Biodiversity, land used for leisure and landowners


This short article examines various aspects of the care, protection and ownership of land assets in the Lancashire-14 area. This encompasses the 12-districts that are within the Lancashire County Council area, and the two unitary authorities of Blackburn with Darwen and Blackpool.


The National Biodiversity Network Gateway acts as a “data warehouse” for biodiversity information, which can be quickly and easily accessed to understand the distribution of particular species in the UK. Much of the local data is supplied by the Lancashire Environment Record Network (LERN), which is hosted by Lancashire County Council. An interactive map on this site shows the extent of the Environmental Record Centre coverage, including the LERN area, and when adding a species using the 'Add to Map' control, records of their sightings are displayed.

Local Nature Partnerships (LNP) cover a range of people and organisations who aim to improve the local natural environment. The map of LNPs shows the Lancashire Environment Forum, originally a Lancashire County Council innovation but later in the hands of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, covering the whole of the Lancashire-14 area although this body is now considered redundant. However the Morecambe Bay and South Pennines partnership areas encompass parts of both Lancashire and neighbouring counties.  

The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside works to protect wildlife in town, countryside and in the rivers and seas throughout the region and has a number of reserves in the county and the wider North West area. A major development for the Trust is the 112 hectare Brockholes Quarry site next to junction 31 of the M6. Opened in April 2011, it forms the hub of a network of wetland sites in the North West and is a very popular visitor attraction.

Plantlife is an organisation that promotes wild flowers, plants and fungi. Although none of their 23 nature reserves are in Lancashire, their website also details 150 Important Plant Areas: areas of landscape identified as being of the highest botanical importance, and home to internationally important wild plant populations. This list includes one site in Lancashire: Stocks reservoir near Slaidburn which borders Gisburn Forest. 

Nature improvement areas have been established at various sites across the country and include the Morecambe Bay Limestones and Wetlands initiative.

Three maps showing areas designated for protection of wildlife and agricultural land classifications are found on the neighbouring conservation page.

Parks, gardens and local greenspace

Parks and gardens UK is an on-line resource for historic parks and gardens. By choosing 'Lancashire' in the location search facility, users can then focus in on local areas within the county and access information about specific sites.

Lancashire County Council lists details on Beacon Fell Country Park, Wycoller Country Park, picnic sites and nature reserves on one of the Leisure and Culture web pages.

The Green Flag Award is the national standard for parks and green spaces. Originally a British initiative, there are now award winners in four other European countries, in the antipodes and in the Middle East. Like its sister award for beaches, the Blue Flag, it is managed by Keep Britain Tidy under licence from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The importance of parks and green spaces is that they play an important role in the local community: they bring people together, enhance the local environment and improve health and wellbeing. In 2021, a total of 1,516 Green Flag awards were approved in England, and within the Lancashire-12 area there were 59 awards. These can be found on the sites map. There were none in Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool or Ribble Valley. The Green Flag Community Award is for high quality green spaces in the United Kingdom managed by voluntary and community groups. Among the award winners in 2021 was the Haslam Park and local nature reserve in Preston. Williamson Park in Lancaster and Winckley Square Gardens in Preston have the green heritage site accreditation.

Heysham Head, Jack Scout, Rufford Old Hall and Gawthorpe Hall are National Trust sites in Lancashire.

Fields in Trust was founded in 1925 as the National Playing Fields Association, and has a mission to ensure that everyone should have access to free, local outdoor space for sport, play and recreation. The trust's website has a search facility that list fields by postcode area which highlights the large number of sites across Lancashire. A new report highlights the public health benefits, in monetary terms, of green space.

The United Utilities website mentions ownership of recreation sites, some of which are in Lancashire.

In June 2013, the coronation meadows project was announced to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Queen's Coronation. A large number of meadows across the country were initially identified as flagship wild flower sites that could provide seed for the creation of new meadows. The first designated meadow in Lancashire is near Slaidburn, which was subsequently followed by two more in the Ribble Valley and one in Lancaster district. 

Major landowners in Lancashire-14 and common land

The Duchy of Lancaster is a unique portfolio of land, property and assets held in trust for the Sovereign in His or Her role as Duke of Lancaster. It has an historic link with the County Palatine of Lancashire dating back to 1265. Lands and properties are administered in five separate units known as Surveys. The Lancashire Survey consists of agricultural estates located between Preston and Lancaster. Of these estates, only Myerscough, north of Preston, is an historic holding, although Whitewell, in the Hodder Valley, is part of the original Royal Hunting Forest of Bowland. The Duchy is also the major owner of foreshore in North West England between the centre point of the River Mersey and Barrow-in-Furness.

The Grosvenor Estate is a portfolio of businesses, rural estates and other assets owned by trusts on behalf of the Duke of Westminster and the Grosvenor family. The portfolio includes the Abbeystead Estate, which comprises 23,500 acres either side of the River Wyre and with the village of Abbeystead at its heart.

The 6,500 acre Huntroyde Estate has been in the custodianship of the Starkie family for over 400 years, and is located near Simonstone, on the boundary between Ribble Valley and Burnley district. Wyresdale Park is further north and is close to the M6 at Scorton.

The land owned by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) for the purpose of training the Armed Forces is known as the Defence Training Estate (DTE). The website has an information leaflet for the North West that mentions two sites that cover parts of Lancashire.  The Holcombe Moor Training Area is an all-year-round general purpose facility used by the Territorial Army, Cadets and the regular army.  It consists of 303 hectares of freehold land of which the northern section is in Rossendale district. There are five public rights of way that cross the site, and it forms an integral part of the West Pennine Moors. Public access is of course restricted to periods when there is no live firing.  The Defence Training Estate also has the 19 hectare Halton Training Camp in Lancaster district that is along the north bank of the River Lune.

Common land may be owned by one or more people, but it is land over which other people have certain traditional rights, such as to graze livestock, collect firewood, or cut turf for fuel. There are 550,000 hectares of registered common land in England and Wales with around 24% of this in the English North West, much being in the Lake District. The 12 Lancashire local authorities account for 8,110 hectares, or 1.5% of the national total. Lancaster (4,110 ha), Ribble Valley (1,460 ha) and Rossendale (1,660 ha) are the three Lancashire authorities that have a significant proportion of the county's common land. In Blackburn with Darwen there are a further 394 hectares. Extent of common land can be seen on the MAGIC interactive map, as part of the Access group. Ramsar sites and many other designations listed in this article also feature, but please note that some datasets might be significantly out-of-date. 

Forestry England has a small presence in Lancashire in terms of the forests they own and manage, in comparison to the neighbouring county of Cumbria, but their policy, grants and regulations function is in no way diminished. The Forestry England website mentions Gisburn Forest, which covering 1,245 hectares is the largest forest in Lancashire. The Woodland Trust is the UK's leading woodland conservation charity and the website lists a large number of woods in Lancashire that are open to the public. 

Woodland coverage of local authorities in the United Kingdom

The Church Commissioners, effectively a wing of the Church of England, own properties to the value of around £2 billion across England, Wales and abroad.  Some of these are clerical residences and leased houses and shops, but a lot is in the form of agricultural or uncultivated land. In Lancashire the Commissioners own large plots of woodland, including the ancient variety.

United Utilities owns land around Stocks Reservoir in the Forest of Bowland, Dunnockshaw (by Clowbridge Reservoir), Haslingden Grane and Rivington.

Page updated November 2021