The first section of the Local Nature Reserve was created in 2011-12 and was originally known as the Fauna Nature Reserve. It was established on land which the Fairfield Association leases from Lancaster City Council. It provides several distinct habitats: hay meadow (currently under restoration as a traditional wildflower meadow); grazing pasture; wetland with water features including a stream (Lucy Brook), ponds and scrapes; and hedgerows, with several veteran trees; and a fine row of willows along Lucy Brook. The old hedgerows have been restored and replanted and the reed beds have been extended and replanted,.
White Park cattle, an ancient and endangered breed, graze both the reed beds and grassland (where many ragwort plants have been dug out). In winter 2015/2016 Fell ponies complemented the cattle’s efforts to control the rushes, which may become too dense for our over-wintering snipe.
The Reserve was extended in 2013 with the addition of 34 acres of land adjacent to the 16-acre Fauna reserve and the close by the 2-acre Fairfield Community Orchard. This new section was originally known as Flora Fields and again included several different kinds of habitat: grazing pasture; an arable field; hedgerows; and two pieces of woodland (one, Pony Wood, contains some notable mature trees); wetland and ponds. Lucy Brook flows along what was the border between Flora and Fauna.
Historically, before becoming the Fairfield Nature Reserve, the land was farmed for centuries – the grazing White Park cattle continue this tradition. There are records and physical evidence dating back to the 13th century. In the fields are visible signs of medieval strip fields farmed by the townspeople of Lancaster. Here they would have grazed livestock and most likely grown oats. The method of farming changed little through Tudor and Georgian times until in the early 19th century the fields were made larger and probably many of the hedges planted. In more recent times the fields have been grazed by sheep.
Pony Wood was planted as a landscape feature by Aldcliffe Hall in the mid 19th century who also used a wetter area by the canal as a source of water for the Hall. Traces of these works can still be seen.
After the Public Consultation held in autumn 2013, the Fairfield Association began work to increase the biodiversity of the Reserve, while at the same time allowing some of the land to be farmed in a traditional and ecologically-sensitive way. The woodland areas have been extended with the planting of many native trees and new hedgerows have been planted with a diverse variety of native plants. The arable field margins have been sown with wild flowers and are being farmed to create a wild flower meadow. Scrapes have been dug to extend the wetland areas and local Beekeepers have placed a number of hives on the site. Almost all of this development, management and maintenance of the site has been done by our splendid group of volunteers – visit the Volunteering area for further details.
As a result, a greater variety of plant life and of local and visiting birds, mammals and insects has been seen in the Reserve with lapwing and other wetland birds attracted to breed. In 2021 a number of extra scrapes and deeper areas of wetland were created by our volunteers with guidance and help from experts of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust. It is hoped these additional wetland areas will make the Reserve even more attractive to wetland birds, insects and amphibians.
The Reserve is now full of the sound of birds, including waterfowl, woodland and wetland birds. In autumn and winter, look out for snipe, curlews, redwing and fieldfare in summer, chiff-chaff and willow warblers are visitors from Africa and reed bunting breed in the reed bed. Hares, too, are frequently seen.
In the winter months bird feeding tables are set up by Lancaster and District Bird Watching Society. They are close to the junction of the Pony Wood path and the public ‘pads’ footpath and are an excellent place to see a wide variety of local and visiting species.
There are three footpaths through and around the reserve. A public footpath (often known as the ‘Pads’ path) which runs from Sunnyside Lane, skirts the Orchard, and then cuts through the Reserve and across to Aldcliffe Road and Lancaster canal. This ancient path has always been used extensively by walkers, who enjoy the scenery and local wildlife. The Fairfield Association has in addition created two new fully accessible footpaths, designated as ‘concessionary’ rights of way. The first crosses the site, linking the Fairfield Orchard near Sunnyside Lane to Cromwell Road and the Lancaster Canal whilst the most recently constructed path leaves the public path, goes around Pony Wood and continues down to Aldcliffe Road. These footpaths all give wonderful views of the City, castle and canal and even on clear days to the Lakeland hills
Access to other fields in the Reserve is only available via guided walks (publicised on our blog and mailing list) or by special permission. The Fairfield Reserve is part of the Morecambe Bay Nature Improvement Area, part of a green corridor for wetland birds and other animals, from the Lancaster canal to the Lune Estuary and Morecambe Bay.