Saturday, 10 November 2018

Autumn 2018 at Cleaver Heath

Cleaver Heath Notice Board

Recent visitors to the reserve will have noticed our smart new signage made possible largely by the Tesco Bags of Help grant described in our summer newsletter. At the end of October, some of our expert staff from CWT: Sarah Bennet (Area Manager West), Kevin Feeney (Living Landscape Officer West and author of the original Tesco bid), Fiona Megarrell (Community Conservation Co-ordinator) and their volunteer helpers completed the installation of the major parts of the new signage and access improvements.

Putting up the Notice Board

This involved quite a bit of hard work – digging 1m down through layers of tarmac, builders’ rubble (the old hospital visitors’ car park), sandy soil and boulder clay. Then we manhandled the high quality, and very heavy, wooden sign and notice board into the carefully measured holes. The experts then positioned and stabilised it with millimetre precision using spirit levels - a work of art.

Northern Entrance at Cleaver Heath

The unofficial reserve entry from Oldfield Drive has now become official and rather smart. My memory of the old one goes back to the late 70s. Some enterprising resident (not me!) took it upon themselves to crowbar the railings apart to enable entry to the Cleaver Hospital site by those with a reasonably slim and flexible physique. Repeated attempts by authorities to straighten the railings were quickly undone. The new entry will give dog-walkers convenient access to the nearby litter bin and also help those who wish to incorporate the reserve paths into a linear walk. The main entrance gate has a fine quality routed wooden sign leaving no doubt that this is a Cheshire Wildlife Nature Reserve. To help orient visitors and encourage them in keeping to the main paths, there are some tasteful new way markers. When the finishing touches have been made, the Trust will be organising some appropriate publicity.

The winter work parties have now started – these are on the first Sunday of the month from 10.00. We are making good progress on the ‘bread and butter’ tasks of removing unwanted vegetation from the heathland panel. We have also removed a few more of the non-native saplings such as Sweet Chestnut and Sycamore.

Interpretation Board Map

As last year, we have been making good use of the tree poppers where possible and stump treatment of things we cut. There are, however, places where the best thing is to coppice i.e. cut but not treat. For example, we have an area of ‘managed scrub’ which you can see on the snapshot of our new interpretation board (above). We will also be carrying out more coppicing of European Gorse stands where we are happy to keep them provided they thicken out at the base rather get old and lanky. Gorse provides important shelter for some of our nesting birds. We think we had two pairs of breeding Linnets this year.

My overall conclusion from this year’s Common Bird Census survey at Cleaver is of a lower presence of summer warblers. I made 10 early morning visits to the reserve noting where the birds were visible or singing.

Bird Census Map

The number of Willow Warbler territories was certainly down this year. I had only sporadic sightings of Whitethroat this year – not enough to do any sort of territory analysis. The map above summarises sightings of Linnets and Willow Warblers. I also do some Breeding Bird Survey work for the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) and noticed a similarly poor turnout this year on my 1km square near Thornton Hough. I don’t know if this was due in part to our poor UK weather conditions in spring or to some other effects on the migration routes.

Fly Agaric

Many of us associate autumn not just with colourful tree leaves but also with fungi. The autumn colours we see in the UK are often due to non-native trees e.g. Maples. Since Cleaver is primarily a Lowland Heath habitat, with only a limited amount of native woodland, we don’t expect to have spectacular autumn colour displays. However, like others who have walked around the Cleaver paths from September onwards, I have instead been enjoying the displays of colourful fungi.

Fly Agaric

Most of us are familiar with Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria). When the fruits first emerge they have orange or red hemispherical caps which then flatten out as they grow. These are still showing along many of the woodland paths segments. I have also spotted examples of another member of the Amanita genus, commonly known as a species of Blusher (Amanita rubescens). This also has white spots, but on a less threatening grey background. The development of its cap follows a similar pattern.

Blusher (Amanita rubescens)

Blusher (Amanita rubescens)

There have been plenty of fine examples of False Chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca). The example below seems to have developed in four segments.

False Chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca)

I am told they are very sensitive to nearby plants. Even a blade of grass flapping against the cap edge can lead to permanent deformation. I am not sufficiently confident of identifying edible to test my judgements. However, this large toadstool shown below (next to a ballpoint pen for scale) has as one of its common names Penny Bun and is commonly eaten. In Tesco, it would be called a porcini and you would get charged more than a penny. It is Boletus edulis.

Penny Bun (Boletus edulis)

I had occasion to seek help from Trust staff when a mature birch, attacked by fungus at the base of the trunk, fell across one of our paths in an October gale. The trunk structure had been damaged by a Southern Bracket fungus (Ganoderma australe).

Southern Bracket fungus (Ganoderma australe)

The Aminita fungi shown above get their nourishment from the soil, particularly in rich woodland soil. Bracket fungi like this one get their food from trees and in so doing, turn the fibres into a mush. The layers on this bracket count the number of years it has lived. When the food runs out the underside turns white as shown below.

Southern Bracket fungus (Ganoderma australe)

The birch seen here then tipped over. We didn’t even need a chain saw to complete the job. My helpful Trust staff member Kevin, used his superior strength to push it all the way down into a safe place.

Not all fungi are harmful to plants. In fact, it is quite the reverse for many of them. I am looking forward to the November Wirral Wildlife talk which will be all about Symbiotic Mycorrhizal Fungi. Large classes of plants benefit from such fungi which facilitate the absorption of soil nutrients via their root systems. The plant gets minerals from the soil and the fungi get sugars and carbohydrates from the plant. Such fungi are also important in helping with plant to plant communication. Trees find out if there is some threat on the way. Fungi are not nearly as well understood as most other life forms. They are quite fascinating. Next time you walk in the reserve think about all the activity going on in the soil under your feet – all year round, not just in autumn.

Alan Irving
Volunteer Reserve Warden for CWT
Cleaver Heath

November 2018

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