VOLUNTEERS have finished their last spring work session at nature reserve River Darwen Parkway with a final push to clear the main path.

Coppicing, planting and scrub clearance work over the winter has opened up the reserve to new growth and made it more accessible to the public.

The Lancashire Wildlife Trust community projects officer Rebecca Witcombe has been looking to boost native plants and encourage insects and birds back on to the site, which climbs to 130 metres overlooking Ewood Park, home of Blackburn Rovers.

Rebecca said: “Visitors to the reserve will notice that we are cutting back trees and coppicing areas of woodland.

“Many of the trees are the same age and height so this will create an under-storey, providing more room for native plants to grow and wildlife to flourish.”

Funding for the project has come from The Veolia Environmental Trust, which has awarded a grant of £21,031 through the Landfill Communities Fund.

The reserve has a rich industrial heritage, including a sand quarry, the site of Lower Darwen Engine Sheds and railway siding with trains serving the cotton industry in Blackburn, but it is now busy with wildlife.

More than 50 species of bird, including peregrine falcon, snipe and yellowhammer, have been recorded there.

As well as heather, around 160 plants species have been spotted with harebell, meadow cranesbill and great water dock being significant finds.

Smooth and palmate newts live in ponds on the reserve, which is owned by Blackburn with Darwen Council.

The 55-hectare site features a cycle route which links Witton Country Park and Pleasington via the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, and the area is a designated Biological Heritage Site and received Local Nature Reserve status in 2005.

Cllr Jamie Groves, who represents the area on Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: “It’s fantastic what the group have done. They deserve all of the credit for their hard work over the scheme.”

Ward councillor Maureen Bateson said: “It’s a really important area and it’s great that there are lots of people in the ward that care. As a council we have supported this project and anything in that area which benefits the local community I’m really pleased with. The volunteers should be applauded.”