Friday 25 August 2017

Environment Agency: Working Hard, Eating Hard

The Environment Agency encourages its employees to devote two days a year to community and environmental projects. I am a Waste Regulatory Officer. My usual day job involves responding to incidents, inspecting a wide variety of sites from recycling sites, landfills and household waste transfer stations, investigating illegal waste sites etc. So it was a pleasant contrast to take a day away from regulating to help the environment in a different context: conservation.

Our group consisted of other Merseyside Waste Regulatory Officers, Land and Water Officers who investigate and prevent pollution incidents and Enforcement Officers involved in the tackling of waste crime and enforcement.

Photo: Steve Lyus

At New Ferry  Butterfly Park we split into  three groups; felling an Elm tree to prevent the spread of Dutch Elm disease, removing young sycamores to make way for planned new bee hives, using Austrian scythes to tackle brambles and clearing patches of ground to re-expose the railway track in order to create space for wild flowers.

It wasn't all work either. After we had stuffed ourselves with cooking from our BBQ, cake and homemade brownies, Hilary took us on a tour and shared with us the fascinating history of the site and her specialist botanical knowledge. We also did some pond dipping.

Photo : Paul Loughnane

We enjoyed making a contribution to protecting vulnerable species of plants and butterflies. One of the officers commented to me, "I thought the commitment and enthusiasm from the volunteers was lovely and inspiring, they had worked so hard and dedicated many years to produce such a great resource for local schools and the community". We all learned new skills and had new experiences (for some, it was their first time on a compost loo) and the weather was kind to us.

I would heartily recommend other groups to come and help out.

Thanks to Paul, Hilary, Steve (x2) and Howard

Debbie McCall
Environment Officer (GMMC) Merseyside EPR Waste

Debbie with her prize elm cutting

Thursday 17 August 2017

New Ferry Butterfly Park Is Flying The Flag

Our reserve, New Ferry Butterfly Park, has been recognised by the Green Flag Award Scheme as one of the very best in the world. 

The Park is among a record-breaking 1,797 UK parks and green spaces that have received a prestigious Green Flag Award – the mark of a quality park or green space.

This international award, now into its third decade, is a sign to the public that the space boasts the highest possible environmental standards.

Paul Loughnane, Secretary, said: “We are absolutely delighted to again receive a Green Flag Award. We know how much quality green spaces matter to residents and visitors, and this award celebrates the dedication of our volunteers who maintain New Ferry Butterfly Park to such a high standard’’. International Green Flag Award scheme manager Paul Todd said: “We are delighted to be celebrating another record-breaking year for the Green Flag Award scheme. Each flag is a celebration of the thousands of staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to maintain the high standards demanded by the Green Flag Award. The success of the scheme, especially in these challenging times, demonstrates just how much parks matter to people.”

The Green Flag was raised on Sunday August 13th by Mary Worrall, Senior Manager, Parks and Countryside, Wirral Borough Council.

Afterwards everyone enjoyed the barbecue.

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Late Summer at Cleaver Heath

The sights and sounds of summer

Now that summer is coming to an end, I am already missing the melodious background sounds of bird-song on the reserve. There are compensations however, both aural and visual. The heather is coming into its purple prime and, when the sun shines, the hum of insects around the heather and other shrubs grabs your attention. We are also now enjoying the wonderful scent of heather. Numbers of butterflies have built up – 18 species along the full length of our transect. Within the reserve itself, we were pleased to spot some small but very attractive visitors: small skipper, small copper and holly blue. 

Small skipper

Small copper

Holly blue

You can tell that this Holly Blue is a female because the upper side of the wing has some broad dark edge bands. We know it is not a common blue because the underside is light blue with spots rather than the brownish pattern of the common.

In July, we had lots of stunning Cinnabar Moth larvae on the Ragwort in our ‘ex-carpark’ which is now managed (successfully?) for insects. These striped larvae have by now turned into very stylish red and black moths. 

The natural hedge featured in the last (Early Summer) update is now sporting some good looking Blackthorn sloes!

Common Bird Census Update

The earlymorning bird census described in the last update ran from 2 April to 19 June. As described last time, the output for each species is a map showing where they were observed. I have now completed one for the Willow Warbler which shows clusters of activity on 3 or 4 territories.

The letters A,B,…..K indicate the 10 weekly observations. The circles round each letter denote a male singing. The singing is typically from the upper braches of a tree (the blank areas on the map) while the nesting typically takes place in low dense scrub (hatched areas). 

Willow warbler

I heard a Willow Warbler still singing in the last week of July in the well populated area at the top left of the map! They have now gone silent but I was still hearing a few contact calls from Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler in the first two weeks of August.  Now the ‘dead birch’ song post where warblers queued to sing is less heavily used.

Song post , heather and birch

Below the song post one can see lovely heather and a timely reminder of the threat posed by pioneering birch saplings of the kind we will be waging war on in the winter work parties (more on this below).  I had a recent welcome sighting in this area of two pairs of Linnets.


The Linnets featured from time to time in my bird census. There was no evidence of breeding this year but we can be hopeful. They make a great sight and sound.

Other signs of the coming autumn are provided by all the Fungi popping up in the grassy and woodland areas.

Fly agaric

This dangerous looking Fungus is one that even I can identify – Fly Agaric. Some young children on a hunt last week reckoned they counted 7 different species. I must ask them to help me identify them. 

Many fungi are obviously providing a welcome food source for the reserve’s wildlife. This one might be a Meadow Waxcap?

Meadow waxcap?

Conservation work goes on

There is always something needing to be done, even on a small reserve like Cleaver Heath. Over July, the bracken growth was reaching its peak. Where it is shaded (the woodland fringe) it is naturally controlled. On the previously sprayed areas near heather it is gratifyingly stunted.

 Bracken re-growth in the area which had been stripped over the winter

However, the pictures show spectacular summer growth after 12 person-days of volunteer effort last winter were used to remove the previous bracken litter - the accumulation of dead bracken over the last several years. 

 Bracken re-growth in the area which had been stripped over the winter

Follow-up work is always required when trying to regenerate heathland. So, we have now had an experienced contractor conduct bracken spraying (with Asulox) over the entire reserve. We will be back to remove the dead bracken again this winter. Normally the bracken rhizomes get the message after a 2 or 3-year cycle.

The first order of priority when the monthly winter work groups start again, will be to get among the heather (gingerly of course) and start removing birch saplings previously missed, such as the one in the ‘song post’ picture featured earlier.   

There is clearly a lot waiting for us as you see from this recent photo of the main path along the top part of the reserve.

Main path

There are various reasons for attacking the birch in the autumn. An obvious one is that you can still actually see the little birch saplings. You can then pull them out by hand, or use more serious methods if that fails. The more serious methods include cutting and, where possible, stump-treating them with a herbicide. In autumn, the sap has stopped rising but many trees then absorb other chemicals (their own natural ones) back down into the root systems. One can make use of this behaviour to ensure the stump treatment is more effective. 

After treatment of birch root system

This picture shows effective treatment of birch root system which had regrown multiple times after cutting with loppers. It finally succumbed when recut and immediately painted with herbicide 2 years ago. The heather, previously shaded, is now starting to grow back around it. This area is part of what we call the ‘lower reserve’ which like the publically accessible part has a heathland mosaic of heather and Western gorse along with many mosses, grasses and stands of European gorse which we coppice from time to time.

We try to disturb this area as little as possible, so as to encourage as much wildlife as possible to make a home there. You can see from the bird census results for the Willow Warbler (above) that they do indeed make use of it.  I am looking forward to the winter work programme and will report on our activities in due course.

Alan Irving, August 2017