Rixton Claypits was once a clay quarry.
Information provided by Warrington Borough Council
Additional information, photos and captions Copyright © Gordon I Gandy
Following a number of studies S.S.S.I. (Site of Special Scientific Interest) status was given to area 3 in 1979, then areas 1 and 2 in 1990 due to the plant assemblage. More recently, areas outside the S.S.S.I. zones were given S.B.I. grade A status (Site of Biological Importance). This has now been changed to S.I.N.C. (Site of Importance for Nature Conservation).
In 1996 the entire Reserve became an L.N.R. (Local Nature Reserve). During August 2000 it was declared a S.A.C. (Special Area of Conservation) site, which is a European designation due to the area’s high great crested newt population. This is a rare and legally protected species. It is illegal to pond dip in those water bodies where this newt is found. One special pond has been allocated for pond dipping activities.
History of the Clapypits
Until the 1920’s the area on which Rixton Claypits now stand was farmed for centuries. In the 1920’s clay extraction began leaving several deep pits in the process. In 1965 this work ceased and the area was left to mature.
For the last 25 years much controversy and debate has surrounded the pits. Ownership has changed hands a number of times as several applications for landfill were made and rejected.
Wildlife at the Claypits
Plant life includes ferns, marsh orchids, yellow wort, white melilot, adders tongue, lesser marshwort, trifid bur-marigold, blue fleabane, creeping willow, lesser skullcap, slender spike rush, water figwort, perennial flax, biting stonecrop and Creeping Jenny. Others to look out for are feverfew, black horehound, bay willow, plicate sweet grass, common polypody, blunt-leaved pondweed and brooklime. I also spotted mint on my first visit – the aroma hit me before I saw it; spearmint and whorled mint are here – I don’t know which I saw, but it certainly wasn’t Polo!
Recent additions to the continuously updated species include: kingcups, wavy hairgrass, green alkanet, lesser pondweed, haresfoot clover and squirrel tail fescue. Altogether about 50 species of moss have been identified along with a dozen or so liverworts including Metzgaria fruticolosa, a first for Warrington. Over 200 species of fungi have been identified so far, including two rarities – Leccinum holopus and Lyophyllum fumatofoetens.
I could detect the aroma of mint long before I could see it.
Insect life includes 21 species of butterfly identified on the Reserve, numbering in their thousands on hot August days.
Recent arrivals are purple hairstreaks (1996), and holly blues (1998) – both of which now breed here.
A huge population of dragonflies reside at the claypits and up to 18 species have so far been observed. They include beautiful demoiselle (2003), banded agrion (1996), broad-bodied chaser (1994), ruddy darter, black darter, and the largest British species, the Emperor, which now breeds here.
Several rare beetles and a saucer bug have been discovered and survey work should reveal many more in the future.
Twenty species of mammals have been recorded to date. All three species of shrew occur although the water shrew remains elusive. Pipistrelle,
Daubenton’s and noctule bats occur on most fine evenings throughout the Reserve.
The brown hare is rarely seen, especially in recent years and the water vole also remains a rarity.
Foxes and hedgehogs are frequent visitors as are both the stoat and weasel, although they remain shy and difficult to observe!
The roe deer is seen occasionally throughout the year and Mink have also been recorded, though infrequently.
Keep to the pedestrian routes
so not to disturb the mammals
Reptiles and Amphibians
The only reptile recorded for the site is the slow worm, which was discovered as recently as summer 2004.
The claypits are a great sanctuary for amphibians due to the large numbers and differing types of water bodies found at the Reserve.
Four species occur here – great crested newt, smooth newt, common toad and common frog.
130 species have been recorded over the years, but these have changed as habitats have themselves evolved.
On a good day up to 50 species can be seen. Interesting species include water rail, jack snipe, song thrush, garden warbler, willow tit, linnet, bullfinch and reed bunting.
Species relatively new to the site are green woodpecker, ruddy duck and nuthatch (1996).
Rarities over the years have included golden oriole (1998), hobby, marsh harrier (1994, 2002), hawfinch (1997), green sandpiper, collared pratincole, red-backed shrike (2001), Mediterranean gull (2003) and black terns (1980s).
Conservation zones have been created to protect the claypits. Access is limited to ranger-led walks and for scientific or educational purposes. This is because as the site has become more popular, recreational pursuits are damaging the wildlife and plantlife which the staff are trying to protect. Please keep to designated paths in all other areas.
Warrington Anglers Association have the exclusive fishing rights to the north pool in area 1. Fishing is strictly forbidden elsewhere on the Reserve.
It was 2016 when I last visited the nature reserve.
Let’s enjoy some panoramic images.
And I’ve saved my two favourite panoramic shots until last…
From Warrington: Follow Manchester Road (A57) out of Woolston, across both M6 roundabouts for approximately one mile. Continue past the transport cafe. About 400 yards on the left is a turning for the Visitor Centre, 120 yards further along on the left is the car park.
From Cadishead: Follow Liverpool Road (A57) through the traffic lights at Warburton Bridge and continue for another 420 metres. The car park is on the right just after Chapel Lane.
See Warrington Borough Council’s website for latest information on opening times and facilities.
Check with Transport For Greater Manchester for up-to-date information on bus timetables.