“The surface, at a distance, looks black and dirty, and will bear neither horse nor man… What nature meant by such a useless production ‘tis hard to imagine, but the land is entirely to waste”. So wrote Daniel DeFoe as he passed Risley Moss in 1724 on the road between Warrington and Manchester
Information provided by Warrington Borough Council
Additional information, photos and captions Copyright © Gordon I Gandy
History of the Moss
Travellers, including the Romans, largely avoided this inhospitable area, but through centuries of human toil the forests were gradually cleared and the mossland reclaimed.
Wild and mysterious even today, the 220 acres that make up Risley Moss are a last remnant of the boggy wastelands that once dotted much of the Mersey Valley. Shallow lakes created at the end of the last Ice Age gradually filled with layer upon layer of spongy sphagnum moss.
Over many thousands of years, this waterlogged vegetation built up to form raised peat bogs – of which Risley Moss is now an important surviving example. Although once described as ‘useless’, most of the Mersey mosses were eventually drained for agriculture.
But, Risley Moss, which was wetter than the surrounding areas, remained an untouched wilderness until the early 1800’s.
Then came the Industrial Revolution, creating the need for huge amounts of peat for horse and cattle bedding in the rapidly expanding towns. And so, at first by hand and then at an increasing rate by machines, the peat was stripped and the fragile mossland changed forever.
The Second World War brought further changes. The Risley Royal Ordnance Factory took shape on the edge of the bog, hidden from enemy bombers by mists off the Moss.
s were pulled by horses along narrow gauge rails. These rails, a section of which you see the cart sitting on, were moveable so they could service different working areas.
The peat carts delivered the cut peat to a peat milling factory that was located at the southern tip of the mossland. From here the milled peat could be loaded onto trains which took it to Liverpool and Manchester. The peat was used for horse stable bedding, fuel, horticulture and agriculture.
After the war was over, the site fell into dereliction.
By the 1960’s the factory complex had been demolished to make way for new houses.
Thankfully Risley Moss, and its high wildlife value, were recognised and today the moss is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a designated Local Nature Reserve.
A Walk Around the Reserve
Whether you wish to walk on a short way-marked trail, climb the observation tower for a panoramic view of the mosslands, or feed the birds from the woodland hide, there is always something different to see and do at Risley Moss. In 2004 the Reserve achieved the Green Flag Award for its welcoming and friendly atmosphere and for its accessibility and community involvement.
Look out for squirrels, foxes, woodpeckers, nuthatches, blue tits, long-tailed tits, greenfinch, robins and many others birds, butterflies, dragonflies and other insects.
Sit around the ponds, quietly contemplating the beauty of nature looking out for frogs, newts and toads. See how many different types of trees you can identify (oak, ash, etc), as well as mushrooms and a large variety of flowers and other plants.
The oak and ash woodland which forms part of the nature reserve was originally created in the 1830s as an extension to the Risley estate.
A mixture of oak ash and elm were planted for timber production and rhododendron was introduced to provide cover for game bird shooting.
Management ceased with the outbreak of World War II and the woodland become badly overgrown by the highly evasive rhododendron which prevented any natural regeneration.
Since becoming part of the nature reserve in 1975 work has been undertaken to restore a more natural mixture of broad-leafed trees. Also visible in the woodland are foxglove, red campion, catkins and acorn trees.
The Woodland Hide
If you like birdwatching, the woodland hide is a great place to be. During the winter months the feeding station attracts a number of birds, including great spotted woodpeckers, nuthatches and long tail tits.
The Observation Tower
Sadly, the observation tower was set on fire and destroyed in July 2017.
The tower gave views across the section of the moss that was out of bounds to the general public.
The hand-drawn image by Richard Dixon featuring the locations listed above was lost in the fire, but I have attempted to piece it together from photographs I took in 2006. I have split it into two halves for clarity which can be seen below, with the scene in one view further below (you might wish to zoom in on your browser to see the detail). I hope I have recovered your work to some reasonable degree Richard.
For the latest on efforts to build a replacement tower, please visit the Risley Moss Action Group website.
Take a virtual Tour of the Nature Reserve
(Click an image for a manual slide show)
From junction 11 of the M62 turn onto the A574 (Birchwood Way). Turn left onto Moss Gate and straight on at the next two roundabouts. Risley Moss is immediately after the second roundabout.
See Warrington Borough Council’s website for latest information on opening times and facilities.
Check with Warrington’s Own Buses for up-to-date information on bus timetables.