St Aidan’s RSPB Reserve – Connecting With Nature

This flooded open cast mine has paths that weave through wetlands, with views of the wildlife – and approaching walkers. 

It’s not easy to forget the industrial past of this site. A giant walking dragline, which excavated coal here from 1974 to 1988, sits on a hill by the car park. Its impressive bulk is visible across the reserve, with the fenced off dragline area now a  haven for owls and rabbits. ‘Oddball’, as it is known, (as a result of the US rather than UK electrical system it operated on) is preserved by a dedicated group of volunteers, who in normal years occasionally open it up to visitors. 

The nesting season is already under way and the site is becoming busier by the day. Rare black necked grebe have been sighted, and it is estimated that fewer than fifty pairs of these birds nest in the UK, but at least 25% of these choose St Aidan’s for their home. Bitterns also regularly breed here. I have never seen one of these shy, well camouflaged creatures in Yorkshire, but come the mating season you cannot ignore their presence. As you pass the reed beds at this time of year, you will hear, and feel, the bitterns’ boom. The boom can be heard up to to 5km away. The fog horn like sound explains why it has been known as the ‘bull of the bog’.

Black headed gulls, lapwing and marsh harriers swoop over water populated by ducks, geese, swans, herons and egret. It is never quiet here. The gulls provide a constant cacophony of screeches in the air, answered  by the clacking of coots from below. Yet a great crested grebe or swan will still provide moments of serenity as they slide silently past. Cormorants often stand still, drying their stretched wings in the sunlight.

Wildlife abounds beyond the water. On my last trip I saw kestrel, buzzard and red kite patrolling the hillside. You might spot a fox or deer emerging from the wooded verge. Although the visitor centre was closed as an early precaution against COIV-19, staff were still putting out food for the birds at a number of feeding points near the centre which attract a range of garden and woodland birds. The red, black and yellow of the goldfinch often standing out amongst a flock of sparrows. 

Near the centre, there are some well spaced picnic benches. Other benches, for taking in the views, are scattered across the site. Footpaths provide pedestrian access from local villages including Swillington, Woodlesford, Methley and Mickletown. Trails meet up with those that follow the River Aire, and as I approached the river in early March, I caught a flash of blue, my first kingfisher at the site. 

Horse riders, cyclists and dog walkers are welcome, but dogs must be kept on a lead in order to protect birds and their habitat. Everyone is asked to keep to marked footpaths.

I hope you, like me, are looking forward to the time when we can once again connect so closely with nature and enjoy some unique experiences.

A message from RSPB Chief Executive Beccy Speight

Like you, I am concerned for the health and welfare of my family, friends and the wider community during this difficult situation. So, it is with a real sadness that I must tell you that we have now closed all our nature reserves to visitors until further notice.

As many of you have told me, being in nature can be a great comfort at a time like this and I recognise that not being able to visit these cherished places will come as a blow. However, we believe that this is the best course of action at this time.

Solace in nature

Nature is all around us. Perhaps, like me, you are able to look out of your window onto trees bursting into blossom, bright white against a clear blue sky, or maybe you can hear the melodic song of blackbirds as dusk approaches.

Watching wildlife, whether from a window or a balcony or even online, can offer many of us hope, joy and a welcome distraction, and so we are keen to help you carry on connecting with the natural world.

Over the coming days and weeks, we will be sharing a wealth of ideas for how to enjoy nature at home, and to provide some inspiring and fun activities for families and others. 
As a charity our mission is for everyone to enjoy a world rich in wildlife, and we hope to continue to share that richness with you during this unprecedented time.

Best wishes and good health to all from everyone at the RSPB.

Beccy Speight

Chief Executive, The RSPB

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