Monday, 6 August 2018

Summer 2018 at Cleaver Heath

Volunteers laying down gritstone at Cleaver Heath

The Tesco 'Bags of Help' grant is now making an impact on site. This grant along with Natural Futures funding provides help with new signage, an interpretation board, a proper northern gateway and some approved gritstone to reinforce the vulnerable main path through the heather.

Last week, some kind CWT volunteers helped lay down the first load of gritstone. It turned out to be the hottest day of the year. However, this hard work should make a real difference, turning what can be a mud bath in winter (below left) into an attractive path (below right) which will encourage visitors to respect the fragile heathland all year round.

New path at Cleaver Heath (before and after)

The grant will also provide us with signage to identify the recommended route to maximise visitors’ enjoyment of the reserve and its stunning views. No wildlife or visitors were harmed during those activities although I almost ran over a Common Lizard with my wheelbarrow full of stone.

Summer has now really arrived. We have had a continuous sequence of flowering plants and shrubs - from the Oxeye Daisies, Red Campion and Ragwort in our ‘insect nursery’ (ex-carpark) to the Common Heather (Calluna) and Western Gorse out on the reserve. The Bell Heather (both plants!) bloomed defiantly in June and then lapsed back into obscurity. The Common Heather is now starting to turn from white to purple.

Holly blue butterfly

The small butterfly shown above is a male Holly Blue. This has a blue underwing with black spots. It was photographed during a brief rest period in the stoning! There were plenty of Common Blue butterflies on the wing as well. We were also surrounded by Swallows and House Martins which were feeding low over the heather showing just how productive the heathland is in summer.

Swallows in flight over Cleaver Heath

Swallows in flight are very hard to photograph for us amateurs, as the photograph above  demonstrates. What with humming bees, swarms of insects, fluttering butterflies and swooping swallows, the reserve seems very alive following several weeks of warm weather. The downside of course is that some of the vegetation is visibly starting to wilt.

Swollen-thighed Beetle on Red Campion and and Oxeye Daisy and Buff-tailed Bumble bee on Foxglove

A new beetle for me this summer has been the Swollen-thighed Beetle seen on both Red Campion (above left) and Oxeye Daisy above centre). The shiny green colouring is quite striking and the name perfectly describes it. The Buff-tailed Bumble bee on the Foxlove (above right) is of course more familiar. There have been spectacular displays of Foxgloves around the woodland path edges providing a popular source of nectar. Foxgloves like the disturbance associated with paths.

Blue Tit in nest box at Cleaver Heath

The nest boxes installed last winter - see the Winter Newsletter - seem to have been used. I had firm sightings of Blue Tits (above) and Great Tits using at least 6 of the 10 boxes. No sign of occupancy at the Tawny Owl box however.

Linnet and Song Thrush

This year’s Common Bird Census took place between 5th April and 11th June. The overall numbers were down on 2017 probably due to the poor weather in the early breeding season. The Linnets were here again this year (above left) – possibly 2 pairs? Both Mistle and Song Thrush (above right) bred. We had the usual warblers holding territory – Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Willow Warbler. I am not sure if the Willow Warblers actually bred. They seemed to disappear at the end of May but returned in late June. I even heard one singing in the last week of July!

Butterflies at Cleaver Heath

Butterfly sightings have picked up after a slow start – the Cleaver to Thurstaston survey numbers are now running at roughly double those to the same point in 2017: 800 up from 400. Top left is a rare (for me) photo of a male Orange Tip at rest. These were quickly replaced by the other small whites then Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper (top right) and other smaller things such as the Small and Large Skipper (bottom left) and the Blues. The Speckled Woods (bottom right) have been present throughout the surveys. We have had the odd Small Copper, Peacock and Red Admiral and a few Commas, but still no Painted Ladies (as of end July). Our Species Count for the transect this summer remains stubbornly at 15.

Further activities in the pipeline include another round of bracken spraying. This needs to be done annually in a relatively narrow window in time and weather conditions. We also hope to get some of the new signage infrastructure installed in the autumn.

Looking ahead to the monthly workdays, there is plenty to be done. We need to check and clean out the bird boxes, tidy up some path work, remove some non-native shrubs and saplings, start on the annual birch control work using the new pull or cut and treat methods. The first date is Sunday 2nd September from 10 a.m.

Volunteers at a workday at Cleaver Heath

This year’s ‘Beauty of Heswall’s Heathland’ guided walk will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday 19th August. More details on the Wirral Wildlife website at or on the main Cheshire Wildlife site at

Alan Irving
Volunteer Reserve Warden for CWT
Cleaver Heath

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