Monday, 15 January 2018

Winter at Cleaver Heath

Winter arrives

Winter in all its forms has visited Cleaver – gales, downpours, fogs, sharp frosts, hail and yes, real snow just before Christmas.

Winter at Cleaver Heath

The number of regular visitors to the reserve has kept up. On the clear days, the views have been spectacular and enjoyed by those lucky enough to know about the Reserve. Even when the weather is dodgy the doggies still need to be walked so a constant footfall and ‘pawfall ‘ has been maintained. This means that the main path has suffered as it becomes increasingly waterlogged and muddy. This makes our plan to protect it with suitable stone a high priority - more on this below.

Monthly work parties

Birch control (yes, birch not birth) on the heathland panels has been a high priority.

Volunteers cutting birch

As promised in the Autumn Newsletter, we have continued to apply immediate herbicide stump treatment whenever birch or European gorse is cut in an unwanted area. Occasionally, and where possible, we have used the Tree Popper technique to pull the whole (single stem) sapling out together with its root system. This latter method guarantees no regrowth. We will find out next year how successful the herbicide (glyphosate) treatment is. The photograph shows (the bottoms at least of) experienced volunteers carrying out the delicate task of cutting birch and gorse otherwise threatening to crowd out the heather. No machine has yet been invented which can carry out this task.

The volunteers have also had the chance to do other work. In the January session we installed 10 ‘Woodcrete’ nest boxes.

Nest boxes

Opening the boxes can be quite fiddly. The temperature was 2 degrees and the fingers were not cooperating. The net result was very satisfying however. We took some care over the sighting, height and orientation. We took GPS coordinates so we can find them all again! Actually they are positioned so they are not too obvious from the paths but can be checked easily if you know where to look.

We had also obtained a Tawny Owl box from the Cheshire Wildlife Natural Futures grant. We put this up some time ago as these birds start to locate nesting sites quite early. We had been hearing them calling in November.

Tawny Owl nest boxes

Recent sightings

The resident woodland birds such as Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, Bullfinches, Dunnocks, Blackbirds and so on have been busy surviving what winter has thrown at them. Being in a semi-rural residential area, these birds take advantage of garden feeders. Even ‘summer’ warblers such as Blackcap hang around these days in the UK because of garden feeding. Apparently, many of these winter visitors were bred in southern Germany. More traditional winter visitors from the north have been through the reserve. Fieldfare and Redwing have been quite common in the Oldfield Farm fields and trees.


The sun in this picture has helpfully picked out the red wing on the Red Wing as well as the yellow eye stripe. There have been many skeins of Pink-footed Geese passing over the reserve on their way to and from the Dee Estuary marshes. What a melodious sound. I much prefer it to the cackle of Greylag geese and the two-tone horn of Canada Geese. This January I was excited to spot a ‘new species’ for the reserve – a pair of Common Snipe. These are indeed very common down on the estuary but brought my Cleaver Heath Species list from 44 to 45. It was high tide on the Dee and a fierce gale blowing, so presumably they were finding refuge in the heather and grassy area. I have recently inadvertently flushed a Woodcock in the lower reserve next to the woodland fringe. These look a bit like Snipe in general shape with long bills. Looking for mammals, I recently left out a camera trap which has picked up only night-time foxes.

While cutting and treating regrowth on heathland path edging we came across, and left, this Oak multi-stem system sporting a huge number of Oak Galls. These result from Gall Wasp larvae deposited on the Oak.

Oak galls

Soil sampling
The Lead Adviser for Natural England North West has followed her Autumn Visit with another to take soil samples so she could give us options on further heathland regeneration in the reserve.

Soil sampling

These pictures show core samples from the woodland edge of the lower reserve (left) and, for reference, from the upper heather panel (right). Note how shallow the soil is on the protected heather panel and how much deeper it is on the lower sample where the vegetation has accumulated over the years following scrub and then woodland development. However, you can still see the same structure in each with the bottom of the sample showing the same (grey) mineral soil topped with (brown) enriched soil. The chemical analysis of the samples shows that the right acidity and other chemical attributes are all still there throughout the reserve allowing us to contemplate further heathland regeneration.

There has been both good news and bad news over the last few months. You want the bad news first?

Garden waste dumping

There have a couple of minor incidents of garden waste dumping by residents. In one case I was able to ‘have a word’ with the Oldfield Road resident who had been caught red-handed by another local resident. In December we had a much more serious dumping incident where a neighbour had paid a considerable amount of cash to a tree services company based in the Chester area. This was to deal with heavily overgrown scrub and small trees in his garden on Oldfield Road. The company drove off having dumped what looks like the entire lot of cuttings across the road in the reserve. The Natural England Enforcement Officer is leading the follow-up this up. We have all the contact details and evidence.

Good news

Cheshire Wildlife Trust has been successful in wining first prize (£4000) in the September/October Bags of Help scheme run by Tesco. So, many thanks to all you Tesco Shoppers for putting your blue tokens in the correct bin! The Heswall main store showed us having an impressive lead over the competition. We had bid for funds to improve the signage/interpretation, and access (including the Northern ‘bent railing’ one), and special stone to stabilise the main path through the heather. This gets very wet and tempts the casual visitor to take to the heather and grass so as to avoid the mud.

Alan Irving, January 2018

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Student Societies Go Wild at Butterfly Park

Chester Wild Society's first visit to the Butterfly Park. Photo: Hilary Ash

New Ferry Butterfly Park has been supported over the winter months by input from two student groups. Liverpool John Moores University Conservation Society, who have helped several times, and a new group for the Park, Chester Wild Society. It really is a boost to the number of volunteers on our work days, with the October work day having an impressive 24 volunteers. Much can be achieved with these numbers and many more jobs can be tackled.

The student parties got involved in a variety of activities new to them, including scything, coppicing and hedge laying, being taught and safety supervised by our experienced volunteers. All are well catered for with hot drinks, homemade cakes and a communal lunch time BBQ. Yes, winter BBQs are big a hit with hungry students! It is amazing how many burgers they can pack away.

Hilary Ash often delivers an after-lunch tour, giving an overall view of the park and revealing some of the Park’s biodiversity. During winter months, when the students come, much of our wildlife is in hibernation, so the richness of our habitats is not obvious.

Liverpool John Moores Conservation Society. Photo: Paul Heaps

“Chester Wild had a wonderful day at the butterfly park. We all learnt something new and were taught the skills by friendly welcoming people. The BBQ was great and Hilary's tour of the Park was very enlightening. We will definitely be back!” enthused Keeley Mc Cabe, Vice President of Chester Wild Society.

“I have learnt loads of new valuable skills in conservation from going to the Butterfly Park, and I always feel like I'm making a positive impact. Everyone is so welcoming and they always keep you well fed with lovely homemade cakes and cups of tea! It is always a great day, and I am already looking forward to my next visit!” added Ella Woodcock Vice President of Liverpool John Moores University Conservation Society.

We are delighted that these groups have got involved, as they give a boost to our intensive efforts to create a superb habitat for butterflies and other invertebrates. The Butterfly Park site being next to Bebington Station makes it easy for students to come along by train. We are always pleased to see them whether it is a big group or just a few. 

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Season's Greetings

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Wirral Wildlife committee

Friday, 22 December 2017

RHS Plants for Bugs Project

Suction Sampler
Suction sampler being used to collect insects from the plants

Since 2009 the Royal horticultural Society (RHS) has been carrying out research to find out there was any difference in abundance of animals in native only and non-native garden plots.

36 test plots were set up at RHS Garden Wisley, each with 14 plant species and managed like real gardens. The invertebrates they supported were regularly sampled.
The first report found little difference between the number of pollinators visiting native and non-native plants, in fact some exotics provided pollen later in the season.

The second study found that the more plants there were the more invertebrates were collected. Native plants were better than non-native, but not by much. Non UK northern hemisphere plants supported about 10% fewer invertebrates.

Recommendations for wildlife gardeners:

1. Put in plenty of plants and let them fill the space.

2. The more nectar rich flowers you have the more pollinators you will attract and support.

3. You will get more invertebrates if you have native British plants and related ones from the northern hemisphere.

4. Plant natives such as hemp agrimony, primrose, foxglove, honeysuckle, heather and purple loosestrife.

5. Extend the flower season for pollinators with late flowering exotic species, especially if they are densely planted and flower strongly.

Results of the 2017 Big Butterfly Count


This report is taken from the website of Butterfly Conservation:

The curse of the UK summer holiday weather struck big butterfly count 2017. For butterflies and butterfly counters, July and August were dominated by unsettled weather and above average rainfall. Overall it was one of the wettest UK summers for 100 years. And this after six months (January-June) of above average monthly temperatures, which encouraged butterflies to emerge earlier than usual.

The combined impacts of this topsy-turvy weather were to reduce the numbers of butterflies seen during big butterfly count 2017, both because the abundance of some species was reduced by the summer weather and because others had come out early and were already past their peak numbers when the count started.

Despite an amazing 550,000 individual insects of the 20 target species being spotted during big butterfly count 2017, the average number of individuals seen per 15 minute count was the lowest recorded since the project began in 2010! A mere 10.9 individuals per count were recorded, down from 12.2 in 2016. Indeed the average number of individual butterflies per count has decrease in each year of big butterfly count since 2013, when over twice as many butterflies were seen per count compared with 2017.

One of the stars of the summer was the Red Admiral. After a good year in 2016, numbers of this powerful, migratory butterfly soared during 2017, recording its best ever big butterfly count performance. Numbers of Red Admirals were up 75% compared with the 2016 Count and threefold compared with 2015. Its success wasn’t restricted to the south either, Red Admiral did well in Scotland and Northern Ireland in 2017.

Another winner was the Comma, which profited from the warm spring by producing a bumper summer generation. It bounced back strongly (up by 90%) from a relatively poor year in 2016, recording its second best big butterfly count ever.

Common Blue and Small Copper, both of which did terribly during big butterfly count 2016, increased strongly, up 109% and 62% respectively, although their populations weren’t particularly large compared with some other previous years.

The Gatekeeper was another species that did very badly in 2016, but which showed a good improvement in big butterfly count 2017, up 24% year on year. Indeed, it topped the big butterfly count chart for the third time in 2017. 

It wasn’t all good news though. The three common ‘whites’ all decreased compared with 2016 and seemed thin on the ground. The Green-veined White, which was down 38% on 2016, recorded its lowest abundance in the eight years of big butterfly count. Both the Large White and Small White suffered their second worst big butterfly count performances, and numbers dropped by 38% and 37% respectively compared with 2016. Interestingly, this did not appear to be the case in Northern Ireland, where counts of both Large and Small Whites increased substantially on 2016.

There was no good news for the Small Tortoiseshell, which has been the source of much concern over the past decade or so, or the beautiful Peacock, both of which remained at low levels, very similar to those recorded during big butterfly count 2016.

The 2017 results for all 20 of the Big Butterfly Count target butterfly and moth species are shown below:

1 Gatekeeper 93171 +24%
2 Red Admiral 73161 +75%
3 Meadow Brown 69528 -23%
4 Small White 61812 -37%
5 Large White 61064 -38%
6 Peacock 29454 +1%
7 Comma 22436 +90%
8 Small Tortoiseshell 20267 +4%
9 Common Blue 19567 +109%
10 Speckled Wood 18639 +15%
11 Ringlet 18381 -57%
12 Green-veined White 16456 -38%
13 Six-spot Burnet 9517 -28%
14 Painted Lady 8737 +31%
15 Large Skipper 6579 -49%
16 Holly Blue 5929 -5%
17 Small Copper 5814 +62%
18 Brimstone 5281 -7%
19 Marbled White 4894 -67%
20 Silver Y 1923 -2%

At New Ferry Butterfly Park Annual Counts have been carried out since 2002.

The results for 2017 are shown below with 2016 numbers in brackets.

1. Speckled Wood 165 (66)
2. Large White 50 (50), Small White 50 (41)
4. Common Blue 48 (11)
5. Gatekeeper 42 (20)
6. Meadow Brown 28 (43), Orange Tip 28 (25), Brimstone 28 (35).
9. Holly Blue 22 (12)
10. Red Admiral 21 (1)
11. Comma 18 (27)
12. Small Tortoiseshell 10 (29)
13. Green- veined White 9 (26)
14. Peacock 7 (6), Small Skipper 7 (20)
16. Large Skipper 6 (0)
17. Small Copper 2 (1), Painted Lady 2 (2)

In line with Butterfly Conservation findings Red Admiral, Common Blue and Gatekeeper numbers showed an increase, but Comma and Small Copper numbers were down. Large White and Small White numbers were very similar to last year but Green-veined White numbers showed a decrease like the national picture. As found nationally, numbers of Small Tortoiseshell and Peacocks were also low.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Bags of Help for Cleaver Heath


Great news - our Cleaver Heath Nature Reserve project has won first prize in the recent public vote in Tesco’s Bags of Help initiative! Thank you to everyone who gave us your support in the Wirral stores.

We will be using the funds to improve access and the visitor experience at the reserve with new gates, signage and footpath improvements. This reserve has stunning views over the Dee Estuary and is popular with butterflies, birds and common lizards.

The Bags of Help scheme is delivered by Groundwork and our bid was put together by our Natural Futures team who are supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Festive events in December

These are events organised by Port Sunlight River Park, the Friends of Dibbinsdale and Cheshire Wildlife Trust.

Christmas Crafts and Carols
Port Sunlight River Park
Saturday 2nd December, 12 - 3 p.m.

Winter Warmer
The Friends of Dibbinsdale
Saturday 9th December, 1 - 4 p.m.

Green Christmas Arts and Crafts
Sunday 10th December
Bickley Hall Farm
£5 per person, booking essential
Telephone Cheshire Wildlife Trust on 01948 820 728