Hilbre Islands Nature Reserve

Hilbre IslandThe three tidal islands lying at the mouth of the Dee Estuary, Little Eye, Middle Eye and Hilbre, have been designated a Local Nature Reserve.

Access to Hilbre is by foot, across the two miles from West Kirby and is free of charge. 

View a map of West Kirby

Visitor Centre  
Wirral Country Park
Station Road
Thurstaston
Wirral
CH61 0HN

Open daily from 10 am - 5 pm.
Call 0151 648 4371/3884.

 

Visiting the islands

The Islands are cut off from the mainland by the tide for up to four hours out of every twelve. If you are planning a visit to the Islands you must allow yourself enough time so that you can leave Hilbre at least three hours before high water, or longer if you have small children or walk slowly.

It takes about 1 hour to cross the 2 miles to Hilbre. Alternatively, you must set out from West Kirby at least three hours before high Water and allow for a stay of five hours or more on Hilbre. Strong winds may bring the tide in early or suddenly. Tide tables can be purchased locally and are on display at Dee Lane slipway and can be found on the BBC website.

There are no shops, public toilets or any fresh water on the Islands, and very little shelter. Toilets are available at Dee Lane Slipway, West Kirby; open 10 am - 6 pm.

During bad weather some shelter may be available for parties visiting Hilbre, but this cannot be guaranteed, so please allow for this in your preparations.

Check the weather forecast for Hilbre Islands

Always carry waterproofs and extra or warm clothing, and in winter food and a hot drink are essential. Always wear some form of footwear when visiting the Islands preferably wellingtons, as rocks, barnacles and broken glass can cause serious injuries. The most common cause of injury is slipping on the seaweed/mud covered rocks.

The weather can change very quickly, and exposure can occur even in summer.

  

Safe Routes
We recommend the safest route to Hilbre Island is to start from the slipway at Dee Lane, next to the Marine Lake, walk towards Little Eye, the smallest of the three Islands, keeping it on your right. As soon as you pass Little Eye turn right and continue on the sand passing Middle Eye on your left. Between Middle Eye and Hilbre take the rough track over the rocks towards the small tidal pool. Once off the rocks turn left towards the gate at the south end of Hilbre. Do not cross direct to Hilbre Island, and do not cross from Hoylake.

 

Help Protect the Hilbre Islands
Protect Wildlife: All plants and animals in the Local Nature Reserve are protected. Please do not collect any living creatures, pick or damage any plants.

Please avoid disturbing the roosting birds in winter. Please keep to the paths or rocks to avoid trampling plants or eroding soil. No Overnight Stays: Camping or overnight stays are not permitted on the Nature Reserve.

Don't Leave Litter: Litter not only looks unsightly, but can be dangerous to both humans and animals. Take your litter home or deposit it in a litter bin. Dogs: Dogs must be kept on a lead at all times whilst on the Nature Reserve.

Fire: Fires are not permitted on the Islands. Please be careful to ensure that you do not cause one. If you see a fire please contact the Ranger or Fire Brigade.

 

Natural History
The Hilbre Group of islands are situated at the mouth of the Dee Estuary, and form part of the Dee Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest which is of international importance.

The Dee Estuary is one of the ten most important estuaries in Europe for the overwintering of wildfowl and waders. Its marshes, mudflats and sandbanks provide ample food for the many species of birds which spend the winter around its shores. The islands and other relatively high ground are used as roost sites when the tide covers the thousands of acres of flats which are exposed at low water.

The availability of roost sites is the limiting factor which determines the number of waders staying around the Dee in winter. Increased disturbance of the roosts in recent years has considerably reduced the numbers of several species of waders on the Dee. This disturbance can take many forms; people walking or birdwatching, dogs or horses, sailboards or powerboats.

The results are the same whatever the cause - birds either leave the area or die. The Metropolitan Borough of Wirral has introduced a voluntary wardening service which operates between West Kirby and Red Rocks during the winter months.

The Wardens talk to people who are disturbing the birds and explain the effects of their action to them. In this way it is hoped that disturbance will gradually decrease.

The Hilbre Islands are also important as a stopping-off point for the twice yearly migration of birds along the west coast of Britain. This was the main reason for the founding of the Hilbre island Bird Observatory in 1957.

The members carry out recording and ringing of birds on Hilbre. To catch the birds for ringing they use Heligoland traps, which are the wire cage-like structures found in some of the garden areas. After ringing, weighing, and measuring, the birds are released to continue their journeys. Several very uncommon species of bird have been seen on Hilbre since the Observatory was founded.

The only mammal known to breed on Hilbre at present is the Field Vole, although House-mice, Wood-mice, Rabbits, Water Voles and Hedgehogs have all bred successfully in the past. Foxes, Weasels and Stoats also visit the islands occasionally.

The West Hoyle sandbank to the west of Hilbre provides a haul-out for quite large numbers of Grey Seals, and these can be seen swimming around the islands most days of the year. They are very curious animals who find humans as interesting as we find them. Whales and dolphins have also been sighted off the island.

There are few scarce species of plants to be found on Hilbre including Sea Spleenwort and Rock Sea-lavender, but the most striking flowers to a visitor in the early summer are the Bluebells and the Thrift. These cover the island with splashes of blue and pink. A little later on is the yellow of Bird's-foot Trefoil.

Down on the rocky shore there is a different world altogether, one of seaweeds and barnacles, winkles and crabs.

Anemones and starfish can also be found at low water. In muddy pools may lie a dangerous Lesser Weever Fish, with only its eyes and spines showing, ready to sting the unwary.

 

History
The Islands are composed of Bunter Sandstone, which is also present on the Wirral forming the rocky ridge from West Kirby to Thurstaston.

It is thought that the islands were part of the mainland until the end of the last ice-age, about 10,000 years ago. The increased water levels caused by the melting ice cut a channel between West Kirby and what are now the 3 Hilbre Islands .

Although written records concerning Hilbre only begin in Norman times, the islands themselves can tell us quite a lot about their past.

The many flint arrowheads, scrapers and flakes that have been found show us that Neolithic man visited them, whilst a bronze axe-head and a buried urn indicate similar visitations during the Bronze Age period. By Roman times, if not earlier, there would have been permanent residents on Hilbre, the island providing an important signaling and defensive outpost to the city that had been built at Chester.

The Romans left little behind, but the odd coin, brooch and buckle have been uncovered in the past.

Fragments of pottery and jewellery dating from the 3rd,4th and 7th centuries tend to indicate a continuing habitation, but it is to the 10th and 11th centuries that the two major relics of early times belong. A cross head, carved out of a piece of red sandstone, was found in 1862. It is thought to have been made about 1000 A.D. by masons based at Chester.

The other find, made in1864, was a burial slab, under which were found four skeletons. The burial slab is thought to have been made in about 1050 A.D., and is still in existence.

There are written records which indicate that the Benedictine monks of St. Werburgh of Chester maintained a monastic cell on the island for a period of 400 years until the dissolution of the monastery in 1538.

After the dissolution, the ownership of the islands passed to the Dean and Chapter of Chester Cathedral, who leased them to private individuals. The islands would have been farmed and the surrounding waters fished by the lessees. Additionally Hilbre formed part of the Port of Chester and would have seen visitors from ships waiting to embark for Ireland as well as the crews of smaller local boats. It was for this reason that a public house was established on the main island by the late eighteenth century, and possibly much earlier.

There are tales of wrecking and smuggling taking place on Hilbre, and these ventures would certainly have taken place to some extent. Local gossip in the early19th century said that the Hilbre innkeeper was a very wealthy man, who had obtained his riches by wrecking.

In 1828 the lease of the islands was obtained by the Trustees of Liverpool Docks, with a view to building a Telegraph signaling station on the main island. This they did in 1841, and it is from this period onwards that all of the visible artefacts date. The Trustees purchased the islands in 1856 and owned them until 1945 when they were sold to Hoylake U.D.C.

In 1974 local government re-organisation took place and Wirral M.B.C. became the owners. This is still the case and they manage the islands as a Local Nature Reserve. The only permanent resident is the Dee Estuary Ranger, who lives in Telegraph House.

There are 2 private residences on the island, in addition to the Mersey Canoe Club and the Hilbre Island Bird Observatory. At the north end of Hilbre, situated in part of the old lifeboat house, is an automatic tide gauge operated by the Port of Liverpool. This has been in operation for more than 130 years.