Former Industrial Wasteland Becomes New Nature Reserve in England


The Flashes of Wigan and Leigh are former coal mining sites. They are now biodiverse wetlands and were officially declared a National Nature Reserve on Oct. 3, 2022. Wigan Council / Facebook

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A former industrial wasteland in Manchester, England, has officially been designated an 1,824-acre nature reserve that will provide 300,000 locals with access to nature, a press release from Natural England and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said.

The Flashes of Wigan and Leigh will become one of England’s most extensive urban nature reserves and will provide protected habitat for endangered bitterns — a relative of the heron — water voles and 52 pairs of willow tit. The patchwork of meadows and wetlands consisting of marshy grassland, swamp, reedbed, wet woodland and tall herb fen will become part of the National Nature Reserves network.

“National Nature Reserves help reconnect people with our natural world, providing much needed opportunities to explore our incredible landscape for our health and wellbeing,” said Chief Executive Officer of Natural England Marian Spain, as BBC News reported.

A gradual sinking of land due to mining led to the formation of lakes that became habitat for species, the press release said. The Wigan and Leigh nature reserve highlights the transfiguration of the Flashes over the past century. The designation will be the first for Greater Manchester.

In addition to protecting wildlife, it is hoped the new nature reserve will become a site for sustainable tourism, as residents already cycle, fish, birdwatch and go on nature walks there.

In 2019, England’s “natural capital” was estimated to have a value of $1.35 trillion.

“A healthy natural environment and economic growth go hand in hand. By working together to build strong partnerships such as those we see here in the Flashes of Wigan and Leigh, we can provide space for rare species and provide vital greenspace. That will make Wigan and Leigh great places to live and great places to do business in,” Spain said, as reported by About Manchester.

According to the press release, the new nature reserve in Wigan combines 13 sites, including Amberswood, Three Sisters, Wigan Flashes and Bickershaw Country Park, plus Viridor woodland, which was planted more than two decades ago by Forestry England.

England’s National Nature Reserves were created not only to protect habitats for threatened species, but for use as “outdoor laboratories” for schools, the public and special interest groups to be exposed to wildlife and preserving nature.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the first of England’s nature reserves, of which there are now 220 covering more than 254,519 acres. The reserves will help with the UK government’s goal of stopping the decrease in wildlife populations by 2030.

“The unique wetlands in Wigan and Leigh were forged by nature reclaiming former industrial land. Today’s designation demonstrates how it is possible to reverse the decline in nature,” Spain said in the press release.

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