In times gone by, Cabin Hill was the largest dune on this part of the Sefton Coast, and was used as a landmark by ships approaching Liverpool. However, between 1940-1960 the dune was removed by sand extraction, and this led to the creation in 1970 of a flood bank to protect the low-lying land behind the dunes from tidal surges. The creation of this flood bank left wet areas (known as slacks) on either side of it, and these have since become a very important habitat for wildlife. In particular, the Reserve boasts a spectacular variety of beautiful wildflowers.
Despite its comparatively small size, Cabin Hill National Nature Reserve boasts a variety of habitats. The Beach is extensive and provides vital feeding and roosting grounds for thousands of migrating and overwintering birds, including knot, grey plover and bar-tailed godwit, for which the Sefton Coast is an area of international importance.
The Yellow Dunes are the mobile dunes where hardy plants such as lyme grass, marram grass, sea rocket and sea holly trap wind-blown sand from the beach to form embryo dunes. Two rare and endangered species, the sand lizard and tiger beetle, make their home here.
Further inland, the yellow dunes give way to Fixed Grey Dunes, an area where there is more shelter and the dunes are less mobile. The fixed grey dunes provide a habitat for a wide variety of stunning plants and wildflowers, including sand sedge, seaside centaury, bee orchid and pyramidal orchid. A large amount of the grey dune area is grazed by Herdwick Sheep between October and April each year – this is part of the vegetation management of the Reserve and helps control invasive species such as creeping willow which might otherwise swamp the entire area leaving little room for anything else.
This grazing management has produced a haven for a huge variety of wildflowers in the Dune Pasture habitat on the Reserve – wildflowers found in this meadow area include eyebright, yellow rattle, bee orchid, dune helleborine, cowslip, and fairy flax. The pasture is also a nesting site for birds such as skylark, grey partridge, lapwing and snipe, and during wetter years, moorhen, coot and little grebe are also found here.
The Dune Slacks are the damp hollows which form between the dune ridges, and at Cabin Hill they are found mainly around the floodbank. They are home to Grass of Parnassus, round-leaved wintergreen, watermint, marsh helleborine and marsh pennywort, and the slacks are also used by natterjack toads as breeding ponds.
All in all, Cabin Hill National Nature Reserve is well worth a visit, particularly for the wildflower enthusiast. Visitors are welcome to walk over most of the site, but a small part of the Reserve is fenced off to protect the areas where particularly sensitive wildlife exists. These areas are accessible by permit only, and permits are available free of charge by calling Natural England on 01704 578774 with your name and postal address. There is also an annual guided walk on Cabin Hill during which you can learn more about the plants that grow here – the walk generally takes place around July/August. The event is free, but booking is essential – please contact Natural England on 01704 578774 to find out more or to book.
Please keep dogs under close control at all times, and on their leads when in the vicinity of the sheep or possible groundnesting birds. We also ask that you do not pick flowers, collect other specimens and to take every care to avoid disturbance, particularly in those areas where the natterjack toad may be found.