Seaforth Nature Reserve. Let me paint you a picture (and erase that pun from your minds. A tern is a kind of seabird, if anyone’s not quite sure.).
Seaforth Nature Reserve occupies a most incongruous setting. It lies on the north side of the Royal Liverpool Freeport – within the Freeport – against a backdrop of HGVs, tall thick wire fences and constantly-bleeping cranes. The Port is often grey, and always dusty.
As a teenage bird enthusiast, I would head in on a bicycle, past the security checkpoint that once knocked me back for lack of a hi-vis jacket, and on a good quarter mile. One passes the police station and goes past rabbits grazing business-park lawns, then passes bits of dead lorry, massive kerbstones and exquisitely unfriendly concrete-and-gravel car parks. After a bend one reaches a long, straight road toward distant wind turbines, but to reach the reserve one aborts into a small car park on the right. To the right again, a plasterboard office, blinds usually drawn, quarters the mysterious reserve staff; a feeding station nestles in the shelter of a damp stand of carr on the left. The boundary ditch disappears westwards along the road, providing a place for rare orchids to flower, while its bank affords a parking space for occasional diggers and steam-rollers. (Neither the steam-rollers nor the orchids seem to mind this illogical arrangement.) I once saw tree sparrows at the feeding station – miles from the nearest farmland – bringing a miniature sample of healthily robust character to a deep silence fringed by a distant mechanical hum.
To get to the main hide, a hundred or so yards of uneven brick path twisted across rich, wet turf strewn with rubble and ambient thorny scrub. (On a bike, the going was fun enough for me to recommend it to some BMXers once, but on reflection they would have faced near-certain injury from sharp bricks had they ever tried to get very airbound.) ‘Hide A’ was a great thick creosoted timber box with a heavy door. Inside were stout trestled workbenches for seating, with viewing slits beneath warped window-flaps of board. The hide also had a big sightings whiteboard, a ring-bound logbook, some plug-sockets, a rusty donations box, a few notices sharing the walls with drawing-pin graffiti, and a clientele – but nothing else.
There were other hides, shells of timber or metal, the realm of cobwebs innumerable and burnt-out oil drums. These, though, were seldom visited. For me, Hide A was magical: the smell of pitch, the hurt of home in a Merseyside breast.