Saturday 23 December 2017

Season's Greetings

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Wirral Wildlife committee

Friday 22 December 2017

RHS Plants for Bugs Project

Suction Sampler
Suction sampler being used to collect insects from the plants

Since 2009 the Royal horticultural Society (RHS) has been carrying out research to find out there was any difference in abundance of animals in native only and non-native garden plots.

36 test plots were set up at RHS Garden Wisley, each with 14 plant species and managed like real gardens. The invertebrates they supported were regularly sampled.
The first report found little difference between the number of pollinators visiting native and non-native plants, in fact some exotics provided pollen later in the season.

The second study found that the more plants there were the more invertebrates were collected. Native plants were better than non-native, but not by much. Non UK northern hemisphere plants supported about 10% fewer invertebrates.

Recommendations for wildlife gardeners:

1. Put in plenty of plants and let them fill the space.

2. The more nectar rich flowers you have the more pollinators you will attract and support.

3. You will get more invertebrates if you have native British plants and related ones from the northern hemisphere.

4. Plant natives such as hemp agrimony, primrose, foxglove, honeysuckle, heather and purple loosestrife.

5. Extend the flower season for pollinators with late flowering exotic species, especially if they are densely planted and flower strongly.

Results of the 2017 Big Butterfly Count


This report is taken from the website of Butterfly Conservation:

The curse of the UK summer holiday weather struck big butterfly count 2017. For butterflies and butterfly counters, July and August were dominated by unsettled weather and above average rainfall. Overall it was one of the wettest UK summers for 100 years. And this after six months (January-June) of above average monthly temperatures, which encouraged butterflies to emerge earlier than usual.

The combined impacts of this topsy-turvy weather were to reduce the numbers of butterflies seen during big butterfly count 2017, both because the abundance of some species was reduced by the summer weather and because others had come out early and were already past their peak numbers when the count started.

Despite an amazing 550,000 individual insects of the 20 target species being spotted during big butterfly count 2017, the average number of individuals seen per 15 minute count was the lowest recorded since the project began in 2010! A mere 10.9 individuals per count were recorded, down from 12.2 in 2016. Indeed the average number of individual butterflies per count has decrease in each year of big butterfly count since 2013, when over twice as many butterflies were seen per count compared with 2017.

One of the stars of the summer was the Red Admiral. After a good year in 2016, numbers of this powerful, migratory butterfly soared during 2017, recording its best ever big butterfly count performance. Numbers of Red Admirals were up 75% compared with the 2016 Count and threefold compared with 2015. Its success wasn’t restricted to the south either, Red Admiral did well in Scotland and Northern Ireland in 2017.

Another winner was the Comma, which profited from the warm spring by producing a bumper summer generation. It bounced back strongly (up by 90%) from a relatively poor year in 2016, recording its second best big butterfly count ever.

Common Blue and Small Copper, both of which did terribly during big butterfly count 2016, increased strongly, up 109% and 62% respectively, although their populations weren’t particularly large compared with some other previous years.

The Gatekeeper was another species that did very badly in 2016, but which showed a good improvement in big butterfly count 2017, up 24% year on year. Indeed, it topped the big butterfly count chart for the third time in 2017. 

It wasn’t all good news though. The three common ‘whites’ all decreased compared with 2016 and seemed thin on the ground. The Green-veined White, which was down 38% on 2016, recorded its lowest abundance in the eight years of big butterfly count. Both the Large White and Small White suffered their second worst big butterfly count performances, and numbers dropped by 38% and 37% respectively compared with 2016. Interestingly, this did not appear to be the case in Northern Ireland, where counts of both Large and Small Whites increased substantially on 2016.

There was no good news for the Small Tortoiseshell, which has been the source of much concern over the past decade or so, or the beautiful Peacock, both of which remained at low levels, very similar to those recorded during big butterfly count 2016.

The 2017 results for all 20 of the Big Butterfly Count target butterfly and moth species are shown below:

1 Gatekeeper 93171 +24%
2 Red Admiral 73161 +75%
3 Meadow Brown 69528 -23%
4 Small White 61812 -37%
5 Large White 61064 -38%
6 Peacock 29454 +1%
7 Comma 22436 +90%
8 Small Tortoiseshell 20267 +4%
9 Common Blue 19567 +109%
10 Speckled Wood 18639 +15%
11 Ringlet 18381 -57%
12 Green-veined White 16456 -38%
13 Six-spot Burnet 9517 -28%
14 Painted Lady 8737 +31%
15 Large Skipper 6579 -49%
16 Holly Blue 5929 -5%
17 Small Copper 5814 +62%
18 Brimstone 5281 -7%
19 Marbled White 4894 -67%
20 Silver Y 1923 -2%

At New Ferry Butterfly Park Annual Counts have been carried out since 2002.

The results for 2017 are shown below with 2016 numbers in brackets.

1. Speckled Wood 165 (66)
2. Large White 50 (50), Small White 50 (41)
4. Common Blue 48 (11)
5. Gatekeeper 42 (20)
6. Meadow Brown 28 (43), Orange Tip 28 (25), Brimstone 28 (35).
9. Holly Blue 22 (12)
10. Red Admiral 21 (1)
11. Comma 18 (27)
12. Small Tortoiseshell 10 (29)
13. Green- veined White 9 (26)
14. Peacock 7 (6), Small Skipper 7 (20)
16. Large Skipper 6 (0)
17. Small Copper 2 (1), Painted Lady 2 (2)

In line with Butterfly Conservation findings Red Admiral, Common Blue and Gatekeeper numbers showed an increase, but Comma and Small Copper numbers were down. Large White and Small White numbers were very similar to last year but Green-veined White numbers showed a decrease like the national picture. As found nationally, numbers of Small Tortoiseshell and Peacocks were also low.

Saturday 9 December 2017

Bags of Help for Cleaver Heath


Great news - our Cleaver Heath Nature Reserve project has won first prize in the recent public vote in Tesco’s Bags of Help initiative! Thank you to everyone who gave us your support in the Wirral stores.

We will be using the funds to improve access and the visitor experience at the reserve with new gates, signage and footpath improvements. This reserve has stunning views over the Dee Estuary and is popular with butterflies, birds and common lizards.

The Bags of Help scheme is delivered by Groundwork and our bid was put together by our Natural Futures team who are supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Festive events in December

These are events organised by Port Sunlight River Park, the Friends of Dibbinsdale and Cheshire Wildlife Trust.

Christmas Crafts and Carols
Port Sunlight River Park
Saturday 2nd December, 12 - 3 p.m.

Winter Warmer
The Friends of Dibbinsdale
Saturday 9th December, 1 - 4 p.m.

Green Christmas Arts and Crafts
Sunday 10th December
Bickley Hall Farm
£5 per person, booking essential
Telephone Cheshire Wildlife Trust on 01948 820 728

Monday 20 November 2017

Tree Planting at Dibbinsdale

Planting the lime
Planting the small leaved lime. Photo: John Gill

On Saturday 18th November the group planted three trees at Dibbinsdale Local Nature Reserve to celebrate winning The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. A small leaved lime, a wild pear (grown from a seed from a tree at Willaston) and an oak were planted with the help of Bella Smallthwaite the daughter of committee member Caroline Smallthwaite. We are grateful for the assistance of Ranger Alan Smail and the Friends of Dibbinsdale and the use of a room to celebrate with tea and cake afterwards.

Planting the oak
Planting the oak. Photo: John Gill

Planting the pear
Planting the pear. Photo: John Gill

Monday 13 November 2017

Receiving The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service

Wirral Wildlife, local group of Cheshire Wildlife Trust, was presented with The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service by Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Merseyside, Mr Mark Blundell, on November 10th at a ceremony at Heswall Hall.

The Commendation and the glass Award. Photo: D. Higginbottom

The Award was created by The Queen in 2002 to mark the occasion of her Golden Jubilee, recognising excellence in voluntary activities carried out by groups in the community. The Queens Award for Voluntary Service is described as the MBE for volunteer groups.

Wirral Wildlife was established to protect and champion wildlife in the Wirral and this award represents the tremendous achievements of everyone in Wirral Wildlife over the last 46 years.

Her Majesty’s Lord- Lieutenant of Merseyside presenting the award.
Photo: R. Ash

About 50 members attended the evening presentation, which was followed by a talk by Sarah Bird about the role of Chester Zoo in conserving UK species of animals and plants.

Of course, no celebration can take place without a cake!

 Photo: D. Higginbottom

Thank you to every volunteer who has worked as part of Wirral Wildlife.

We hope to continue to inspire, inform, educate and encourage people to protect nature in Wirral for many years to come.

Friday 10 November 2017

Seal Cam


The first few seal pups of the year have been spotted – grey seals around the country have started to give birth!

See for yourself...

You can see these wonderful animals in the comfort of your own home, by visiting the live seal cam on South Walney Nature Reserve - the only breeding colony of grey seals in the North West of England!

In Wirral we are lucky enough to have two of the richest marine environments in the region: the Dee and Mersey estuaries. We are working to secure the future for these internationally important habitats and those of the Irish Sea. If you'd like to find out more about the campaign for Living Seas in the North West, visit the Wildlife Trust's Irish Sea website.

A very large mammal, the grey seal spends most of its time out at sea where it feeds on a variety of fish, shellfish, crustaceans and squid. Although they’re perfectly adapted to life in the water, as a mammal they have to breathe air. Seals can hold their breath for eight minutes at a time!

How do they do this? Researchers at the University of Liverpool discovered that an adaptation in an oxygen storing protein in marine mammals’ blood allows them to store a huge amount of oxygen in their muscles – like having their own oxygen tank.

Seals haul-out in large numbers to rest, breed, get warm and dry, digest food and give birth as well as moulting their fur annually. On Wirral, grey seals occupy the east side of the West Hoyle sand bank, near to the Hilbre islands, with some venturing into the Dee. However our seals don’t actually breed here. After a summer stocking up on food, mums journey elsewhere at this time of year to have their pups on beaches anytime between now and December.

Being born at such a harsh time of year means that the first few weeks of pups’ lives are spent fattening up on their mum’s milk! When they have enough blubber to keep them warm, they swap their fluffy white coat for something more suited to the water. Around a month after the pups are born, mothers leave the beaches and head back out to sea to feed and mate again. The pups remain on their own until they have completely moulted their white coats and trebled their birth weight; at which point they head to the sea to hunt for themselves.

Thursday 9 November 2017

Support Heswall Dales!

Help us to support Wirral Council in making the most of this unique space – with SSSI status – in the heart of Heswall.

The Friends of Heswall Dales will hold its second meeting at Heswall Hall on 22nd November at 7pm.

* Find out what’s happening in the Dales.
* Become a member.

For more information please email Neil Irvine

Thursday 19 October 2017

Autumn at Cleaver Heath


Signs of Autumn

The Swallows based at Oldfield Farm have already begun their annual travels south. Without fail they arrive in the second week in April and leave in the last week of September. This year there were 4 still feeding vigorously around the Farm and the Reserve on September 24th. On the morning of the 28th, they were circling very high over the Farm and by the afternoon, they were gone. We miss their chattering and that of their neighbours, the House Martins who departed a bit earlier. The Martins started a new nest this year in my neighbours’ eaves. I watched them from my kitchen window from 22nd May to 26th August.


On Sunday 24th September my colleague and I were conducting our last butterfly transect survey of the year and were delighted to see a ‘first winter’ juvenile Wheatear. To our knowledge, this is the first Wheatear observed on Cleaver. My colleague had already seen it during one of our regular conservation work sessions on that Sunday morning. It seemed to be finding food all along the main path. It somewhat delayed our butterfly walk.

I heard my last Chiffchaff singing on 26th September. I presume it was a juvenile just practicing. My Common Bird Census results suggested there were a total of 6 Chiffchaff territories being held on Cleaver at some point or another. This compares with 5 for the Willow Warbler and 8 for the Wren!


Our 26 weeks of Butterfly surveys were complete at the end of September. The totals were these:

Speckled wood 131 Peacock 11
Meadow brown 102 Holly blue 10
Small white 77 Small skipper 9
Comma 67 Small tortoiseshell 6
Red admiral 48 Painted lady 3
Gatekeeper 38 Brimstone 2
Green-veined white 32 Small copper 1
Orange tip 25 Common blue 1
Large white 21 Ringlet 1

Since this was the first year of the ‘Cleaver Heath UKBMS transect’, we have no benchmark with which to compare. UKBMS is the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. There were 18 species, none of which were unusual. Overall, it was said to be a disappointing year nationally. We are already looking forward to next year’s findings. It is quite exciting to go on the ‘hunt’ each week. You never know what will be around on the next section of the walk. There are 9 sections from the ex-carpark area in the Reserve through Oldfield Farm, past the Dungeon Wood, over to Thurstaston Church, each with a different habitat. Less enjoyable has been the worrisome weekly look at the 7 day forecast to guess which day will have no rain, decent sunshine, decent temperature and little wind and is on a day when at least one of us, but preferably both, are free!

Red Admiral and Comma

The last butterflies to be seen in numbers were the Speckled Woods which are on the wing though most of the 26 weeks and the Red Admiral and Comma (above) which really like the late flowers of things like the Ivy. I saw a Red Admiral in our heath on October 17th.

Conservation work

Autumn means the start of serious conservation work on the Reserve. The first monthly volunteer working party day was on September 3. By the second, on October 1 we were well into our usual ‘birch control’ work in the northern heather panel. What was different this year was the use of the Tree Poppers and stump treatment made possible by the Natural Futures Project grant (see the ‘Early Summer on Cleaver’ newsletter). Each year, we work systematically through the Heather and Western Gorse panels cutting less desirable stuff such as Birch, Bramble and Bracken. We hope our new strategy of either pulling or cutting and immediately stump treating the Birch will reduce this annual chore somewhat. Following the annual bracken spraying with the relevant herbicide, we are repeating last year’s last scale effort of removing the bracken litter from areas which we hope to restore to heathland in due course.

Conservation Work

Kevin Feehey’s group of trainee volunteers (pictured below) have spent a couple of days working on the bracken, coppicing aging gorse and generally enjoying being at Cleaver.


We recently had a visit by the regional Natural England representative responsible for heathland sites. Since Cleaver Heath, along with the Heswall Dales, has SSSI status (Site of Special Scientific Interest) the owners, Cheshire Wildlife Trust, have the legal duty to maintain this status in line with the requirements specified by Natural England. I am pleased to report that we were given much encouragement and good advice in our current efforts to look after our small site.

One aspect of the Reserve that perhaps needs more attention concerns not the site itself but the SW border along Oldfield Drive where the ownership of the verge has never been definitively established. Council ownership only extends as far as the Greenfield Lane junction.


There has been quite a bit of garden waste dumping not only on the verge but, more worryingly for the Trust, over the railings into the Reserve. This picture, looking into the Reserve, shows not only evidence of recent garden waste dumping but also, on closer inspection of the railings, the remains of the second of two polite notices requesting ‘NO DUMPING’. We hope at some stage to get cooperation from local residents to help monitor this and to maintain the verges in a manner acceptable both to the Trust and to our local neighbours.

Good waste and bad waste

Most, but not all, of our regular dog walkers on the reserve are responsible in bagging and removing waste produced by their animals. However, some seem to make an early morning trip to the reserve with the specific purpose of having the dog relieve itself before being bundled back in the car. I do a dog poop walk every Sunday morning picking waste up from the paths, the accessible woodlands and the nearby heather and grass panels. The typical weekly count is around 10-15 but my record is 24 ‘deposits’. Luckily, I also come across animal waste that I am very happy to see.


The photos show examples of dog muck and badger droppings. Can you tell which is which? Smell is the quickest way to distinguish them! Dog stools have a pretty rank smell while badger ones are slightly sweet and musty. They are often dark green but the consistency and colour depends on what the most recent diet has been. If you poke a stick into a reasonably fresh one and sniff the stick you will be pleasantly surprised … or repulsed if it was a dog one! Fox ones have that characteristic foxy smell and often look like a small coil with a tapered and curved end. I am pleased to say that the Reserve paths show quite a lot of recent badger activity. At least one comes through my back hedge, goes round by my wildlife mini-pond on the patio where it is sometimes videoed by my trail camera then goes down across the road into the Reserve.

We have recently had a little bit of storm damage as often happens in the autumn gales. Strong winds from the south caught many trees still in full leaf from an unusual direction. Fortunately all is now quiet again as the following ‘calm after the storm’ photo at Cleaver shows.

Calm after the storm

Alan Irving, October 2017

Saturday 14 October 2017

Wild About Gardens Week: 23rd - 29th October

Wild About Gardens

Wild About Gardens is a joint initiative by the RHS and the Wildlife Trusts, and this year it's all about wild bees!

Gardening for wildlife is more important than ever, with researchers finding that 60% of UK species have declined in the past 50 years. One of the reasons for this is loss of habitat - it's why our little garden refuges are so important.

This year we want to draw attention to the plight of the wide range of solitary and bumblebees that need our help. It’s no secret that many pollinators are facing threats. Insensitive land use, a reduction in plant species diversity and the use of insecticides have all been linked to declining bee numbers. But you can help...

You can download your wild bee action pack to discover all the ways you can look after our wild bees.

How can you get involved?

1.   Find out what small changes you can make in your garden or outdoor area: grow nectar rich plants, leave a log pile, build a pond - it's really that simple. Use #wildaboutgardens to spread the word.

2.   If you have a wildlife-friendly garden, you will qualify for one of our Wildlife Friendly Gardening Awards.

3.   Bee Creative and show how your garden is helping bees, by entering our photo competition before 23rd October.

4.   Register to open your garden next summer for Cheshire Wildlife Trust, to showcase the amazing wild area you've created. This year a fantastic total of £2,045 was raised by open garden events. 31st June and 1st July will be our Open Gardens weekend. If you'd like to find out more, please contact Jo Darlington.