eyes peeled for at Kirkless, too. Blue tits flit through the trees, picking insects from the branches; great tits chirp ‘tee-cher, tee-cher’ in the woodland; and goldcrests send down their twiddling song from the tops of the trees.

Visit Kirkless early in the day, or into the evening, and you may even be lucky enough to spot a timid roe deer or fox.

Contact us

Mark Champion
Contact number: 01942 233976