APR/MAY 2023 ISSUE
a grand day out
RSPB St Aidan's Nature Park
The Shine team get some fresh air at St Aidan’s nature reserve.
WORDS: MALLY HARVEY, PAUL ATKINSON, ANGIE SMILES, VALERIE WOOD-ROBINSON,
PHOTOGRAPHY: DANIEL JOHNSON
Where to Go
RSPB St Aidan's Nature Park, Astley Lane, Leeds, LS26 8AL
St Aidan’s is about 10 miles from Leeds city centre, between Swillington & Methley
There are toilets, a café, picnic area and nature trails
The best bus to get is the 168 from Leeds towards Castleford. The bus stop is just outside Leeds City Bus Station, at Stop “Cultural C”. This is on York Street, opposite Mecca Bingo. The bus goes every half hour and it take around 30 minutes to get there. Get off at the stop Bowers Row, cross over the road and walk 5 minutes to the entrance of St Aidan’s. It’s the same bus on the way back, the 168, this time terminating in Leeds.
Open Every Day Dawn - Dusk
10am – 4.30pm (3.30pm in winter)
10am – 5pm (4pm in winter)
St Aidan’s Nature Park is a beautiful enclave of wildlife, only a short bus ride from Leeds City Centre. Originally used for mining, the area was reclaimed a few years ago and now hosts birds and other animals. People are welcomed too – it’s a great spot for walking, for people of all abilities and disabilities. The new café is the icing on the cake. A splendid spot for some fresh air and a bit of birding.
The 168 was excellent. None of us had been on the service before so we were a bit unsure of whether it would get to where we wanted. But the driver knew where the nature park was and agreed to give us the nod when we had arrived. The journey took about half an hour and we met a few people who told us they regularly visited St Aidan’s. We got off the bus really close to the reserve – it was clearly signed and obvious where we had to go. The journey back was just as easy and efficient as the one there. (NB there is an alternative bus - the 163 - that takes you to Great Preston – but there is a longer walk from the bus stop to St Aidan’s).
By Valerie Wood-Robinson and Angie Smiles
You don’t have to be a twitcher or any kind of naturalist to enjoy this open country space. It was developed from a disused coal-mining area and is now a haven for wildlife. As we approached the site, our attention focused immediately on a huge piece of mining machinery. The massive walking-dragline excavator dominates the skyline and attests to the site’s mining heritage. We noticed it is now used by incoming birds to perch and nest.
On our stroll around St Aidan’s, we saw walkers, wheelchair users, people in motorised scooters, cyclists, dog-walkers, horse riders, pram-pushers, photographers – they were all enjoying using the park. We met a huge variety of interesting people. Having lunch outside at a picnic table, we found Geoff and Carol, who had come from Drighlington. They’d seen coots, geese, swans, moorhens and mallards. Another couple, Paul and Liz, were having a coffee and looking out on to Bower’s Lake. “We try and get out every weekend,” said Liz. The pair described themselves as “amateur birders” who “enjoy the fresh air.” Liz is about to retire, so the couple plan to come to St Aidan’s more often. “Being in an office-based job for the past 34 years, you feel the need to get out,” she said. Everyone we spoke to relished the chance to blow away the cobwebs after the isolation of Covid lockdowns.
We were pleased to see that St Aidan’s welcomes everybody – even if walking is difficult. There is a well-signed network of level gravel paths around the lakes and marshes. Accessibility is good and you can even hire a free motorised scooter at the site - booking required, donation welcomed. We sat down for a coffee and cake in the Little Owl Café and Visitors Centre, which was welcoming and efficient. You might want to bring your own packed lunch and sit at the picnic tables. Lunch, a leisurely stroll, and the lovely expansive views will provide a great day out. Who knows, you might try a bit of bird spotting? The helpful information chalked up regularly by volunteers on a blackboard will inspire you and help you know what to look for. Maybe it’ll spark a new interest?
By Mally Harvey, Angie Smiles, Paul Atkinson and Valerie Wood-Robinson.
Adam lives in Otley and spends his time cycling alongside friends. Despite some problems with his hips, he’s incredibly active and keen on keeping well and fit.
I’m an ex-professional rugby player. I played for Leeds and for Sale Sharks. It was 40 years ago now. I’ve never been down here on the canal before. It’s opened my eyes to a lot more routes. I love it. I’ve met some lovely people. I do a lot of riding. But I had two new hips last year. The consultant said, “Get an e-bike.” So, I’m on this electric bike for a year, then I can go back on a road bike. I’ve come from Otley today. Most days I go out – keeps me fit, keeps me active.
I thought this structure here was a house – then I realised it was a mining contraption. I’m in awe of it! I’m now interested in the history of this place. Am I in Methley? I have no idea! I just followed the canal! Smashing to see all the people living on canal barges. What a life!
Kevin and Jill are keen bird-watchers, on their first visit to St Aidan’s – and judging by their positive reactions, it seems this visit won’t be their last!
Kevin: It’s our very first time here. We’re members of the RSPB and we live in North Leeds, so it seemed like an obvious place to come. It’s lovely to be out. It’s cold today, but you feel warmer because you’re more active.
Jill: We were fed up of sitting in the cold, waiting for spring. We’ve had a terrible lack of birds coming into our garden of late. We always to the RSPB big garden birdwatch – but this time there was no point, sadly.
Kevin: It’s absolutely sensational here. We’ve seen 2 marsh harriers, reed bunting, kestrels, shelduck. We saw a great crested grebe, eating a fish that was as big as itself! We watched it for 5 minutes, slinging it up in the air and trying to get the fish down its neck. It took about 5 goes. Incredible. Never seen anything like it.
Jill: We went on the “Reed Bed Ramble”. It’s brilliant. We’ve been to Bempton Cliffs, been a couple of times. And we’re going to Fairburn Ings next. But this place has been wonderful.
THE DOG WALKERS
Andrew & Steve live in different areas of Leeds but meet up for a chat and to take Andrew’s dog for a walk. They both love birds too, though the barking can be a little off-putting to the avian population!
Andrew: I live about 2 or 3 miles away. It’s good for walking this dog here. We come down a lot. It’s a nice area. I used to come down to cycle too. I am interested in the wildlife. I’m on the St Aidan’s Facebook group, I do like looking at the great photographs there from the guy that takes them all. One of the guys on the Facebook site said that people come up from Wolverhampton and even further afield. I try and look and observe – but I wouldn’t say I’m specifically here for the birds. We have a lot of birdlife where I live: red kites, buzzards, barn owls. We live near the largest limestone meadow in Europe. You can cycle here, you can run, you can do all sorts.
Steve: I actually live in Otley. I come here regularly because I’m an RSPB member. I come here for the birds. Me and my wife will come regularly. Earlier on this year we had the ospreys here – and there are the bitterns, the baby tits, the little owls. This place is fantastic. At our age, we remember when it was all open cast. To see what they’ve done is
amazing. The Facebook page is really good because as soon as there are any sightings, you can find out about it. There’s about half a dozen people who are here every day and who spot everything.
ST AIDANS – AN INSIDER’S VIEW
Jo Lee was a teacher for over 20 years, but wanted to work with wildlife and people, so she got a job at St Aidan’s. She’s responsible for working with the local community and encourage them to visit.
“St Aidan’s was originally an open cast coal mine. In 2002, it was ceased to be a coal mine and it was landscaped into a nature park. It’s fascinating, the power of nature to reclaim things, given a bit of a helping hand. It was owned by Leeds City Council and RSPB took over the management of it. There’s a lot of work that goes into maintaining the site. Land will always try and go back to forest so we’re fighting a constant battle (especially in the reed bed area) to remove vegetation. We’ve had a visitor centre here since 2017. Originally, it was just a little centre with a coffee machine, but last year we opened our lovely new café.”
“The site is managed for wildlife, but it’s also managed for people. It’s part of the flood alleviation scheme. At times when the River Aire rises, the whole area can be flooded. It helps prevent flooding in Castleford and Pontefract. We have 2 wardens who manage the site and there are a number of habitats. We have an area of reed beds that was designed especially for bitterns. If you look down on it from above, it’s lots of little inlets – research was done about what habitats bitterns would like. We have some wet grassland, big area of open water, a hillside – all sorts of different habitats for different kinds of birds. We don’t bring birds in; we just provide habitat and attract them that way. Plant the right things in the right place and encourage them to come.”
“On the last Wednesday of every month, we have a Well-Being Wander. We aim it at older people – it’s an hour’s very gentle walk. We walk around Bower’s Lake. The volunteers who run it are all dementia-friendly trained and we encourage people to walk at their own pace. That’s proven very popular; in the last couple of months, we’ve had about 30 people coming along. It’s a social thing.”
“We get all sorts of interesting wildlife here. Last year we had an osprey, a young female on her way south. She was here for about 3 weeks. We had a spotted crake, quite an unusual bird. We had an Arctic skua – a very unusual bird to find this far inland. We have the black-necked grebe, an absolutely amazing little bird. It has bright red eyes and a yellow fan. We’re one of 2 sites in the country with a population. We have about 30 – 50% of the breeding population in the UK here.”