Major boost for conservation as 'Flashes of Wigan and Leigh' declared England's newest National Nature Reserve

Major boost for conservation as 'Flashes of Wigan and Leigh' declared England's newest National Nature Reserve

A vast new National Nature Reserve (NNR) spanning large parts of Wigan Borough has been formally created today (Monday 3 October 2022) in recognition of the area’s natural beauty and immense ecological importance.

The formal declaration by Natural England in partnership with Wigan Council, Lancashire Wildlife Trust and Forestry England will protect 738.21 hectares of precious wetland habitats – now known as ‘The Flashes of Wigan and Leigh’.

The wetlands, which were originally formed by the flooding of former coal mining sites, are now home to nationally significant wildlife populations including the willow tit, water voles and the great crested newt.

Councillor David Molyneux MBE, Leader of Wigan Council, said: “We’re delighted and incredibly proud that the significance and splendour of the Flashes of Wigan and Leigh has been recognised with their declaration as a National Nature Reserve.

“Like so many of our residents, we as a council are deeply passionate about the conservation of wildlife and about providing opportunities for local people to get closer to nature and explore the beauty of their surroundings.

“Today’s announcement provides us with a wonderful platform from which to educate and inspire future generations and tell the incredible story of this unique landscape, which has been forged by our rich industrial heritage and is so important to our brighter, greener future.”

Councillor Nazia Rehman, portfolio holder for finance, resources and transformation, said: “We’re excited to be working in partnership with Natural England, Lancashire Wildlife Trust and Forestry England to make the most of these wonderful assets for the benefit of our 330,000 residents.

“We feel privileged to have such beautiful natural landscapes right here on our doorstep, and we’re absolutely dedicated to protecting and nurturing them so that they fulfil their immense potential for conservation, education and tourism long into the future.”

The declaration comes as Natural England celebrates the 70th anniversary of the creation of the very first National Nature Reserves.

NNRs were established to protect some of the country’s most important habitats, species and geology; provide ‘outdoor laboratories’ for research; and offer opportunities to the public, schools and specialist interest groups to experience wildlife first-hand along with learning more about nature conservation.  

Ginny Hinton, Area Director of Natural England, said: “The creation of this National Nature Reserve close to so many people is an important moment for nature recovery, not only in Wigan, Leigh and the North West but for England. This is not least because it presents a practical demonstration of what can be done by working in partnership across the landscape at scale to reverse nature’s decline.

“Seventy years from the creation of our first National Nature Reserves in England, these wonderful places are needed now more than ever as we face into the challenges of global warming, wildlife decline and reconnecting people with the natural world.”  

The Flashes of Wigan and Leigh comprises a total of 13 sites including Wigan Flashes, Amberswood, Three Sisters, Bickershaw Country Park, Pennington Flash and Viridor Wood near Bamfurlong.

The mix of swamp, reedbed, tall herb fen, wet marshy grassland and wet woodland supports a rich diversity of birds and other species – including more than 50 pairs of willow tits (around 2% of England’s total population) and the rare heron-like bittern, as well as wintering ducks, geese and swans.

Jo Kennedy, Living Landscapes Development Manager at Lancashire Wildlife Trust, said: "The declaration of The Flashes of Wigan and Leigh as a National Nature Reserve is an opportunity to celebrate, protect and enhance this area where nature has taken back places once dominated by coalfields. It is now a vitally important part of the North West’s Nature Recovery Network.”

Paddy Harrop, Forest Management Director at Forestry England, said:“It’s great that Forestry England’s Viridor Wood can play a part in the Flashes of Wigan and Leigh National Nature Reserve because we know that working with partners at a larger landscape scale will bring about so many benefits, not only for local communities but also for the wildlife that flourishes in the habitats found in this area”.

Posted on Monday 3rd October 2022

© Wigan Council