Martin Mere - Industrialisation, a nymph and a nature reserve.

Following our trip to Martin Mere I looked into its history and thought it was worth sharing; The site has an intriguing history from environmental destruction to protected land and rich folklore. It was once home to the largest freshwater lake in England, with a size of over 19 km2, considerably larger than the 14.5 km2 of today's largest, Lake Windermere. Whilst the idea of draining a  lake would be met with fierce objection today, it was considered a valiant endeavour in the late 1600's, when the first channels were built. In the 19th century, the lake finally succumbed to the might of  steam pumps and the freshly revealed mineral rich land enabled farms and mines to flourish. It also contributed to the construction of the hugely important Leeds to Liverpool canal.  Much of the land, however, remained partly covered in water, and attracted large and diverse groups of migratory and domestic birds, whose natural habitat was under increasing threat. As such, the naturalist and wildfowl expert Peter Gladstone developed Martin Mere as part of the WWT in the early 70's.  Since its public opening in 1975 by the naturalist and founder of the WWT Sir Peter Scott, the site has welcomed thousands of visitors each year, humans and birds alike.

Sir Peter Scott

This is a good example of a common course of events that follows once an area has been plundered of its resources and abandoned. Over time, new eco-systems are established, evolving with the landscape, which in turn attracts more life, making a once desolate area richly bio-diverse. In a short period of time an old quarry can be well hidden by foliage, lakes and all associated wildlife, making it very hard to imagine its former life.  A culmination of these natural systems and good land management by the WWT has resulted in an extremely rich environment for life to flourish. As an avid twitcher informed us on the day "this site is very special, it's a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, Ramsar Site and a Special Protected Area" all of which means that it's recognised for its natural significance and is protected accordingly under national and international laws.

View from the Gladstone hide

Folklore surrounding the area stems from the nearby Park Hall in Chorley, a location which the old lake surpassed at the time of King Arthur in the story of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table.  It is said that when Lancelot was just a young boy, his parents King Ban and Queen Elaine had to quickly flee their enemies in France. They travelled by boat and docked on the shores of Lancashire. As they left the boat King Ban fell and in her haste to help, Elaine placed Lancelot on the shore. It was at this moment that Lancelot was abducted by nymph Vivian who vanished into the muddy waters of  lake with him.  Vivian raised Lancelot whom years later entered King Arthur's court and was knighted "Sir Lancelot of the Lake".  A such Martin Mere has since been known by many as the  'Lost Lake of Sir Lancelot'. Some also claim that the sword Excalibur was thrown into the lake, and to this day remains lost on the mere. If this is this case, chances are that it will be  Grey Heron or Whooper Swan that comes across it before any knight. 

A frenzy of Whooper Swans Cygnus cygnus

There is a lot more information on the site's history in "Martin Mere: Lancashire's Lost Lake"  By W. G. Hale, Audrey Coney (2005)

Nick, Oropendola Productions