Monday 10 December 2018

Renewing Hedgerows and Renewing the Hedge Layers

Hedge laying en masse. Photo: Paul Loughnane

The Wirral Society, who preserve Wirral’s natural and built environment, celebrated their 90th birthday by sponsoring a hedge laying training day organised by Wirral Countryside Volunteers. The Wirral Society sponsored the purchasing of ten samurai pruning saws and nine wild pear trees to be planted into the hedgerow to form hedgerow trees of the future and to celebrate the nine decades of the society.

Young hedge layers. Photo: Paul Loughnane

It was a great event with 58 participants, 40 of whom were new to hedge laying. An impressive 150 metres of hedge were laid along Woodchurch Road between Arrowe Park and the M53. This is most the volunteers have ever laid in a single day. More importantly there were 24 youngsters involved. They will each receive a young hedge layer award of £25 for taking part in the event. Wirral Countryside Volunteers' Secretary Paul Loughnane enthused, “Hedge layers need renewing as well as the hedgerows. It is great to see so many youngsters getting actively involved. Laid hedges are good for wildlife as they retain some of their flowers which provide nectar and pollen sources for insects and winter berries for birds. Flailed hedges have most of the flower buds on the second year's growth removed.’’

Hedge cleaned out for hedge laying. Photo: Paul Loughnane

“Thanks to the teachers of Woodchurch High who encouraged the pupils to come along on a Sunday. We were supported by Arnold Plumley of Cheshire Ploughing and Hedge cutting Society who demonstrated the local Cheshire style and by the National Hedge Laying Society who run the young hedge layer award scheme which is sponsored by HRH the Prince of Wales. It was a great collective effort.”

The Volunteers provided tea and homemade cake and soup for the participants. Paul added, “I was very much surprised and delighted by the large turnout of youngsters, perhaps it was because hedge laying was featured on the BBC's Countryfile programme the week before or that the hedge is on the edge of the Woodchurch Estate where many of them live or an inspirational ‘eco’ teacher."

Hedge layers lunch. Photo: Paul Loughnane

Miles Duncan, the farmer from Home Farm Landican said, “The volunteers have done a truly fantastic job - their fine work will be seen for many years. Landican is at the geographical centre of the Wirral, and it’s farming for all to see, as the farms are bounded by motorway and busy roads and visible from most of Prenton. Thank you!”

Robin Dutfield, a member of staff from of Woodchurch High, declared that, “the pupils really enjoyed the event and the fact that they were so whacked out at the end of the day meant some learned what hard work is all about!”

Finished hedge. Photo: Paul Loughnane

Rodd Tann, Chair of The Wirral Society stated, "It was wonderful for the Wirral Society to celebrate its 90th birthday with practical protection of Wirral's natural environment. Wirral’s hedgerow stock is gradually declining through poor management. This freshly laid hedge will resprout from the base and will form an impenetrable boundary to livestock, a wonderful wildlife habitat and a great landscape feature.”

Sunday 9 December 2018

A Poem penned by Ruth Dann

Paul remembered that Ruth once wrote a poem about her fellow committee members. Thanks to his good memory and efficient filing system we can share it with you.

Wirral Wildlife Committee 2006

We are glad to have Stephen as chair
He takes all our meetings with care
There may be some levity
And we are not known for brevity
But his judgements are measured and fair.

Our industrious secretary, Jim
Sets out on his bike neat and trim
With scarcely a quiver
Our news to deliver
He loyally risks life and limb.

John’s balance sheet’s always a treat
The figures so clear and so neat
He’ll pass on a nod
Bills from ‘Mother of God’
For he knows she won’t give a receipt.

A protector of barn owls is Mike
Now that is a bird we all like
He carries large poles
With large nesting holes
It’s lucky he’s not on his bike.

Keith plans our event. We’re aware
That it’s not such an easy affair
Wind farms, ponds, voles
And midsummer strolls
I just wish that more people were there.

Linda’s ideas for Watch Group are great
There’s no end to the things they create
Bird boxes, moth hats
And most life-like bats
Far nicer than what’s in the Tate.

For Paul there’s no task that’s too hard
Scything, laying hedges by the yard
He clears ponds and ditches
Without any hitches
And as far as we know still unscarred.

Our botanist Hilary Ash
Identifies plants with a dash
She knows every weed
By the shape of its seed
And its Latin name too – in a flash!

At outdoor events Frank is found
With his Frog Dip spread out on the ground
And the children all come
To inspect each frog’s tum
For they know glorious prizes abound!

Now Lesley’s main interest is Brock
She’s on duty call all round the clock
For a badger R.Cs
Not religious – but he’s
Just suffered a fatal road shock.

With Barbara as Wirral stock buyer
Our profits have never been higher
Owls pressed in the front
Hoot - and Guinea pigs grunt
While woodpecker jerks down his wire.

So let’s raise our glasses and cheer
For the hardworking folk gathered here
Though we’re sometimes hard pressed
We all do our best
So Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

We really felt that we should (belatedly) attach a verse about Ruth. Our efforts are not as good as hers!

Ruth wrote this poem so clear
When 2006 was the year.
She raised lots of funds, 
Provided coffee and buns
And always dispensed lots of cheer.


Our hostess for this hard-working committee
Was Ruth, who composed this short ditty.
She welcomed us in
Her wry comments made us grin
But she’s gone now, more is the pity.


Ruth our committee meeting host for over 25 years
Was carefully listened to and esteemed by her peers
The countless stalls she ran, the money she raised
She certainly deserved much more praise
So here’s to our cheery, most cherished volunteer
She certainly made a big difference here!

Paul and Phillipa

Modest as ever Ruth left herself out
And just praised the others who met at her house.
But we beg to differ and, praise where it's due,
When it came to fundraising, she knew what to do.
But now that she’s gone, we have memories galore
Of a head, heart and mind with wildlife at its core.

Linda and Barbara

Saturday 1 December 2018

A Tribute to Ruth Dann, 1928 - 2018

Ruth and committee members

Ruth (centre) with other members of Wirral Wildlife committee, 2010

Ruth Dann was a Primary School Teacher before her marriage to Bernard in 1952.  She joined the Wirral Group of Cheshire Wildlife Trust soon after they moved to Caldy in 1971.

Her love of nature began when she was a girl and she subsequently studied biology at college. Ruth very soon became part of the fundraising committee and subsequently its Chairman. She was elected to the main committee in 1986 and was in charge of fundraising for Wirral Wildlife from then until she retired in 2010. She co-ordinated a small team of volunteers who staffed the stalls at charity fairs, talks and events, heaving the boxes of sales goods in and out of venues. Ruth's work raised about £2000 a year for the Trust. This went towards protecting the wildlife and habitats of the Wirral. The stall's presence at events also acted as publicity for Cheshire Wildlife Trust. Ruth was backed up in all this by her husband, Bernard, who acted as chauffeur, porter and money-checker.

Heswall Charities Fair

Heswall Charities Fair

In 1985 when the committee needed a room for its regular 6-weekly meetings, she generously offered her dining room with its large table. It was invaluable for committee meetings and was also used for the task of inserting newsletters into their envelopes prior to distribution. (An activity known as ‘stuffing’). The committee was very grateful for her hospitality, large table - and the occasional entertainment, as when the fox trotted across the lawn to pick up its supper, left conveniently within sight of the window.

Although she modestly claims it was for selfish reasons that she offered her room (she did not drive and would have needed lifts to meetings), she and her husband Bernard also opened their beautiful home and garden for fundraising purposes. Thus each spring for many years Wirral Wildlife was able to hold a very profitable plant sale, followed by an equally enjoyable fund raising/social event each November.

Elaine (left) and Ruth (right) at Christmas fundraising

Elaine (left) and Ruth (right) at Christmas fundraising

Ruth had a very wide circle of friends, some of whom she recruited to membership of Cheshire Wildlife Trust. Even those who did not join were gently encouraged to attend fundraising events or make donations. This policy was followed at her regular summer croquet parties. Unfortunately the lawn wasn’t quite croquet standard because it had clover in it and buttercups. As Ruth herself said ‘It wasn’t the best croquet lawn but it was nice for wildlife and the bees loved the clover. So it had to be an extra hazard you see. They didn’t seem to object and they put a donation in the hall as they left for the pleasure of knocking a ball around the lawn’.

Ruth was given the Eric Thurston award in 2009 in recognition of her efforts on behalf of Cheshire Wildlife Trust.

Ruth being presented with the Eric Thurston award

Ruth being presented with the Eric Thurston award

Since she retired from the committee a highlight for her were the visits from retired and current committee members. Unable to take an active role any longer she was still up to date with everything happening on our reserves and would quiz us about this when we visited. She celebrated her 90th birthday this year and we were able to present her with a miniature version of the crystal Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service that the group gained last year.

Ruth with her Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service

Ruth with her Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service

Cheshire Wildlife Trust presented her with a special certificate and interviewed her for the Grebe magazine.

Cheshire Wildlife Trust certificate

After talking about why she got involved in volunteering with the group and the wildlife and places she liked they asked her about her pet hates.

This is a transcription from the tape.

Oh I’ve got a few pet hates. Bernard my husband always said “you’re very selective about what you want to conserve you know’’. Magpies I’m not very fond of. Oh and the sparrow hawk. I had a horrible sparrow hawk who used to take the goldfinches as they left the bird feeders. You know he’d sit up in the tree and then “waaaam” he’d take a goldfinch. And I didn’t like that. I didn’t want to feed sparrow hawks on goldfinches.

Cats I don’t like for obvious reasons.

The grey squirrel! Worst of all. Oh gosh! I fought a battle for years against the grey squirrel! But they’ve got more patience than I have. That’s the thing. I bought all sorts of devices to deter it from the bird table. Because he used to get up on the bird table and feast away. I’m not buying seed to feed a squirrel - good gracious! Interloper!

We fixed up various things. I had a water pistol. I used to creep out and fire off the water pistol. Of course the squirrel was the other end of the garden by that time. So that wasn’t any good. And then I had the bright idea of putting a hosepipe on the bird table, with a brick to hold it down. And then when he was there we used to turn the tap on. And the squirrel would get a jet of water on it. But that didn’t work because when the squirrel felt the vibrations of the water coming through the hose it leapt off the table. So all that happened was the hosepipe blew all the seed off! I gave up after that.

They’re a bit of a nuisance but still you’ve got to put up with these things.

We will miss her forthright common sense, enthusiasm, sense of humour and her small figure bustling around the sales table. She has made a lasting contribution to wildlife in Wirral and will long be remembered fondly by all who met her.

Here are some tributes from fellow committee members.

Ruth and her home were such a part of so many events - committee meetings, stuffing meetings, garden events and all her fundraising events. She was always cheerful and positive, interested in everything and everyone, and a kinder, more interesting person it would be hard to find. We will all have affectionate memories about her.


We have lost a great Wirral Wildlife stalwart and friend. I would say I got to know Ruth more when she retired from the committee and Philippa & I would go to visit her.  She was always interested in the group and asked for special permission to be sent the minutes which she literally went over with a magnifying glass.  Ruth was always a delight to see, always in good spirits and so positive about everything and never mentioned her declining heath.  She considered her Wirral Wildlife friends as best friends.

Paul & Philippa

I first met Ruth in the mid-eighties when Christine and I joined the Heswall & West Kirby Folk Dance Group.  She was an ever-present dancer, and she and Bernard used to host our annual barbecue dance in her garden.

It was seeing her at a dance evening wearing a Wirral Wildlife jumper that first brought WW to my attention, and that was when I joined.  It wasn’t many months before she persuaded me to take on the role of treasurer when the post became vacant.

Ruth was the inspiration for the Wirral Wildlife annual wildlife quiz.  She and I have been the judges of the quiz ever since.  She helped me find (some of!) the mistakes I made in compiling the questions and she was always keen to go through all the entries with me and help me to decide on who was the winner.  I shall miss her contribution very much.


I have known Ruth for nearly 40 years and during that time she became a dear friend.

Once Wirral Wildlife began sourcing its own sales material I helped Ruth with ordering stock. She pored through sales catalogues selecting appropriate items and then would delight in demonstrating some of the more quirky items on the sales table. Squeezy frogs with extending tongues were a particular favourite, both with her and the children.

Latterly, as her mobility declined, she wanted me to tell her of the places and wildlife I had seen since my last visit: “And what has caused your eye to light up this week?” (a quote from Norman Ellison, ‘Nomad’). Her knowledge and love of wildlife was extensive which coupled with a phenomenal memory which never deserted her, made for many interesting conversations.


Since Ruth retired from the committee I visited her regularly to keep her up to date with happenings in Wirral Wildlife, Cheshire Wildlife Trust and the reserves. As her eyesight and mobility deteriorated I never once heard her complain. She listened to Radio 4 so her conversation was always topical and she often had wildlife questions, being pleased when we could often get immediate answers from my smartphone. Her main regret was that she could no longer walk around her garden and see the birds and butterflies there. I will miss those visits to her.


Thursday 29 November 2018

Speak Up For Wildlife

Cheshire Wildlife Trust's latest newsletter...

Barn Owl

I need your help

My home is under threat and there are fewer places to find food every day. And I’m not alone: thousands of birds, insects and other animals across England are finding it harder and harder to survive. Plants and trees are under pressure too.

The Wildlife Trusts and friends have convinced Westminster Government of the need for a new law – an Environment Act - to improve protection for our country’s wildlife. But not all politicians are convinced and to make sure the law not only protects wildlife like me but helps us to recover, we need everyone on board.

Now is the moment

MPs will be voting on this soon, so we need them to support a strong Environment Act, because a country with more wildlife is better for me – and better for you too!

Earlier this month, Cheshire Wildlife Trust went to Westminster to speak up for wildlife on behalf of their 13,000 members.

Cheshire Wildlife Trust's Katie Greenwood and Charlotte Harris at Westminster.

Pictured above: Cheshire Wildlife Trust's Katie Greenwood and Charlotte Harris at Westminster.

I don't have an MP - but you do

Wildlife Trusts all around the country are calling on you! Please arrange a meeting with your MP and help us talk to every single one by Christmas.

By talking to your MP you can help them to understand the part they have to play in stopping the loss of wildlife and bringing about more nature in people’s lives. Please ask your MP to support a strong Environment Act and to promote this to others in their party.


Critically, we need the Environment Act to give us:

Nature Targets: legal targets for nature's recovery that politicians must ultimately achieve and regularly report on progress towards e.g. safer air to breathe in our cities

A Nature Recovery Network: a joined-up network of habitats that provide enough space for wildlife to recover and for people to thrive.

A Nature Watchdog: an independent body to help people challenge bad decisions made by Government and councils, which have a negative impact on wildlife and our natural environment.


1. Improve our access to nature, especially in towns and cities

2. Create new wild areas and wildlife corridors across the county

3. Keep our existing wildlife sites safe from harm

4. Protect our best wildlife habitats under the sea

5. Stop our soils washing away into rivers and the sea

6. Improve air quality

7. Stop poisoning our rivers and streams with chemicals

8. Reduce emissions that are contributing to climate change

9. Protect our rights to a healthy natural environment

10. Avoid the loss of environmental protection laws after Brexit.

Saturday 17 November 2018

Starling Murmurations

A great article from the Cheshire Wildlife Trust e-newsletter…

Starling Murmuration

At this time of year, large numbers of starlings visit Britain from the continent, seeking out the relative warmth of our island climate. They reward our hospitality with a wonderful aerial ‘ballet’ called a murmuration.

Young Starling

After spending the day finding food, as dusk arrives starlings set off for their communal roost in one of the most staggering natural spectacles of all. Flocks arrive from all directions, gathering in the skies above their roost sites. As the numbers reach into thousands (sometimes millions), the murmurations take on incredible shapes in the sky, contracting and expanding as one flock merges into another. They take on a life of their own, swirling back and forth in ever more complex and beautiful patterns. These flocks are targeted by predators such as peregrine falcons, so it is thought starlings perform as one great murmuration to have safety in numbers.

As the numbers reach their peak and the last of the light fades, the birds suddenly decide the time is right, as if by a secret signal. They funnel down into their roosting site in one last whoosh of wings, and the show’s over. It’s bed time.

Adult Starling
Length: 22cm
Wingspan: 40cm
Weight: 78g
Average lifespan: 5 years
The starling is a familiar sight in our farmland, parkland, gardens and towns. Sociable birds, they spend a lot of their time in large flocks. They make untidy nests in holes in trees or in buildings, in which the female lays five to seven eggs. Both parents raise the chicks.

Conservation status 
Classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

How to identify
Adult starlings are a beautiful, oily black colour, with a purple and green sheen. In the winter, they are covered in tiny beige spots. Young starlings are dark grey-brown.

When to see
November – January

Over to you...

We’re lucky enough to be enjoying a sizable ‘ballet’ every afternoon at our Bickley Hall Farm headquarters. Take a look at one we recorded a few days ago on our Facebook page. These ‘dances’ can be seen in the coming months all across Cheshire at places like Marbury, Delamere and Rosthern.

We at Cheshire Wildlife Trust hope to support the 'dance' to continue and grow by managing nature reserves such as Marbury Reedbed and Bickley Hall Farm.
Be sure to catch this wonderful spectacle – why not join the dance?

Saturday 10 November 2018

Autumn 2018 at Cleaver Heath

Cleaver Heath Notice Board

Recent visitors to the reserve will have noticed our smart new signage made possible largely by the Tesco Bags of Help grant described in our summer newsletter. At the end of October, some of our expert staff from CWT: Sarah Bennet (Area Manager West), Kevin Feeney (Living Landscape Officer West and author of the original Tesco bid), Fiona Megarrell (Community Conservation Co-ordinator) and their volunteer helpers completed the installation of the major parts of the new signage and access improvements.

Putting up the Notice Board

This involved quite a bit of hard work – digging 1m down through layers of tarmac, builders’ rubble (the old hospital visitors’ car park), sandy soil and boulder clay. Then we manhandled the high quality, and very heavy, wooden sign and notice board into the carefully measured holes. The experts then positioned and stabilised it with millimetre precision using spirit levels - a work of art.

Northern Entrance at Cleaver Heath

The unofficial reserve entry from Oldfield Drive has now become official and rather smart. My memory of the old one goes back to the late 70s. Some enterprising resident (not me!) took it upon themselves to crowbar the railings apart to enable entry to the Cleaver Hospital site by those with a reasonably slim and flexible physique. Repeated attempts by authorities to straighten the railings were quickly undone. The new entry will give dog-walkers convenient access to the nearby litter bin and also help those who wish to incorporate the reserve paths into a linear walk. The main entrance gate has a fine quality routed wooden sign leaving no doubt that this is a Cheshire Wildlife Nature Reserve. To help orient visitors and encourage them in keeping to the main paths, there are some tasteful new way markers. When the finishing touches have been made, the Trust will be organising some appropriate publicity.

The winter work parties have now started – these are on the first Sunday of the month from 10.00. We are making good progress on the ‘bread and butter’ tasks of removing unwanted vegetation from the heathland panel. We have also removed a few more of the non-native saplings such as Sweet Chestnut and Sycamore.

Interpretation Board Map

As last year, we have been making good use of the tree poppers where possible and stump treatment of things we cut. There are, however, places where the best thing is to coppice i.e. cut but not treat. For example, we have an area of ‘managed scrub’ which you can see on the snapshot of our new interpretation board (above). We will also be carrying out more coppicing of European Gorse stands where we are happy to keep them provided they thicken out at the base rather get old and lanky. Gorse provides important shelter for some of our nesting birds. We think we had two pairs of breeding Linnets this year.

My overall conclusion from this year’s Common Bird Census survey at Cleaver is of a lower presence of summer warblers. I made 10 early morning visits to the reserve noting where the birds were visible or singing.

Bird Census Map

The number of Willow Warbler territories was certainly down this year. I had only sporadic sightings of Whitethroat this year – not enough to do any sort of territory analysis. The map above summarises sightings of Linnets and Willow Warblers. I also do some Breeding Bird Survey work for the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) and noticed a similarly poor turnout this year on my 1km square near Thornton Hough. I don’t know if this was due in part to our poor UK weather conditions in spring or to some other effects on the migration routes.

Fly Agaric

Many of us associate autumn not just with colourful tree leaves but also with fungi. The autumn colours we see in the UK are often due to non-native trees e.g. Maples. Since Cleaver is primarily a Lowland Heath habitat, with only a limited amount of native woodland, we don’t expect to have spectacular autumn colour displays. However, like others who have walked around the Cleaver paths from September onwards, I have instead been enjoying the displays of colourful fungi.

Fly Agaric

Most of us are familiar with Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria). When the fruits first emerge they have orange or red hemispherical caps which then flatten out as they grow. These are still showing along many of the woodland paths segments. I have also spotted examples of another member of the Amanita genus, commonly known as a species of Blusher (Amanita rubescens). This also has white spots, but on a less threatening grey background. The development of its cap follows a similar pattern.

Blusher (Amanita rubescens)

Blusher (Amanita rubescens)

There have been plenty of fine examples of False Chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca). The example below seems to have developed in four segments.

False Chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca)

I am told they are very sensitive to nearby plants. Even a blade of grass flapping against the cap edge can lead to permanent deformation. I am not sufficiently confident of identifying edible to test my judgements. However, this large toadstool shown below (next to a ballpoint pen for scale) has as one of its common names Penny Bun and is commonly eaten. In Tesco, it would be called a porcini and you would get charged more than a penny. It is Boletus edulis.

Penny Bun (Boletus edulis)

I had occasion to seek help from Trust staff when a mature birch, attacked by fungus at the base of the trunk, fell across one of our paths in an October gale. The trunk structure had been damaged by a Southern Bracket fungus (Ganoderma australe).

Southern Bracket fungus (Ganoderma australe)

The Aminita fungi shown above get their nourishment from the soil, particularly in rich woodland soil. Bracket fungi like this one get their food from trees and in so doing, turn the fibres into a mush. The layers on this bracket count the number of years it has lived. When the food runs out the underside turns white as shown below.

Southern Bracket fungus (Ganoderma australe)

The birch seen here then tipped over. We didn’t even need a chain saw to complete the job. My helpful Trust staff member Kevin, used his superior strength to push it all the way down into a safe place.

Not all fungi are harmful to plants. In fact, it is quite the reverse for many of them. I am looking forward to the November Wirral Wildlife talk which will be all about Symbiotic Mycorrhizal Fungi. Large classes of plants benefit from such fungi which facilitate the absorption of soil nutrients via their root systems. The plant gets minerals from the soil and the fungi get sugars and carbohydrates from the plant. Such fungi are also important in helping with plant to plant communication. Trees find out if there is some threat on the way. Fungi are not nearly as well understood as most other life forms. They are quite fascinating. Next time you walk in the reserve think about all the activity going on in the soil under your feet – all year round, not just in autumn.

Alan Irving
Volunteer Reserve Warden for CWT
Cleaver Heath

November 2018