Moor of what you like

SOME nature reserves act like green oases amongst the ever-increasing industrialisation and home-building that runs roughshod across our countryside.

One good example is the RSPB’s Old Moor site just off Manvers Way in Wath-Upon-Dearne near Rotherham.

It would be true to say that when the reserve began life there was probably a lot less building surrounding it but there is a lot of it now: houses and an industrial estate which, to my mind, have been relatively sensitive to the countryside (so far).

Old Moor is one part of a series of sites around the Wath area run by the RSPB which are all easily accessed from each other, but this time I’ll be taking a look specifically at this fascinating birdwatching location which is extremely popular and gets 100,000 visitors annually.

The RSPB site welcomes people with a visitor centre at Old Moor, complete with well-stocked shop, cafe and facilities.

There is a children’s play area and other features to appeal to youngsters.

The reserve is at the forefront of the RSPB’s move to open up nature to young and older alike and Old Moor has become a success story in nature conservation circles.

The popular reserve – in the top ten of most visited RSPB reserves in the UK – has created attractions such as a family hide, a wildlife garden, playground, pond dipping platforms, a cafe, games areas offering leapfrog and hopscotch and even a human sun clock to interest children and their older minders.

Beyond the Welcome Zone there is a Discovery Zone, then the Explorer Zone and then the Wilderness Zone, allowing visitors of varying levels of interest to venture further out into the great outdoors at their own pace.

Other initiatives to get kids looking at nature include activity backpacks containing stethoscopes and magnifying glasses so they can see small bugs and hear the tree sap rising.

But what about the birdlife?

Even in the car park you can see a fair amount. I’ve seen bullfinches near the bird feeder, along with greenfinches and chaffinches, and at this time of year (which is winter in case you’re reading this in the summer!) there can be the odd redwing feasting on juicy berries.

From the car park you can either go onto the reserve proper or be diverted to surrounding sites at Gypsy Marsh, Broomhill Flash, Wombwell Ings or Bolton Ings via the footpaths, as the maps show.

Stepping out of Old Moor’s pleasant visitor centre, you have the option of the Green Lane Trail, the Discovery Zone or the Reedbed Trail.

Walking along the Green Lane Trail will take you to various hides looking out over the Mere, Wader Scrape and Wath Ings where wildfowl and waders are just waiting to be seen, along with plenty of noisy gulls and the occasional cormorant. Little egrets have been spotted around here too and since they seem to be cropping up all over the place these days, it is well worth looking for something heron-like and white.

There are five hides along this trail, including the Family Hide which should be of particular interest to the young ones.

If you are bitten by the bittern bug and want to try and see one of these reclusive wonders, or indeed hear one, try the Reedbed Hide and screen or the Bittern Hide on the Reedbed Trail.

Even if you don’t see a bittern, there is plenty of other reedbed action in the form of reed buntings, waders, a water rail maybe (even harder to find than a bittern!) and waterfowl. The Bittern Bus Stop might offer a close-up view of the blue and orange wonder that is a kingfisher.

The Discovery Zone in the area around the visitor centre has wildlife gardens, an adventure playground (no, I didn’t go on it, tempted as I was), a family hide – which is actually quite productive in terms of putting species on your list of birds seen – and a heritage games trail. It has been well thought out.

There are even pond dipping points where the kids can discover what’s in the water. Rest assured, there are no sharks – though some of the insects and larvae have an even more ferocious reputation.

There is something to see throughout the year at Old Moor. In the Spring when birds’ minds turn to love and nest-building, there are the returning migrants to enjoy such as the warblers or the martins and throughout the summer you can test your skills at identifying juvenile birds as the babies go public.\!q Also look for dragonflies – stunning even if you don’t know what kind they are.

As Autumn arrives the Summer migrants are off and the first of the Winter ones start to flock in. Golden plover are a treat at this time of year. Then it’s Winter again and Old Moor is a seasonal getaway for hundreds of ducks and geese, as well as passerines like fieldfares, redwings and maybe even a waxwing or two.

Throughout the year there are special events like Binocular Days when you can test out the latest bins and telescopes, astronomy nights with the local Mexborough and Swinton Astronomical Society and even more theatrical offerings such as last September’s fire and dance extravaganza courtesy of Mr Fox and his masked entourage. Go to the Old Moor website for the latest news.

So much – and it’s so easy to get to.

Old Moor – new experience.

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