Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve is a 508-hectare site on the Sefton Coast and comprises rare sand dune, beach and woodland habitats. There are around 10 kms (6¾ miles) of way-marked footpaths to follow, and so tranquil and wild is the place that it is easy to forget that you are surrounded by one of the most urban areas in England. There is plenty to see – come at the right time, and you might see a host of stunning butterflies like painted ladies, dark green fritillaries, commas, peacocks, red admirals and meadow browns. Pay a visit to the ponds during the summer and you could find the area around them alive with glittering, jewelled dragonflies. The Reserve is also home to mammals, including foxes, hedgehogs, rabbits and shrews, and a vast array of spectacular wildflowers such as common restharrow, hound’s tongue, bird’s foot trefoil and a variety of orchids.
The Reserve received its designation as a National Nature Reserve in 1965. Aside from the more common species of plant, mammal and insect, the Reserve is also home to a diversity of rare, special and beautiful species that you might not recognise as such – or even notice. There is the rare, mainly nocturnal natterjack toad, whose astonishing chorus during the month of April earns it the local nickname of ‘Birkdale Nightingale’. There is the great crested newt, Britain’s most protected species of amphibian, whose numbers are on the increase on the Reserve. Another rare species found on the Reserve is the sand lizard, a secretive, shy reptile that is rarely actually seen. Rare wildflowers found on the Reserve include the dune helleborine, seaside centaury and yellow bartsia.
As Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve is a legally designated Reserve, public access is restricted. Anyone can follow the way-marked footpaths marked with colour-topped wooden marker posts, but people wishing to explore the Reserve off the beaten track must apply for a Natural England general permit. These are available free of charge by telephoning the Reserve on 01704 578774. Similarly, dogs are allowed on way-marked footpaths as long as they are kept under close control at all times, but cannot be taken off the public paths, even with a permit. This is because of the disturbance they could cause to the rare species, birds and grazing livestock.
There is no question that the Sefton Coast is a special place. To visit it alone
and unguided is a fantastic enough experience in its own right. To give people the chance to learn about the Sefton Coast and to appreciate its value even more, the organisations comprising the Sefton Coast Partnership – Natural England included – organise an annual series of guided walks and events for the general public. To find out more about Natural England’s events, please contact the offices at Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve on 01704 578774 or check Natural England’s website.
OS Grid references:
Northern Entrance SD304113
Southern access from Freshfield staion, cross railway via foot crossing at SD292092
Southern access on Sefton Coastal Footpath SD280098, approach from National Trust reserve at Formby Point, or further South.
Normally no access by car to the reserve itself. Foot and cycle paths only.
By car, either park on minor roads North of the Coastal Road near Woodvale or park near Freshfield station.
By Rail. Ainsdale or Freshfield stations, where footpaths lead to the reserve.
By foot. Three main footpaths pass through or near the reserve: The Sefton Coastal Footpath, The Transpennine Trail and The Cheshire Lines Path. There is also a local path from Freshfield station called Fisherman’s Path that marks the Southern edge of the reserve.
By cycle. The Sustrans route 62, The Transpennine Trail passes close to the Northern edge of the reserve. There is a permissive cycle path through the reserve from the Northern edge to Freshfield