Sunday, 10 February 2019

Winter 2018-19 at Cleaver Heath

Cleaver Heath sunset

Visitors continue to come to Cleaver Heath in all weathers. Many come regularly to exercise their dogs and others stumble across it while exploring the rural delights of west Wirral. All enjoy the stunning views which vary according to the weather, light conditions and tides in the Dee Estuary. The sunset photo here is just as it came out of my camera – no funny business, I swear.

The fine new interpretation board, whose installation I highlighted in the Autumn Newsletter, has been joined by strategically placed arrowed way markers.

Cleaver Heath noticeboard


As you can see, the noticeboard has now been baptised with snow as well as rain.

Reassuringly, the newly stoned path has stood up very well to rain/sleet/snow and heavy usage. This was another key part of the Tesco Bags of Help scheme (more later).

Path on Cleaver Heath

Snow on heather

Fewer visitors are finding it necessary to deviate from the main path. The close-up photo of the heather covered in snow was taken from the official path now signed through the north-east section of the heather panel. Likewise, the sunset view photo was taken from the path without resort to trampling across the heather.

Nevertheless, we do have to venture off-piste when carrying out our main conservation work.

Woodcock. Photo: Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

This year, I have to confess to disturbing a Woodcock on 3 occasions this winter. Two were down in the lower heathland panel - labelled B in the habitat/working area map shown below. These lovely winter visitors resemble a snipe in general shape and come from Eastern Europe. They lie low during daylight and feed after dusk. The third occasion on which I disturbed one was when collecting piles of dog waste in the woodland edge of area G. It shot out on its typical 20° flight path, weaving between the trees until it got to Oldfield Road where it swerved sharply and shot up the road. You can easily see that this fine photo is not one of mine, as usually featured in these newsletters, but is a professional one from the Wildlife Trust’s stock (c. Mark Hamblin/2020VISION).

On the topic of dog waste, the presence on the main noticeboard of a sign about keeping dogs on a lead has been very helpful, but there are still regular users failing to pick up. In an 8-day period last week I collected an unbelievable 34 piles. I have put up a temporary notice drawing dog owners’ attention to the nearness of a regularly emptied litter bin just outside the new northern entrance. My volunteers deserve to have clear paths and verges from which to work and the heather deserves a quiet life on unenriched soil.

Winter work parties have gone well this year. I like to think that the systematic cutting and stump treatment really is having an effect. In years gone, by it took us until the end of the cutting season to complete our work. This season we had completed it before Christmas. The regrowth was much reduced. This was a direct benefit of the Trust’s Natural Futures programme which paid for herbicide training and the purchase of related equipment. As a result, we have been able to make use of volunteer effort on more varied tasks! People who want to get a better idea of what work is done where may find the following map helpful.

Map of Cleaver Heath

The main manual work removing birch, bramble, bracken and European gorse is in the heathland panels labelled A and B. In these areas saplings are pulled (sometimes with the ‘Tree Poppers’) or cut and painted with glyphosate. The ‘scrub’ areas such as D and F are coppiced selectively i.e. we cut the older/taller birch and gorse. The aim is to hinder the natural succession which would take place in this small heathland area while keeping good low-level shelter for wildlife. The nest boxes in the woodland areas C, I and G have now been given a final clear-out ready for spring. We hope to get help again this year with removing the bracken litter from area E (listed as ‘Restoration?’. This has been sprayed twice and raked twice. It would be a shame if we don’t manage to keep on top of it. Natural England has been very keen that we try to extend the heathland areas. We know from the soil sampling that this is feasible - in principle.

Volunteers at Cleaver Heath

Finally, I should offer a big thank you to Tesco for their ‘Bags of Help’ scheme and to all of you Tesco shoppers who put their blue tokens in the correct box. The Trust’s Living Landscape Officer Kevin Feeney, in particular, put a lot of effort into leading multiple bids to the Bags of Help Scheme for several Trust reserves and then leading the installation.

Tesco Bags of Help

Putting the noticeboard in place at Cleaver Heath

Notice the attention to detail here – not just one spirit level but two. Community Conservation Coordinator Fiona Megarrell (on the right here) will be back later in February to welcome some staff from Tesco to check out the reserve and perhaps also help with some suitable practical work.

Cleaver Heath sign

Alan Irving
Volunteer Reserve Warden for CWT
Cleaver Heath
February 2019

Friday, 8 February 2019

Wirral Wildlife Quiz Winner and Answers

Red Squirrel – answer to question 27 in the quiz. Photo: Peter Trimming
Red Squirrel – answer to question 27 in the quiz.
Photo: Peter Trimming

The judging for the 2018 Wirral Wildlife Prize Quiz is complete and I am pleased to announce that the winner is:

Helen Smith of London.

A total of 20 entries were received, and of these three got all the questions right.  Helen Smith was selected in the random draw; the other two with full marks were Mrs Enid Bradshaw of Gayton and Shirley Miller of Neston.

I would like to pay tribute here to my fellow judge, Ruth Dann, who sadly passed away in December. She was the original inspiration for the Wirral Wildlife Prize Quiz and was a great help in carrying out the judging in all previous quizzes. Tony Hailwood has agreed to join me in judging future quizzes.

The answers to the 50 questions are given below.

John R Gill
Hon Treasurer, Wirral Wildlife

1Deceased departs.4, 6Dead leaves
2Singer following thirteen, one of twelve.6, 7Willow warbler
3Evil to God is criminal bloomer.3, 6Dog violet
4One of five, maybe 43’s head?6Pignut
5Wholemeal and self-raising I hear.7Flowers
6Joseph’s little brother hides instrument of torture for thirty.7Bracken
7 Welsh mother has French pains with this type of animal.7Mammals
8Carol links this with 42, intravenously we hear.3Ivy
9Golf club with dawn herald, one of twelve.8Woodcock (or Woodlark)
10Obvious feature of woodland, seen in the centre especially.5Trees
11Wooden enemy? No, wind flower.4, 7Wood anemone
12Bait rod as oddly as you like.5Birds
13One of ten is going to cry of pain.6Willow
14 Water from middle of Denbigh castle.5Brook
15Kate, or Stirling, perhaps.4Moss
16Morose head Zulu, tailless and ruffled by one of seven.5, 8Hazel dormouse
17Swinging, so hang like a tree.7, 3English oak
18One of five members of the upper house.5-3-6Lords-and-ladies
19One of twelve strict evens after thirteen.6, 3Willow tit
20She, lucky one, distilled a perfumed climber.11Honeysuckle
21Words snoop about, losing nothing in some of five.9Snowdrops
22The French chase pulverised vegetable, one of forty.6, 6Ground beetle
23Gloomy clanger, one of five.8Bluebell
24One of ten, I can hear you!3Yew
25Thirty, I leave Len Friday confused.4, 4Lady fern
26Male offspring of male sheep? One of five.7Ramsons
27Liverpool quarrel with article substituted by one, one of seven.3, 8Red squirrel
28Crust-like growths spoil niche in outskirts of Leeds.7Lichens
29A southern writer, one of ten.5Aspen
30I prefer no artificial flowers, and that includes this type of plant.4Fern
31Harry’s become calmer, not led into burrow.7, 4Badger’s sett
32Can you hear highway and sensory organ, one of seven?3, 4Roe deer
33Sulphur, one of forty.9Brimstone
34Try ’eadgear, mum, without hesitation, for one of forty.4, 4Goat moth
35I can hear wigeon calling - including this one of forty.6Earwig
36Audibly acted like a hen after midnight clearing.5Glade
37Two gallons in a sledge would reportedly find one of forty.8, 4Speckled wood
38What makes Amy score? One of ten.8Sycamore
39Little Eleanor with article in German car travelling westwards.6, 3Fallen log
40Six-footers, members of cults.7Insects
41Timber Farah employed without daughter, one of seven.4, 5Wood mouse
42Fifty involved in chopping up sacred tree.5Holly
43Owl, a bird, is confused with this one of seven.4, 4Wild boar
44One of five from planet of a beagle maybe?4, 7Dog’s mercury
45One of twelve noticed clever, feline, Goddess of Pop.7, 10Spotted flycatcher
46One of ten, tall plant follows non-domestic army or navy perhaps.4, 7, 4Wild service tree
47Cowardly Michael or Gabriel, one of five.6, 9Yellow archangel
48Some of twelve are here so keep crowd working.11*Woodpeckers
49One of five, the Spanish goes back after programming error.5Bugle
50Roosevelt carries alfresco meal.5, 5, 6Teddy bears’ picnic

* Apologies for the figure “10” that incorrectly appeared on the question sheet.

Friday, 1 February 2019

A New 17 Hectare Wildlife Haven

We have some good news from Cheshire Wildlife Trust:

Sand martin

Tarmac have begun to hand over part of their Crown Farm Quarry site in Delamere to Cheshire Wildlife Trust, marked by the presenting of keys to a vehicle funded by Tarmac last week. The site will be transformed by the Trust into a new 17-hectare wildlife haven, Crown Farm Nature Reserve, providing homes for beautiful wildflowers, solitary bees, grassland butterflies and birds, as well as a venue to inspire the next generation about the value of nature.

Tarmac and Cheshire Wildlife Trust hand over

Tarmac began quarrying the 65-hectare Crown Farm Quarry in 1989. The site, which was mainly agricultural farmland beforehand, has been quarried over the last three decades for sand to use in the manufacturing of concrete, mortar and asphalt used to maintain and develop our built environment. As part of Tarmac’s planning permission to extract the sand, they were required to have a plan for how the site was to be restored and to include a variety of wildlife habitats once extraction finished. To deliver the restoration plan, Cheshire Wildlife Trust and Tarmac have already been working together for a number of years to prepare areas of Crown Farm Quarry for the handover.

“With quarrying now finished on part of the site, Cheshire Wildlife Trust will manage the restored area as Crown Farm Nature Reserve,” said Kevin Feeney, Living Landscapes Officer for the Trust and the nature reserve manager.

Common Blue butterfly

“We’ve already seen birds like sand martins and butterflies like small heath butterfly, the common blue and small coppers start to move back into this area, which is incredibly exciting. For me, it clearly shows the resilience of our wildlife – if we provide bigger, better and more joined up areas for nature, species are able to move back in.”

Crown Farm Quarry is located within an area of gently rolling woodland, farmland and heathland. It’s a wonderful place that tells the area’s history – the pockets of sand were formed during the last ice age and was once was part of the ancient forest of Mara and Mondrem.

Steve Williams, Crown Farm Quarry Manager said “We're proud of our partnership with Cheshire Wildlife Trust and look forward to working with them in the future to develop the nature reserve.

“We are committed to enhancing the biodiversity of our sites and hope that by working with the Trust we will be able to create something special for Delamere.”

No public access

Due to the quarry still being operational, unfortunately the reserve will not be open to the public. However we will be holding special events for supporters and delivering education sessions for schools within the new site's Discovery Centre, funded by Tarmac.

Take a look at our website to see all our wildlife havens. You can find your nearest reserve, see what's there and read any additional information you need to know before you go.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Volunteer Bird Surveyors Wanted

Natural England, Wirral Council and Cheshire Wildlife Trust would like to hear from anyone who is interested in becoming a volunteer bird surveyor at Dibbinsdale SSSI.

The team briefing takes place on Thursday 7th March, from 12 – 2 p.m. at Brotherton Park and Dibbinsdale LNR Visitor Centre.

For more information please email

Thursday, 17 January 2019

The Hidden Power of Moss

Sphagnum moss. Photo: External Affairs, Wikimedia Commons.

Those who came to our talk on Friday about the management of upland moors would be interested in a programme aired on Sunday 13th January on Radio 4.

Sphagnum moss is a vital ecosystem component of peat moorlands. As it grows it sequesters carbon and after about 10 to 15 years of growth the lower parts start to form peat. However peat moors are degrading due to a combination of peat removal for horticulture, tree planting, pollution, fires and draining to enable sheep grazing. 90% of peatlands are damaged and therefore not sequestering carbon. In the UK peatland makes up 10% of total land area compared to a world average of 3% so it is important to try and reverse their decline.

Neil and Barbara Wright of Beadmoss on the Nottingham-Leicester border, are now commercially growing sphagnum moss that can be replanted in peatland. It took them 15 years of research to perfect their micropropagation techniques and turn it into large scale production. They grow 18 species of sphagnum and last spring they produced 800,000 plug plants. In the Peak district these are planted at a density of 1250 plants per hectare and one man can plant 1000 plugs in a day. Replanting took place on Kinderscout in 2016 with the hope that this technique will help to reach carbon mitigation targets and that water retention by the sphagnum will help with fire prevention.

This is an interesting approach to an ecosystem problem.

Thanks to Elaine Mills to alerting us to this.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Renewing Hedgerows and Renewing the Hedge Layers

Hedge laying en masse. Photo: Paul Loughnane

The Wirral Society, who preserve Wirral’s natural and built environment, celebrated their 90th birthday by sponsoring a hedge laying training day organised by Wirral Countryside Volunteers. The Wirral Society sponsored the purchasing of ten samurai pruning saws and nine wild pear trees to be planted into the hedgerow to form hedgerow trees of the future and to celebrate the nine decades of the society.

Young hedge layers. Photo: Paul Loughnane

It was a great event with 58 participants, 40 of whom were new to hedge laying. An impressive 150 metres of hedge were laid along Woodchurch Road between Arrowe Park and the M53. This is most the volunteers have ever laid in a single day. More importantly there were 24 youngsters involved. They will each receive a young hedge layer award of £25 for taking part in the event. Wirral Countryside Volunteers' Secretary Paul Loughnane enthused, “Hedge layers need renewing as well as the hedgerows. It is great to see so many youngsters getting actively involved. Laid hedges are good for wildlife as they retain some of their flowers which provide nectar and pollen sources for insects and winter berries for birds. Flailed hedges have most of the flower buds on the second year's growth removed.’’

Hedge cleaned out for hedge laying. Photo: Paul Loughnane

“Thanks to the teachers of Woodchurch High who encouraged the pupils to come along on a Sunday. We were supported by Arnold Plumley of Cheshire Ploughing and Hedge cutting Society who demonstrated the local Cheshire style and by the National Hedge Laying Society who run the young hedge layer award scheme which is sponsored by HRH the Prince of Wales. It was a great collective effort.”

The Volunteers provided tea and homemade cake and soup for the participants. Paul added, “I was very much surprised and delighted by the large turnout of youngsters, perhaps it was because hedge laying was featured on the BBC's Countryfile programme the week before or that the hedge is on the edge of the Woodchurch Estate where many of them live or an inspirational ‘eco’ teacher."

Hedge layers lunch. Photo: Paul Loughnane

Miles Duncan, the farmer from Home Farm Landican said, “The volunteers have done a truly fantastic job - their fine work will be seen for many years. Landican is at the geographical centre of the Wirral, and it’s farming for all to see, as the farms are bounded by motorway and busy roads and visible from most of Prenton. Thank you!”

Robin Dutfield, a member of staff from of Woodchurch High, declared that, “the pupils really enjoyed the event and the fact that they were so whacked out at the end of the day meant some learned what hard work is all about!”

Finished hedge. Photo: Paul Loughnane

Rodd Tann, Chair of The Wirral Society stated, "It was wonderful for the Wirral Society to celebrate its 90th birthday with practical protection of Wirral's natural environment. Wirral’s hedgerow stock is gradually declining through poor management. This freshly laid hedge will resprout from the base and will form an impenetrable boundary to livestock, a wonderful wildlife habitat and a great landscape feature.”

Sunday, 9 December 2018

A Poem penned by Ruth Dann

Paul remembered that Ruth once wrote a poem about her fellow committee members. Thanks to his good memory and efficient filing system we can share it with you.

Wirral Wildlife Committee 2006

We are glad to have Stephen as chair
He takes all our meetings with care
There may be some levity
And we are not known for brevity
But his judgements are measured and fair.

Our industrious secretary, Jim
Sets out on his bike neat and trim
With scarcely a quiver
Our news to deliver
He loyally risks life and limb.

John’s balance sheet’s always a treat
The figures so clear and so neat
He’ll pass on a nod
Bills from ‘Mother of God’
For he knows she won’t give a receipt.

A protector of barn owls is Mike
Now that is a bird we all like
He carries large poles
With large nesting holes
It’s lucky he’s not on his bike.

Keith plans our event. We’re aware
That it’s not such an easy affair
Wind farms, ponds, voles
And midsummer strolls
I just wish that more people were there.

Linda’s ideas for Watch Group are great
There’s no end to the things they create
Bird boxes, moth hats
And most life-like bats
Far nicer than what’s in the Tate.

For Paul there’s no task that’s too hard
Scything, laying hedges by the yard
He clears ponds and ditches
Without any hitches
And as far as we know still unscarred.

Our botanist Hilary Ash
Identifies plants with a dash
She knows every weed
By the shape of its seed
And its Latin name too – in a flash!

At outdoor events Frank is found
With his Frog Dip spread out on the ground
And the children all come
To inspect each frog’s tum
For they know glorious prizes abound!

Now Lesley’s main interest is Brock
She’s on duty call all round the clock
For a badger R.Cs
Not religious – but he’s
Just suffered a fatal road shock.

With Barbara as Wirral stock buyer
Our profits have never been higher
Owls pressed in the front
Hoot - and Guinea pigs grunt
While woodpecker jerks down his wire.

So let’s raise our glasses and cheer
For the hardworking folk gathered here
Though we’re sometimes hard pressed
We all do our best
So Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

We really felt that we should (belatedly) attach a verse about Ruth. Our efforts are not as good as hers!

Ruth wrote this poem so clear
When 2006 was the year.
She raised lots of funds, 
Provided coffee and buns
And always dispensed lots of cheer.


Our hostess for this hard-working committee
Was Ruth, who composed this short ditty.
She welcomed us in
Her wry comments made us grin
But she’s gone now, more is the pity.


Ruth our committee meeting host for over 25 years
Was carefully listened to and esteemed by her peers
The countless stalls she ran, the money she raised
She certainly deserved much more praise
So here’s to our cheery, most cherished volunteer
She certainly made a big difference here!

Paul and Phillipa

Modest as ever Ruth left herself out
And just praised the others who met at her house.
But we beg to differ and, praise where it's due,
When it came to fundraising, she knew what to do.
But now that she’s gone, we have memories galore
Of a head, heart and mind with wildlife at its core.

Linda and Barbara