As part of South Yorkshire’s biggest nature hotspot, RSPB Old Moor has been attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors a year for the last two decades.
Avid birdwatchers flock in their droves to see some of the most rare and elusive birds that have made RSPB Old Moor their home. Families and schools come to learn about the biodiversity of the nature reserve. Children love to grab their nets and go pond dipping, keeping an eye out for dragonflies landing on the water. And many a muddy boot has enjoyed idyllic walks around the site.
So, it’s hard to imagine this wildlife haven was amongst the most heavily polluted areas in western Europe that locals dubbed Hell’s Kitchen due to the regular outbreak of fires caused by coal mining and coking.
Situated between Wombwell and Wath-upon-Dearne, this part of the Dearne Valley was an industrial landscape, the skyline dominated by the towering pit shafts at Manvers Main and Wath Main collieries. After the pits closed in the mid-80s, the area became derelict, the ground full of pollution.
A manmade wetland was created by Barnsley Council in the late 1990s as part of the Dearne Valley regeneration scheme and the RSPB took over the site in 2003. There are lakes, ponds, wildflower meadows and wet grasslands.
Over the last twenty years, the site has flourished and wildlife has begun to thrive.
By giving nature a home in the Dearne Valley, RSPB Old Moor has seen breeding successes from some bird species that could have been counted on just two hands throughout the UK at the time of the pit closures. It has also recently been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status by Natural England for its bird conservation which will ensure the national importance of the site.
But nature hasn’t just taken over and made itself at home. It has had a helping hand along the way from visionaries who were keen to protect the area from developers. A dedicated team of professionals and scores of volunteers have made a huge difference to their local environment.
The team has devised strategic water management systems that are a far cry from the nearby river systems that were once biologically dead due to the amount of mercury that was discharged into the water from the pits. Water levels are constantly monitored and can be lowered in spring to create more muddy areas for wader chicks or raised in winter for wildfowl.
It was RSPB’s idea to add reed beds to help the struggling bittern population. A member of the heron family, visitors can now have sporadic sightings of this rare bird – or at least hear its far carrying boom from deep in the reeds. Fish and eel stocks have been introduced to create the perfect habitat for a biodiverse range of wildlife.
Whatever time of year you visit, there will always be something exciting to see. Take one of the many trails around the nature reserve to see what you discover. There are plenty of hides and viewing screens along the trails, so don’t forget your binoculars.
In spring, you might see great crested grebes, performing their courtship dance, the sound of Warblers establishing territories along the pathways and stoats and brown hares zipping in and out from the undergrowth. As summer arrives, look out for the elegant avocets sweeping their bills through the water, lapwing chicks exploring the pool edges and butterflies landing on the many marsh orchids in the wildflower meadow.
As global warming takes a hold, some birds now choose to over winter in the Dearne Valley rather than migrating further south. In the future, it is very likely that birds that would normally breed in mainland Europe will be breeding right here in the Dearne Valley.
RSPB Old Moor is perfect for families looking to get out and explore nature. There is a year-round calendar of family events to get you closer to nature, with seasonal activities that include discovery backpacks, fun trails and even pond dipping kit. The wild play areas are a treat to explore, getting you immersed in the special habitats at RSPB Old Moor. There is also a new mini beast garden currently being created for little explorers to search for creepy crawlies.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary, the RSPB Old Moor team has organised a programme of community events this springtime.
On Sunday 2nd April, there will be a heritage event called Birds, Brass and Barnsley Tails where brass bands will be performing and the activities team will be sharing stories about the site’s history.
Then throughout the Easter holidays, there will be the RSPB Dearne Valley Exhibition which gives visitors an insight into the timeline of Old Moore throughout the centuries, with details about how it was used in Tudor times, during the war, and how it has evolved since becoming a nature reserve.
All these events are included in entry price which is £5 for adults and £2.50 for children over five. RSPB members, carers and kids under five go free. If you’re a National Lottery player, you can get in for free during National Lottery Open Week, Saturday 18th to Sunday 26th March, if you bring your lottery ticket or scratch card.
RSPB Dearne Valley Old Moor, Old Moor Lane, Wombwell, Bolton upon Dearne, Barnsley S73 0YF