Brockholes is a nature reserve near Preston. It is a relatively new attraction and is well worth a visit. It is owned and managed by the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside (aka Lancashire Wildlife Trust).
The reserve is on a former sand and gravel quarry site close to Junction 31 of the M6 motorway. You’d never realise this, though. Since purchasing the site in 2007, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust has done a fantastic job transforming it. Brockholes looks like a nature reserve that’s been around for decades, and noise from the busy motorway is non-existent.
Anchored on a large lake is the reserve’s iconic floating Visitor Village. This innovative hub, crafted from sustainable materials, provides access to nature’s wonders through exhibits, guided walks, and more. From birdwatching enthusiasts to families seeking outdoor adventure, The reserve offers immersive experiences for all.
Step ashore, and a living landscape awaits. Brockholes beckons you to embark on a journey of discovery across grasslands, woods, and wetlands. Tread softly and peek through hides to uncover wildlife stories. Let Brockholes stir your senses and inspire your connection to nature.
Birds and Wildlife
Brockholes is home to many kinds of wildlife, though it is best known as a habitat for migrating birds. Species here change with the season. Visit in spring, and you may see curlews and willow warblers. In autumn, ospreys are likely to be here.
But the winged creatures are not the only inhabitants of Brockholes. It boasts an assortment of habitats that shelter various forms of wildlife.
Roe deer, foxes and brown hares bound through the grasslands. Otters fish in the Ribble. Endangered species like great crested newts find refuge in ponds and streams. Even livestock, like the shaggy longhorn cattle, are part of the habitat mosaic, grazing to maintain diversity.
During summer, lakes, tall grasses, and wildflowers provide perfect habitats for butterflies, damselflies, and dragonflies.
The mesmerising array of wildlife at the reserve is a testament to its carefully managed habitats, providing temporary and permanent homes to various species.
Activities, Facilities, and Visitor Centre
Brockholes offers many family-friendly facilities and activities to engage visitors of all ages and interests with nature.
A unique feature of the reserve is its floating Visitor Village. A cluster of wooden buildings at the edge of a lake sits on a huge pontoon that rises and falls with the water level. Adam Khan Architects’ innovative design has won many building and architecture awards.
The Welcome Centre at the Visitor Village is the best place to begin your visit. Here you can pick up a map of the site and walking trails, learn about the site’s history, and discover what kind of wildlife you may encounter. The staff are amiable and are more than willing to answer questions and provide advice.
Don’t think that the reserve is just for birdwatchers. Most visitors aren’t. The reserve has much more to offer, especially to families. The play area here is excellent. It was great when we first visited, but it got even better in 2014 when it was extended into the woodland. The Climbing Forest is a low-level woodland adventure course with beams, ropes, walkways, and a slide.
The reserve houses two eateries, Kestrel Kitchen and Peckish, offering indoor and outdoor seating options with spectacular views. Picnic tables are spread across the reserve for those who prefer to dine amidst nature.
For wildlife watching, hides and viewing platforms dot the reserve.
There’s nearly always something going on at Brockholes. The regular events programme includes free guided walks, pram and toddler walks, art and craft workshops, craft fairs and more.
Special events are also held. On one of our visits, the Ribble Model Boat Club exhibited and demonstrated model boats.
Brockholes boasts several waymarked trails ranging from a gentle ramble to a lengthy hike.
For a quick 20-minute stroll, the Kingfisher Trail loops from the Visitor Village to the family play area. The 3/4 mile Kestrel Trail loops from the Visitor Village to the family play area, while the 3-mile Discovery Trail explores the entirety of the reserve. The Family Trail (1 mile) and the Meadow Lake Trail (1 1/4 miles) are other routes.
Trail maps and guides are available on the official website and in the Visitor Village. Waymarkers and interpretive panels orient hikers along the paths.
Preston Guild Wheel
Cyclists and walkers can reach Brockholes along the Preston Guild Wheel, a 21-mile recreational route encircling the city.
The official start is the Avenham Pavilion in Avenham Park, but you can join the route at any point.
The route allows people to safely bike, hike, or run off-road on traffic-free paths. The reserve makes a perfect pit stop to refresh, use amenities and enjoy some time in nature along the journey.
Brockholes is open seven days a week throughout the year. Opening times for the Visitor Village in the summer (April to October) are 10 am to 5 pm (gates to the reserve open from 6 am to 9 pm). Winter season opening hours are 10 am to 4 pm (gates open 6 am to 7 pm).
Dogs at Brockholes
Dogs are not permitted at Brockholes. Even well-behaved dogs can unintentionally harm ground-nesting birds, disturb grazing animals, trample vegetation and spread invasive species on their fur and paws.
The Preston Guild Wheel passes through the reserve. Dog walkers on this route must stick to the path and not venture into the reserve.
Service dogs assisting visitors with disabilities are welcomed. The reserve asks service dog handlers to manage their dogs to prevent wildlife disturbances.
Admission and Parking
Entry to the reserve is free of charge, but parking charges are fairly high. It’s best to think of them as your admission fee. It costs a lot to run this place, and parking fees are their major source of revenue.
At the time of writing (July 2023), charges are £5 for a car.
The car parking system is rather nifty. A camera records your vehicle registration number when you arrive on the site. When you leave, you enter your registration number at the pay machine and pay the fee by cash or card.
Parking passes are great value for regular visitors. 3, 6, and 12-month passes are available.
While parking fees help sustain Brockholes, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust is a registered charity that relies on memberships, donations and grants. Visitors can easily contribute to conservation efforts by purchasing a membership, donating, volunteering, or participating in fundraising events and activities.
Transport – Location and Directions
Brockholes is situated just off Junction 31 of the M6 motorway. Management recommend using the postcode PR5 0AG to find it, but our sat nav wanted to take us elsewhere using this. It’s well-signposted from the motorway junction, so we followed the brown tourist signs.
There are no train stations within walking distance. The nearest station is Preston. Several bus services from Preston city centre stop near the reserve. Further details can be found on the official website.
Although the Tickled Trout Services lie just off Junction 31, many drivers on the M6 prefer to use Brockholes as a stopping point on a long journey.
It should be noted that Brockholes Railway Station does not serve the reserve. Brockholes Railway Station serves the village of Brockholes in West Yorkshire.
For many years, Brockholes was the site of intensive sand and gravel quarrying to supply local construction. By the 1990s, the land was depleted.
Yet, in this post-industrial landscape, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust saw enormous potential for ecological regeneration. After years of campaigning, the Trust purchased the site in 2007 to create an expansive nature reserve.
Painstaking habitat restoration began. Tonnes of clay and soil were used to re-contour the land and create wetlands. Native trees transformed bare quarry walls into woodland. Wildflower meadows were sown.
A dynamic partnership between the Wildlife Trust, the Northwest Regional Development Agency, and other supporters financed the reserve’s development. In 2011, the attraction opened to the public with the stunning floating Visitor Village as its gateway.
Today, Brockholes provides a case study for rewilding and sustainability. The journey of the attraction is a testament to hard work, persistence, and love for nature, making it a thriving sanctuary for wildlife and an enchanting destination for visitors.
Brockholes is committed to making wildlife accessible for everyone. The reserve has a network of accessible trails and hides, disabled facilities, and car parking spaces, ensuring that all visitors can enjoy the area’s natural beauty.
Most footpaths are level and surfaced, making them suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs.
There are car park spaces specifically for visitors with disabilities. Adapted toilets are available in the Visitor Village, but please note that no toilets are on the reserve. Assistance dogs are welcome in the Visitor Village and on the reserve.
In summary, the reserve has made considerable efforts to ensure its beautiful natural environment is accessible to all. It has a range of facilities and services designed to support visitors with disabilities.
Other Parks and Nature Reserves in Lancashire
While Brockholes Nature Reserve is a gem, Lancashire offers numerous other wonderful parks and nature areas to discover.
Avenham Park and Miller Park are adjoining Victorian-era public parks in Preston. Avenham Park offers open spaces and historical features like the Japanese Gardens and the Belvedere. Miller Park, smaller and more formal, features a fantastic Victorian fountain. Both parks were established in the 1860s during the Lancashire Cotton Famine as public works projects to keep cotton workers employed. They lie beside the River Ribble and are on the route of the Preston Guild Wheel, a 21-mile cycling and walking trail.
Worden Park, located in Leyland, is a public park that offers a variety of attractions for both children and adults. The park was once the estate of the Farington family, but after a devastating fire in 1941, it was purchased by the local council and opened as a public park. The park houses the Worden Arts and Crafts Centre, a maze, a walled garden, and a miniature railway. The park is dog-friendly and even offers a dog-washing area.
Yarrow Valley Country Park in Chorley was transformed from a derelict industrial site into a tranquil park by Chorley Council in the 1980s. The park offers a variety of amenities, including a cafe, a visitor centre, an adventure playground, and fishing lodges. Its history is closely tied to the Birkacre Mill, a reminder of the region’s industrial past.
Beacon Fell Country Park offers over 250 acres of woodland and moorland. Its highlight is the Beacon Fell summit, historically used for warning beacons. Visitors can hike to the top of the hill for panoramic views of the Fylde, Forest of Bowland, and Morecambe Bay. The park also features a variety of sculptures made by a local artist.
Wycoller Country Park, located near Colne, is a delightful spot for history enthusiasts. It encompasses the historic village of Wycoller, known for its ancient bridges and the ruins of Wycoller Hall, said to be the inspiration for Ferndean Manor in Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre. The Atom, a modern art piece offering stunning views of the surrounding countryside, is another draw for visitors.
Williamson Park, perched on a hilltop in Lancaster, offers panoramic views of the city and beyond. The park’s features include the Ashton Memorial, a butterfly house, and a mini zoo.
Stanley Park, located in Blackpool, is renowned for its art deco cafe, Italian gardens, and boating lake. The park also features a bandstand, hosting regular live music events during the summer. The park also offers leisure and sports facilities, including a playground, BMX track, skate park, and tennis courts. Blackpool Model Village is also here.
With such an array of parks and nature reserves, Lancashire offers endless opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Whether seeking gardens, playgrounds, wildlife or heritage sites, these green spaces provide natural beauty and fun for all interests and ages.