“ Victoria Road, Freshfield, Formby, Liverpool L37 1LJ Tel: 01704 87859 „
The Sefton Coast dune system in Merseyside is the largest area of sand dunes in Britain, covering over 2000 hectares and makes up 15% of the total sand dune area in Britain. This habitat is rare in Britain and hosts some very special wildlife and flora.
The extremely rare sand lizard and natterjack toad are found here in good numbers, and this is one of the few places in England where the red squirrel can still be found.
The National Trust reserve at Formby is one of the best locations to experience this wonderful, ever changing landscape due to its excellent access and good facilities.
The reserve is easy to find, simply follow the brown tourist signs from the roundabout at the north end of the Formby bypass. Parking costs £4, the fee for which is paid at the entrance. There are several car parks with space for hundreds of cars, but such is Formby Point's popularity, on nice summer days the spaces can fill up quickly.
An ice cream van is usually located by the entrance: a great place to buy cold drinks, ice creams, and a bag of nuts (for the squirrels, obviously!). There are toilets and disabled toilets here too, as well as several excellent picnic tables.
The reserve consists of three habitats; pinewoods, extensive dune systems, and the sea shore itself. Paths lead from the woods, through the dunes, down to the sea.
The pinewoods, where the first car park is located is the place to find the red squirrels. Dogs are allowed, but must be kept on a lead. Several trails wind through the woods and the squirrels can be seen anywhere along the paths.
The squirrels are very tame due to the numbers of visitors providing them with tasty peanuts and will often approach to within a few feet of a quiet observer. These gorgeous little animals are much nicer than the alien grey squirrels that have usurped them from most of Britain.
To me, getting close to these lovely creatures is always exciting and a privilege. Sadly, sightings have become much rarer over the past couple of years. The deadly disease, squirrel pox, carried by grey squirrels has all but decimated the Formby red squirrels and there are only around 10% of the original number left. There are encouraging signs of an increase in numbers, however.
Past the pinewoods are the extensive sand dunes. Wildlife here is abundant, although much of it is shy and reclusive. There is a chance of an encounter with the sand lizards or natterjack toads. Great crested newts live in the small pools that are scattered around the dune system.
Butterflies and dragonflies are present in summer including the rare dark green fritillary butterfly. Flowers are everywhere at this time; a riot of colour created by wintergreen, early marsh orchid, dune helleborine, and many others.
Due to the hilly nature of the dune system, it's possible to wander for miles without seeing too many other people, even in the height of the season. In this part of the reserve, Formby can feel wild and remote, despite the proximity of the nearby town.
Perhaps the jewel in the crown of the reserve is the shore. The beaches stretch for miles; acres of clean golden sandy beaches as far as the eye can see. Across the water are the mountains of the Clywdian range, know to Merseysiders simply as 'the Welsh mountains'.
The clean waters of the Irish Sea flood the sands twice a day, bringing in nutrients for the thousands of hungry birds that feed here. Knot, sanderling, bar-tailed godwit, ringed plover, grey plover and many more waders flock around the area, following the restless tide as it alternatively covers and exposes their feeding grounds.
Off shore can be seen seabirds such as red-throated diver, cormorant, eider, as well as terns and skuas in the summer. A speciality of the area is the grey seals. These often come close to shore at high tide and stare curiously at the two legged visitors staring back from the shore!
But it is the ancient wildlife that makes Formby Point so special. Four thousand years ago, marine sediments, known as Holocene, were set down. Set into these sediments were the footprints of animals of that age; red deer, wolves, horse, and the gigantic extinct aurochs.
These footprints are exposed by the tide for a brief period before being destroyed by wave action, never to be seen again. Perhaps most chilling of these ephemeral footprints are those of our ancestors. Neolithic humans hunted the area, leaving their tracks to be exposed to our gaze over four millennia later.
Visitors to the massive reserve at Formby can easily use up a whole day in summer searching for the wildlife, looking for footprints, and enjoying a relaxing picnic in the woods or dunes. This is a justifiably popular reserve and anyone looking for somewhere to go in Merseyside should have this on their itinerary.
Victoria Road, Freshfield, Formby, Liverpool L37 1LJ Telephone: 01704 878591