It’s not every day you see an heron eating a slice of bread and, strictly speaking, Jenna Trewartha, Blackpool Council park ranger, does not approve.
But try telling that to kids doing what they have done for centuries – feed bread to birds. Particularly when the heron can see fish in the depths of Kincraig Lake, but can’t quite penetrate the ice at this point.
Jenna recommends cereal, bird seed, duck pellets. “Bread’s not really good for birds, it’s a bit like feeding you McDonalds all the time.”
Not that it cuts much ice with Liam Birchall and Ethan Walkden, seven, and Jodie Turner, 11, of Kincraig Primary School, with ducks, moorhens and gulls skating and skidding purposefully across.
The boys are hopeful of spotting a “dinosaur or panda”, but Jodie’s happy with the heron. “He’s beautiful.”
Deputy head Emily White admits: “Each time we come here, I wonder why we don’t do so more often.”
We’re at the very start of the North Blackpool Pond Trail.
It’s delivered as a partnership between BEAT, Blackpool Council and Groundwork, and supported by Natural England as part of its £25m Access Nature programme, funded through the Big Lottery Fund’s Changing Spaces programme and by United Futures.
That massive commitment has helped signpost the trail, raising awareness of key sites, as well as improve footpaths and clear rubbish and undergrowth, locals mucking in all the way.
Ten years of campaigning and two years of hard work by such groups has led to this – and the Open Space award at Blackpool Civic Trust annual awards.
Later this month, on Saturday, February 25, there’s a bulb planting on the trail from 1pm to 2.30pm, all welcome, starting from Carleton Crematorium main gates, no booking required, just sensible clothing and footwear.
It is astonishing just how close the trail leads to the crematorium – Jenna reckons it would take far longer by road.
What’s more a new map and guide will be available in May, once it is signed off by the relevant parties.
Jenna’s keen to spread the word, and who needs a map?
The trail is well marked. And with the fine crisp days of winter, there couldn’t be a better time to crunch over the route if you wrap up warm.
It begins in Bispham, virtually opposite the primary school on its namesake road, near Blackpool and The Fylde College’s Bispham campus.
The big surprise comes in learning that so much greenery still exists in Blackpool, and that this trail is just the beginning of it, with its vast lake, and attendant birdlife, and four biological heritage sites.
Jenna, who opted out of a career in accountancy and IT, is firmly in touch with much of it.
She knows the trail like the back of her hand.
It’s a network of linked ponds, each with a distinct character, habitat.
The improvements made by volunteers have transformed the area, and she says: “I can see light at the end of the tunnel now.”
Combined efforts of allied agencies and volunteers have worked wonders, some even negotiating the health and safety hurdles required in order to delve deeper into the potentially damaging debris and detritus trapped in overgrown hedgerows fringing waterways.
The trail holds surprises at every turn.
A kingfisher is a regular. Snowdrops are emerging. Horses canter over.
Pond dipping – at warmer times of year and under supervision – is always a favourite with children and adults alike, the chance to get up close and personal with newts, taddies, frogs, fish, so called mini beasts.
It generally takes Jenna less than an hour to walk from Bispham to B&Q, Layton, via the linear (rather than circular) route, and skirting the back entrance to Carleton Crem.
In my company, with frequent pauses to check out flora, fauna and ponds or pick up rubbish, it’s a gentle two-hour plus stroll.
Following the path from Kincraig Lake, the route crosses Faraday Way to lead to the memorial arboretum at Moor Park, past giant pylons, before reaching the community orchard, plum, apple, pear trees, old and native species, on a triangular patch reclaimed from old farmland between Samlesbury Avenue and Low Moor Road.
It is like the secret garden. Birds abound. Keep walking and you’ll emerge near B&Q, Holyoake Avenue, the route often used as a scenic short cut by Blackpool Sixth Form College students, shoppers and office workers.
With spring soon in the air, Jenna hopes others discovering the joys of the trail.
It harks back to the farm years of the Fylde’s flatlands, standing water forming in marl pits of old, sand and soft calcium concentrates shaped by retreating ice in the glacial drift of the definitive Ice Age.
Even in the big chill today it’s a sight to warm the heart and lift the spirits.
And as Liam, Ethan and Jodie conclude it’s a lot better than formal class lessons.
As Jodie puts it: “It’s a living lesson, really, and I simply love it here.”