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Things to see and do at Formby

Ionic Star shipwreck at Formby
The Ionic Star shipwreck at Formby | © John Dempsey

Formby is a coastal nature haven for both wildlife and people. You’ll discover some of Europe’s most important and protected sand dune habitats, where many rare species thrive including sand lizards and natterjack toads. You can also catch glimpses of the past, from prehistoric footprints to old shipwrecks.

Top tips for visiting Formby

Formby can get extremely busy during school and bank holidays, particularly on sunny days. With space for around 600 vehicles, our car parks can fill up quickly, at which point we close them for the rest of the day. This is for the safety of the people wandering the site, and to prevent cars from queuing.

During opening hours, members of the team will be there to welcome you. Do say hello – we’re always happy to chat and share information.

Here are some of our top tips for visiting:

  • Check social media (@NTFormby) for live parking updates before you set off.
  • Park responsibly and keep access clear for emergency vehicles.
  • Consider alternative destinations at busy times – we're open seven days a week all year round, so you can always visit us another time.
  • Travel by bike or train if you can – Freshfield and Formby stations are only a short walk away. Plan your trip here.
  • Head to Lifeboat Road (L37 2EB) for boardwalk access to the beach. RNLI Lifeguards will be on duty here in summer.
  • Check tide times before visiting – there is often very little beach at high tide.
  • Download the PayByPhone app for a quick way to pay – you'll find it here.
  • Bring a bag for your litter – to create a natural space for people and wildlife, bins are located in the car parks only.
  • Leave alcohol at home – for safety reasons, it is not permitted.
  • Pop to Formby village, which is only a short distance away. With lots of lovely cafés, pubs, bars and shops, you could treat yourself to a cuppa, a bite to eat or a souvenir of your visit.

Find out more about alternative beach parking along the Sefton Coast here.

Discover the top 5 Wirral beaches here

Sand lizard in Studland, Dorset
See if you can spot the sand lizards | © National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott

Wildlife at Formby

The Sefton Coast sand dune system is recognised as one of the most important dune habitats in north-west Europe, and is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Formby’s dunes, heathlands, grasslands and plantation woodlands create a mosaic of habitats where many rare and more common plants and animals thrive – everything from natterjack toads, sand lizards, red squirrels and internationally important wading birds, through a wide variety of wildlflowers, to over 1,000 moth and butterfly species.

Natterjack toads

This rare amphibian is nocturnal and can be found in dune pools, or slacks, on warm nights during their breeding season from April to July. The males come to the pools first and call to the females using their distinctive ratchet-like song. These calls can be heard up to a mile away, and have given rise to the natterjack toad’s local nicknames – the Birkdale Nightingale or the Bootle Organ.

The female toads lay strings of spawn in the pools, from which tadpoles hatch out. As the dune pools are shallow and warm, the tadpoles develop quickly and the young toadlets have usually all left the pools by late summer.

Sand lizards

This colourful lizard can be quite hard to spot as it is very shy and has excellent camouflage. It likes areas that have a mixture of both bare sand and grasses, and is probably most easily spotted when basking on the sand in the early morning sun.

Although both sexes are beautiful, it's the male that's particularly striking with his bright green sides. The female is brown with a patterned back and can often be mistaken for a common lizard, a species that's also an inhabitant of the Sefton dunes.

Great crested newts

If you ever think you’ve spotted a tiny dragon swimming around the pools at Formby, then you’ve probably caught a glance of a male great crested newt in his breeding outfit.

This is the largest of the UK newt species, and is most likely to be seen in the dune pools during the breeding season from March to June. Out of the breeding season, these rare newts occasionally hide under fallen logs in the woodlands.

Northern dune tiger beetles

Northern dune tiger beetles are a rare and protected species, and the Sefton Coast is one of only a few places in the UK where they can still be found.

These precious insects are thought to be one of the fastest beetles in the world, making them great hunters. They have long legs, which help them to run quickly, but they also fly.

They thrive in areas of free-moving sand without lots of vegetation. During the summer months when it’s not too windy, they can be seen sunbathing on the sand and dig holes up to 20cm deep in the face of the dunes to hide at night or when it’s cold.

Shoreline birds

The shoreline along the Sefton Coast is an internationally important area for feeding and roosting birds. Large flocks of several species of waders and gulls can be seen moving and feeding up and down the coast, particularly through the autumn and winter months including sanderling, grey plover, dunlin and knots.

Many of these birds take a break here on their migration to either their breeding or overwintering grounds. You're welcome to watch from a far but please don't disturb them.

Flowering plants

Formby has around 460 species of flowering plant, including 33 that are locally or regionally rare like petalwort or rare liverworts found around the edges of damp slacks. Other flowers that carpet the dune slacks in summer time are yellow bartsia, round-leaved wintergreen, early marsh orchid, pyramidal and bee orchids, dune helleborine and pendulous flowered helleborine.

In Woodland glades bluebells and celandines flower in spring. You might also spot herb robert, rose bay willow herb, red campion and white deadnettle.

Red squirrels

Formby is within the North Merseyside and West Lancashire red squirrel stronghold, one of a few refuges left for red squirrels across the UK. There’s nothing better than spotting one jumping through the pine trees. If you're taking a wander in the woodlands at Lifeboat Road or Victoria Road, take time to stand a while and don't forget to look up.

They can be quite elusive and timid, hence why spotting one at Formby’s nature haven is never guaranteed but a real delight when it happens. We stopped feeding red squirrels a while ago due to the increased risk of spreading squirrel pox. This means they no longer gather together in popular spots like Squirrel Walk at Victoria Road. As wild, solitary animals they are spread out more naturally right across the site and local area.

You can find our top tips for spotting red squirrels here.

We’re proud to work in partnership with Lancashire Wildlife Trust to protect Formby’s red squirrel population.

You can help monitor the local red and grey squirrel populations by reporting any sightings in the local area or at NT Formby, using The Lancashire Wildlife online form here.

If you find a dead or sick red squirrel on site or in the local area please call Lancashire Wildlife Trust on 07590 745 862.

Protecting wildlife at Formby

We need your help to create the special, natural environment that all the wonderful wildlife that calls Formby home needs to thrive.

Top tips to help protect wildlife

  • Bring a bag to take your litter home and recycle.
  • Scoop that dog poop and drop it off in the car park or pavement bins.
  • Keep dogs close by – dogs are welcome but please keep them under control.
  • Stick to the sea for paddling, to protect natterjack spawn, tadpoles and toadlets in the dune pools.
  • Keep your distance from resting, shoreline birds.
  • Tread softly – you never know what special wildlife is under your feet.
  • No barbecues or fires, please – enjoy a picnic but please don't have a barbecue or light a fire.
  • Don't feed the red squirrels – there's plenty of natural food for them to enjoy.
  • Help reduce air pollution – switch off engines when stationary.
  • No overnight stays – please search for designated campsites here.

Thank you for leaving only your footprints behind.

'Our mission is to create an environment where both people and wildlife can enjoy this special nature haven in harmony. Every time you tread softly, pay to park, scan your membership, give your time or simply take your litter home with you, you’re helping us to protect Formby’s precious wildlife. Thank you for your support.'

– Kate Martin, Lead Ranger

Visitors learning about the ancient footprints found on the shoreline at Formby, Merseyside
Visitors learning about the ancient footprints found in silt beds at Formby | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Shipwrecks at Formby

Roughly one kilometre from the coast, you can see two shipwrecks embedded in the sand at low tide. The Ionic Star was a steam cargo ship that ran aground on the Mad Wharf sandbank in 1939.

Not far from the Ionic Star is a lump of metal and a line of wooden spars – all that remains of the Bradda, which came to grief in 1936, claiming the lives of all but one of her crew. The tragic loss of life makes the remains of the Bradda a poignant place on the Sefton Coast.

Discovering Formby's shipwrecks safely

Timing is crucial for visiting the wrecks, so they're best viewed with an experienced guide and wellies. To find out about upcoming guided walks to the shipwrecks at Formby, please check our social media or email

Prehistoric footprints at Formby

The footprints of humans who lived on this site as far back as 8000BC have been preserved through a process of sun, sand and mud. The sediment beds that contain the footprints are exposed by tidal erosion and offer a unique insight into the prehistoric life of the area.

The beach and sea at Formby, Merseyside

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