Thursday 24 September 2009

Events at Ness Gardens

Andrew Lambie, co-ordinator of adult education at Ness Gardens has sent us information about courses and talks that might be of interest. Coming soon...

29th September
Autumn Fruit and Berries - Guided Walk

4th October
Talk from the Estate Manager at Dunham Massey

6th October
Gardening Club

7th October
Magnificent Trees - Guided Walk

The full list can be found on the 'Courses' page of the Ness Gardens website, along with booking details:

Monday 21 September 2009

National Moth Night

On Friday night seventeen intrepid members joined Alan Creaser to trap moths as part of the National Moth Weekend. Around the country about 500 similar events were taking place. Alan told us that although there are now more species of moths being caught, the number of specimens of each has decreased.

Passers-by might have wondered what a circle of people gathered around a bright light and a white sheet were up to in the darkness of a field at Claremont Farm...

The species attracted to the lamp were:

Light Brown Apple Moth
Carpet Moth
Satellite Moth
Large Yellow Underwing
Common Wainscot
Setaceous Hebrew Character
Grey Pine Carpet Moth

Here Alan Creaser and Ed Samuels, Wirral Wildlife's Recording Officer, are trying to identify one of their finds...

Friday 18 September 2009

Irish Sea Advocacy Officer

Sea heart urchin, Echinocardium cordatum. Photo: Wikipedia

The three wildlife trusts of the North West have recently employed an Irish Sea Marine Advocacy Officer, Dr Kathryn Turner. Kathryn says "I have ten years experience as a marine biologist. I ran and am still, the Director of the Fylde Coast Marine Life Project. I have also been a freshwater biologist for the last 15 years and my PhD was on the impacts of invaders on wetland/aquatic systems in the UK. I have taught biology at university level, for children's and adults groups and have a great enthusiasm for our local North West species, who needs tigers when we have octopi and cuttlefish on our doorsteps!

The role of Irish Sea Advocacy Officer is three fold: Firstly to bring together local knowledge about the Irish Sea. This includes talking with our local sea users, making contacts with local authorities, NGO's and other interest groups, locals and businesses and sharing information about what we have and how it’s used.

Secondly, maximising the local wildlife trusts marine expertise and ability to protect marine species and habitats, this by making the best possible use of our current biodiversity work and legislation and by adding marine species to education, campaigning and local training.

Thirdly, as the Marine Bill progresses ensuring that our local highly diverse marine hotspots are highlighted and go forward as marine protected areas and gain the maximum protection possible from the Bill.

I look forward to meeting and working with as many local groups as possible and in providing better protection and knowledge of our fragile marine habitats and species."

Kathryn produces an 'Irish Sea Species of the Month' email which contains fascinating information on marine species. This month it's an echinoderm, the Sea Heart Urchin. Recently thousands have been washed up on Wirral and south Blackpool beaches. If you would like to receive these monthly updates, email Kathryn and ask to be put on her distribution list.

If you, or anyone you know, can help Kathryn in her role, please email her.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Hop, hop, hurray for volunteers

by Paul Loughnane

In August the New Ferry Butterfly Park held its annual barbecue and boules match for park volunteers, Wirral Countryside Volunteers and friends of the park. We were very fortunate this year with good weather and a donation by local brewer Mike McGuigan from Betwixt Brewing Company of a cask of Skyline beer, which added to the conviviality of the barbecue. Mike set up a hand pump so that guests could enjoy having a have a chance to pull their own pint.
Hops. Photo: Wikipedia

Mike took a keen interest in one of our butterfly projects, the growing of hops as a food plant for the comma butterfly larvae. Previous hops we planted back in 1998 turned out to be male plants, so no good for the brewer, but acceptable to the larvae of the comma butterfly. Recently we took some cuttings of female hop from a hedgerow in Wirral. There was no fruit on the vines this year, as they have not built up enough energy reserves to flower and fruit, however they did grow an impressive 1.8 metres.

In future the brewer could collect some of the hop fruits to make a small batch of harvest beer made from fresh hops rather than pelleted hops. This will not effect the butterflies as, at this stage of the season, the larvae will have left the hop plants and the adult butterflies will have emerged, busily feeding on nectar to sustain themselves through the winter hibernation.

The numbers of comma butterflies at the park continue to rise reflecting the national trend. The park has been mentioned in the Cheshire and Peak Butterfly Conservation annual report a number of times as it had a significant number of commas.

Comma Butterfly. Photo:Cheshire Wildlife Trust

Comma butterflies suffered a tremendous decline in number and distribution in the 1910s being restricted to an area of garden hop yards in the Worcester area. It is thought the female butterflies lost their taste for hops but then developed a taste for a botanical relative of the hops, the ubiquitous stinging nettle. Since this change of preference of larval host plant the butterfly has made a great recovery.

We hope some butterflies can change their preference again and make use of hops as sometimes our nettle areas can be subsumed by bindweed. The hops give us some further habitat niches for the butterflies as the hops can climb up and beyond the reach of bindweed to sunnier aspects where they can be of benefit to egg-laying commas.

Year Number of Commas recorded
2003 20
2004 26
2005 29
2006 16
2007 38
2008 36
2009 44