South Walney

South walney nature reserve and piel castle with people looking at wildlife interpretation board - copyright john morission

Visitors using a wildlife interpretation board at South walney nature reserve, Piel castle in the background © John Morrison

The Visitor Centre and Braithewaite Hide is shut unfortunately, but we're hoping to reopen the visitor centre soon. 

With stunning views across Morecambe bay, this shingle island reserve is full of interest and a fantastic place for bird watching. South Walney Nature Reserve is home to the only grey seal colony in Cumbria.

July 2021 coronavirus update. Please note Braithwaite Hide and the visitor centre are still closed but the other hides, the car park and the toilets are open. Our new seal and bird-watching shelter is open - it's next to Braithwaite Hide. If you are visiting the reserve please follow social distancing guidelines.


Walney Island
Barrow in Furness
LA14 3YQ

OS Map Reference

OS: 1:50,000
Sheet no. 96
Grid reference SD 225 620
A static map of South Walney

Know before you go

130 hectares

Entry fee

Entry for members is free/Non-members are charged £3.00 for adults and £1.00 for children – all monies are used to help manage the nature reserve.

Parking information

Car park

Bicycle parking


Grazing animals


Walking trails

There are several waymarked trails on the reserve (Red trail 5km/3 miles, blue trail 3km/2 miles).


July 2021 coronavirus update. Please note that the visitor centre at South Walney and Braithwaite Hide are closed, but the the other hides, toilets and car park are open. If you are visiting the reserve on foot please follow social distancing guidelines.

Main track from the car park to Pier Hide and the Lighthouse is reasonably level.

Off road mobility tramper available for hire. A kind donation of £5 is appreciated for the use of the tramper. Please book in advance by calling the Reserve Officer on 01229 471066.

Please note! During very high winter tides (above 10.5m) and stormy conditions, the access road may flood and be impassable for several hours.

Toilets including accessible toilet are open.

Visitor cabin is closed until further notice.


Guide dogs only
Assistance dogs only


Bird hides
Picnic area

When to visit

Opening times

South Walney nature reserve is open daily 10am to 5pm (4pm in winter). The reserve gate is closed and locked shortly after closing time. The visitor cabin is open Friday to Monday.

Best time to visit

March to August

About the reserve

Wildlife highlights

  • Grey seals can be seen at high tide year round at their only haul-out location in Cumbria            
  • Breeding eider duck, great black-backed gull, oystercatcher, ringed plover, shelduck         
  • In Spring - the time to see courting eider ducks and catch the returning spring migrants- wheatear, willow warbler and sandwich terns. Thrift and sea campion come into flower.
  • In summer - see nesting gulls, eiders, oystercatchers and ringed plovers. Arctic, little and sandwich terns are summer visitors; these agile seabirds can be seen fishing from Sea Hide. Burnet moths and grayling butterflies are on the wing and viper's bugloss, yellow horned poppy and sea lavender are in flower.
  • In Autumn - catch the flocks of migratory curlew, spotted redshank, redstart and pink-footed geese.
  • In winter - Huge numbers of waders and wildfowl feed and roost around the nature reserve.
  • Throughout the year look out for barn owls, short-eared owls and peregrines and grey seals at high tide.   

Grey seals at #SouthWalney

The grey seals can be seen playing in the water at high tide, along with thousands of wintering wildfowl and wader birds, from hides elsewhere on the nature reserve. 

Baby seals are incredibly vulnerable to disturbance, which would cause the mother to abandon it and the pup to starve.

There is strictly no access to the area of the nature reserve where the seals are located.

What makes South Walney so special? 

From the large number of lesser black-backed and herring gulls that return to set up nest territories in the spring to the multitude of waders in winter, South Walney is a haven for birds throughout the year. The mixed herring and lesser black-back gull colony is of national importance.

Of the 250 bird species recorded, many are passage migrants on their way to or from breeding grounds.

First to arrive in the spring are warblers such as chiffchaff, willow warbler and wheatear, which all over-winter in Africa. You may also spot more unusual species, which may have been blown off their normal migration route.

When these species leave our shores, autumn brings huge flocks of migratory curlew, redshank, oystercatcher and brent goose, which join the resident birds and the smaller winter visitors such as twite and tree sparrow.

South Walney is also home to the only grey seal breeding colony in Cumbria and is one of the southernmost places in Europe to see breeding eider duck.

In winter you can see large numbers of waders and wildfowl feeding and roosting around the nature reserve both on the gravel pools and the intertidal areas.  

You can also see greater black backed gull, shelduck, mallard, moorhen and coot.  

Find out where our gulls are going

Some of our Lesser black-backed and Herring gulls have been fitted with tiny solar powered trackers. You can see what the gulls are up to and track their movements around the bay in real time.  

A working past

South Walney forms the southern tip of a shingle island lying off the Furness Peninsula.

Although the landscape is constantly changing due to the prevailing westerly winds and action of the sea, people have utilised this exposed stretch of land for hundreds of years.

During the medieval period it was farmed by the monks of Furness Abbey and during the 19th and 20th centuries salt, sand and gravel were extracted, leaving large lagoons and industrial remains, which influence the wildlife found today.

Plants at South Walney

Vegetated shingle is an unusual habitat - look out for yellow horned poppy, sea campion and biting stonecrop. 

In the small areas of surviving dune grassland survive look out for pyramidal orchid, Portland spurge, restharrow and wild pansy. 

The old gravel workings have developed their own communities with striking plants such as viper's bugloss, henbane and alkanet.

In the saltmarsh in Lighthouse Bay you can find specialists such as as thrift, glasswort and sea purslane.  

Shingle island

South Walney forms the southern tip of a shingle island lying at the end of the Furness Peninsula.

During the medieval period it was farmed by the monks of Furness Abbey, whilst during the 19th and 20th centuries salt, sand and gravel were extracted leaving large lagoons and some industrial remains. 

South Walney has been leased from Holker Estates since 1963.  

Getting here

By car:

From Barrow-in-Furness follow signs for Walney Island.  Cross Jubilee Bridge onto the Island and follow brown signs left at traffic lights. Follow this road for about 1km/0.6 miles then turn left down Carr Lane. Pass Biggar Village and follow the road to the South End Caravan site. Follow the road for a further kilometre until the reserve is reached. 

By bicycle: 

The reserve is 5km/3 miles from National Route 70 Walney to Wear (W2W) and National Route 700 The Bay Cycleway.

By public transport:

Buses run from Barrow- in-Furness to Biggar.

Contact us

Sarah Dalrymple
Contact number: 01229 471066

Environmental designation

Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)
Special Protection Areas (SPA)
A beautiful and charming nature reserve on an island off the Cumbrian coast
Robert, visited the reserve in July

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Further information about South Walney Nature Reserve

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Further information about South Walney Nature Reserve

Thanks to individuals and funders who made a donation to make this project possible.

Co-op, Tesco Local Community Grants, K2B Keswick to Barrow and:

The Hadfield trust logo - green and white
Borough of Barrow in Furness logo
WREN logo 150x150
Walney Extension Community Fund logo 200 px
Sir John Fisher Foundation logo 200px
cumbria county council logo
The Arts Council logo