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Roanhead Farm development risks irreparable harm to nature

View of the beach at Sandscale Haws National Nature Reserve, in the Lake District, Cumbria
View of the internationally significant nature reserve at Sandscale Haws | © National Trust/Paul Harris

A coalition of nature and landscape charities have joined forces to object to a serious threat to the internationally significant nature reserve at Sandscale Haws and the wider Morecambe Bay and Duddon estuary.

Revised Roanhead Farm development

A revised planning application for the Roanhead Farm redevelopment, which lies directly adjacent to the nature sites has recently been submitted by developer ILM Group for a holiday park with 233 cabins and associated leisure and retail facilities.

A refuge for rare species

There are a range of concerns with the most critical related to the impact of the footfall and trampling of thousands of additional visitors disturbing the fragile ecosystems. The nature reserve and estuary provides a refuge to some of the rarest and most protected species in the UK.

The Sandscale Haws nature reserve is a much-loved local jewel for the residents of Barrow and Askam.

Dan Taylor, the General Manager for the National Trust, who look after the reserve on behalf of the nation, said: “We want to ensure that local people can continue to enjoy this special place, balancing our conservation work to safeguard a very sensitive ecosystem whilst providing a warm welcome. We are concerned that the scale of this development would risk irreparable harm to the fragile wildlife habitat and that the mitigation proposals included in the application to deal with the sheer volume of additional visitors are inappropriate, insufficient and impossible to enforce.”

A critical part of the planning application requires the developer to demonstrate the impact its visitors would have on the adjoining nature reserve and estuary and how these will be mitigated. Despite a clear request, the Habitat Regulation Assessment chapter of the revised application still includes no survey work outside of the development boundary, which remains a significant omission.

Other serious concerns include inadequate access along a very narrow country lane (Hawthwaite Lane), the noise, light and water pollution created by thousands of visitors, the visual impact on the landscape and the impact on the character of the area. We believe the visitor numbers set out in the application will have an overwhelming impact on the fragile nature reserve, with more day visitors using the facilities at the resort centre, which is the same size as it was in the last proposal, to compensate for the lower number of lodges.

Stephen Trotter, Chief Executive, Cumbria Wildlife Trust said: "Though there are differences in the new application, Cumbria Wildlife Trust is very concerned about the proposed resort as it will still damage wildlife and habitat in the area. It's immediately next to highly sensitive sand dune habitats, with rare and threatened wildlife including the biggest population of natterjack toads in Britain, otters, large numbers of threatened wading birds, unusual plants and the rare spring mining bee. The extra disturbance and pressure may put at risk much of this special wildlife and some may disappear altogether.

“We strongly support the need for economic regeneration in Barrow-in-Furness and we welcome new jobs and opportunities in the area, but it's vital that development doesn’t damage the internationally important natural assets on which society is based. We strongly support the growth and development of sustainable tourism but in our view, this is simply the wrong location for this scale of holiday resort. It’s just too close to such an important and irreplaceable wildlife site.”   

Friends of the Lake District CEO, Michael Hill said: “The pressure of thousands of additional visitors to Sandscale Haws will harm not only the sensitive habitats but the unique landscape character of this area, and in turn the sense of tranquillity and escape that local people currently enjoy and benefit from. We’re standing with the local community and other concerned organisations to make clear that this is the wrong development, in the wrong place and must be stopped."

The RSPB, the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, has also raised its concerns about the development.

Robin Horner, RSPB Area Manager & Chair of the Morecambe Bay Local Nature Partnership, said: "The Duddon Estuary is internationally important for its wildlife and nature urgently needs more protection, not less. Natterjack toads, for example, are Britain’s rarest amphibian and the coastal areas that would be impacted by this development are home to a quarter of them. We have grave concerns that this development would have a detrimental effect on some of the UK’s rarest plants and birds, such as the endangered Curlew, and will work with partners to oppose it."

Dr Tony Gent, Chief Executive Officer, Amphibian Reptile Conservation said: “The natterjack toad is a charismatic and much-loved species of amphibian, but one that is declining even in its Cumbrian stronghold and that is increasingly being threatened through changing land use, climate change and sea level rise. This area is of national significance for this species, and also home to strictly protected great crested newts. The development is too big and too close to the sensitive habitats that these species depend on, and will add a huge additional visitor pressure; these proposals represent an unacceptable risk to nature."

Natterjack toad on rocky surface
Natterjack toads are just one of the rare species which find refuge in the nature reserve and estuary. | © National Trust Images / Isabelle Spall
Grassland in the dunes at Sandscale Haws

Find out more about the impact of the development proposal

You can learn more and add your voice by visiting the Cumbria Wildlife Trust call to action page.

Our partners


The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is a charitable organisation registered in England and Wales and in Scotland.

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The Wildlife Trusts

The Wildlife Trusts is an independent charity made up of 46 local Wildlife Trusts in the UK, the Isle of Man and Alderney.

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View of the beach at Sandscale Haws National Nature Reserve, Cumbria

Our work at Sandscale Haws 

Learn how dedicated rangers and volunteers work to keep this rugged landscape a happy home for wildlife and wildflowers.