Residents of Ince may know of this local gem in the heart of Wigan, home to rabbit rocks and remnants of Wigan’s industrial past. It’s an ecologically rich area, valued for its recreation, education and research opportunities.
Kirkless boasts panoramic views of Wigan, offering woodland walks, meadows and ponds. The site has strong heritage links, as it was previously part of the Wigan Iron and Steel Works, and was a major area for locomotive repairs and flagstone production. Building remains from its industrial past have become unique features of the landscape.
Perhaps one of the most significant effects of industrial activity on the site is that it is now home to a plant community found nowhere else in the area, and more likely seen on coastal dunes. A highly successful, yet unusual form of natural regeneration has colonised areas, providing an interesting mix of species that have developed as a result of the iron ore extraction process.
As well as containing important wildlife habitats, the site connects with a network of existing footpaths and bridleways in the area.
Kirkless is a hub on the footpath routes between Hindley, Haigh, Aspull, Whelley and New Springs and other intermediate areas along the canal. The Whelley Loop Line – now an accessible pathway – and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal also runs alongside Kirkless, offering easy access for anyone to enjoy the countryside as part of an active lifestyle.
The site has been neglected for many years and intervening management is necessary to ensure that the historical and botanical heritage is not lost.
Funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund has been used to drive a new Heritage and Conservation Project, to help visitors and the local community to learn more about the heritage of the site, including path improvements, a heritage trail, practical conservation tasks, as well as public events and educational visits to the area.
The reserve management plan involves collaborating with partners to develop a programme of visits and research opportunities, as well as with the ‘Friends of Kirkless’ group to engage and empower the local community in making decisions about their surrounding natural environment.