Corporate report

Merseyside's National Nature Reserves

Updated 9 December 2020

Applies to England

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 colour-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 reserve is on Route 62 (TransPennine Trail) and local route 81 of the Sustrans National Cycle Network.

The reserve is a short walk away from train stations at both Ainsdale (1.2km) and Freshfield (1.4km)

Local bus services stop at Freshfield station, Pinfold Lane and Gleneagles Drive.

For local transport information contact Merseytravel

Access to the reserve by car is via minor roads from the A565.

There is no public parking on the reserve, although a limited number of disabled parking places are available (please call the reserve office on 01704 578774 for more information).

Public parking can be found at Ainsdale-on-Sea beach car park, with access to the NNR via the beach or neighbouring Ainsdale Sandhills Local Nature Reserve. To the south of the reserve parking is also available at the National Trust property in Formby, from where the NNR can be accessed via the Sefton Coast Footpath.

There are footpath entrances to the reserve from Pinfold Lane and the Coastal Road, Ainsdale; Fisherman’s Path, Freshfield; and from north and south along the beach and frontal dune paths.

The NNR can also be visited via the Trans Pennine Trail and the Sefton Coastal Footpath which provide access to the entire length of Sefton’s Natural Coast.


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

The nearest train station is in Formby.

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, coastal grassland

Management: the reserve is jointly managed by Natural England, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), and the Lytham and District Wildfowlers Association (under a Nature Reserve Agreement).

Features of interest

The reserve occupies over half of the total area of the Ribble Estuary, and at 5,231 hectares is the third largest NNR in England. The reserve includes extensive areas of mud and sand flats, one of the largest single areas of saltmarsh in England, as well as one of the largest ‘managed-realignment’ areas of restored saltmarsh in Britain. It has been described as a ‘service station’ for birds as it is a key link in the chain of wetlands which make up the ‘East Atlantic flyway’, the migration route for over-wintering wildfowl and waders that links Greenland and Siberia and down the coast of Europe and onto Africa.

The reserve provides fantastic year-round viewing opportunities for bird watching, with up to a quarter of a million birds inhabiting the estuary each year. The winter months are the best time to see and hear the spectacle of thousands of pink-footed geese flying in from Iceland, along with the arrival of many more thousands of wigeon from Siberia.

Along the shoreline, fifteen species of wading birds, ranging in size from the striking oystercatcher down to the sparrow-sized dunlin, escape the Arctic winter and find food and shelter between the tides. During the spring and summer the reserve supports thousands of pairs of breeding water birds including gulls, terns, redshanks, avocets, lapwings and skylarks.

The NNR was originally declared in 1979 to protect the saltmarsh from being developed into arable fields, and has been further extended on 3 occasions since then. The NNR management has retained the traditional seasonal grazing with livestock which is of benefit to the large numbers of overwintering waterfowl dependent on the tidal marsh. This grazing management remains an important part of the local agricultural economy.

More information about the Marshside and Hesketh Out Marsh areas of the reserve is on the RSPB website.


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 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 for over 12km along the flood embankment on the southern edge of the reserve, from RSPB Marshside near Southport, past Crossens and Hundred End, and as far as the RSPB Hesketh Out Marsh managed realignment area of the reserve near to the village of Hesketh Bank. Viewing hides at Marshside provide excellent opportunities for visitors to experience the wildlife at close quarters.

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 most accessible car parks are at Lytham, at RSPB Marshside, and at RSPB Hesketh Out Marsh.


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.


For Natural England local enquiries:

Telephone: 01704 578774

For RSPB local enquiries:

Telephone: 01704 211690