9) St Aidan’s RSPB Nature Reserve, Allerton Bywater, Leeds, LS26 8AL.
There are miles after miles and several different routes that can be achieved with a wheelchair, Mountain Trike, Freewheel, or powered mobility equipment at St Aidan’s. It also links nicely on the bike trails – so if you have time, battery power – strength in your arms you can link up to Fairburn Ings Nature Reserve. Doing so would give you a very full day out and you could easily cover 15 miles or more.
The site is a former open-cast coal mine that was closed in the 80’s.
The paths are compacted or dirt with a few sections on grassland. A couple of sections are on tarmac, but these are only short sections.
There are a couple of slopes to get down and back up, on the outward route from the car park you go down the steepest slope, thankfully if you’re not using electric power then there is a lesser alternative slope back that you can take, ( either around the most eastern lake, or in front of the visitor centre).
If sticking to just St Aidans - you can do a few switch back on yourself or circulars sections, and up to 8 miles-just at St Aidans can be covered. You will not get bored as there is so much to see.
No gates, no steps. Sadly too no bird hides – so if it rains make sure you have your own cover / shelter!
Dogs are allowed but please keep them on a lead as there are a lot of birds and geese at all times on the ground.
Blue Badge holders can park in the car park free of charge, ample number of disabled parking bays too, irrespective of being a member or the RSPB or not it is free.
For none Blue Badge and none RSPB members the cost of parking is £4 per vehicle.
Admission to the actual reserve is free for everyone.
There is normally a disabled loo in the visitors centre as well as a few crappy vending machines but due to the pandemic these are currently closed. Do check the RSPB’s website for updates etc.
My favourite route is up to 8 miles and takes in all of the various different lakes. It also takes in the path at the far point of the reserve – skirting the river Aire – but staying within the actual reserve.
So unusually I am not going to give actual directions on this location but will list the highlights as I see them. I have provided a picture of the map (top of the page) so you can plan your own visits.
Highlights and what you may see.
From the car park / visitor centre head to the fence that will allow you to see the right-hand side of the drag line digger. You won’t miss the digger! You should be looking at the rear of it. Cast your eye down the length of the drag line digger and look for a stacked pile of railway sleepers. If you are lucky you might get to see a Little Owl or two sat in and on the sleepers. The gorse at the side of the path around the car park is also a great place to look for many species – butterfly’s, moths, many birds, and rabbits.
Also look at the gantry sections on the drag line machine, many birds use these for nesting, Kestrel and other birds.
From the drag line follow the path (visitor centre on your left) and head down the hill. Then pick your route. On the right and all the way along the path is a great place to see Short Eared Owl, Hare, deer, Reed Buntin and Stonechat. Keep an eye skyward too and look out for kestrel and buzzards hunting. You may also see Red Kites and Barn Owl.
On the lakes – all the usual types of fowl, kingfisher, geese, ducks, gulls, terns, lapwing, swan, curlew, my favourite are the Grebes, especially the quite rare Black Necked Grebe. All types of Egret, Avocet, Spoonbill. Wheatear- Swallow, Swift, Stoat and many other types of mammal.
I could go on and on here.
There are also a few resident Bittern on the reserve- listen out for their booming call. They are a very shy heron like bird – striking in colour and have some unusual habits. I have seen them a couple of times but so far, they have avoided my camera skills?!
If you see the birds on the reserve in a panic then there is a good chance a Marsh Harrier, Peregrine, Merlin or Hobby are about- they are so quick and difficult to photograph.
On the eastern most lake you will see a squared off structure – here is a colony of Sand Martins.
At the very back of the reserve is evidence of the now abandoned canal, I love to see the dry lock with boat tie of points in the grass- from when barges were the heavy haulage of the day.
On occasion they also have Bearded and Long tailed tits, again both are very shy.
If you go in June be careful on the paths – there are lots of juvenile toad and frogs to avoid…
Also, Blue and Green Algae is often present in the water so keep children and dogs out of the water.
You will see so much and I am sure will have a great visit. Enjoy.