It was a completely new walk for us today around the marshes near Hesketh Bank, leading to the new RSPB site at Hesketh Outmarsh. Surprisingly (for us) the walk didn't even provide a glimpse of the Ribble watercourse itself but did involve a really pleasant walk alongside the River Asland, or Douglas as it's more commonly known. Parts of the walk were suitable for off-lead walking but there are plenty of sheep grazing the saltmarshes so make sure you check the way ahead as your approach the many stiles en-route.
Our walk began in Hesketh Bank where we followed the aptly named Marsh Road and past several farms before joining the levy which runs alongside the river Douglas. Although there was plenty of agricultural activity with no less than ten tractors in view ploughing the fertile fields on the landward side of the levies, it's a wild and seemingly remote landscape here with the tower of St Walburges in Preston just visible over the Longton Marshes. With no other walkers in sight we headed towards the Ribble and followed the river until reaching Hesketh Outmarsh. Here, rather than continuing towards the Ribble the path turns inland along the boundary of the outmarsh. We were rather dissapointed to leave the riverside but the reason became obvious later in our walk.
Crossing numerous stiles and fields of sheep and spring lambs grazing on the reclaimed marshland we soon found ourselves at a new looking car park and RSPB viewing point looking out over the most amazing landscape of absolutely flat marshes scarred by small tidal creeks. Against the magnificant blue sky it reminded me of the Florida Everglades, without the aligators (I hope). Returning along the unusually named Dib Road (essentially a farm track) we returned to Hesketh Bank and our start.
I now know that Hesketh Outmarsh is a flagship project for the Ribble Coast and Wetlands regional park. The outmarsh was reclaimed from the sea in the 1980s but has now been bought by RSPB, It is now one of the largest coastal realignment projects in Europe, helping to counter the effects of sea level rise due to climate change. It also provides a new recreational asset for the local community and visitors and an exciting opportunity to view the wildlife of the estuary.
The Ribble Coast and Wetlands Regional Park website explains that work on the £4m project commenced in March 2007 and the first phase is now completed. This included the re-excavation of former creeks, the construction of a new embankment to Hesketh Out Marsh East, the strengthening of the existing inner embankment around Hesketh Out Marsh West and the breaching of the outer embankment in four places once the other works had been completed.
Whilst ensuring flood protection is improved and land drainage maintained, the scheme has created 180ha. of saltmarsh, saline lagoons and muddy creeks. This provides new habitat for breeding waders and wintering wildfowl and makes a major contribution towards national targets for coastal saltmarsh creation. The first breaching of the outer embankment took place in September 2008 and the final breaching works took place in early 2009 after works to improve flood storage for the adjoining agricultural land were completed. Public access to the site is currently restricted to public footpaths. A viewing platform and car parking is available. The Reserve was officially opened in October 2009.
At least we know now why we were unable to walk along the outer embankment. Well worth a visit, provided you can cope with the stiles!
Click here for Google map.
Doggy rating 6/10