Coastal Wildlife

Enjoy wildlife watching on Barrow’s coast NATURE ON YOUR DOORSTEP Barrow and the surrounding islands lie at the tip of the Furness peninsula. The coast and islands are dotted with rich…


Barrow and the surrounding islands lie at the tip of the Furness peninsula. The coast and islands are dotted with rich industrial and military heritage and wonderful wildlife. The specially protected sand dune habitats here are perfect for rare natterjack toads whilst the diverse wildlife offers something spectacular and different with each season of the year.

Look out for


Regal eider ducks arriving at their most southerly breeding site at South Walney and orchids blooming at Sandscale Haws


Special flowering plants adapted to sunny and salty seaside habitats, like Walney geranium which is found nowhere else in the world!


Wonderful colourful displays of deciduous trees like oak, ask and sycamore in Millwood and Abbots Wood


Grey seals are easy to spot from the comfort of cosy hides on South Walney.

Morecambe Bay Local Nature Partnership has produced an excellent leaflet on Barrow wildlife as part of its Morecambe Bay : Nature on Your Doorstep series For other guides around the Bay and Morecambe Bay Nature Partnership.

Some simple ways to minimize disturbance to our wildlife

Barrow and its surrounding coastal reserves are fantastic places to watch wildlife, but how can we be sure that we are not harming the species that we aim to see? We need to be aware of how to minimize disturbance and stress to breeding, nesting and feeding birds.

Our Nature Reserves are chosen by birds for nesting and breeding because disturbance is controlled and managed. When breeding birds are disturbed other birds can eat their eggs or chicks, the eggs can chill, or ultimately the nest may be abandoned.

We are privileged to have internationally important numbers of wintering birds on our doorstep – birds such as the oystercatcher and curlew. These birds need as much food as possible just to survive through the winter. For a period around high tide though, they cannot feed and so form ‘roosts’ of many thousands. Each bird in these roosts aims to conserve as much energy as possible over these two or three hours. When they are disturbed they are forced to fly, using vital energy resources that are needed to maintain their body temperature through cold winter nights. Birds like this live on a knife-edge through the winter months, and have a limited number of places to go during high tide.

Download Wildlife on Barrow's Doorstep (pdf 1.1Mb) - a guide to nature reserves in and around Barrow.

So, what can we do to reduce disturbance to our local wildlife?

Following are a few tips that will reduce your impact:

  • Buy a pair of binoculars!
    This will mean that you can observe wildlife without trying to get too close to it. Lots of suitable models are available, costing as little as £20.
  • Look out for breeding birds.
    Through alarm calls and activities (such as a broken wing display), most birds will tell you when you are close to their nests. This is the time to put the dog on the lead and move on quickly. On the coast, the nest will usually be on the ground on the shingle, so look where you are walking and try to walk around the nest by moving up and away from the beach.
  • Avoid high tide roosts in the Winter.
    In the winter look well ahead to find high tide roosts before they are disturbed, and alter your route to avoid them. Alternatively, try to time your route to coincide with low tide, when the birds are more dispersed.
  • ‘Head-up’ means back off – give birds space.
    Look out for the ‘head-up’ signals that will precede disturbance. Birds will often raise their heads prior to flying, or alternatively, bob their heads up and down to alert the birds around them to your presence. When you see this, it is time to change course, walking around or away from the birds, which will often then settle down.
  • Give seals some room.
    The last point is also relevant to the seals, which haul out at the south end of Walney. When they are on dry land they are much more fearful of passing boats and kayaks, and will always give the ‘head-up’ signal before they make a mad dash into the sea. If you are aware of this, just changing course from head-on to sideways-on will be enough to stop the seals stampeding into the water. Like the birds, seals use this area because it is rarely disturbed. As boat traffic increases though, both may look for other areas to go, unless we take precautions when we see them.