Monday 15 January 2018

Winter at Cleaver Heath

Winter arrives

Winter in all its forms has visited Cleaver – gales, downpours, fogs, sharp frosts, hail and yes, real snow just before Christmas.

Winter at Cleaver Heath

The number of regular visitors to the reserve has kept up. On the clear days, the views have been spectacular and enjoyed by those lucky enough to know about the Reserve. Even when the weather is dodgy the doggies still need to be walked so a constant footfall and ‘pawfall ‘ has been maintained. This means that the main path has suffered as it becomes increasingly waterlogged and muddy. This makes our plan to protect it with suitable stone a high priority - more on this below.

Monthly work parties

Birch control (yes, birch not birth) on the heathland panels has been a high priority.

Volunteers cutting birch

As promised in the Autumn Newsletter, we have continued to apply immediate herbicide stump treatment whenever birch or European gorse is cut in an unwanted area. Occasionally, and where possible, we have used the Tree Popper technique to pull the whole (single stem) sapling out together with its root system. This latter method guarantees no regrowth. We will find out next year how successful the herbicide (glyphosate) treatment is. The photograph shows (the bottoms at least of) experienced volunteers carrying out the delicate task of cutting birch and gorse otherwise threatening to crowd out the heather. No machine has yet been invented which can carry out this task.

The volunteers have also had the chance to do other work. In the January session we installed 10 ‘Woodcrete’ nest boxes.

Nest boxes

Opening the boxes can be quite fiddly. The temperature was 2 degrees and the fingers were not cooperating. The net result was very satisfying however. We took some care over the sighting, height and orientation. We took GPS coordinates so we can find them all again! Actually they are positioned so they are not too obvious from the paths but can be checked easily if you know where to look.

We had also obtained a Tawny Owl box from the Cheshire Wildlife Natural Futures grant. We put this up some time ago as these birds start to locate nesting sites quite early. We had been hearing them calling in November.

Tawny Owl nest boxes

Recent sightings

The resident woodland birds such as Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, Bullfinches, Dunnocks, Blackbirds and so on have been busy surviving what winter has thrown at them. Being in a semi-rural residential area, these birds take advantage of garden feeders. Even ‘summer’ warblers such as Blackcap hang around these days in the UK because of garden feeding. Apparently, many of these winter visitors were bred in southern Germany. More traditional winter visitors from the north have been through the reserve. Fieldfare and Redwing have been quite common in the Oldfield Farm fields and trees.


The sun in this picture has helpfully picked out the red wing on the Red Wing as well as the yellow eye stripe. There have been many skeins of Pink-footed Geese passing over the reserve on their way to and from the Dee Estuary marshes. What a melodious sound. I much prefer it to the cackle of Greylag geese and the two-tone horn of Canada Geese. This January I was excited to spot a ‘new species’ for the reserve – a pair of Common Snipe. These are indeed very common down on the estuary but brought my Cleaver Heath Species list from 44 to 45. It was high tide on the Dee and a fierce gale blowing, so presumably they were finding refuge in the heather and grassy area. I have recently inadvertently flushed a Woodcock in the lower reserve next to the woodland fringe. These look a bit like Snipe in general shape with long bills. Looking for mammals, I recently left out a camera trap which has picked up only night-time foxes.

While cutting and treating regrowth on heathland path edging we came across, and left, this Oak multi-stem system sporting a huge number of Oak Galls. These result from Gall Wasp larvae deposited on the Oak.

Oak galls

Soil sampling
The Lead Adviser for Natural England North West has followed her Autumn Visit with another to take soil samples so she could give us options on further heathland regeneration in the reserve.

Soil sampling

These pictures show core samples from the woodland edge of the lower reserve (left) and, for reference, from the upper heather panel (right). Note how shallow the soil is on the protected heather panel and how much deeper it is on the lower sample where the vegetation has accumulated over the years following scrub and then woodland development. However, you can still see the same structure in each with the bottom of the sample showing the same (grey) mineral soil topped with (brown) enriched soil. The chemical analysis of the samples shows that the right acidity and other chemical attributes are all still there throughout the reserve allowing us to contemplate further heathland regeneration.

There has been both good news and bad news over the last few months. You want the bad news first?

Garden waste dumping

There have a couple of minor incidents of garden waste dumping by residents. In one case I was able to ‘have a word’ with the Oldfield Road resident who had been caught red-handed by another local resident. In December we had a much more serious dumping incident where a neighbour had paid a considerable amount of cash to a tree services company based in the Chester area. This was to deal with heavily overgrown scrub and small trees in his garden on Oldfield Road. The company drove off having dumped what looks like the entire lot of cuttings across the road in the reserve. The Natural England Enforcement Officer is leading the follow-up this up. We have all the contact details and evidence.

Good news

Cheshire Wildlife Trust has been successful in wining first prize (£4000) in the September/October Bags of Help scheme run by Tesco. So, many thanks to all you Tesco Shoppers for putting your blue tokens in the correct bin! The Heswall main store showed us having an impressive lead over the competition. We had bid for funds to improve the signage/interpretation, and access (including the Northern ‘bent railing’ one), and special stone to stabilise the main path through the heather. This gets very wet and tempts the casual visitor to take to the heather and grass so as to avoid the mud.

Alan Irving, January 2018

Sunday 14 January 2018

Student Societies Go Wild at Butterfly Park

Chester Wild Society's first visit to the Butterfly Park. Photo: Hilary Ash

New Ferry Butterfly Park has been supported over the winter months by input from two student groups. Liverpool John Moores University Conservation Society, who have helped several times, and a new group for the Park, Chester Wild Society. It really is a boost to the number of volunteers on our work days, with the October work day having an impressive 24 volunteers. Much can be achieved with these numbers and many more jobs can be tackled.

The student parties got involved in a variety of activities new to them, including scything, coppicing and hedge laying, being taught and safety supervised by our experienced volunteers. All are well catered for with hot drinks, homemade cakes and a communal lunch time BBQ. Yes, winter BBQs are big a hit with hungry students! It is amazing how many burgers they can pack away.

Hilary Ash often delivers an after-lunch tour, giving an overall view of the park and revealing some of the Park’s biodiversity. During winter months, when the students come, much of our wildlife is in hibernation, so the richness of our habitats is not obvious.

Liverpool John Moores Conservation Society. Photo: Paul Heaps

“Chester Wild had a wonderful day at the butterfly park. We all learnt something new and were taught the skills by friendly welcoming people. The BBQ was great and Hilary's tour of the Park was very enlightening. We will definitely be back!” enthused Keeley Mc Cabe, Vice President of Chester Wild Society.

“I have learnt loads of new valuable skills in conservation from going to the Butterfly Park, and I always feel like I'm making a positive impact. Everyone is so welcoming and they always keep you well fed with lovely homemade cakes and cups of tea! It is always a great day, and I am already looking forward to my next visit!” added Ella Woodcock Vice President of Liverpool John Moores University Conservation Society.

We are delighted that these groups have got involved, as they give a boost to our intensive efforts to create a superb habitat for butterflies and other invertebrates. The Butterfly Park site being next to Bebington Station makes it easy for students to come along by train. We are always pleased to see them whether it is a big group or just a few.