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Swifts Nature Reserve completed

Published on 06 September 2022

Swifts Nature Reserve completed

Work has been completed on a new 42-acre wildlife haven for birds, bees and butterflies in Carlisle.

The Swifts golf course and driving range in Carlisle city centre has become one of the very first urban bee and butterfly oasis in the North West.

The Swifts site, in the centre of Carlisle, includes grassland, woodland and riverbanks. It has been transformed into an urban nature reserve thanks to £80,000 funding from Cumbria Waste Management Environment Trust (CWMET) and £8,000 from the Environment Agency. 

The funding has breathed new life into the site, transforming once manicured greens and fairways into wildflower meadows, species-rich wetland and native woodland, helping to boost populations of bees and butterflies.

The site is owned by Carlisle City Council, who worked collaboratively with Cumbria Wildlife Trust to ensure the successful delivery of the project.

With improved access and signage, and within close walking distance of Carlisle city centre, the site is an oasis for wildlife and visitors to the site. The funding has been secured by Cumbria Wildlife Trust, and working in partnership with Carlisle City Council, the restoration works were part of the Get Cumbria Buzzing! Project. The project is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and aims to create and link pollinator habitat across northwest Cumbria.

Cllr Nigel Christian, Portfolio holder for Environment and Transport, said:

“Pollinating insects are a critical component of a healthy ecosystem, however more than half of UK bee, butterfly and moth species have declined in the past 50 years and 30 species of bee face extinction. Over the last 75 years 97% of flower rich meadows have been lost, whilst 60% of flowering plants are in decline.

“The Swifts project restores and create three different types of habitat in the centre of Carlisle: wildflower hay meadows; diverse woodland containing native flowering tree and shrub species; and wet grassland featuring seasonal scrapes (shallow pools of water). This combination will not only provide essential habitat for pollinating insects but will also offer feeding and nesting opportunities for a wide range of bird and mammal species. As part of the project, we have retained and enhanced the existing network of informal public footpaths across the site.”

Tanya St. Pierre, Cumbria Wildlife Trust said:

“The Swifts project has been an incredible opportunity to work in partnership with Carlisle City Council to create valuable new wildlife habitat that will contribute to nature’s recovery. Its city centre location means it is a wonderful, accessible place for people too, and we know a thriving, wildlife-rich environment benefits both physical and mental health. It’s a great example of how spaces in urban areas can be transformed for both wildlife and people and we’d love to see more projects like this across the city.”

Over the past two years, the City Council has removed old golf course infrastructure; thinned dense stands of non-native amenity trees; re-created species rich hay meadows; planted native flowering tree species; and installed a series of shallow seasonal bodies of water, known as scrapes.

Contractors working on the council’s behalf on the project were: OpenSpace Cumbria Ltd, Evans Agricultural Contractors Ltd, Cumbria Wildflowers Ltd and Volker Stevin Ltd.

The Swifts has remained open to the public throughout the duration of the project.

The Swifts will continue to be managed and maintained by Carlisle City Council’s Green Spaces team to improve and develop the range of habitats created during this project. This includes management of the grassland areas by cutting and removing an annual hay crop, plus additional planting of wildflower plug plants and additional trees, when and where appropriate.

The Swifts is open to public access at all times, entrance points are located to the rear of the Sands Centre, off Swifts Bank Car Park and from the flood embankment to the North of Trinity School. Paths across the site are informal but easily accessed during the summer months.

The Swifts will feature in Cumbria Wildlife Trust's Big Buzz Conference and Fringe in Carlisle on 23-25 September, including a Council led-team planting 4,000 wildflower plug plants at the site. Find out more at

Cumbria Wildlife Trust is seeking people’s views on other spaces in the city that could be transformed for nature and local communities, respond online at  


Project Background

The Swifts, located on the Southern bank of the River Eden in the centre of Carlisle, has been owned by Carlisle City Council and its predecessors since the early 1930s. The site has had a number of uses over the past 90 years, including: a racecourse; First World War munitions workers’ hostel; a chocolate factory; and, most recently, a 9 hole golf course with driving range.

The operator of the golf course ceased trading in late 2018 and maintenance of the site returned to the City Council. A joint project with Cumbria Wildlife Trust was instigated in 2020, with the site being included in the Get Cumbria Buzzing Project, a county-wide collaborative effort to re-create habitat for pollinating insects.

This £80,000 project, funded by Cumbria Waste Management Environment Trust and the Environment Agency, aims to reverse the trend of habitat decline for pollinating insects on this 17 hectare (42 acre) city centre site and create a beautiful and relaxing green space for residents to enjoy into the future.

Over 200 native flowering tree species (hawthorn, goat willow and crab apple) have been planted around the edges of the existing blocks of tall poplar trees, to provide structural diversity and to provide additional feeding opportunities for pollinators.



The majority of The Swifts is grassland, and these areas provided the main focus of this project. Previously these had mostly been mown on a frequent basis, whilst rough areas left to grow long, were dominated by weeds. Regular cutting by the City Council’s Grounds Maintenance Team ended in 2020, the management regime then changed to an annual hay meadow cut, (part of a process known as nutrient stripping to reduce the fertility of the land) taken in August. After the clearance of the 2021 crop the meadow areas were cultivated and seeded with a site-specific wildflower seed mix, sourced locally, in order to improve the diversity of the grassland.


Woodlands and Trees

Approximately 1 hectare (2.5 acres) of The Swifts is wooded. All trees have been planted during the site’s time as a golf course, to provide windbreaks and obstacles during play. The species used were mostly non-native, of limited value to wildlife, and densely planted to such an extent that ground flora was restricted.

All existing stands of trees were thinned out by approximately one third, the removal of weaker trees and those of the lowest value to wildlife will allow the stronger examples to grow and also encourage the return of ground flora.


Habitat Scrapes

A series of shallow depressions have been created in the wettest area of The Swifts, to the North of the site. These depressions, known as scrapes, are seasonal shallow ponds which dry up in the summer months. Scrapes provide a further diversity of plant species and insects to the site, together with the potential for a range of bird species to make use of the area during the winter months.


Get Cumbria Buzzing! is a ground-breaking, three-year project which aims to get community green spaces around north and west Cumbria and road verges on parts of the A66 and A595 buzzing with bees and pollinators and increase the communities’ knowledge of pollinating insects. Cumbria Local Nature Partnership is working with Highways England and Cumbria Wildlife Trust to get local people buzzing with activity to boost numbers of native bumblebees and other wild pollinators and halt their decline. Cumbria Local Nature Partnership and Cumbria Wildlife Trust are bringing together a wealth of experienced partners including Allerdale Borough Council, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Copeland Borough Council, Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre, Florence Arts Centre, Highways England, National Trust, Solway AONB and Workington Nature Partnership.

This £1.6 million project is made possible by National Lottery Players and support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Highways England, Cumbria Waste Management Environment Trust, Rees Jeffreys Road Fund, Tesco, Allerdale Borough Council, Solway Coast AONB and The Hadfield Trust.

Administered by Cumbria Community Foundation, the following organisations are also funding the project: Fairfield Wind Farm Community Benefit Fund, Robin Rigg West Cumbria Fund, Winscales Moor Community Benefit Fund and United Utilities Legacy Fund.


Cumbria Wildlife Trust is the only voluntary organisation devoted solely to the conservation of the wildlife and wild places of Cumbria. The Trust stands up for wildlife, creates wildlife havens, and seeks to raise environmental awareness.

Formed in 1962, the Trust cares for 41 nature reserves you can visit, campaigns for the protection of endangered habitats and species such as limestone pavements and red squirrels and works with adults and children to discover the importance of the natural world.

Cumbria Wildlife Trust is part of a UK-wide grassroots movement of 46 Wildlife Trust charities, with more than 850,000 members and 38,000 volunteers.


Cumbria Waste Management Environment Trust provides grant assistance to Parish Councils, local community groups and not for profit organisations for environmental and community projects in parts of the local authority areas of Carlisle, Eden and Allerdale.


The National Lottery Heritage Fund uses money raised by the National Lottery, to inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future. Follow @HeritageFundUK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLotteryHeritageFund.

Since The National Lottery began in 1994, National Lottery players have raised over £43 billion for projects and more than 635,000 grants have been awarded across the UK. More than £30 million raised each week goes to good causes across the UK.

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