Corporate report

Lancashire's National Nature Reserves

Updated 9 August 2023

Applies to England

Gait Barrows

Gait Barrows NNR in the heart of the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is one of Britain’s most important areas of limestone landscape.

Main habitats: limestone pavement, woodland, fen, limestone grassland

Some areas of the site have access restrictions under the CRoW act, but the nature trails and public footpaths are open to the public at all times.

Keep dogs on a lead at all times.

Features of interest

The lady’s-slipper orchid is the rarest of all British wildflowers. Once thought to be extinct in the UK, this special plant has since been rediscovered and a national species recovery program has been launched. Gait Barrows is now home to a thriving population of reintroduced plants.

The Duke of Burgundy and high brown fritillary butterflies thrive in the woodland glades and clearings, which are carefully managed for their benefit. Look out for small orange and brown Duke of Burgundy in May and the larger high brown fritillary in July and August.

The woodlands and wetlands provide a home for large numbers of redwing and fieldfare arriving from Scandinavia in autumn to feed on the abundant yew berry crop. The restored reed beds of Hawes Water Moss are also home to marsh harrier, bittern and reed bunting.

See the site visitor leaflet for more details.


Gait Barrows NNR is near Morecambe Bay in north Lancashire, 2.5km north of Silverdale and 3 km south east of Arnside at SD 481772.

By car, access is via minor roads from the A6 at Beetham to Brackenthwaite Road. A small permit-holder’s car park can be found on the reserve. Voluntary car parking charges can be paid in advance or on the day using the RingGo app. Additional parking is available on road-side lay-bys.

The nearest train stations are in Silverdale and Arnside.

There are local bus services to the area from Carnforth and Lancaster.


Much of the site is hazardous and care should be taken when leaving the paths. There is no access to Little Hawes Water or Hawes Water Moss as these areas are extremely hazardous.

Ticks are present on this reserve and Lyme disease is present in this area of the country. Take precautions such as covering arms and legs, and check for bites after you visit.


The senior reserve manager is Glen Swainson.

Email or telephone 07901009043.

Ribble Estuary

The estuary is one of the most important sites in the UK for over wintering wildfowl.

Main habitats: saltmarsh, mud and sand flats

Features of interest

The reserve occupies over half of the total area of the Ribble Estuary (4520 Ha), including extensive areas of mud and sand flats and one of the largest single areas of saltmarsh in England. It has been described as a ‘hotel-restaurant’ for birds as it is a key site in the chain of wetlands which make up the east Atlantic flyway or migration route for wintering wildfowl and waders.

The winter months are the best time to visit the reserve for bird watching as thousands of Widgeon arrive from Siberia to mix with large numbers of pink-footed geese flying in from Iceland. Whooper Swans can also be seen in good numbers feeding in the surrounding countryside especially at nearby Martin Mere.


The reserve is 7 km west of Preston and includes land on both sides of the Ribble Estuary: as far as Lytham, on the northern bank, and Crossens (near Marshside), on the southern bank.

The Lancashire Coastal Way runs along the northern bank of the estuary. The northern bank can also be accessed via Route 62 of the Sustrans National Cycle Network.

A footpath affording good views of the saltmarsh runs along the flood embankment on the southern edge of the reserve from Crossens pumping station near Southport to Hundred End near Hesketh Bank village and the RSPB Hesketh Outmarsh.

The nearest train stations are in Preston, Lytham and Southport (5 km to the south west) served by Northern Rail.

Local bus services are provided by Stagecoach Northwest.

Access is via minor roads from the A584 (northern bank) and A59 (southern bank). The two most accessible car parks are at Lytham, and on the Marshside coastal road near Southport.


Please note: due to the dangerous nature and fragility of the saltmarsh and mudflats, access to the site is restricted to public rights of way.

Voluntary wardens carry out site work, monthly bird counts and regular ‘eyes and ears’ patrols.


Email: Telephone: 01704 578774.