Friday, 21 July 2017

Summer 2017 issue of RECORD's newsletter

You can now download the Summer 2017 issue of RECORD's newsletter:

You will find many interesting articles including:

'Wildlife on your doorstep' by Lisa Reeves  
'Species Spotlight - Natterjack Toads' by Susie Phillips
'New species in Cheshire'
'In Search of the Green Hairstreak' by Katie Piercy
'Chester Zoo’s Nature Reserve News' by Andy Jennings-Giles
'What to look out for in the coming months'
'Upcoming events in Cheshire'

There are also lots of wonderful photographs.

Well worth reading.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Heswall Community Wildlife Project - July Volunteer Day

Heswall Community Wildlife Project's second Volunteer Day takes place later this month.

Sunday 23rd July 2017
9.30am to 4pm

Meet outside Heswall Hall

If you can stay all day bring a packed lunch or there is a pub close by and there are plenty of coffee shops in the area.

Refreshments available all day from Heswall Hall.

Thick soled, closed in shoes are necessary and bring gardening type gloves if possible.

For more information email Margaret

A good start was made last month as you can see from the photos below.

Oak Topping and Sallow Searching

As a birthday present work colleagues thoughtfully bought vouchers for me to go on a purple emperor butterfly safari at Knepp. Despite several previous attempts I have not seen a purple emperor.

Male purple emperor. Photo: Martin Landy

What makes Knepp landscape so special? It is part of a re-wilding experiment. In 2004 internal farm fences were removed and fallow deer, longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs introduced at low stocking densities and allowed to graze where they will. So in a way an undirected conservation project, just wait and see what happens. This has developed under the influence of Frans Vera whose theory was that the wild wood was not continuous cover but much more of a savannah like landscape of extensive open and interconnected glades maintained by grazing animals surrounded by scrub and high forest. The livestock is in commercial meat production but I suspect the real commercial add-on is the development of several types of wildlife safaris, honesty box shop and campsite.

This particular safari was lead by the duo Matthew Oats, National Trust, and Neil Hulme, Sussex Butterfly Conservation, both great observes of butterfly behaviour. We were also joined by Frans Vera who was pleased to show us regenerating oaks protected from grazing long horn cattle by a mantle of surrounding thorny shrubs, and Charlie Burrell, 10th Baronet of Knepp, the land owner

“Did anybody really have to leave at 3pm?” was the first question as these were great enthusiasts and the emperors will fly until the early evening if warm enough. Matthew Oats was later checked out by a purple emperor whilst having an open air bath at Knepp’s campsite. Re-wilding was not about the species but human reconnection with nature.  

What has happen with this re-wilding experiment? The numerous small fields lined with hedgerows containing majestic oaks have been invaded with sallows. This is a perfect habitat for the purple emperors.  

Purple emperor egg on sallow. Photo: Martin Lan

The adults can look brown, purple or blue depending on the angle of light and sometimes look like they have different coloured wings. The butterflies do not visit flowers but feed on aphid honey dew and sap weeps on old oak trees. The males claim the top of the trees as their territory and have dog fights with other males over poll position there. This is described as oak topping.  

In poll position on an oak. Photo: Martin Landy

They also can be seen diving down to search the sallow, usually in the morning, for the much more elusive recently emerged empress who will be looking for potential egg laying sites on the sallow.

Matthew has been a purple emperor enthusiast for many years. In 1975 he found about 130 emperors in a whole season across many sites. On 21st June at Knepp this year he recorded 148 in one day! A  British record. Matthew now finds purple emperor numbers beyond his imagination. The view of the purple emperor has changed from a butterfly of deep woods to one of a much broader environment of hedgerows with sallows. The butterfly has been squeezed by human activity especially against sallows but is now bouncing back.
As we walked around on the tour Matthew notched butterfly count on his forearm and reached an agreeable count of 56, with only about 4 recorded as female.  

Matthew Oats keeping a tally. Photo : P. Loughnane

The bolder white banding of the female gives her away.

Purple emperor female. Photo : Martin Landy

We stopped several times to view purple hairstreak butterflies flying around the oak canopy with Neil being particularly enamoured by them only to be rebuked by Matthew to “stop hairstreaking’’. Despite the emperors flying 15 metres above us in the oak canopy, being large butterflies (wing span range male to female: 75-84mm) they were still easily seen, with the finest views of the males is when they are  searching the sallows beneath the oaks. The best view of all was an empress perched at 2 metres.

At Knepp there are safaris of general interest and specialist ones with top conservators such as Dave Coulson on bees and Ted Green on ancient trees. Well worth a visit and a substantial picnic half way through the full day tour. You will come back enthused!

Paul Loughnane

Red Rocks Event - 29th July

Discover Red Rocks
29th July

Beach Clean
10 a.m.
Help make the beach a nicer place for people and wildlife.

Butterfly Hunt
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Join Tim Ward, from Butterfly Conservation, who will be hunting for butterflies.

How many species can you find?
1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.
A timed competition moving through the habitats of Red Rocks to see how many species you can see, with help from Cheshire Wildlife Trust.

Sand Sculpture Competition
Throughout the day
Prizes for best wildlife sand sculpture

Friday, 23 June 2017

Hungry caterpillars expand their menu... but so does someone else!

Brimstone butteries were first recorded breeding in Wirral at New Ferry Butterfly Park in 2014. Then the larva were feeding on alder buckthorn shrubs planted in 2004 by the 4th Bebington Scouts, St John’s New Ferry.

Alder buckthorn shrubs prefer damp acidic organic soils. Since the park is on a well-drained railway site such suitable areas for alder buckthorn to flourish are limited. The brimstone caterpillars have expanded their menu to feed on another host plant, purging buckthorn. These purging buckthorn shrubs were planted in March 2014 and weeded this April by Liverpool John Moores University Conservation Society. The freshly exposed purging buckthorn may have been more attractive for egg laying, as the competing vegetation was removed and the shrubs were exposed to the full sun, which helps speed up the caterpillar’s development. 

28 May. Brimstone caterpillar feeding on purging buckthorn

Purging buckthorn is rare a shrub in Cheshire as it prefers calcareous soils. Here at the park purging buckthorn was established on the outflows of a water softening plant, used to provide lime free to water prevent the stream engines furring up. Paul Loughnane, the Park’s secretary, said “We are delighted to see the brimstone using purging buckthorn at the park. It will enhance the breeding success of the brimstone butterfly tremendously and the butterfly experience for our visitors. Brimstone butterflies have been restricted locally by the absence of larval food plants. Once the plants are established in a sunny and sheltered aspect, the brimstones have an opportunity to colonise these areas. I know of only one other record of them breeding on purging buckthorn in Cheshire and that was in a garden in Alderley Edge in 2010. The male brimstone is a large yellow butterfly, a strong flyer and can be easily recognised at a distance.  These butterflies will be on the wing in July.”

Brimstone butterfly feeding on Red Campion. Photo: Paul Loughnane

Interest in the caterpillars is not only restricted to human visitors, the Bronze shield bug (Troilus luridus), sometimes known as the Stealth shield bug, has expanded its menu at the park to brimstone caterpillars.  It creeps up upon the unsuspecting caterpillar and, using it mouth parts which are shaped like a syringe, stabs the caterpillar and sucks out its innards. One of the distinguishing features of this shield bug is the orange band on the penultimate segment of each antenna, which can be clearly seen in the photograph. This is the first record of a Bronze shield bug in Wirral. Thanks to John McGaw, Wirral Wildlife Invertebrate Recorder, for identifying this shield bug. John, who has never seen this shield bug species before, commented “A really interesting find, but for the sake of the butterfly population in the park let's hope there are not too many of them around!”

12 June. Caterpillar attacked by shield bug.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Great News from Delamere

Delamere’s first ‘dragon’ of the year has been spotted in the forest… well the white-faced darter 
White-faced darter. Photo: Kevin Reynolds

As one of the UK’s rarest dragonflies, this beautiful species has been extinct in our county for over a decade. However, an ambitious project over the last several years has meant that the adult dragonfly has been spotted again this year. The work has involved countless Cheshire Wildlife Trust volunteer and reserve staff hours, reinstating and improving habitat in Delamere Forest, in partnership with the Forestry Commission, as well as a series of white-faced darter translocations.
Doolittle Pool, Delamere. Photo: Richard Gabb

Chris Meredith, Delamere Conservation Officer at Cheshire Wildlife Trust explained the importance of this. “Sightings this month are really significant as it is the first year where we have not introduced new larvae to the pool. This means the adults you can see flying around the pools, are either from larvae that were at an earlier stage and have therefore survived for a longer period, or are in fact the result of adults breeding successfully at our site. A huge thank you to all of our supporters, volunteers and funders who have contributed to the success of the project.”
Dragonflies have been on the earth for over 300 million years and during that time have remained largely unchanged. Although the dragonflies you see are usually flying through the air, they will have all started life in the water. After an egg has been laid, the larva hatches and spends between 3 months and 5 years feeding and growing underwater. Once the larva has reached its full size, it will climb out of the water where it breaks out of its outer skin, revealing its adult body with wings. The adult dragonfly is several times bigger than the larva and has to spend a few hours letting its body and wings stretch out after developing in such a small space. Once dry the dragonfly can take its first flight.
Adult emerging. Photo: Chris Meredithsmall

The white-faced darter reintroduction project is a partnership between Cheshire Wildlife Trust, the Forestry Commission, Natural England, the British Dragonfly Society and Cheshire West and Chester Council, with funding support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Linley Shaw Foundation.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Early Summer at Cleaver Heath


The breeding season has now reached its climax. To date, late May, we have conducted 7 Common Bird Census (CBC) surveys and will probably finish with 2 more.  The idea of the CBC is to build up a picture of the main territories of birds which are present during the breeding season. This is done species by species. While I am walking round the reserve over a standard route, I am marking on a large scale map what I am seeing and hearing. Below is what my scruffy map looks like.  The codes tell us what the identified bird is, where it is and what it is doing. This takes about one and a half hours and I try to do it before the roar of commuter traffic builds up, the garden and building machinery springs into action and the early morning dog walkers arrive. There is one map for each visit. And now for the exciting bit. Some rainy day(s) at the end of the season, I will create a new map for each species (maybe 15 of those?!) showing the history of where and when birds of that species have been active over the breeding period. This information can then can inform us when we come to our habitat management strategy.

The order of arrival of the warblers has been Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Willow Warbler then, after a gap, Whitethroat.

So far, we know about at least 4 Chiffchaff and 3 Willow Warbler territories in what is, after all, quite a small reserve (7.4  acres).  I have seen Linnets on more than one survey including a pair diving promisingly in and out of the gorse. Of course, the frustrating thing is seing other interesting birds and bird behaviour around the reserve but NOT during the official survey time window. These ones don’t count - still great to watch though!



While the breeding season reaches its conclusion we have restricted reserve maintenance to essential path work.  

View from Cleaver Heath

The view over the Dee is so enticing that many visitors think they may get an even better view by walking ‘off-piste’  into the heather, quite often while following an inquisitive dog. We have scratched our heads over how to deal with this. There is a similar problem when the main path gets muddy and those anxious to complete their dog walk without getting their shoes dirty take to the grass and heather thus creating a network of new unwanted paths. We don’t want to introduce barrier rails, barbed-wire fences, no-entry signs or whatever. So, here are some stop gaps measures we are currently taking.

We have transplanted a couple of bramble plants which should quickly grow and discourage use of the nascent paths while the heather recovers behind them. Dogs tend to avoid bramble. Also, while we await approval to continue the successful stoning of the wetter parts of the main path, we have tried to indicate the correct route with some birch limbs across extra routes awaiting recovery.

Newly planted brambles
Birch across the incorrect path

Natural Futures Project

Some good news for the Reserve is that our bid to The Natural Futures Small Grant Scheme has been successful.  The scheme is administered by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust as part of its major Natural Futures programme funded by the Heritage Lottery. The £1000 grant made to Wirral Wildlife helps provide us with some kit to improve Cleaver Heath for both its human and avian users. Constant re-cutting of the invasive birch and non-native plants/bushes/trees can soak up a lot of volunteer effort but only to modest long-term effect. We now have some Tree Poppers which allow us to remove saplings complete with their root systems with minimal disturbance to the surrounding precious Lowland Heath plants. 

Tree Poppers

We also now have the wherewithal to store securely, and apply safely, herbicides. We can use these to stop regrowth of stumps and, via local spraying, deal with invasive plants which have crept into the Reserve over its boundaries.


Cleaver Heath has a modest amount of woodland fringe which, together with the managed scrub areas, provides cover and nesting opportunities for birds, both resident and visiting. As yet, we have provided no nesting boxes.

 The new grant has allowed us to acquire some new low-maintenance ‘Woodcrete’ boxes. Our volunteers will help us install these next winter ready for the next nesting season. The plan is to see what difference this makes to the woodland bird population which of course is being monitored annually via the Common Bird Census.

Bird box

The Natural Futures programme had already provided funding for me to get the necessary chemicals certification for working with the herbicides. One main motivation for this was to have quicker, on-site, access to stump treatment following the painstaking cutting activities of our volunteers.  In following seasons, they can move on to new areas without having to re-visit last year’s work.

Signs of growth

We have been encouraging a small, but spreading, Bilberry stand in one of the managed scrub areas. It looked particularly attractive a few weeks ago as it came into bloom.


Also growing apace is the natural hedge which we planted in February 2014.

Hedge planting February 2014

In May 2017 it now looks as shown below.

Hedge May 2017

Note the Oxeye Daisies thriving in the ex-carpark area along with a veritable jungle of potential nectar-source plants. I foresee a new maintenance task coming as the hedge starts to entangle passing pedestrians on Oldfield Road.

Our summer plans, once the nesting season is over will include bracken spraying; cutting back the path edges which are starting to grow vigorously; completion of a survey of all plant life in the reserve. Most of the latter was carried out last year by our team of botanical experts – another area where I am on a steep learning curve. A small region of dense scrub at the North West end of the reserve remains to be checked out. The birds are currently, and quite rightly, showing indignation at any intruders who might wish to trample though their territories.

The bracken is already starting to encroach on the heather as shown here.


There are other areas where it has over the years totally dominated the other Lowland Heath plants. It has been previously sprayed in recent years but will need re-spraying to complete the suppression process if heathland regeneration is to be successful there.

Alan Irving
Warden Cleaver Heath