Monday 28 July 2014

Have You Seen A Mitten Crab?

The information on this poster from North Wales Wildlife Trust also applies on the Wirral side of the Dee.

If you spot a mitten crab, you can report your sighting by phoning 0845 1306229 or online at the Mitten Crab Recording Project.

Thursday 24 July 2014

Seldom Seen Moth

15th July was a lucky day for Frank Cottrell. Not only did he see a Hummingbird Hawk-moth in his garden, he managed to take a lovely photograph to share with us.

Friday 18 July 2014

The Tidal Dee Catchment Partnership

Chinese Mitten Crab, an invasive species. Photo: Wikipedia

This is a group of stakeholders (interested parties) involved in the conservation of the River Dee. It includes statutory organisations such as Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Environment Agency, the local authorities of Flintshire and Wirral and conservation groups with an interest in the Dee e.g. RSPB and Cheshire Wildlife Trust. I represent Wirral Wildlife on the steering group. 

There are three such partnerships covering the whole of the Dee catchment - Upper, Middle and Tidal. The tidal group covers the estuary to Chester weir, while the middle covers Chester to the River Ceriog. The Partnership is a Defra initiative to provide a more local input into the development of the river basin management plans as required under the Water Framework Directive. This sets strict targets for improving water quality by 2027. Failure to achieve the targets could result in the UK Government incurring heavy fines from Europe. 

Of course, the Dee estuary is designated as a Special Protection Area under EU legislation and so has its own conservation objectives. Despite significant effort, it is unlikely we will meet the requirements of the Directive unless additional action is taken.

Current projects under consideration are tackling non-native invasive species such as Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed, monitoring Chinese mitten crab and identifying and tackling marine litter hotspots. Poor water quality in the surface water discharge at West Kirby is a concern which is being investigated by  the Environment Agency, Wirral council and United Utilities but up to now the source has not been identified. Contaminated land and eroding land fill tips and their contribution to water quality on the Welsh side is another concern. Some of the above projects are funded at the moment with additional or future funding being sought, others require funding.

We are now near the end of the first planning cycle (2015), and drawing up the second action plan. This will detail what on the ground activity is needed, by when and by who, and with what resources to achieve the agreed outcomes. Funding is available for a part time Catchment Officer who will co-ordinate projects to improve the Dee and seek funding streams where required. 

Co-ordination of projects, ongoing work and exchange of information to maximise existing efforts to improve the estuary are important aspects of the group’s work.

Tim Ganicliffe

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Surprise Encounter with a Sleepy Bee

Sleepy Bee. Photo: Steven Falk. Flickr gallery and

On 16th May Mike Griffiths netted an unusual bee at Tom's Paddock. Its identity was verified by Carl Clee from World Museum, Liverpool as a male Chelostoma florisomne or sleepy bee. Information on the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS) website reveals that it is not common in gardens but is often found where woodland and meadow meet, as at Tom's Paddock. It nests in old beetle burrows in dead wood in sunny locations and flies between May and July. It is one of the few bees ever to be found collecting pollen from Ranunculaceae flowers. If the weather is overcast males can be found, apparently asleep, amongst the stamens of the buttercups.

Monday 14 July 2014

Recording Highlights

The Wirral Wildlife recording team have been busy. Some highlights so far.....

Bee orchid at Leasowe Gun Site and Port Sunlight River Park

Lizard at Red Rocks

Royal fern on the Lever cycleway (Port Sunlight to Eastham)

Common meadow-rue (which is anything but common in Cheshire) on land in Hoylake.

Hilary Ash

An Open View of Red Rocks

Barbara Greenwood took this photo yesterday of Red Rocks looking fabulous from the grandstand on the 12th green at the practice for the Open.

Sunday 13 July 2014

Planning and Development

Badgers and their setts are protected by law. Photo: Wikipedia

You may have seen in the latest "Grebe" magazine the results of the survey of members carried out recently. One area that was flagged up as of high importance was involvement in development and planning. Wirral Wildlife has been busy in this "behind the scenes" area for around 40 years, starting in the early days of the local group when Wirral became part of Merseyside instead of Cheshire. We cover geographical Wirral, so also comment on planning in Ellesmere Port, Neston, Willaston and the surrounding areas.

Planning these days splits into two main tasks. Development control is the week-by-week planning applications that impact on the ground. Forward Planning is the drawing up of the Local Plan or Local Development Framework that guides the planning officers in deciding on development control applications. The Forward Planning processes include much public consultation, which is our chance to get the right policies and words in the plan for quoting at Development Control level when we respond to applications.

As a result of our long involvement and evidence-based comments, we are taken seriously by both Wirral and CW&C planning departments. I do the regular responses for Wirral Wildlife, helped by various colleagues within CWT and in sister organisations, especially when it come to consultations.

The amount of support from central CWT has varied over the decades, but we now have a Planning Officer in post (Rachel Giles), who will be working regularly with CW&C so able to take more of that area. Margaret Jackson checks the public weekly lists and notifies Rachel and I of any applications with possible wildlife implications.

Most of our responses involve "comments" asking for particular conditions to protect wildlife, often during the construction phase. Occasionally we have to object outright where something would be seriously damaging to wildlife, or where applicants have failed to do appropriate wildlife surveys so there is insufficient information.

In the last year, in Wirral Borough, I commented on 53 applications, and reviewed another 49 where no comment proved necessary, so this is a busy role. Of the 43 so far determined, we got some improvement for wildlife in 35 cases. Applications range from extensions to houses bordering Sites of Biological Importance (frequently no comment, or standard conditions e.g. to protect badgers) to larger scale work such as new housing at Bromborough and developments along the coast, where precautions are needed against water pollution and disturbance harming the Mersey and Dee Estuaries and adjacent internationally-protected sites.

The part of CW&C that I deal with is much less busy - last year 8 comments, 16 no comments, good result for wildlife in 4 cases. Unfortunately the losses here included the big housing development proposed for Little Sutton, where some mitigation for wildlife was eventually obtained, but not as much as I would have liked.

Consultations recently have included, as well as the developing Local Plans for both boroughs, ones on climate change strategy (Wirral BC), natural character areas (Natural England), river basin strategy (Environment Agency) and even the Maritime Licensing Agency (Meols outfall). I do learn things I never imagined from this side of the work! New things arise at regular intervals - Sustainable Drainage Systems are finally being required, as climate change leads to more intense rainfall and the inevitable consequences. Anyone know anything about hydrology??

I have been doing the planning work for 27 years, and would like to share it with one of two other people, especially the Wirral Borough work. It is a somewhat complex area to get into, though we are developing standard responses for regular issues like badgers, bats and great crested newts.

Anyone who would like to be involved, please contact me!

Hilary Ash
327 5923

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Brimstone Caterpillars Measure Up for National Insect Week

The event at New Ferry Butterfly Park to mark National Insect Week was planned before the exciting discovery of the first brimstone butterfly caterpillars to be recorded at the park and in the Wirral. It was touch and go as to whether visitors would see any brimstone caterpillars as the first ones spotted a week before were already 3 cm long and near to pupation. The caterpillar stage lasts approximately a month with the caterpillar going through five instars before becoming a pupa. At the end of each instar the caterpillar moults its skin so that it can rapidly grow bigger before the skin hardens up again.

Early brimstone instar and shed skin

Brimstone butterfly caterpillars were found on a range of alder buckthorn shrubs, some of which had been planted a decade ago and some which were still in pots yet to be planted! Now we have the eye for the caterpillars there will be monitoring to see which buckthorns are preferred for egg laying. It seems they like new fresh growth rather than the mature leaves that have developed secondary compounds to discourage predators.

Brimstone caterpillar at the top of an alder buckthorn shrub still in a pot

National Insect Week is promoted by the Royal Entomological Society to increase interest in insects and to get the public involved in identifying them. The society provides some basic free spotter guides and other related insect goodies just to get you started.

The quest to see the new arrivals was successful with four brimstone caterpillars being seen. The impressive, more showy and gregarious black peacock butterfly caterpillars were out in large numbers too.

There were an impressive 11 species of butterfly on the wing. This was remarkable because the event fell in between the spring and summer butterfly broods and species. The colourful burnet moths were also out in force. There were 107 visitors, the record for a Sunday, bar our special open days. In fact every visit to the park is an insect day.

Paul Loughnane

Saturday 5 July 2014

Foxy Tales

Wirral Wildlife member Les Roberts contacted us with some photos he had taken of foxes in his garden. We asked him if he would like to write a post for the blog...

Magpies are not everyone’s favourite bird but the one in this picture seemed less than enamoured with the young fox. We feed the birds with sunflower hearts which the fox, on recent mornings, has obviously found to be a nutritious granola alternative breakfast. The intelligent Magpie made it clear it was not happy with the intruder, or with having to wait for its own “petit dejeuner”.

The recent morning appearance of two young fox cubs in our garden, reminded us of a sequence of foxy events that occurred some years ago. Then, an enterprising vixen, unbelievably, climbed up inside our conifer hedge, flicked down three unfledged chicks from a nest and, jumping after them, took all three in her mouth and left the lawn at a leisurely pace.

Although upset we believed it to be useless and wrong to interfere. It made us aware though that the fox had cubs. We decided to leave out the odd titbit. To our surprise the vixen became quite tame. It did not leave the garden when we were in it and would even approach us if we took out food.

Now our actions may have been misguided. We certainly didn’t want the fox to be reliant on us, nor become too trusting of humankind, but we had started, we thought, so we had to finish.

The vixen remained in good condition and, some weeks later, brought to us what we took to be a vulpine thank you. She appeared with two, youngish, cubs; sat a little distance from them as they played and seemed unperturbed as we entered the garden to take photographs. The cubs were a bit nervous until they picked up on their mother’s calmness.

After that we did not see the mother again. The growing cubs did come into the garden on the odd occasion, not always looking in the best of condition. Eventually only one of them appeared and, after a few sightings, that animal too never returned.

Foxes are not now an unusual sight in urban areas but they face threats and are generally not long lived - motor traffic being a particular hazard. At the time we were rather sad ours had gone, although they may be screeching in a different territory at this very moment.  The garden conifers have also gone, replaced with a less height prone species, but, pleasingly for us, foxes are back. Two nervous young animals initially, now just the one. We don’t know for how long but, whilst it’s here, we will enjoy watching it – even if the birds begrudge sharing the sunflower hearts.

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