The Wigan Flashes are now becoming well known as one of the most important wetlands in the Northwest. The Wigan Flashes Project has been running for the last 14 years and is a partnership between The Lancashire Wildlife Trust and Wigan Council. The site is 240 hectares in total; much of the area is open water, tall fen and reedbed with areas of mossland and marshes. Other important habitats include wet woodland, the home of the scarce willow tit, heathland and meadows with some areas of newer woodland now developing.
Reedbeds, Bittern and Conservation
We have now managed, developed and even created a total of 50 hectares of reedbed on the site. This involves lowering the reedbed surface, ditching and removing the post-industrial tipping on many of the areas. A total of one million tonnes of post-industrial spoil has been moved, to create the second biggest reedbed in the Northwest region, with a total reedbed area in excess of 70ha. European Life funding, and landfill tax money from various bodies have paid for this work Recent funding from WREN is helping to deliver a wider conservation output in the WIgan area. The Use of Countryside stewardship in the part helped to develop a number of botanically diverse meadows- along with other important conservation inmprovments this ecological work has continued with a Hier Level Stewardship agreement.
The reedbeds have been lowered to re-wet them and over ten kilometres of ditches have been dug to improve the habitat for the bitterns and other reedbed wildlife.
The birds and other wildlife associated with the reedbed habitats are increasing as the habitat develops, with nationally important numbers of reed warblers now nesting on the site. Water rails are now regularly heard as they call in the Spring, their eerie squeals being a feature of warm nights in May. The bittern is now a regular visitor to The Flashes with regular sightings in the winter, they can be seen flying over the reedbeds, especially on the warmer winter days. This year they boomed for the first time since the 1980s.
We have even built bird watching screens at the Hawkley Hall, Horrocks and Bryn reedbeds to allow visitors to watch for bitterns.
Work to reinstate areas of heathland have been underway for the last six years, this has been by the use of locally collected seed, covered with cut heather brash, the results have been favourable and the area of the heathland is increasing.
On Ince Moss there is a five hectare mossland. This is an area of relict peat mossland which has become dominated by purple moor grass, bracken and sphagnum moss. As such it is one of the largest areas outside of the Astley/Chat Moss complex, to the extreme south of The Borough, and is therefore important as a stepping-stone for wildlife associated with this nationally scarce habitat. Mosslands once stretched over much of the Borough of Wigan and in the 17th Century would have covered the area of Amberswood Common, south through the Wigan Flashes to Abram, but they were drained and the landform changed during the industrial period when the land subsided, and much of the area was tipped over.
The area on Ince Moss has six species of sphagnum moss, which makes it of high conservation importance, despite the relatively small size. This moss, which requires acid peat conditions where the ground is permanently wet, builds up the mosslands and creates the ideal conditions for a range of other species.
In the past the land on Ince Moss had been drained and we have set out to reverse this by blocking the drains and placing a series of bunds across the ditches to prevent water movement. The steep-sided main drains have been re-profiled to produce shallow margins, suitable for colonisation by sphagnum mosses. The removal of the steep sides means the pools created by bunding the ditches become integrated into the landscape and ecology of the mossland.
Willow and birch scrub have colonised some of the drier areas of the moss and these have been removed to produce an area that will become more typical of the old mosslands. With the level of the water table on the mossland already 15 centimetres higher, the trees will not be able to re-colonise.
The paths have been improved over most of the site, with nearly ten kilometres having been improved in the last seven years, and exploring the various flashes is now much easier than in the past. These improvements and a range of community based walks and events have encouraged up to 97,000 visitors a year to visit the Wigan Flashes.
During the summer months we try and organise events based around our wetland theme to encourage people to explore the Wigan Flashes, these have included a coracle making workshop a willow weaving event to make a 2 metre high wicker bittern, and a series of art and discovery days where the public were invited for a guided walk or similar event, which was then followed up by an art session with a local artist.
The Wigan Flashes Conservation and Community Group assist in fund raising and developing the Local Nature Reserve, by being a source of fresh community based ideas and by reporting and often suggesting and developing solutions to problems around the site.
A past project called Young Roots with local youths in partnership with Wigan Youth service, has seen the development of a canoe trail around Scotman's Flash, looking at aspects of the History, wildlife and culture associated with the Wigan Flashes, We are looking at developing this concept further with a new project in partnership with The Youth Team starting in 2014.