Saturday 28 February 2015

Port Sunlight River Park

Mersey view from Port Sunlight River Park. Photo: Anne Litherland

Port Sunlight River Park is a vibrant, stunning green space formed on the site of the former landfill at Bromborough Docks. It has transformed a closed area, giving access to the Mersey waterfront with unrivalled views not only of the Liverpool skyline and waterfront, but also across Wirral and North Wales. There are woodlands and an ecologically important wetland and the site has excellent views of the Shorefields mudflats and wildfowl, which is part of the Mersey SSSI.

Funding for the transformation and long term management has been made possible through the Newlands 2 programme, led by the Forestry Commission and supported by Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Biffa and Unilever have donated land and funds.

The River Park opened to the public on 12th August 2014 and is managed by Wirral Autistic Society on behalf of the open space management charity the Land Trust. The regular park users include dog walkers, running groups and individual runners, cyclists and cycle groups and bird watchers. Families come to watch the ships, admire the view and let off steam at the weekends. Visitors whilst enjoying the views should not walk, or let their dogs walk off the surfaced paths as the land is still settling and objects may move to the surface. Also between March and August ground nesting birds use the grassland so no access is permitted on these areas.

Opening Day at the River Park. Photo: The Land Trust

The River Park is a unique venture for Wirral Autistic Society (WAS) as service users help to maintain the park during their weekly visits. Tasks undertaken include cutting the grass, clearing leaves, weeding, patrolling and litter picking. It is also good to see other members of WAS using the park to walk with groups or with family and friends. The weekly Step into Work group have improved the mini beast hotel and cleared barrow loads of litter and hazards from the wood near the United Utilities works. This woodland was planted in 1997 but the tree guards were still in place and as well as looking unsightly were choking the trees.

Due to the steep slopes and uneven ground on site, winter maintenance depends upon volunteers rather than service users and one of the great bonuses for PSRP is the number of people who want to help. Volunteers meet every Saturday and Wednesday for outdoor tasks but additional opportunities exist to help with events, reception, walks and wildlife identification and with the new Friends group. The priority for the winter months will be removal of hazards as objects make their way to the surface. The views need maintaining so work will be done on the Mersey front to remove buddleia and willow. 

In 2014 lapwings and skylarks nested in the rough grassland overlooking the Mersey. As the park only opened to the public in August disturbance was limited but this year, as the park is busy, there will be a need to protect these areas, especially from dogs. While signage can help inform it is hoped that new volunteers will patrol these areas to engage with the public in a similar way to the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens but over the spring and summer months. Over 70 species of birds had been recorded up to the end of November 2014, including the transient hen harrier, wheatear and whimbrel. Birds, such as black tailed godwits and redshank, use the lake for resting, especially at high tides.

The lake at Port Sunlight River Park. Photo: Anne Litherland

Wirral Wildlife surveyed the site in 2014 and recorded 50 species of spider and a variety of butterfly and bee species. It is early days for this site and both flora and fauna will change though time. The species rich but unusual grassland flora with many legumes is reflective of low fertility soils. The abundance of banks of yellow melilot when I started in October is an example. Path edges around the site have colonies of a rare but non-native species, wallflower cabbage (Coincya monensis ssp. cheiranthos), a close relative of the endemic Isle of Man Cabbage which grows on the Wirral sand dunes. Nearly 16,000 trees have been planted: field maple, silver birch, sessile oak, rowan, grey willow, sweet cherry, wych elm together with dog rose, blackthorn, hawthorn, gorse and gueldar rose. Maritime pine has been planted for future climate change reliance. In addition there are areas of wildflower plantings: a perennial downland mix plus cornfield annuals.

A regular programme of events is being established including weekly health walks and activities for families in the school holidays. We are looking forward to taking part in the Wirral Walking Festival in May with guided walks planned around both PSRP and Bromborough Pool village.

If you want to find out more about events, visits or volunteering please look on the website or contact me by email or phone 07587550060.

Anne Litherland

Friday 27 February 2015

River Dee Common Terns - Triumph or Disaster?

Common Tern breeding at Shotton Steelworks. Photo: Barry Barnacal

In 2009 one of the UK’s largest common tern breeding colonies, located by the River Dee at Shotton Steelworks, collapsed. In 2008 there were 750 pairs of terns that produced over 1,000 fledged young. In 2009 there were plenty of adult birds at the start of the breeding season but the birds left after a week or so and produced no young at all.

The effect on the Merseyside Ringing Group (MRG), the organisation that had built up the colony in the first place, was confusion. The group had worked here since 1970, when it installed a wooden raft in one of the Shotton Steelworks’ pools and 12 pairs of common terns nested on it, safe from ground-based predators. The colony had grown steadily to 750 pairs. The wooden raft had been replaced by artificially-created concrete islands built and maintained with the help of the owners of the site (including the present owners Tata Steel), by local birders, by the Dee Wildfowlers and by members of the MRG. This was as successful a conservation project as could be imagined and then, without warning, there were no birds.

After the initial shock the MRG analysed the situation, realised that common terns were relatively long lived birds (a 30 year life span is not unusual) and decided that a single missed breeding season was not important.

2010 arrived and so did the terns but they left again without attempting to breed. Was this the time to panic? Well no, this was the time to plan. The hope had been that the failure to breed was a random event but as this was clearly not the case attempts had to be made to find out what was going on. Government agencies were contacted and a working group set up. Plans were set in motion for surveys to be carried out mainly by the members of the MRG. To study the terns’ behaviour MRG invested in remote cameras that worked in the dark so that 24 hour surveillance could take place.

2011 arrived and the investigation process planned the previous year started. As usual some common terns visited Shotton but none stayed to breed.

In 2012 more survey work was carried out but it was becoming clear that the main reason for the colony’s collapse was a major reduction in the fish stocks in the River Dee.

By 2013 survey work started to show a significant increase in the fish stocks and sure enough the terns arrived and produced young. A great result for the people involved with the colony but one more disaster awaited them.

Anti-predator fences on the tern islands at Shotton.
Photo: Peter Coffey

Foxes managed to find their way to the islands and killed all the chicks. 2013 produced no fledged young. However the evidence from the automatic cameras identified the problem with no room for doubt and another plan was put together to protect the islands from land-based predators. In the winter of 2013/2014 fences were erected around all the islands and we waited to see what the 2014 breeding season would bring.

In 2014 the fish stocks were good and the terns arrived to breed. The anti-predator fences worked and 445 young common terns were fledged. A great result for a lot of creative, conservation work but the MRG continues to monitor the situation with a view to ensuring that this success is consolidated and developed.

John Elliott, Merseyside Ringing Group

Thursday 26 February 2015

A Thank You

Natterjack toad. Photo: Wikipedia

During the past ten years or so, a number of people helped me to keep an eye on the Red Rocks Reserve. Each month, one of us walked round the reserve to check that everything was in order. Cheshire Wildlife Trust and Wirral Council Rangers were notified of any adverse changes such as damage to the boardwalk or evidence of fire. We collected litter, helped with natterjack monitoring and made notes about flowers such as orchids, birds and other wildlife.

A big thank you is due to all who contributed in this way to the up-keep of the reserve, foremost to Elspeth Dutch, Gill Norton, Ann and John Neal who covered the latter years.

No doubt we’ll continue to enjoy strolls - albeit informally - through the now expanded Red Rocks Marsh Reserve, across the dunes, along the saltmarsh and around the reedbed.

Mathilde Baker-Schommer, retired Honorary Warden

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Shock and Disappointment as 5 out of 7 Proposed MCZs Dropped in the Irish Sea

The Government is leaving the Irish Sea open to an environmental disaster by postponing plans to create a network of Marine Protected Areas. This lack of ambition was confirmed in the recent Defra announcement which excluded 5 out of 7 proposals for Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in the Irish Sea.

The Wildlife Trusts are deeply concerned that the Government is failing to protect and recover some of the Irish Sea’s most at risk wildlife and habitats. Our local waters are as diverse as coral reefs, supporting a wealth of species from lobsters, sponges and anemones to at least 30 species of shark and 12 species of cetacean (whales, dolphins and porpoises). 

Twenty seven MCZs were designated in 2013, including two in the Irish Sea: Fylde MCZ and Cumbria Coast MCZ. This first tranche saw Hilbre Island recommended MCZ (rMCZ) dropped from consideration, alongside several other sites across English waters. The Government has committed to designating an ecologically coherent network of MCZs by 2016 – but the current lack of ambition leaves the Irish Sea woefully underprotected. 

In 2015, only West of Walney rMCZ and Allonby Bay rMCZ will be consulted upon. Five other sites: Mud Hole, South Rigg and Slieve Na Griddle, Mid St George’s Channel and North St George’s Channel rMCZs have been postponed for further consideration, largely on the grounds of potential cost to fisheries.
This is short-sighted, considering the Government’s own scientific advisors concluded that some of these sensitive areas are at high risk of remaining in a damaged condition if no action is taken to protect them. Designating MCZs is a vital part of better managing our seas for both wildlife and people – and we need your help to make this a reality!

How can I help?

1. Become a Friend of MCZs
Over the coming months the North West Wildlife Trusts will be calling on the public to act to save their Irish Sea by responding to the Government’s public consultation on MCZs. Please sign up as a Friend of MCZs today to receive updates on the consultation and invitations to local events. 

2. Ask your MP to sign the Marine Charter 
We want all parties to commit to designating an ecologically coherent network of MCZs by 2016 and are asking all MPs to add their support to the Marine Charter. A number of MPs on the Wirral have yet to sign, please visit to learn more. 

3. Come along to our talk on “Wirral’s Living Seas”, Friday 13th March, 7.30pm, Heswall Hall.

For more information, please email Emily Cunningham, Living Seas Officer.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Hedgehog v Fox

I posted a note in the Wirral Wildlife Blog last summer about a young fox that was visiting our garden and upsetting a hungry magpie. Unfortunately the fox became a less frequent visitor after that and, eventually, it seemed to have moved on completely. However, as one interloper disappeared two others decided to get in on the act.

One afternoon we noticed movement in the leaf litter under our Red Robin hedge. It was two young hedgehogs. They didn’t seem unduly perturbed when I approached, camera in hand, to take some photos; and they certainly seemed to enjoy the sunflower hearts, fallen from the birdfeeders.

But the story moves on. The fox, not to be usurped by hedgehogs, did re-emerge some weeks later in the early evening. It looked a bit ragged so my wife raided the fridge for some cooked chicken which she put onto a tinfoil tray and placed on the lawn. This caused the fox to flee.

Night descended but in the gloom we noticed the tinfoil moving vigorously. The wanderer returns we thought. But no, it was a large, mature hedgehog, possibly a parent to the two young we had seen, having a good pre-hibernation tuck-in. We then became aware that the fox was actually close by and very aware of the treat that the hedgehog was eagerly devouring.

To our surprise the fox made only tentative efforts to displace old spiny. In fact it was so reluctant to get too close that it eventually left the potential meal and the garden. The fox had obviously learnt from painful experience but we also gained a bit of knowledge. One: Hedgehogs enjoy cooked chicken. Two: Foxes have a grudging respect for their prickly neighbours.

Les Roberts

Monday 23 February 2015

Don’t Dismiss The Dandelion

Photo: John Gill

Totally unjustified in being classed as a 'weed' the humble dandelion is one of the most attractive of our wild British plants. Indeed an unimproved pasture in late April or early May, an absolute riot of yellow, must be one of the most beautiful sights of our countryside year.

Not only attractive but useful too. Dandelion gets its name from the jagged green leaves from the French 'Dent de lion' or 'lion’s tooth' and these leaves were very popular in salads being a substitute for lettuce before the days of year-round production. Increasingly they are being re-found as a salad crop. The flowers, an important nectar source, also make a light white wine or cordial. Finally the roots were regularly roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute in World War Two and back in fashion today as an organic and decaffeinated drink. Medicinally the whole plant is useful as a diuretic and one of its common names, Jack-piss-the-bed, reflects this. What's weedy about all that?

But to the botanist Taraxacum officinale presents more of a problem as it is not just one species but an aggregate of numerous micro species; approximately 240 occur in Britain of which about 40 are endemic and 100 introduced. Roughly grouped into nine ill-defined sections they are notoriously difficult to identify. Perhaps the easiest for the beginner is the Section Erythrospema of which we have several Wirral representatives. Growing on the sandy soil of our dune coast, they tend to be small and with very dissected leaves. Plants with hardly dissected leaves often blotched and with a red or purple midrib might belong to either Section Hamata or Celtica whilst the vast majority of our Wirral species belong to Section Ruderalia. Implying growing in ruderal or weedy habitats they are the ones you are most likely to see on roadsides or in your garden.

Cheshire would appear to have a wide range of Taraxacum species as the late Chester botanist, Tom Edmondson, was able to identify them. However the different micro species aren't recorded in Alan Newton’s 1971 Flora of Cheshire. There's plenty of scope for someone locally to take up the hobby of Taraxacology!

Barbara Greenwood

Thursday 19 February 2015

Talk To Your Politicians

I think you might have noticed that we have national elections in May 2015. Some members will also have local elections. In deciding how to vote, please take a good look at what the various parties are offering in the way of environmental policies. Should you find yourself talking to a candidate, take the opportunity to ask some questions e.g.
Rapid climate change is the biggest threat to people and all forms of wildlife, so:

What is your party policy on climate change? How are you going to try to reduce it?

How will your party cope with the effects of climate change that are already with us and are inevitable e.g. a more variable climate, increased storminess and floods?

What will your party do to encourage decisive international action including at the Conference of Parties in December 2015? This is the big UN-sponsored meeting which needs to take good action if we are to change the way all societies work in time to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

European Union

It is European legislation that provides the strongest protection to important wildlife site like the Dee and Mersey Estuaries and North Wirral Foreshore, and to the rarest species like great crested newts and bats. On the other hand, some European policies e.g. on Agriculture have been bad for wildlife. so:

What is your party's attitude to remaining in Europe?

European legislation of wildlife protection is currently transposed into British law. If the UK left the EU, would your party keep those laws and the strong protection they give? How would it keep such laws up to date?

EU laws on pollution apply to industry and other polluters across Europe, making sure all keep to the same standards. If the UK left the EU would those standards be kept?

What would your party do to improve European action to conserve wildlife?


Funding cuts have hit hard Natural England and the Environment Agency.

What would your party do to restore sufficient funding to Natural England and the Environment Agency and restore the expertise that has been lost during the funding cuts?

Would your party fully implement the recommendations of the Forestry Commission review?

Locally (for councillors)

Funding cuts have hit many council departments hard, including Parks and Open Spaces.

Will your party restore enough funding to make sure that valuable wildlife sites like Dibbinsdale, Heswall Dales, Bidston Hill and Caldy Hill or, for Cheshire West and Chester, Rivacre Valley and Wirral Way are properly managed with expert staff available?

Wirral Borough: Will your party support and implement the Wirral Climate Strategy?

See for ideas on how you can help reduce your own carbon footprint.

The media are not giving good exposure to environmental matters, so it is up to us to take every opportunity to ask the questions, and use the answers to decide how to vote. Politicians are public servants elected to represent us.

Hilary Ash

Thursday 5 February 2015

Big Arty Beach Clean - 14th February

Saturday 14th February

Big Arty Beach Clean With Shore Cottage Studio
Thurstaston Beach

1 - 4 p.m.

Did you know litter is one of the biggest threats to our ocean-going wildlife? Join us for a family-friendly beach clean with the Wirral Rangers and the Wildlife Trusts’ youth arm ‘Wildlife Watch’, where we use what we find to make giant beach art with expert artists from the award-winning Wirral-based Shore Cottage studio. Great fun for all ages.

Free of charge.

Contact: Emily Cunningham by telephone on 01948 820728 or email