Lying in Cumbria's southwest corner between the Duddon Estuary and Morecambe Bay, Walney Island's two nature reserves, South Walney and North Walney, are full of life and beauty.
Home to more than 60,000 birds and a nesting ground for over 17,000 pairs of herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls, South Walney is also home to kestrels, barn owls, tufted duck, swans, and grebes. Other breeding species include the common tern, little tern, oystercatcher, ringed plover, shelduck, mallard and moorhen, and there’s an eider duck breeding colony too.
South Walney gets even busier in the colder months as knot, dunlin, sanderling, turnstone, golden plover, grey plover, redshank, curlew bartailed godwit, widgeon, teal, goldeneye, common scoter, red-breasted merganser, red-throated diver, and cormorant all winter on the reserve.
North Walney is the habitat of Britain’s rarest amphibian, the Natterjack Toad, along with 400 species of moths and butterflies and over 450 species of flowering plants.
In spring, Walney geranium, wild pansies, burnet rose, and ladies' bedstraw add a splash of colour to the sand dunes, while the marshland supports sea aster, sea lavender and thrift. The local ponds are also home to several species of orchid.
The reserve is open between 10am and 5pm in the summer and 10am and 4pm in the winter, although it is closed on Mondays.
The following advice will help you reduce any negative impact on the local wildlife.
Buy a pair of binoculars
Binoculars will help you observe the wildlife from a safe distance without getting too close.
Look out for breeding birds
Using methods such as alarm calls, most birds will tell you when you’re too close to their nests. This is the time to put your dog on the lead and move on quickly. On the coast, nests will usually be on the ground amongst the shingle, so do take care where you walk, and try to avoid nests by moving up and away from the beach.
Avoid high tide roosts in the winter
In winter, look well ahead to find high tide roosts before they’re disturbed and alter your route to avoid them. Alternatively, try to time your route to coincide with low tide, when the birds are more dispersed.
‘Head-up’ means ‘back off’
Look out for the ‘head-up’ signals that will precede disturbance. Birds will often raise their heads prior to flying, or alternatively, bob their heads up and down to alert the birds around them to your presence. When you see this, it’s time to change course, walking around or away from the birds. This usually settles them down.