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.

Sunday 8 October 2017

Moths at the Butterfly Park

Brimstone Moth

On the night of 9th to 10th of September a moth trap was set up in New Ferry Butterfly Park to see what species could be found.

A Skinner trap was used with a 15W actinic bulb which was run from an inverter connected to a marine leisure battery, which proved to be more than suffcient to run the trap from sunset (around 8:30pm) to sunrise (at around 6:30am).

No rain was forecast for the night but for safety, the battery and inverter were housed in the Imago Hut and the trap placed on the track between the railway fence and the lime meadow.

Setaceous Hebrew character
Setaceous Hebrew Character

The night was mild, with slight cloud cover (partially obscuring the moon which helps with trapping) and with low winds.

The trap was checked at first light: some moths alight on the outside of the trap and are vulnerable to predation by birds.

The trap was quite full upon first inspection and there turned out to be ten species of moth in total. I addition, there were craneflies, caddis flies and a house spider!

Canary shouldered thorn 
Canary shouldered thorn

By far the most abundant moth was the large yellow underwing of which there were twenty in the trap. This is a very common moth and is often captured in large numbers in traps throughout the summer. There were also copper underwings (six in total), two each of setaceous Hebrew character, garden carpet and square spot rustic. There were single specimens of old lady, brimstone moth, canary shouldered thorn and common marbled carpet. A total of thirty seven moths were captured. All moths were identifed in situ using Waring and Townsend's 'Field Guild to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland' and were released alive in vegetation in the Butterfly Park.

It is hoped that trapping will be undertaken more frequently in 2018 to achive a full season of data.

Saturday 7 October 2017

Rare Sight at Red Rocks

Look out for this spectacular bug! This is a bush cricket, photographed at our Red Rocks nature reserve by Jenny Usher last week. It is a female - the fearsome "sword" at its back end is its ovipositor, which it uses to insert eggs into plant stems. Bush crickets are common in southern England but have been rare as far north as this. But one turned up in a Bromborough garden last week as well, so keep your eyes open - they may be increasing round here.

Point of Light Award for Hilary

The Prime Minister has recognised Dr Hilary Ash, Wirral Wildlife Conservation Officer, for her role in founding New Ferry Butterfly Park  Also Hilary has volunteered her botany expertise for 30 years through the ‘Cheshire Wildlife Trust’, aiding other conservation work across the Wirral and supporting research investigating plant growth on industrial waste sites.

Hilary is the latest recipient of the Points of Light award which recognises outstanding volunteers who are making a change in their community and inspiring others. Each day, someone, somewhere in the country is selected to receive the award to celebrate their remarkable achievements.

In a personal letter to Hilary, Prime Minister Theresa May said:
“In founding the ‘New Ferry Butterfly Park’, you have created an area of beauty and biodiversity that is benefitting your local community. You should be proud of all you have achieved in your decades of volunteering, and particularly how you have attracted not only 50,000 visitors but supported nearly 400 species.”

Charlotte Harris, Chief Executive Officer at Cheshire Wildlife Trust said: “We were thrilled to hear that Hilary had won today’s Points of Light Award. Volunteers are the live-blood of our organisation – helping us to achieve so much to protect and promote wildlife in Cheshire. Hilary has been instrumental to the success of New Ferry Butterfly Park. Her passion for wildlife and her achievements as part of our local group, Wirral Wildlife, make her a well-deserved winner!”
Hilary said: "I am very surprised to be given this national award. Most of my voluntary work is in Wirral, where I help run a nature reserve, ‘New Ferry Butterfly Park’, and do nature conservation advice and outreach on behalf of ‘Cheshire Wildlife Trust.’ But it is all done together with other people, as it takes lots of volunteers to help nature to thrive and encourage people to enjoy it. So thank you on behalf of us all.”

Hilary is the 791st winner of the Points of Light award, which has been developed in partnership with the hugely successful Points of Light programme in the USA. Over 5,000 Points of Light have been awarded in the USA, and both President George H. W. Bush and President Barack Obama have publicly supported the partnership with Points of Light UK. There is a similar cross-party approach to the UK programme and MPs from different parties often present their constituents with their Points of Light awards.