Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Butterfly Count 2020


Red admiral
Red admiral

Paul Loughnane, Secretary of New Ferry Butterfly Park, has just collated butterfly records for 2020. It has proved to be one of the poorest years ever – apart from Red Admirals. However two new species were recorded at the Butterfly Park, an Essex Skipper and a Purple Hairstreak. So there was a little more diversity in species but a drop in abundance.


Purple hairstreak
Purple hairstreak. Photo: Wikipedia

The numbers may reflect fewer recordings than usual due to Covid19 but the wet weather in July and August will also have had an effect.

This year Pat Thurston has started carrying out regular transect monitoring and his report is below.


Essex skipper
Essex skipper


New Ferry Butterfly Park, Transect Report

Pat Thurston

The first counts were not carried until late May and so a full season of monitoring has still not been carried out on this transect. However, despite its relatively small size and its urban location, this transect has a variety of habitats and is very well managed. As well as a good planting of various larval food plants there are also good sources of nectar throughout the season. Most predominant species are small white and speckled wood. There are very healthy populations of gatekeeper and meadow brown and other meadow butterflies such as common blue, and small and large skipper are also present. Of note, whilst not recorded on my transect counts this year, there has been a confirmed sighting of the Essex skipper during a separate study. Hopefully it will be possible to carry out a full set of counts next year.


Friday, 6 November 2020

Spectacular Silver Jubilee Butterfly Park Gates


Artwork for the new gates at the Butterfly Park
Artwork for the new gates at the Butterfly Park


As part of continuing improvements in New Ferry, and to celebrate the park’s Silver Jubilee, New Ferry Butterfly Park has received a £5,000 grant from the Duchy of Lancaster Benevolent Fund (i.e. HM The Queen, Duke of Lancaster) towards the cost of new spectacular butterfly-themed gates. This award was given in recognition of the work the park does for the local community in providing a safe wildlife haven, an education space, a space for outdoor art works, and youth work with groups such as the Princes Trust, Guides and Scouts. 

The aim of the new gate design is to provide a welcoming feature to the park, giving a flavour of what is beyond the entrance way. Currently, a dilapidated understated standard black metal gate with barbed wire is present, which is not very aesthetic, not very welcoming and does not give any indication of the park or what it stands for. The Comma butterfly is a strong recognizable image and it, along with the name clearly stated, will be visible from a distance and on approach to the Butterfly Park. These spectacular gates will help secure the site but offer the opportunity to provide a welcoming entrance and celebrate the Butterfly Park. The gates have been sensitively designed by Ed Snell of Above Zero Landscape Architecture.  

Paul Loughnane, Hon. Secretary, New Ferry Butterfly Park exclaimed “This is really excellent news. Along with the murals in New Ferry town centre this is certainly brightening up the area. With various covid disruptions it has been a long journey to secure funding for these gates. The project has been supported by New Ferry and Port Sunlight Community Fund, Wirral Wildlife and Wirral Farmer’s Market Community Fund. Paul added “The park’s opening day on the first May Day Bank Holiday Sunday is a regular and well-loved feature of the New Ferry calendar. It is hoped to invite the Queen’s representative, the Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside to have an unveiling event then, Covid permitting. Next spring we hope to welcome back our visiting groups, as well as being open to anyone on Sunday afternoons.”


Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Autumn 2020 at Cleaver Heath


Autumn at Cleaver Heath
Autumn at Cleaver Heath


It’s been a strange autumn here. The leaves are being prematurely ripped from the branches by a series of gales and a sequence of showery periods has contributed to some flooded paths.

Of course, the weather has not been the only complication in getting conservation work started this year - COVID has played its part. We need guaranteed dry spells for carrying out stump treatment within the heather panels but we also need a number of willing volunteers to help with that and other routine task such as birch and gorse coppicing. We have nevertheless been able to carry out some COVID-safe jobs working independently in the fresh air. Even if the socialising aspect is a bit restricted, I found many volunteers grateful for the excuse to get out, spend time in a nice place and help the environment.

Common lizards found during the survey at Cleaver Heath
Common lizards found during the survey at Cleaver Heath

So, what else has been happening at Cleaver since the summer newsletter? The Common Lizard survey has drawn to a close. There were a total of 16 sightings between July and September. The good news was that most of the sightings were juveniles including some quite tiny ones. So we have breeding lizards at Cleaver. Less good news was that the sightings were confined to one particular panel east of the main path. Strangely, there were no sightings in the many refugia deployed in the less frequented areas of the reserve. We will be pondering this when planning future surveys.

Butterflies and spider web at Cleaver Heath
Butterflies and spider web at Cleaver Heath

As summer moved into autumn there were still quite few second brood butterflies on the wing. As well as large numbers of whites we had regular sightings of Holly Blues (top right), plenty of Red Admirals feeding on holly flowers (bottom left) and a nice Small Copper seen right at the end of September (top left). On the colder bright mornings, much of heather was adorned with ‘hammock’ spider webs (bottom right) as well as the more conventional concentric circle webs.

Fungi in the woodland at Cleaver Heath
Fungi in the woodland at Cleaver Heath


Lots of fungi are to be seen in any walk round the reserve these days. The path through the south woodland area had lot of Earthballs (genus Scleroderma) like the ones shown on the top left here. The others are all from the Amanita genus: continuing clockwise Tawny Grisette (A fulva), Blusher (A rubescens), Fly Agaric (A muscaria)…. I think!


Long-tailed tits
Long-tailed tits


On the bird front, there was a spell in September when the now less frequent Easyjet and Ryanair flights tracking over our house and the reserve were replaced by skeins of Pink Feet all heading for the Dee. Their musical calls as they agree final landing arrangements are always a welcome sign of autumn. The tits are starting to go around in flocks, especially the Long-tailed Tits whose gang sizes are growing. Redwing and Fieldfares have been appearing around Wirral but I have not yet spotted any in the reserve or in my garden. We had a very good, early crop of Rowan berries which the Mistle Thrushes and Blackbirds finished off in short order, leaving nothing much for the other winter thrushes. On a couple of mornings we observed 8 Mistle Thrushes at a time on the garden Rowan.

Mistle thrush
Mistle thrush


Following the increased footfall through Cleaver, particularly on sunny Sundays, a member recruitment officer from the Trust visited recently and had some success showing that the face-to-socially-distanced-face recruitment still works. This is Will Robinson pictured in a brief spell between his sign-up activities and bird spotting. As a keen birder he particularly enjoyed his day out even with his mask on.

Will Robinson, Cheshire Wildlife Trust Member Recruitment Officer
Will Robinson, Cheshire Wildlife Trust Member Recruitment Officer 


Here is my usual seasonally-updated photo of the reserve entrance. Do you notice that the gate has finally been painted to match the railings?


Cleaver Heath entrance
Cleaver Heath entrance


Alan Irving
Volunteer Reserve Warden for CWT

Cleaver Heath
November 2020

Monday, 19 October 2020

Green Flag Award for Butterfly Park


The Green Flag raised at the Butterfly Park
The Green Flag raised at the Butterfly Park


The Green Flag team visited New Ferry Butterfly Park on October 2nd to hand over the Community Green Flag 2020-21.


Hilary Ash being filmed by the Green Flag Award team
Hilary Ash being filmed by the Green Flag Award team


This is the 7th Green Flag this urban nature reserve, run by local people, has been given.


Two members of the Green Flag Award film crew at the Butterfly Park
Two members of the Green Flag Award film crew at the Butterfly Park


While there the team did some filming and the video (which includes the Butterfly Park and Port Sunlight village) can be seen here


 


The Butterfly Park opened on Sunday afternoons from mid June to mid September and around 500 people visited in that time. A one way system and passing places were introduced to help to keep everyone Covid-safe. There was no pond dipping or other hands-on activities but everyone appreciated being able to stroll around and appreciate the flowers and insects.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Eagle In The Frame


Mel Roberts, who had the vision to create New Ferry Butterfly Park, was a watercolour artist among other talents. He painted a picture of a white-tailed eagle and gave it to Frank Cottrell, who was so vital to getting Cheshire Wildlife Trust to take on the Butterfly Park.


White-tailed eagle painted by Mel Roberts
White-tailed eagle painted by Mel Roberts


Frank recently paid for it to be framed. The proprietor at Framework (Bromborough) was very impressed with it and said it was the best quality painting he had had in to frame for years.

 

Frank Cottrell with the painting of a white-tailed eagle
Frank Cottrell with the painting of a white-tailed eagle


Paul Loughnane, Secretary of New Ferry Butterfly Park Committee, is looking after it now.


Friday, 2 October 2020

Socially Distanced Surveying at Thurstaston Common

 

Belinda and Natasha with a quadrat taped up at Thurstaston Common
Belinda and Natasha with a quadrat taped up at Thurstaston Common


Just before restrictions tightened in Wirral again, we managed to get the Thurstaston Common annual monitoring done. This is its 39th year for the oldest 5 quadrats. Wirral Wildlife recorders have been doing the monitoring since 1992. The results are currently being analysed by Prof Rob Marrs. The quadrats measure 5m x 5m, so social distancing is easy!


If you find a metal bar sticking out of the ground on Thurstaston Common - please leave it alone, it is probably marking one of the 12 quadrats!

Friday, 25 September 2020

Apple Days Revisited


Display of apple varieties at Apple Day
Display of apple varieties at Apple Day


This year should have been the 23rd Apple Day organised by Wirral Wildlife. As it has had to be cancelled I thought I would look at the history of our Apple Days and what has been achieved.

Apple Day was initiated on October 21st 1990 by Common Ground at an event in Covent Garden, London. They had noticed a decline in local orchards and apple varieties and wanted to create a ‘calendar event’ to remind everyone about the relevance of local apples and orchards.

As far as I know the first Wirral Wildlife Apple Day was held on 19th October 1996 at Bob’s Orchard in Eastham. The original organiser was John McGee and, when he moved to live in the south of England, Frank Cottrell took over until 2010. My first personal records date back to 2005 when I was organising some children’s activities. Common Ground had a competition to see how long a continuous piece of apple peel could be produced using a knife or a mechanical peeler. I set up a mechanical peeler for the children to use and measured the peel taken off the apple. The secret was to have as round an apple as possible, not necessarily an enormous apple. In 2006 someone from our Brimstage Apple Day won the national Under 16 Competition with peel 269 cm long and in 2008 we had another winner from Eastham Country Park with a peel 240cm long.


The Longest Apple Peel competition
The Longest Apple Peel competition

The Longest Apple Peel competition
The Longest Apple Peel competition

The Longest Apple Peel competition
The Longest Apple Peel competition

We used to hold two Apple Days – on the Saturday at Brimstage Hall and on the Sunday at Eastham Country Park. As our days attracted more and more people and got very busy for a small band of volunteers, in 2012 we moved to one event only at Eastham Country Park. The original Apple Days were held around October 21st but we noticed local apples were ripening earlier. We moved Apple Day to the first weekend in October and then since 2015 we have held it on the last Sunday in September.


Home made apple pie at Brimstage Hall
Home made apple pie at Brimstage Hall

Apples on display at Brimstage Hall
Apples on display at Brimstage Hall

We have always had on display (and for tasting) as many locally grown apples as possible and in 2018 hit a peak of 28 varieties.


Apple varieties at Eastham Country Park
Apple varieties at Eastham Country Park

Apple varieties at Eastham Country Park
Apple varieties at Eastham Country Park


These come from the trees in Brimstage Hall Orchard, Willaston Community Orchard, Upton Hall Orchard and others from people’s gardens.


Apple trees at Brimstage Hall orchard
Apple trees at Brimstage Hall orchard

A closer look at the fruit on an apple tree
A closer look at the fruit on an apple tree


The wooden apple press is popular with everyone and children love to help squash the chopped apples, mash them up and then turn the handle on the press. The resulting juice looks a bit brown but I bet it is the tastiest apple juice around.


Chopping up apples ready to be pressed into juice
Chopping up apples ready to be pressed into juice

Crushing the apples with a big stick!
Crushing the apples with a big stick!

Crushing the apples
Crushing the apples

Mincing up the crushed apples
Mincing up the crushed apples

Turning the handle on the apple press
Turning the handle on the apple press

The tastiest apple juice
The tastiest apple juice

As well as the apple peeler we have other things for the children to do like making badges, writing apple poems, colouring and wordsearch.


Making pollinator mobiles
Making pollinator mobiles

Coloured in apple shapes and apple poems hung on the tree
Coloured in apple shapes and apple poems hung on the tree

Coloured in apple shapes
Coloured in apple shapes

Making badges
Making badges

For the last few years Lena and her team have brought home made apple products like cake, crumble and apple butter to sell.


Home made cake, crumble, jam and apple butter
Home made cake, crumble, jam and apple butter

Another highlight is the presence of Mersey Morris Men who dance for us come rain or shine. Although last year the pouring rain meant it was a bit of a squeeze inside the visitor centre!


The Mersey Morris Men
The Mersey Morris Men

Music from the Mersey Morris Men
Music from the Mersey Morris Men

Volunteers wanted for the Mersey Morris Men
Volunteers wanted for the Mersey Morris Men

The Mersey Morris Men performing in the courtyard at Eastham Country Park
The Mersey Morris Men performing in the courtyard at Eastham Country Park

The Mersey Morris Men performing indoors on a rainy Apple Day at Eastham Country Park
The Mersey Morris Men performing indoors on a rainy Apple Day at Eastham Country Park


Our aim has been to highlight the range and taste of locally grown apples as opposed to the limited range available at the supermarket. We hope to convince everyone of the value of ancient orchards and new community orchards for both people and wildlife.