Monday, 30 March 2020

RECORD My Patch


RECORD have launched a new campaign called ‘My Patch’ and would love you to join in…



We’re challenging you to keep enjoying nature, whilst staying at home. Explore your garden and appreciate the amazing diversity of wildlife found there. We’re aiming to gain an insight into the species found across Cheshire’s garden habitats and would love you to join us through recording the wildlife you see in your patch.


Throughout the next few weeks we’ll show you how easy it is for ANYONE to contribute to conservation through biological recording at home. Gardens provide crucial habitat for many of our, often threatened, UK species. Yet these mini-ecosystems right on our doorstep are often ignored when it comes to wildlife recording. The more we understand about what lives there, the better we can help and protect it.

Each week, we’ll share tips, guides, resources and activities for all ages to get involved with. This is all about working together (whilst keeping apart) to get as many good quality biological records as we can whilst having fun and enjoying the outdoors.

Please remember to follow government advice at all times whilst recording wildlife.

Follow us on social media keep an eye on your emails to stay up to date.



How Do We Join In?

Upload your garden wildlife records to our new iNaturalist Page

We'll be uploading resources and useful links to this page on our website.

Where you can, we'd love you to share our posts, news etc. about the campaign with your contacts and encourage as many people as possible to get involved. You can also post your own sightings with the hashtag #MyPatch to help spread the word and share with others what you've been up to.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Wildlife-Friendly Gardening Notes


In these unsettling times you may be able to spend more time in your garden. Why not make it more wildlife friendly with these tips from Dr Hilary Ash.

White-faced darter dragonfly. Photo: John Balcombe


Peat

Have you bought your potting compost for spring sowings? Remember to buy only bags labelled “peat-free”. Peat bogs are marvellous places. They store lots of carbon, indefinitely. They store rainwater, lessening flooding downstream. And they support some unusual wildlife such as sundew and butterwort, both insect-eating plants. Ponds in peat support white-faced darter dragonflies, which Cheshire Wildlife Trust recently re-introduced to Delamere. Digging up peat releases all that stored carbon and water, as well as destroying the wildlife. So only buy compost labelled as “peat-free” – these days compost is just as good as peat-based brands. And if you buy plants, ask for ones grown in peat-free compost.


Bumblebee on pussy willow catkins. Photo: Linda Moving Ahead, Flickr


Pollen and Nectar – Spring

Insects coming out of hibernation need food. For many that food is nectar for energy and pollen for protein to make their eggs and feed their young. Look around your garden and neighbourhood: are there flowers around to supply their food? If not, maybe you could plant suitable flowers in your garden. Good early spring ones are pussy willow, creeping comfrey and bulbs such as daffodils. Follow on with primroses and cowslips, tree and soft fruit, and spring-flowering shrubs such as hawthorn and cotoneasters. Remember to avoid double flowered varieties, which often lack pollen.


Cocksfoot grass. Photo: Ian Alexander, obsessedbynature.com


Shelter

Our climate is famously variable. Most invertebrates need somewhere to hibernate in winter. Even in June a wet day can mean butterflies, bees, hoverflies and other creatures need somewhere to hide from the rain. Look round your garden – are there places to shelter? Maybe a dense hedge or group of shrubs, a loose pile of large stones or bricks, or a”log-pile” of larger prunings. Dead leaves heaped in a corner are useful to some species, as are tussocks of unmown grasses such as cocksfoot. If space is limited, how about an evergreen climber up a wall or fence.

Friday, 6 March 2020

Bridging The Gap


Bridging the gap between Heavy Oak and Lamperloons Coppices. Photo: Fiona Megarrell

Fiona Magerrell, Living Landscapes Officer North, Cheshire Wildlife Trust and her volunteer team bridged the gap between Heavy Oak Coppice and Lamperloons Coppice in Thornton Wood. The bridge will make it easier to get into the coppice with tools and also will make it easier to extract the coppiced crop of hedge stakes from the coppices.

Last time Lamperloons Coppice was cut, in the autumn of 2018, 464 hedge stakes were harvested. That is nearly 30 times we had to cross the ditch with the hedging stakes and finally with our tools. The bridge, made from reclaimed recycled plastic, will make it much safer and easier to cross. It will also be much easier for visitors when giving a guided tour around the wood. The next guided tour to view the ancient woodland flora is on Saturday 25th April at 2pm. This bridge was funded by money raised by the Wirral Wildlife Group, so please keep on coming to our excellent talks and buying raffle tickets!

Monday, 2 March 2020

Nature's Wild Drummers


We are sharing Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s newsletter about woodpeckers.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Did you know while our resident songbirds like the robin, great tit, chaffinch, wren and blackbird sing the melody, it's our woodpeckers that bring the rhythm. And it's this time of year when the great spotted woodpecker and their smaller, rarer cousin, the lesser spotted woodpecker can be heard drumming their beaks against trees or other hard surfaces; excavating holes for nests and food.

We have three species in the UK: the great spotted woodpecker, the green woodpecker and the lesser spotted woodpecker.


Built-in shock absorbers

So how can woodpeckers drum their beaks against a tree over and over again without hurting themselves? The answer lies inside its head. The bones of the woodpecker’s skull are a durable combination of spongy ‘shock absorbers’ and a specially-adapted tongue bone that acts as a ‘seat belt’. This holds the brain tightly in place while they drum with impressive force in bursts of up to 20 times per second!

Both males and females ‘drum’ for food, but the male also uses it a way of proclaiming his territory and to advertise for a mate.


Super feet

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Most birds have four 'toes' with three that face forwards and one that faces backwards to help them cling to branches. Woodpeckers like to do things a little differently. Instead of the usual toe arrangement, woodpeckers have 'zygodactyl' feet. This means they have two toes that face forwards and two that face backwards.

This arrangement of toes, along with a short strong tail which they use as a prop, enables woodpeckers to climb up and hang onto vertical tree trunks with ease.


Tongue twister

Green Woodpecker

Woodpeckers have super long sticky tongues which they use to slurp up insects and grubs that they find in tree trunks. The green woodpecker's tongue is an amazing 10cm long! It's so long that it curls around the back of its skull to fit inside its head.


Where to see or hear woodpeckers

Woodpeckers usually live in woodland, but even with their brightly coloured feathers they can be hard to spot. Instead listen for their drumming to try to work out where they are.

So wrap up warm and go out into the woodlands near you on a still, clear day. Ancient, broadleaved woodlands are the best, with enough big old trees to give places for woodpeckers to nest. Great spotted woodpeckers drum in short bursts that fade out at the end. The drumming of the lesser spotted woodpecker is higher pitched, in a longer burst that stops abruptly. It's sometimes possible to entice a woodpecker closer or to encourage him to reply by hitting a dead branch with a stone.

Here are just some of the places we know are great for hearing woodpeckers:

- Bickley Hall Farm, Malpas
- Cleaver Heath, Heswall
- Compstall Nature Reserve within Etherow Country Park
- Dibbinsdale Local Nature Reserve, Bromborough
- Gowy Meadows, Thornton-le-Moors
- Hatchmere, near Delamere Forest
- Hockenhull Platts, Waverton
- Owley Wood, Weaverham
- Swettenham Valley Nature Reserve and across the Dane Valley
- Warburton's Wood and Hunter's Wood in Frodsham

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great spotted woodpeckers are also frequent visitors to bird feeders, so put some seeds and peanuts out and you might be lucky enough to spot one in your garden.

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Nature's Solutions To The Climate Emergency



Cheshire Wildlife Trust's February newsletter is about the need to protect nature and wild ecosystems in order to tackle the climate crisis.

Golden plover


The climate crisis regularly makes the headlines, and rightly so. But there’s another crisis - the massive ongoing loss of nature.

In the UK, 41% of our species have declined since 1970 and one in seven species are now threatened with extinction. The climate emergency has terrible ramifications for wildlife, but the loss of wildlife and wild places also makes the climate crisis worse.

Healthy wild places can store huge amounts of carbon, taking it out of the atmosphere and locking it away in soils and plant matter, sometimes for thousands of years. But many of these wild places are damaged, fragmented and threatened with further destruction. As these habitats are lost, carbon is released.

To tackle the climate emergency, we need to protect and restore our wild places.

A recent estimate suggests that around one third of the greenhouse gas reduction required between now and 2030 can be provided by carbon drawdown through Natural Climate Solutions. Natural Climate Solutions, roughly speaking, mean ecological restoration. Let’s take a look as some of them:

Green carbon
  • Tree planting
When you think about natural solutions to climate change, tree planting is probably the first thing that springs to mind. Trees absorb carbon as they grow, storing it in their trunks, boughs, roots and in the soil, so allowing woodlands to grow naturally will lock up carbon and help counter our manmade carbon emissions. But trees can only be part of the solution; alone they are not enough. Nature has an arsenal of other, powerful natural climate solutions that currently receive much less attention.
  • Peatlands
Peatland is a type of wetland, made up of soil formed from slowly decomposing plants. Peatlands cover just 3% of the earth’s surface but store more carbon than any other habitat on land, with the UK’s peatlands alone containing 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon. Healthy peatlands also play a role in reducing flooding and improving water quality, as well as providing a home for some wonderful wildlife, like the dazzlingly plumaged golden plover.

But damaged peatlands are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Peatland has to be wet to be healthy, and much of our peatland has been drained. At least 80% of the UK’s peatlands are damaged and may be releasing up to 23 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year – that’s more than is absorbed by all our woodlands. Fixing them must be a first step.
  • Grasslands
The same is true for many other habitats: when healthy, they’re excellent carbon stores, but when damaged they release carbon. Grasslands soak up and store carbon in their roots and the soil but, between 1990 and 2006, an estimated 14 million tonnes of carbon dioxide were released by grasslands being put to the plough.



Blue carbon

Seahorse in seagrass meadow

Blue carbon is carbon that’s stored in our seas.

  • Oceans
Our oceans lock up even more carbon than the habitats on land, absorbing an estimated 20-35% of manmade carbon dioxide every year. We call this blue carbon, and it can be stored in plants, sediments and even the bodies of animals.
  • Saltmarshes
Saltmarshes are superstars of the carbon storage world, absorbing carbon at a faster rate than either peatlands or woodlands. These coastal habitats also act as a buffer against erosion and as important breeding and feeding grounds for a host of birds and other animals.
  • Seagrass meadows
Seagrass meadows are almost as impressive, responsible for 10% of the ocean’s total burial of carbon, despite covering less than 0.2% of the ocean floor.
  • Marine life
Carbon is also stored through the actions of marine life, from tiny phytoplankton that absorb carbon as they grow, to huge whales that carry carbon down to the seafloor when they die.

But our blue carbon solutions are threatened. In the UK, we’ve lost nearly 50% of our seagrass beds in the past 35 years, and we’re losing around 100 hectares of saltmarsh each year to development and rising sea levels. As these habitats are damaged, carbon is released, making the problem worse. Our seas are not as healthy as they should be, but even in their current state they take up huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Imagine how much more they could hold if we restored them, bringing back more seagrass meadows, coastal marshes and the wildlife they support.


Restoring the natural solutions

Peatland is a carbon store

Clearly natural solutions have a big part to play in tackling the climate crisis, so restoring these damaged habitats and ecosystems must be a priority. The Wildlife Trusts are playing a leading role in making this happen, with projects around the UK improving, expanding and protecting the wild places that are key for capturing carbon.

Through our work for wildlife, Cheshire Wildlife Trust is restoring and protecting places that store carbon on land and sea. We’re planting thousands of trees and hedgerows, rewetting peatlands and sowing acres of wildflowers meadows each year and every year.

Did you know that our Holcroft Moss Nature Reserve is the only peatland site in Cheshire never to have been cut for peat?

As well as managing our own sites, we also respond to consultations and planning applications that would threaten these important carbon stores on land and at sea.


Working together

As one of 46 Wildlife Trusts across the UK, Cheshire Wildlife Trust are championing a Nature Recovery Network nationally – a coordinated, effective plan to restore and connect habitats across the whole of the country. Essentially, we need to work together for more wild places that are healthier and better connected. This broad, connected approach is vital to reversing the loss of our nature. With 66% of carbon in nature-rich areas lying outside of our protected sites, we need to look at the bigger picture to help combat the climate crisis.

Nature has solutions – and we’re in desperate need of them all. By working together, we can buid and speed up nature’s natural solutions. It is essential we restore these damaged systems. Thank you for helping us to create a wilder future.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Powering Through Nature


SP Energy Networks Team by Steve Lyus

The SP Energy Networks team based in Prenton wanted to organise a corporate work day at New Ferry Butterfly Park.  As honorary secretary/ reserve manager, I normally take a day’s annual leave for this, but for the first time in 15 years, I took a ‘volunteer day’, taking advantage of the Liverpool University’s Staff Volunteering Framework, which now allows you three days volunteering for charities.

New Ferry Butterfly Park is a post industrial habitat, a classic brownfield site with a diverse number of grassland types; acidic, nutrient poor and calcareous grassland reflecting the former coal staithes, railway track beds and water softening plant from the days of steam power. These open mosaic habitats are a great benefit to butterflies and other insects.

Eight eager volunteers came from SP Energy Networks. They were greeted with a hot drink, a briefing and signed the risk assessment which they had been sent prior to their visit. No escaping from risk assessments even on a volunteering day, our safety co-ordinator would be proud!

Clearing over grown garden spreading onto the path. Photo: Paul Loughnane

Then they split into four groups, one putting in fence posts, another creating a large dead wood habitat pile from a clump of large birches cut for safety reasons. The third was removing some unwanted shrubs which were taking over the path and the fourth group removed turf and birch trees over laying the railway track beds. The turf removal process is a rapid way of a creating wildflower patch by re-starting natural succession and allowing carpets of bird’s-foot trefoil to develop which is both the larval and adult food plant for the common blue butterfly.

The volunteers all got a good work out, knocking in posts using a post driver, swinging mattocks, sawing, wheel barrowing turf and other unwanted materials, using loppers and muscles they never knew they had. Justin, the team leader, surprised himself with the ease he could remove the sizeable birch saplings just using a mattock. In his report he had to put some figures in, such as how much material had been removed. I reckoned 400kg of turf was removed.

Justin triumphs over the birch tree. Photo: Paul Loughnane

For ‘elevenses’ the volunteers were supplied with tea and homemade cakes delivered to them in a wheelbarrow. Following lunch they had a tour of the park, and its varied habitats and to see each other’s projects. They needed a recovery break anyway! After the tour, they eagerly went back to their projects again for another hour to complete them. The mixed teams of office workers and onsite engineers, who they rarely meet up with, had a chance to interact with each other in an enjoyable setting.

This corporate group of physically fit and keen young people enabled the park’s project to move forward with many jobs that never get started being completed. Other groups of volunteers are welcome to come to the park for a one off event. I would suggest September/October better than a cold January. Please contact me on jpl@liv.ac.uk for further details.

Paul Loughnane BEM

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Winter 2019-20 at Cleaver Heath


Flooded paths at Cleaver Heath


So far, at mid-February, there has been no ‘Beast-from-the-East’. The frosts have been few, no snow but plenty of wind and rain, as the pictures above demonstrate.

We have now used up the remaining pile of approved stone to reinforce some more of the main paths. The weather on the monthly work party days has been kind, allowing us to complete our planned birch and gorse control. The birch and selected European gorse within the main heath panels was cut and treated. Our volunteers helped us coppice the taller birch within the manged scrub area and we made a start on further coppicing of European gorse in the lower part of the reserve. The gorse strategy is to prevent further incursion, improve the age structure and hence provide more valuable wildlife cover. 



Birds at Cleaver Heath

Winter is generally thought of as a quiet time on a nature reserve like Cleaver Heath but here is a list of 20 bird species seen at Cleaver in the last few weeks: Pink-footed Goose, Woodcock, Herring Gull, Woodpigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Raven, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Wren, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Redwing, Robin, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Goldcrest. 


Some, like the Woodcock (top left in the above photo) which is normally hiding in the heather and the Pink-footed Geese flying overhead, are obviously winter visitors. So too are Redwing (top right) and Fieldfare (lower right). Birds such as the Jay (centre lower) and the tiny Goldcrest are here all year round. However the numbers of some resident species including Blackbird and Robin are greatly swollen by visitors from continental Europe. I am told this will still happen after January 2021.

I have again started to record bird sightings more regularly outside of formal surveying activities. The BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) has been promoting the value of ‘complete lists’. In many ways, the information from these is just as, if not more, useful than random casual records of ‘interesting’ sightings. The online resource BirdTrack (www.bto.org/birdtrack) is very simple to use. When you are out for a walk, perhaps along a favourite route, you keep track of how many goldfinches, blackbirds, curlew etc. you have seen or heard. You can enter them on a smartphone app as you go or, as I do, keep them in a handy notebook and enter them back at home. It can be strangely satisfying if you are of that sort of mind and, possibly, a source of intense irritation for your walking companion. I don’t remember hearing as many birds singing in January and February as I have in walks this year. They are as confused as us about the weather patterns.

Cramp-Ball Fungus Weevil

Talking of surveys, Tony Parker of the Liverpool World Museum and rECOrd (http://www.record-lrc.co.uk/) has kindly helped me assemble a list of all the sightings which he and his fellow naturalists accumulated during four field visits to Cleaver this last summer. These are all now publically available as part of the huge wildlife and plant rECOrd database covering Cheshire and its surroundings. The groups made 474 confirmed sightings including over a hundred invertebrate species, 31 birds, 64 plants, 3 mammals as well a frog and 4 sightings of Common Lizard. I had no idea just how many species of hoverfly, wasps and bees there were! The star was probably the ‘first for Cheshire’ finding of this Cramp-Ball Fungus Weevil (Platyrhinus resinosus © Leanna Dixon).


Most of the sightings were well beyond my abilities to identify. However, there were two common species reported which do not appear in my own Cleaver records: a Skylark and a Rabbit!

Common lizard

I am looking forward to re-starting the annual butterfly transect surveys at the end of March/beginning of April. Another survey which we hope to start in the spring is for Common Lizard. We have taken advice on how best to do this and, on our March work day, we will be deploying a new set of ‘refugia’ in an orderly manner within the reserve. You may have previously seen small sheets of corrugated iron lying about in Cleaver. These provide cover and indeed basking areas on sunny days.  The lizards shown here were actually photographed in the Dales where the sandstone outcrops provide many basking opportunities. In the planned heathland restoration area in the SW corner of the reserve, we hope to provide bare ground patches on the south facing slope and ‘hibernacula’ for winter refuge.



FAQs - Let me try to answer a couple of questions I often get asked:

Q1: Why is heathland management done only in the autumn and winter months?

A1: Cleaver is of course a SSSI and so its management is regulated by Natural England (NE). NE specifies when we can work in habitats like heathland and woodland. The timing is based on the notional bird-nesting season.  But surely birds nest in trees so you should be able to carry on working in heather and gorse? No, a lot of the birds using Cleaver nest very close to the ground in the cover provided by the heathland. Warblers, for example, are most obvious while singing in the trees but are actually nesting in the gorse and bramble cover. 

Western and European Gorse at Cleaver Heath

Q2: How can you tell the difference between Western and European Gorse?

A2: The most obvious difference is that the Western Gorse is very compact and rarely grows tall enough to shade the heather. The left photo above shows a carpet of Western with a stand of (flowering) European in its top right. The willing volunteer on the right photo is carrying off some cut European Gorse giving the shaded heather a better chance. On closer inspection, the stalk of the Western is quite densely covered with prickles whereas the barer European stalks can been seen quite clearly.  Most of the Western gorse flowers at the end of summer rather than the beginning. 


Heathland Management


We are working with the Friends of Heswall Dales to run a Wirral Workshop on Lowland Heath Management on February 29. With the cooperation of delegates from Wirral Borough Council, Cheshire Wildlife Trust, the National Trust and Natural England, we are exploring opportunities for greater cooperation in the management of Wirral heathland.  On April 21 there will be a Cheshire Lowland Heath Forum hosted by Heswall Dales. These Forums are an excellent opportunity for conservation people to see each other’s reserves and share good ideas as well have a joint hand-wringing session about how hard it all is. When cattle used Wirral heathland for grazing, the conservation of this resource was ensured. Now, if we wish to keep this habitat, we have to intervene directly. We need volunteers to do the work of the cattle. 



Sunset at Cleaver Heath


Colleagues at CWT are in the process of updating our reserve websites, including that for Cleaver. Among the attractions listed, is that Cleaver is a ‘perfect reserve for an evening stroll at sunset’.  Indeed, this winter has seen a regular sequence of spectacular sunsets as this recent photo demonstrates.


Cleaver Heath entrance


Alan Irving
Volunteer Reserve Warden for CWT
Cleaver Heath

February 2020