People from across Wigan Borough and beyond turned out for the public launch of the Flashes of Wigan and Leigh – Greater Manchester’s first and only National Nature Reserve.
Nature walks, ecocrafts and wild art were among the activities on offer at the ‘Flashes Festival of Nature’, while youngsters were able to enjoy the new wildlife-themed play area following a formal ribbon cutting by the Mayor of Wigan Borough, Councillor Kevin Anderson.
Designed by developers Proludic Ltd to complement its glorious surroundings, the inclusive attraction boasts a wide range of high-spec play equipment for children up to age 11 – including swings, slides and climbing frames, a wheelchair-friendly seesaw and roundabout, and a central ‘Toddler Lake’ area especially for under 5s.
Councillor Keith Cunliffe, Deputy Leader of Wigan Council, said: “We’re absolutely delighted with our brilliant new adventure playground and it was truly wonderful to see all the smiles on the faces of the children who came along to have their first play! It’s going to be a fantastic facility for local families and for the many thousands of visitors who come to enjoy a day out at Pennington Flash.
“Our goal is to connect more and more people with our natural environment, which is why we’ve invested £2.7m into improving the visitor experience – including a brand-new café, new accessible toilets and improved parking.
“As the largest of the eight separate sites that make up the Flashes of Wigan and Leigh NNR, Pennington Flash is also an incredibly important area for wildlife conservation – and we’re proud to be working with partners such as Natural England, Lancashire Wildlife Trust and Forestry England to conserve these unique landscapes for generations to come.
“Sunday’s festival was a fitting celebration of our new National Nature Reserve status and shows how passionate local people are about nature, the environment, and our fabulous flashes.”
The Flashes of Wigan and Leigh was formally declared a NNR by Natural England last October in recognition of its immense ecological importance.
Created by the ‘flash’ flooding of subsided land on former industrial mining sites, the chain of urban wetlands is now home to nationally significant wildlife populations – including more than 50 pairs of the endangered willow tit.
Dr Tom Burditt, chief executive of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, said: “The Flashes of Wigan and Leigh National Nature Reserve is truly exceptional in so many ways, with its industrial origins and proximity to residential and urban developments. We are immensely proud to be supporting and celebrating nature recovery within the heart of the community.”
Ginny Hinton, Area Manager Cheshire to Lancashire at Natural England, said: “The Flashes of Wigan and Leigh National Nature Reserve is an amazing example of how an industrial landscape can be adapted to allow nature to recover. Natural England is thrilled to have been working in partnership to create this ‘Urban NNR’ as a place for people to enjoy and for wildlife to thrive, now and in years to come. “
Visitors to the Flashes Festival of Nature were also able to enjoy a new self-guided audio poetry trail created by Manchester Literature Festival and Lancashire Wildlife Trust, and featuring readings by northern poets Allen-Paisant, Kate Davis, Seán Hewitt, Zaffar Kunial, Clare Shaw and Jean Sprackland.