Corporate report

Merseyside's National Nature Reserves

Published 2 September 2014

Ainsdale Sand Dunes

The dunes are home to over 450 plant species including 33 that are locally or regionally rare like petalwort, seaside centaury, yellow bartsia, round-leaved wintergreen, dune helleborine and pendulous flowered helleborine.

Main habitat: coastal sand dunes

Features of interest

This is one of the best remaining strongholds of the rare natterjack toad, Europe’s loudest amphibian. Red squirrels can occasionally be seen in amongst the reserve’s pine forests too, while sand lizards, great-crested newts and a fantastic variety of orchids and other wildflowers can also be found here.

The reserve has a network of around 8 miles of footpaths marked with coloured topped posts. The Woodland Path and Fisherman’s Path are accessible by bike, pushchairs and wheelchairs. See the map to find out where you can ride a horse or cycle at the reserve.

See the site visitor leafletfor more details.


The dunes of the Sefton Coast cover a large area, some parts of which are relatively remote, and you can become disorientated. If you wish to visit the beach check the local tide timetable.

The reserve adjoins a large urban area but it can still be very quiet and isolated. For your personal safety, if you are visiting on your own, you are advised to ensure someone else knows where you have gone and roughly what time you will be back.

Rabbit burrows are common, and soft sand can give way easily under foot. During dry weather conditions there is also a high risk of fire on site. Please don’t smoke near pine-needle debris or discard cigarettes or empty bottles.


Email: Telephone: 01704 578774

Ainsdale Sand Dunes NNR
2 West End Lodge
Pinfold Lane

Cabin Hill

This small but special site exhibits classic coastal succession, with intertidal sand flats and embryo dunes grading into mobile yellow dunes.

Main habitats: embryo dunes, yellow dunes, fixed dunes, wet slacks, flower rich grassland, dune pasture and deciduous woodland

Cabin Hill NNR forms part of the Sefton Coast, the finest dune system on the north-west coast of England.

The shore provides feeding and roosting grounds for many migrating and over-wintering birds including knot, grey plover and bar-tailed godwit. Common lizard and the scarce sand lizard are also found on the site.

At night in late April the rare and endangered Natterjack toad calls from around the fringes of the flooded slacks.


Cabin Hill is on the outskirts of Formby.

By car

By car, the site is accessed via minor roads from the A565. The nearest car park is on the beach-front 1.5km to the north.

By rail

The nearest train station is in Formby.

By foot

The Sefton Coastal Footpath passes along the eastern boundary of the reserve.

Voluntary wardens carry out site work, sheep and cattle checks and species monitoring.


Telephone: 01704 578774.

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.

By foot/cycle

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.

By rail

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

By bus

Local bus services are provided by Stagecoach Northwest.

By car

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.