BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

17 September 2014
Accessibility help
Nature's Calendar

BBC Homepage

BBC 2 Logo

Contact Us

Islands - Walney Island

Island retreat

Walney Island

Walney Island, on the western fringes of Cumbria, lies just half a mile from the mainland town of Barrow-in-Furness and at first glance doesn't seem like anything particularly special.

Walney Island - birds, butterflies and blooming flowers

FlowerThe island is just 11 miles long and a mile wide, but provides a range of great habitats for wildlife, including 250 types of birds, 450 flowering plants and 400 species of moths and butterflies.

It's also home to two nature reserves situated on the north and south ends of the island.

The southerly reserve is managed by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust whilst the one to the north is run by Natural England.

'Dive bomb alley'

Walney c/o Walney IslandAt South Walney Nature Reserve, visitors can witness a bird watching spectacle so spectacular that it has become known as "dive bomb alley".

Spectators are also advised to wear protective head gear - we're not talking hard hats but a woolly cap will suffice!

It's the biggest gullery in Europe with 17,000 pairs of Lesser Black Back and Herring Gulls, two of Britain's largest species, renowned for being scavengers.

'Dive bomb alley' refers to their behaviour during the summer nesting season, when they're highly protective of their young and swoop out of the sky to deter any potential threats.

Parent gulls have a prominent red spot on the underside of their bill which becomes even redder during breeding season as the chicks peck at it to show their parents they're hungry.

Glut of Gulls

Herring GullLook out for the different types of gulls on Walney.

They are easy to tell apart - Herring Gulls are a silvery-grey and are more often seen at the seaside.

The Lesser Black Backs are smaller, darker and less frequently spotted.

Approximately one third of their British population lives on Walney Island.

The area also attracts large numbers of Eider Ducks who come here to breed in nurseries of up to 100 young.

That's a lot of feathers - enough to fill about a dozen eiderdown quilts!

Natterjack Toads

Natterjack ToadOther young animals found on Walney Island are juvenile Natterjack Toads, with their distinctive yellow stripe down their back which sets them apart from their Common Toad cousins.

At the North Walney Nature Reserve, the landscape is dominated by sand dunes, salt marsh and wet areas known as slacks, which provides the perfect habitat for these rare creatures.

They're so rare you need a licence just to hold them, but fortunately their numbers are stabilising and around a quarter of the British population live on Walney Island and in the surrounding area.

Also look out for wading birds on the exposed sands to the north of the reserve.

Rare plants

Walney GeraniumThe North Walney area is home to many rare plants including Dune Helleborine, Seaside Century, Yellow horned Poppies, Viper's Bugloss, Coralroot Orchid and Variegated Horsetail, which all thrive due to the calcium rich sandy terrain.

The island even has its own special wildflower - the Walney Geranium.

But it can be hard taking roots here - only plants which can withstand the constant battering of surf on shingle and wind-blown sand can thrive in this environment.

Look out for quick colonising species like Sea Sandwort and Sea Campion, as well as the various wading birds which take advantage of the coastal habitat.



Watch and Listen

Audio and Video links from this page require Realplayer

Today's clip:

Seal safari

Nature's Calendar
On the rest of the web


Activities (Image: Shelduck c/o Wildlife and Wetlandd Trust)

Mark your Nature Calendar

Discover nature activities. Summer is a great season to enjoy wildlife during long daylight hours.

Breathing Spaces

Make a difference for people & wildlife in your neighbourhood.

back to top ˆ

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy