Know before you go
There are a number of un-marked paths around the reserve (circular walk 4km/2.5 miles)
IMPORTANT If the flag is flying, firing is taking place on the gun range and there is no access to the reserve. See Opening times above. The public footpath leading to the reserve entrance can be very muddy and slippery
When to visit
Opening timesWhen firing is taking place on the gun range, there is no access to the reserve so please call 01229 712200 before visiting to check the reserve is open
Best time to visitApril to July, October to February
About the reserve
Highlights In spring the dune grassland comes alive with wildflowers and the natterjack toads are spawning. In summer, birds such as ringed plover, skylark and wheatear are nesting on the reserve. Look out for pyrimidal orchids amongst the grass. Butterflies such as dark green fritillary are in flight. In autumn migrating waders and wildfowl return to the reserve. Winter is a great time to see flocks of wintering birds on the estuary. All year round you can see ringed plover and oyster catcher..and, if you are lucky, an otter. Dune system Eskmeals Dunes formed thousands of years ago as a shingle spit at the mouth of the river Esk. This was subsequently covered in shell sand. The roots of marram grass bind the sand and prevent it all being blown away, however where this has occurred 'fossilised' shingle ridges are revealed. Plants of the coast The sand, shingle and saltmarsh of the nature reserve provide habitat for over 300 species of plant. Specialities of the dune grassland include heart's ease pansy, wild thyme, lady's bedstraw, and Portland spurge. you can find pyramidal, bee and northern marsh orchids here too. In the saltmarsh you can find sea lavender, thrift, sea purslane and glasswort. On the wing The profusion of flowers attracts a variety of insects and in summer dark green fritillary, gatekeeper, common blue and meadow brown butterflies are common. The estuary is a valuable feeding area for wading birds such as curlew and oystercatcher and in the winter other birds such as wigeon and goldeneye arrive from further north to feed. Stonechat, grey partridge and skylark breed on the nature reserve itself. Around the ponds The ponds on the reserve are home to frogs and toads as well as common and great-crested newts. Eskmeals is also one of the few places in Cumbria you can see natterjack toads. Look out also for dragonflies such as the common darter around the ponds. Keeping it special The nature reserve is grazed by domestic stock to maintain this diversity and rabbits also play an important part in maintaining short turf. Non-native sea buckthorn, planted in the 1950s to stabilise the dunes, is gradually being removed from the nature reserve. Eskmeals Dunes is leased by Cumbria Wildlife Trust from the Ministry of Defence and has been a nature reserve since 1970. Getting here By car: from the A595 at Waberthwaite, take the minor road through the village and continue for a further 2.3km/1.4miles. Under the viaduct the road swings left. Park on the left hand side. The reserve is then accessed via a field gate. <em>At high tide the road from Walberthwaite may not be passable so access is from Bootle. </em>, down a minor road signposted to Bootle station. Follow this for 3.7km/2.3miles and park just before the viaduct on the right hand side. By bicycle: The reserve is 16 km/9.5 miles from National Route 72 (Hadrian's Cycleway) By public transport: Trains run from Whitehaven and Millom to Ravenglass/Bootle Station. Buses run from Egremont, Gosforth and Seascale to Ravenglass.