Old Moor RSPB Nature Reserve, Dearne Valley

Old Moor RSPB

Situated in the Dearne Valley, Old Moor RSPB Nature Reserve is an ideal place to observe wildlife and the open water and surrounding areas are teaming with birds throughout the year.

Timber carved play tractor with slide

It has always been a family-friendly destination but the reserve wanted to improve the activities available for children and families to offer them a ‘full day’ experience and to further develop their family offer. Using feedback from visitors, school groups and the resident Wildlife Explorer Group, a plan was drawn up to create a new ‘Discovery Zone’ where children could come and play in a safe environment and at the same time connect with nature and discover natural play. The key element of the project was to replace the existing playground which was in a poor state of repair. The plan also included the creation of a wildlife trail with ‘heritage’ games such as hopscotch, leapfrog and pooh sticks. The family hide was revamped and new pond-dipping facilities and a programme of events and activities were also planned.

Timber playhouses with slide, balance beam and rope bridge


RSPB Old Moor were successful in securing funding for the play area from Barnsley Council through the National Access for All funding programme and also WREN (a not-for-profit company that awards grants for community conservation and heritage projects near landfill sites). The new pond-dipping facilities were funded by Toyota Motor Company.

Old Moor RSPB Nature Reserve playground, Dearne Valley

Project Brief

The brief was to create a natural children’s play area for a full age range in order to attract more children and families to the reserve. Four playground companies were consulted and given the opportunity to present a design proposal. Following assessment by a panel of staff at Old Moor and a play specialist from Barnsley Council, Russell Play’s design was selected because the panel felt that the materials and the design very much fitted the natural space and were in keeping with the environmental ethos of the reserve. Our design offered a good mix of equipment and we created zoning for all ages with a good degree of challenge for older children.

Boy playing on timber and rope climber

The primary objective of the project was to increase footfall at the reserve and to attract new visitors and encourage them to stay longer.

Matthew Cooper said: 
“This summer, compared to last, so far we are 32% up on adult non members, 32% up on child non-members, 15% up on adult members and an impressive 90% up on child member visitors. It clearly shows a massive upturn in our family visitors and the playground has been a big part of that”. 

So far, feedback on the new play area and the Discovery Zone has been fantastic with a 98% satisfaction level.

Girl playing on rope bridge of timber playhouse