“ There's something for everyone all year round at this delightful coastal reserve. In the spring you can see brown hares boxing in the fields, while in the early summer you'll spot nesting birds like avocets and lapwings. „
Just to the north of the busy seaside town of Southport is a small RSPB reserve that, although sandwiched between the coast road and a housing estate, is an oasis of calm and a great place to see some of the special birds that breed and winter on the edge of the Ribble estuary.
Marshside RSPB is easy to find, only one mile up the coast road from Southport town centre. The reserve is signposted from the road; the car park is on the left if coming from the direction of Southport.
Apart from the car park which is free, there are few facilities at the reserve. There are toilets, including disabled toilets, two bird hides (one of which is glazed and heated), and three viewing screens. There's no café or shop on site, although with Southport only a two minute drive away, there's little need for them.
The reserve comprises of two separate habitats. The first, on the west side of the road is the saltmarsh and beach. Southport is infamous for its disappearing sea: visit at low tide and the sand seems to stretch for miles until it reaches the far away waters of the Irish Sea. The exposed sands are very rich in food and are a haven for wading birds, particularly in the winter.
The saltmarsh is also a very special habitat and one that's getting rarer in Britain. Finches, ducks, and geese all feed on the abundant plants and seeds in this green carpet on the shore.
Across the road is the main reserve. This is a huge area of flooded grassland that is absolutely packed with birds at any time of the year. The RSPB have taken great care to make the birds viewable at close range whilst protecting them from disturbance with comfortable hides and sheltered viewing screens.
All of the screens and hides are accessible to wheelchairs as the access to them is on the pavement of the road.
There are several trails along the old sea wall that allow walks of up to four miles. Looking out over the saltmarsh, shore and sea, towards the Fylde coast make the walks extremely scenic. Blackpool tower and 'The Big One' rollercoaster often make for an interesting backdrop to the glistening blue waters and golden sands of the shore.
Whilst the reserve is quite scenic, and extremely lush and green in the summer months, it is perhaps, the wildlife that makes the reserve a must see attraction, particularly for birdwatchers. Brown hares can be seen in spring; our fastest mammal lives up to its name as it 'hares' across the fields, often quite close to the hides.
Summer sees some wonderful, scarce birds breeding. The nationally declining lapwing is common here, its 'peewit' call echoes across the reserve at all times of the day. The lovely redshank, with its bright red legs bobs around at the edges of the pools.
Most special of all is the several pairs of avocet that spend their summers here. This gorgeous wading bird with its black and white plumage, curved bill and bright blue legs is the emblem of the RSPB and a real conservation success for Britain. They are more common now than for over 100 years.
All three of these birds breed on the reserve and give a wonderful spectacle for the visitor as they tenderly care for their youngsters, protecting them from marauding foxes and crows, and the often harsh spring weather. The young of all three species are little fluff balls and are absolutely gorgeous. I challenge you to see them and not go "aahh!"
The winter bird life is even more impressive. Here, huge numbers of birds are present on the reserve. Over 20,000 wigeon can be present; their whistling calls constantly audible throughout the day. About 30,000 pink-footed geese spend time here too, a vast flock that fills the sky as they take off.
The presence of little egrets, black-tailed godwits, and lots of other wildfowl and waders means that there can be over 50,000 birds at any one time on the reserve, with birds of prey such as merlin, peregrine falcon and short-eared owl harrying them: a real wildlife spectacle. It's no wonder the Ribble estuary is one of the top ten in the country.
A visit to Marshide is recommended at any time of the year to anyone interested in wildlife. The main hide is staffed during the day with friendly volunteers eager to show visitors the wonderful birds that make their home here. Best of all, entry to the reserve is free, although donations to the RSPB are welcomed and you can join this superb conservation group here, too.