One of my favourite reserves in the whole North of England due to it’s open plan nature. There are many lakes, ponds, reedbeds and meadows. There are lots of nature trails and as you walk around you can see the wildlife and observe it from the paths.
St Aidan’s is a perfect place to get close to nature and relax, unwind or exercise in a stress-free environment. Just outside Leeds on the banks of the River Aire, it’s a big new space to walk, run, cycle, or ride your horse and enjoy the wildlife that surrounds you.
It has a wide range of wild plants and animals, and is home to thousands of birds, brown hares, roe deer, wild flowers and insects – all living in a stunning landscape of vast reedbeds, grassland, woodland, lakes, ponds and islands.
With a variety of circular paths of varying lengths and large areas of open grassland, St Aidan’s is a great place for families to enjoy the outdoors, share a picnic and play together.
Over 7.5 miles (12 km) of footpaths, bridleways and cycle routes connect the surrounding communities, with links to national footpath and cycle networks. St Aidan’s is a fantastic place for locals wishing to explore the wider countryside or as a destination for people who love nature.
St Aidan’s is an open access site. Opening times apply to the visitor centre and car park. From March-October they’re open from 9.30 am to 5 pm. From September-February it’s 9.30 am to 4 pm. They’re closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Entry to the site is free but donations to help us continue our work are welcome. There is a car park charge of £2.50 per car for RSPB non-members. RSPB members and disabled badge holders park for free.
Information for dog owners
Dogs are allowed on the reserve as long as they are kept on a lead in the appropriate designated zones. There are some less sensitive areas within St Aidan’s where dogs are allowed off the lead. Please check with staff before letting dogs off the lead.
Our star species are some of the most interesting birds you may see on your visit to the reserve.
Bitterns are brown, secretive herons, camouflaged to hide amongst reeds. Visit in spring to hear male bitterns ‘booming’ or summer to watch the parents making feeding flights.
Great crested grebe
Watch the amazing courtship ritual of great crested grebes on the open water in spring. You may see pairs performing their ‘weed dance’ when they present one another with weed and patter across the surface of the water together.
You may be lucky enough to find one of these compact owls perched in a tree or on a fencepost. They become very active at dusk and you may hear their shrill calls.
Look for marsh harriers gliding over the reedbed with their wings held upwards in a shallow ‘v’. In spring, pairs perform their breathtaking ‘skydancing’ displays high in the sky.
Spring visits will be enriched by the beautiful song of skylarks. They rise up into the air from the grassland until they are barely visible and only their song can be heard
Each season brings a different experience at our nature reserves. In spring, the air is filled with birdsong as they compete to establish territories and attract a mate. In summer, look out for young birds making their first venture into the outside world. Autumn brings large movements of migrating birds – some heading south to a warmer climate, others seeking refuge in the UK from the cold Arctic winter. In winter, look out for large flocks of birds gathering to feed, or flying at dusk to form large roosts to keep warm.
Look out for marsh harriers displaying over the reedbeds, great crested grebes performing their elaborate courtship dances and returning swallows skimming low over the water and grasslands as they collect insects. Listen out for skylarks filling the air with their song, the deep booming of male bitterns, male snipe ‘drumming’ as they vibrate their tail feathers to attract females and lapwings calling as they perform their aerobatic displays. Enjoy the fusion of colour as wildflowers burst into bloom and a host of brightly-coloured butterflies and dragonflies take to the wing. Spring is also a great time to see kestrels. You can often see several hovering around the site at the same time as they hunt for voles in the grassland. Kestrels have also been seen nesting in the huge dragline.
Watch overhead for herons and little egrets dropping into the reeds to feed, female bitterns flying low over the reedbeds as they seek out food for their chicks or marsh harriers passing food to each other in flight. Keep an eye on the open water for lines of young ducklings paddling along behind their parents or young great crested grebes riding around on their parents’ backs and admire the abundant lilypads on the lakes. Stoats, weasels and water voles are often seen at this time of year as are basking butterflies and dragonflies hawking the waters edge. Thousands of black-headed gulls set up a colony at this time of the year filling the air with their calls. Summer is the best time to spot the elusive black necked grebe as it will have its fluffy youngsters in tow. Avocets also nest at this time of year. St Aidan’s is a good place to spot this iconic bird that is the logo of the RSPB.
Autumn sees the arrival of migrant birds, such as black-tailed godwits, ruffs and green sandpipers. Local birdwatchers will also spot a few rarities such as spoonbills and pectoral sandpipers. Huge flocks of lapwings arrive to spend winter with us and can be seen around pool edges and on grassland. Short-eared owls hunt over the reedbeds and our winter wildfowl begin to arrive. Look out for flashes of blue as kingfishers flit up and down the river.
Waders and wildfowl such as lapwings, curlews, wigeons, teals, shovelers and goldeneyes gather in big numbers, roosting and feeding across the grasslands and pools. Water rails can be spotted feeding on frozen pools, or you can listen out for their strange, pig-like squealing! The elusive bittern is also drawn out into the open at times. One of the most awesome spectacles in winter is seeing massive flocks of roosting birds panic and fly into the air as peregrines hunt over the site. Look and listen out for overwintering stonechats. Their calls sound like two pebbles being knocked together!
•Car park : There’s a car park charge of £2.50 per car for RSPB non-members. RSPB members and disabled badge holders park for free. We have cycle parking and a height restriction of 2.7 m (8′ 10”) for vehicles.
•Group bookings accepted
•Guided walks available
•Good for walking
Bowers Bimble: Starting from the car park, this 0.9-mile (1.5 km) flat trail takes you on a short walk around Bowers Lake then through grassland and wild flower meadows. Great for a relaxing stroll (20-30 minutes).
Lowther Loop: For a walk through shady woodland glades and along the banks of the River Aire, venture onto this 1.3 mile (2 km) flat trail. In wet winter months, it’s a welly boot walk (60 minutes).
Hillside Hike: For stunning landscapes and panoramic views of the nature park and surrounding areas, t ake a hike onto the hillside. This trail is 1.3 miles (2 km) with some steep hills and inclines, which wind through the trees and grassland (40-60 minutes).
Reedbed Ramble: To explore the magic of the whispering reedbeds, take a walk on this 1.7-mile (2.8 km) flat route that runs around the edges of the reedbeds and loops back to the main entrance (40-45 minutes).
As the new custodians of St Aidan’s, we are aiming to improve the accessibility of our paths as soon as we can. Please contact us for updates on footpath and bridleway conditions.
The nearest train stations are Woodlesford (3.2 miles), Castleford (3.2 miles) and Garforth (4.3 miles). If you’re going to be walking or cycling from the station to St Aidan’s, choose Woodlesford station. Turn left out of the station then left onto the main road. When you get to the bridge over the Aire and Calder navigation, cross it, then turn right and walk along the riverbank until you reach St Aidan’s. If you’re going to take a taxi from the station to St Aidan’s, head towards Castleford station as it’s easier to get a taxi there.
The nearest bus stop is just outside the entrance to St Aidan’s, on Astley Lane. The Number 167 Leeds to Castleford bus stops here and is run by Arriva Yorkshire.
Reach us from junction 46 of the M1. Follow the A63, signposted Selby and Garforth. At the roundabout, take the fourth left for Wakefield A642, Swillington and Oulton. Follow the A642 for 1.5 miles then turn left on to Astley Lane. St Aidan’s is 1.8 miles on the right.
From Castleford, follow the A656 (Barnsdale Road) north out of the town centre for 1.4 miles. Turn left onto Station Road towards Allerton Bywater and travel 1.2 miles. Turn left onto the Leeds Road (next to the yellow corner shop). St Aidan’s is 0.5 miles along the road on the left.
Tagged: , rspb , swillington , swillington ings , yorkshire , west yorkshire , rspb st aidan’s , rspb st aidan’s nature park , nature parks in yorkshire , nature parks in england , nature parks in the uk , nature parks in britain , nature parks in the british isles , nature parks near leeds , LS26 8AL , rspb sites in yorkshire , nature reserves in yorkshire , protected areas in yorkshire , natural heritage of yorkshire , nature reserves of west yorkshire , wetlands of england , wetlands of yorkshire , places to vsit near leeds , places to visit in yorkshire , places to visit in west yorkshire , ecotourism in yorkshire , ecotourism in west yorkshire , Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserves in England , Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserves in britain , Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserves in yorkshire , Royal Society for the Protection of Birds , Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserves , breathing areas in yorkshire , where to see wildlife near leeds , where to see wildlife in yorkshire , birdwaching in yorkshire , st aidan’s in winter , winter in st aidan’s , swillington ings in winter , winter in swillington ings , yorkshire in winter , winter in yorkshire