Take a trip to Fairburn Tips with Ecotalk

6 December 2019

Earlier this year we helped our friends at the RSPB purchase a new piece of land – and the best part was that we used the money from our Ecotalk customers’ phone bills to do it.

The particular piece of land we helped to buy is called Fairburn Tips. It’s part of the RSPB Fairburn Ings reserve in West Yorkshire. Once a dumping ground for coal mining, the land has now become a thriving habitat for wildlife.

We recently visited Fairburn Tips with BBC Springwatch presenter Gillian Burke to open the Roy Taylor Trail. Roy Tailor worked for the RSPB for his entire career, and was instrumental in securing the land at Fairburn Tips and making sure that the RSPB could continue to conserve it for generations to come.

We found out more about why this area is so important, and what species are making a home there.

From coal mine…..

Fairburn Tips is part of a very important piece of land. In the 18th century, the land was used for coal mining.

Under the ground, there was a warren of tunnels held up by coal pillars. Over the years, the extensive coal mining led to subsidence – the ground started sinking downwards where it had been hollowed out as it was mined. By the start of the 20th century these pits started to fill with water, creating a new marshland.

As subsidence continued and the areas of open water got bigger, the land was deemed to be only fit for tipping and became a giant spoil heap – a mound formed of material discarded during mining.

Eventually, Fairburn Tips became the largest spoil heap in Europe, and covered an area of 105 hectares.

So the hills and mounds at Fairburn Tips aren’t natural, but were in fact created when mining waste was dumped at the site.

….. to haven for nature

The plan was to fill some of the areas of open water in with spoil. However, by now the area was attracting several species of birds, so there were calls for the land to become a nature reserve.

In 1957 it happened - the area stopped being a spoil heap and became a reserve. Volunteers planted thousands of trees on the spoil heaps to encourage bird species to make a home there, including silver birch and oak saplings.

Volunteers continued to look after the land until the reserve was taken over by the RSPB in 1976.

It’s amazing to see a piece of land that was once used to mine coal - something which has contributed so massively to climate change - now being given back to nature, making a new home for wildlife.

A birdwatcher’s paradise

Fairburn Tips is managed carefully to make it the best possible habitat for wildlife.

There are now a huge number of bird species living there – some that you’d expect, like swans, geese, green woodpeckers, willow tits, tree sparrows and lapwings – but also some species that are rare such as bittern, bearded tit, Cetti’s warbler, little egret and spoonbills.

The reason there is such a huge variety of species is because there are a wide range of habitats at Fairburn. As well as wetland areas (which include open water, wet grassland, reedbed and wet woodland), there is also dry grassland and deciduous woodland.

You can find plenty of other wildlife at Fairburn Tips – not only birds! There are otters, roe deer, brown hares, and of course plenty of bees and butterflies.

How can you get involved?

If you’ve been inspired by the story of Fairburn Tips and would like to get involved, there are lots of things you can do.

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