Sunday, 12 July 2020

The Creation of a Nature Reserve

Having got the lease, we all took a bit of a rest for a few months over winter, then started tackling the site in earnest in spring 1994. The first workday to start shifting fly-tipped rubbish was on 21 May. Over that summer many things got done. Mel had done grant applications in other community roles, so knew how to set about it. Our first grant, from English Nature, hired a JCB to clear the mound of soil from the entrance (the soil made the ridge between the perching wall and the siding). That mound has been put across the entrance road some years before to stop travellers and fly-tippers accessing the site. It is now between the perching wall and the siding.

Mel hard at work on the lime waste area
Mel hard at work on the lime waste area

We needed to fence the short southern edge of the park for security – vandalism, trespass and petty crime were still very much present. We rapidly realised we couldn’t fence all along the approach road with security fencing - the cost would have been enormous – so we decided to fence across level with the railway engineer’s fence and gate, which needed a short run of about 40m but secured the vast majority of the site. The estimate was £4600 – in 1994 a major sum, especially for a new project to find. We eventually found the money from 2 separate grants. One involved some rapid work. We were told on one Thursday of a grant available through RSNC (now The Wildlife Trusts national office), but the application had to be in on Friday and a postal strike had just ended, so the post was massively delayed. One of the council officers involved with us, Steve Foden, had access to a fax machine (remember this is all long pre-email and internet). The form was faxed to there, Hilary collected it and filled it in (we had all the estimates and information ready thank goodness), she picked up the children from school on Friday and took them and the form to the council office, from where it was faxed though with a note to say the supporting information would be in the post on the Saturday. We got the grant! The fence was installed in October 1994 and we heaved a sigh of relief that the worst of the vandalism was now fenced out.

Mel always called himself “the world’s best scrounger” – but all for the community things he was involved in, never for himself. As we cleared masses of fly-tipped rubbish to the road inside the gate, he persuaded Wirral Borough Council to collect it with their bin lorries for free. 7 wagon-loads went that first summer, and several more the next year. Meanwhile, the railway decided to replace the western (rail-side) chain-link fence with a security fence, greatly to our relief as the fence was nominally, according to the lease, our responsibility, and panels of chain-link had a habit of walking off-site to local pigeon lofts. Mel scrounged some of the old fencing to make our first compost bins. Mel insisted on taking part in the workdays (then and for several years fortnightly on Sundays, plus some weekday work especially by Howard and Mel). Mel hid the pain he was often in, but usually spent the day after a workday in bed for his back to recover.

Volunteers at one of the workdays
Volunteers at one of the workdays

An early achievement in making the Park so successful was the tool container, thanks to a grant found by Gordon Reid and Mel doing the planning application. It makes events so much easier to organise by solving the tool logistics, so there are no limits to volunteers because of tools.

Playing boule by the container
Playing boule by the container

It also provides central storage space for the educational materials, the Wirral Wildlife gazebo and tables, and the all-important tea boiler and refreshment supplies. Volunteer workdays still run on tea and coffee!

Taking a break for refreshments
Taking a break for refreshments

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

The History of the New Ferry Butterfly Park Site

New Ferry Butterfly Park history trail leaflet
History trail leaflet available on our website

Once steam trains finished on the Birkenhead - Chester line (March 6th
 1967) the railway yard would have fallen into disuse very quickly. The larger pieces of metal were removed for recycling but sleepers and various oddments were left behind.

Coal truck
A coal truck

British Rail had planning permission for industrial use but never succeeded in selling it for development. The original road access (Alma Street) had been blocked some years previously and obscured by fly-tipping. The goods yard was just left to go derelict, and nature moved in. The yard became a social problem, being used for drug-taking, drug-dealing, and small-scale crime such as emptying out stolen handbags, wallets and even safes. It was also used for children’s play and various other things – at one point a horse was tethered there.

In 1975, Mel (Melville) and Barbara Roberts and their family moved into 20 Windsor Close, backing on to the goods yard. He watched and recorded the wildlife on the goods yard, taking many photos.

Mel Roberts
Mel Roberts

In 1991 Mel decided to have another go at getting recognition for the natural value of the site. That June, Hilary Ash was helping staff a stall for Wirral Wildlife, at an event at Ness Gardens. Mel Robert told her about the wildlife on the derelict railway goods yard behind his house, especially butterflies and other insects. Hilary had done her PhD on derelict industrial land so she knew that interesting wildlife could live on derelict sites. Hilary went to see the goods yard in early July 1991. Impressed with the site and Mel, she told Wirral Wildlife committee about it and chairman Frank Cottrell (whose main natural history interest was butterflies) took the matter to Cheshire Wildlife Trust Council and staff. There was some doubt among the staff as urban nature conservation was beginning to make waves in 1991 but was still a new development. However the CEO Keith Roberts was interested, and the CWT Council agreed to let Frank and Keith pursue the possibility of taking it on as a nature reserve. Mel meanwhile organised a public meeting and got around 30 people there, including police, schools, Riverside Housing Association, local councillors and other community representatives. There followed nearly 2 years of negotiation with British Rail Property Board. When the red tape got impossible, we approached the then MP, Barry Porter, for help. He succeeded in getting things moving, and a lease to Cheshire Wildlife Trust was signed in September 1993. It was for a minimum 3 years, but indefinite after that.

Key people in pushing through that long 2 years, apart from Mel, were Frank Cottrell and our first NFBP chairman, Gordon Reid. Gordon arranged funding to re-fence the long eastern side, where the railway fence had long since fallen down, through Merseyside Safer Cities. The agreement with CWT was that the Park would be run by its own local group, financing itself and not needing any significant staff time. It was set up as a “community nature reserve” with a committee including local people who were not Cheshire Wildlife Trust members, as well as some who were. Mel got students from Bebington High School to come up with a name for the Park. New Ferry was already a run-down area and it was important that the name New Ferry was in the title.

After years of effort New Ferry Butterfly Park opened its gates to visitors on 15th July 1995.

Mel always viewed one role of the Park as helping towards rejuvenating New Ferry. We hope we do help with that by giving local people a wildlife-rich place to visit.

The opening of New Ferry Butterfly Park
The opening of New Ferry Butterfly Park on 15th July 1995

Frank Cottrell presented with a gift for long service by Alison McGovern M.P. at Open Day 2017
Frank Cottrell presented with a gift for long service by Alison McGovern MP at Open Day 2017

Friday, 3 July 2020

New Ferry Butterfly Park: How a Derelict Site Became a Nature Reserve

Over the next few weeks we will publish several blog posts about the value and history of New Ferry Butterfly Park.

New Ferry Butterfly Park entrance map

New Ferry Butterfly Park opened its gates to visitors on 15th July 1995.

The opening of the Butterfly Park in 1995

This year should have been a celebration of its 25th Anniversary but that is postponed because of the Covid19 restrictions.

Over the past 25 years the reserve has become a haven for wildlife thanks to the management plans and hard work of its volunteer community. Its value has been recognised by the Awards it has received.

In 2014 we received our first Green Flag Award and raised it in the presence of the Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside and the Mayor of Wirral. Each year since we have retained it.

Green Flag Award

In 2015 New Ferry Butterfly Park was thrilled to be nominated for Defra's Pollinator Champion of Champions Award. We did not win first prize but were given a winner’s certificate and we were extremely pleased to see the importance of pollinators being highlighted.

DEFRA Bees Needs Award

Last year (2019) the Park received the Liverpool Echo Environmental Award in the Community Impact category. This was in recognition of the role the Park plays in the local community.

Liverpool Echo Environmental Award

Under normal circumstances the New Ferry Butterfly Park Opening Day on the first Sunday in May is a feature of the local New Ferry calendar, attracting in the region of 800 - 1000 people in recent years.

Open Day

Local people regularly visit on Sundays from May to the beginning of September when we are open from 12 – 4 p.m. We have three guided trails with leaflets: a Nature Trail, Art Trail and History Trail.

Nature Trail leaflet

As well as these activities, pond dipping is supervised by the wardens and everyone is thrilled to see the newts and other water creatures.

Pond dipping

Newt from the pond

Local schools, especially St John’s and Grove Street, use the Park for class visits in the summer term. Many uniformed organisations and other groups, varying in age from toddlers to the more mature like U3A, visit each summer for guided tours. At the end of a visit younger children do a craft activity.

Making paper butterflies

Last year (2019), including Open Day, Sunday afternoons and booked visits, we had 3000 visitors.

The nature reserve is thriving and a future post will show some of its inhabitants. We hope that we will soon be able to resume our many community interactions.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Ash Dieback

Ash tree showing signs of ash dieback in the blackened leaves
Ash tree showing signs of ash dieback in the blackened leaves

Last July we alerted you to the presence of Ash Dieback. It is still with us this year and you can recognise it by the wilting and blackened leaves on ash trees.

Ash tree with dead shoots
Ash tree with dead shoots

The photographs above were taken at New Ferry Butterfly Park on 20th June.

Please look out for it.

Here is a poster reminding you what to look out for and how to report it.

Homeowners can get guidance at

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Verges In Bloom

Earlier in May we asked readers of our Facebook page and Blog if their daily exercise took them past any grass verges. Many verges had not been cut due to Council restrictions imposed by Covid19. Most had sprouted lots of dandelions and daisies but we wanted to know whether people had seen other flowers.

Wirral Borough Council wanted to know where flower-rich verges already exist, with a view to getting more flower-friendly mowing regimes in place, at least for next year. We collated all reports and passed them on to the Council.

Many reports and photographs were received and we show some below.

New Brighton from Jan Peddie...

Meols by Kathryn Fegan...

Arrowe Park Road/ Upton Bypass by Lily Clough...

Lily has been in touch to say the Council have mowed the verges since she took the photos above.

Hoylake and Meols by Susan Kemp...

Friday, 29 May 2020

The Secret of the Spooky Hedgerow

Sarah sent a video to New Ferry Butterfly Park Facebook page showing a hedge covered with strange webs and thousands of tiny caterpillars and asked if we knew what it was. It looked spooky but was fascinating.

The caterpillars are from Ermine moths which had laid their eggs on this hawthorn hedge. Large groups of thousands of caterpillars are easily seen by predators so the silky web hides them from view.

The webs are usually seen in May to June and slowly disappear over the summer. By next year the hawthorn hedge will have recovered. The adult moths fly later in summer and are greyish white with small black dots and their appearance gives the name  ermine moth.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Butterfly Park In May

Hilary has been out with her camera again to bring us photographs of the flowers at New Ferry Butterfly Park in mid May.

1. Granny's bonnet or Aquilegia. This escaped from a local garden, the pink ones are a garden form but the purple ones are reverting to the wild colour.

2. Ox-eye daisies are just coming out. This one had a male thick-legged flower beetle sitting on it.

3. Buttercups are out and this is a Meadow buttercup with a beetle. Behind it is false fox-sedge.

4.  Guelder rose in full flower providing pollen for insects now the hawthorn is fading.

5. The broom cultivar in the former demonstration garden. Bees like it just as well as the native all-yellow one.