AN IMPORTANT Wigan wildlife corridor is being threatened by naturalists, residents say.
They are angry that the Lancashire Wildlife Trust wants to clear trees and vegetation of an old 1km-long coal railway track bed in Abram to create a private road.
The Trust says it needs the access to get sufficient heavy plant onto the Lightshaw Meadows special scientific interest (SSSI) site to build a new wetland habitat rich in habitat by improving the floodplain.
The project is being funded by a Heritage Lottery Grant.
The Trust’s Mark Champion said that the land is in an unfavourable condition and requires management to improve its status.
This will include grazing by specialist cattle to discourage grass and encourage reed bed development, along with re-profiling ditches and improving the hydrology of the site with heavy earth-moving equipment within the meadows area to attract waterfowl and rare water voles.
The Trust says the site will eventually act as a wildlife link between Pennington Flash and Wigan Flashes.
But, Mr Champion warned that if the work doesn’t take place the site will continue to decline and birds will fail to colonise the area as the wetland continues to dry out.
They want to re-surface the route of the former coal line which will then be used for maintenance access, to transport livestock and as a recreational footpath.
The scheme will also include a small parking area for Trust staff and a crush for handling the cattle.
But neighbours claim that the naturally regenerated rail route running from Wigan Road down to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal - which last saw narrow gauge trains half a century ago - has become a nature reserve in its own right and should be saved. They are being backed by Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue who says that long term youth nuisance problems on the site have disappeared as the former mineral railway has become covered in wild saplings and rampant brambles and bushes.
She said: “The existing vegetation prevents access to the area at the moment and provides the wildlife and natural surroundings with protection.
“But the access road would expose the area and encourage destructive elements.”
Abram ward Coun Eddie Russon is also against the proposal because it would itself cause a significant loss of wildlife habitat.
He said: “The linear nature of the site means it acts as an important wildlife corridor into the nature reserve site because it is completely overgrown these days with mature trees and bushes.”
Neighbour Bernard Lillis, of Balmers Farm, says that he has encouraged and protected wildlife on the railway route for the past quarter of a century..
He said: “My neighbour, who owns the land concerned, has allowed the old line to become overgrown with trees and bushes, which has created the perfect wildlife corridor to harbour many rare species including bats.”