Wigan has most wildlife havens in city-region

Recently-published statistics help to thoroughly counter the borough's grim and lingering stereotypes of heavy industry.

Friday, 1st January 2021, 7:00 am
Wigan Flashes

The latest publication from the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit shows the area to be the home of more protected spaces – with 93 sites of biological interest (SBIs) – than anywhere else.

The conservation unit has recently released full up-to-date details of all the city-region’s SBIs, following analysis of its 2018 review of the wildlife havens.

Within the borough there are a number of different habitats being preserved, including ancient woodland, ponds, canals, grasslands and bogs.

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Rayner Park

The Wigan list ranges from large outdoor sites such as the flashes, Amberswood Common and Haigh Plantation to wetlands, parks, ex-colliery sites and part of the Red Rock Railway Cutting which is woodland.

Mark Champion, the Wigan projects manager at the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, said Wigan is one of the most nature-friendly urban areas in the country, with 65 per cent of the borough green space.

And he said that the amount of countryside and wildlife on residents’ doorstep is still too much of a secret to those who live here and people from elsewhere alike.

He also spoke of the many benefits that protecting the environment and open spaces in the borough has for residents.

Mark Champion

Mr Champion said: “There are some amazing things about Wigan. People still don’t associate it with the outdoor, the environment and nature. Quite frankly too many people still think of flat caps, coal mining and whippets.

“We have 20 per cent of the country’s population of willow tits, one per cent of the nation’s water rails and one per cent of kingfishers.

“There are recreational benefits of getting out in the countryside and fresh air. People like to walk among flowers and habitats.

“Another recreation aspect is having high-quality birdwatching on our doorsteps. We’ve also got exercise opportunities like the sailing clubs at Scotman’s Flash.

Haigh Plantations in winter

“Green space is also really important for climate mitigation. You’ve got carbon storage and we’ve also got natural protection against flooding at places like Bickershaw.”

The most recent additions to Wigan’s list of SBIs were the plantation woodlands at Rayner Park and the grasslands, ponds and bird habitat at Pickley Green Marsh, both of which were given the status in 2017.

Mr Champion said in total around 1,800 hectares of land are being protected for wildlife with the entirety of Wigan Flashes making up the largest urban nature reserves in the country at 242 hectares.

The borough has four Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Astley Moss is part of the Manchester Mosses SAC or Special Area of Conservation, a prestigious European designation for wildlife habitat.

The latest data from the GM Ecology Unit shows Wigan has 36 Grade A sites among its SBIs, meaning they are of regional or county-wide importance, while 30 of them are in Grade B and 27 are Grade C.

Grade B sites are of importance within the district while Grade C areas are of more local significance.

Some of the most common types of habitat being preserved in the borough include ancient woodland, grassland, reedbeds and woodland.

Another remarkable aspect of Wigan’s wildlife areas is how much of the land has been reclaimed by nature having previously been used for heavy industry or other brownfield purposes.

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