Sunday 25 August 2019

Can you help us find reptiles?

Cheshire Wildlife Trust would like to know if you spot a reptile.

Reptiles are found in a wide range of places, from sandy heaths and woodland ridges to garden compost heaps. They’re fascinating animals that are often sadly forgotten about when talking about interesting UK wildlife.

Did you know...?

Slow-worms (below) are neither worms nor snakes, but are in fact a legless lizard - you can tell it's a lizard because they're able to shed their tail and they blink.

Common lizards (below) and adders (top) are unusual among reptiles as they incubate their eggs inside their body, ‘giving birth’ to live young rather than laying eggs.

Grass snakes (below) are our longest snakes, growing up to one and a half meters in length, but they’re really a big baby. When threatened by one of its many predators, the grass snake often 'plays dead', perhaps making itself less appealing to eat.

Unfortunately, reptiles are suffering global declines, with many threatened with extinction. They’re particularly vulnerable in the UK because they tend to live in small isolated areas divided by built up areas and farmland. This means they struggle to spread out.

Nowadays they're only found in places like heaths and open woodland because they need places to shelter and hibernate. As they’re cold blooded, they also need open areas to bask to warm up before they can become active.

We know very little about where our reptiles live, meaning it’s difficult for us to protect them or to help them spread into surrounding areas.

Help us by sending us your sightings

If you see a reptile whilst out and about, email us your sightings. Photos are the most useful along with the location (address or grid reference if possible). Other useful information would be the number seen, the size, what they were doing and the type of habitat you saw them in e.g. garden, grassland, woodland, heather or moorland.

Monday 19 August 2019

Royal Fern Spotted

Last Friday we were walking down Telegraph Road from the Thurstaston Common car park, to do a plant survey on the heathland by Dawpool Cottages. On the damp rock in the road cutting we found a flourishing colony of Royal Fern - at least 10 fruiting plants and many small ones.

This species suffered from over-collection during the Victorian fern craze and is still uncommon in Wirral. Easily seen as it is next to the pavement, about 2m up the rock wall, but do take care along that busy road.

Dr Hilary Ash

Sunday 18 August 2019

Summer 2019 at Cleaver Heath

My feeling that summer has passed its peak usually kicks in when we have had our annual Heathlands of Heswall walk - on Sunday 11 August this year. The common heather was looking near its purple best along with bright yellow of the Western Gorse.

In June, I was relieved to see that our two precious sprigs of Bell Heather (Erica) had survived trampling for another year. They are just beside an unofficial path used by naughty visitors hoping for an improved view. I have their GPS coordinates. Erica blooms in June/early July and is a deeper purple. The photo below shows our two sprigs of Bell Heather and a shot taken the same day, of Common Heather which was still at its white bloom stage. It is strange that Erica is so plentiful in the rest of the Heswall Dales SSSI in but scarce in Cleaver.

This year we will be doing one of our triannual ‘rapid assessments’ of the heathland. This is where, led by our botanically-expert colleagues, we perform 5 fixed transects from NE to SW. Every 10 metres we look closely at a 1m square and record all the plant species we see and classify its rarity and growth status. Is it common or otherwise and, for example for heather, is it pioneer, mature or dying? The outcome informs our management plans. This is another example of the valuable services carried out by the recorder groups associated with Wirral Wildlife.

As reported in my Spring Newsletter, butterfly sightings, particularly of whites, got off to a rather slow start in 2019. I am now pleased to report that the next broods of whites have been much more prolific. Also abundant were Meadow Browns in July. While walking on Heswall Fields one day, I estimated around 1000 of these per hectare. I did this by counting in randomly chosen 10m by 10m squares. So, perhaps we had around 4000 Meadow Browns on the wing there on that day? I returned the next day to find similar numbers. More recently, we have had a wonderful influx of Painted Ladies. These make good photographic subjects while they feed on knapweed and thistles. The Meadow Browns have now been replaced by Gatekeepers, also in good numbers.

The butterflies shown above are, clockwise from the top left: Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Painted Lady (x2), Small White and Peacock. Note the double white spot on the Gatekeeper. The underside of the Peacock is in stark contrast to the garish upper side. As it zips past you get an impression of the black which helps you identify it in flight.

Talking of photographs, a local photographer Robin Rowe has been asked by the Wildlife Trust to help provide some stock photos of our reserves. He has already made a couple of visits to Cleaver and you can see some of his excellent work at

The insect above, resting on Western Gorse, looks like a Meadow Grasshopper but you may know better.

Cleaver is becoming known as an interesting place for entomologists. Tony Parker from the World Museum in Liverpool has made several visits this summer with various groups. These recorders will be reporting all their observations to RECORD so we hope to get some kind of site report at the end of the year.

On the wildflower front – the Oxeye Daisies in the ex-carpark area were really good again this year and well-used by the insects, as was the Rosebay Willowherb. The latter has several informal names deriving from where it is found and how it grows such as fireweed and bomb weed. I have also heard it said that as the ‘summer weed’ you can tell what month it is by looking at how far up the stem the flowering has taken place. Look at the photo (above left) where a bee is sampling the last of the August flowering. The other photo (above right top) shows a stem which has not developed quite that far.

I am still seeing and hearing a few birds about the reserve. Some are moulting and so keeping their heads down. Others, such as Swifts and Swallows are feeding up prior to returning south. There seem to be plenty of insects over the heathland. A few Chiffchaffs are still hanging around. There is one juvenile who has been calling endlessly. I imagine him hoping in vain to be fed by a long-departed adult. As further evidence of the seasonal shifts, I offer you this recent sunset photo (below) and invite you to note that the setting sun is now over Liverpool Bay rather than, as shown in the winter newsletter, over the Clwyds.

Things are moving again on the heathland restoration project. Fiona Megarrell, the Trust’s new Living Landscape Officer (North) has been busy organising new quotes from contractors. The plan is to expand the area which can be properly classified as heathland in accordance with the wishes of Natural England. We have had positive indications from soil-sampling that this will be feasible if we scrape off the surface enriched soil and re-seed with heather. We have identified a scrub area in the SW corner of the reserve (to the left of the lower picture) where the soil can be deposited without doing obvious damage to valuable fauna and flora. This will cost a bit of money. I am pleased to say that the Wirral Wildlife group of the Trust has asked that £1000 of the money they have recently raised for the Trust is used to help with this.

Autumn and winter work parties on the first Sunday of each month will be restarting on September 1. Among the jobs on the menu will be a little bit of path stoning, cutting back some key access paths and clearing out bird boxes. For the latter, we first have to find them!

Finally, spot the difference: this shot of the entrance to Cleaver was taken this August. The one used in the last couple of newsletters was taken in February before the growth restarted.

Alan Irving
Volunteer Reserve Warden for CWT
Cleaver Heath
August 2019

Thursday 8 August 2019

Marvellous Moths!

The August newsletter from Cheshire Wildlife Trust focusses on the wonderful world of moths and their caterpillars.

Moth caterpillar

Did you know that there are over 30 times more moths in the UK than butterflies? Over 2,400 species have been recorded as opposed to just 71 species of butterfly.

You could be forgiven for thinking of moths as those ‘boring brown things that flutter around lights’ of an evening. Indeed many are brown, but with 2,400 different types - they come in all shapes and sizes.

There are two major groups of moths:

Micro-moths, which generally have wingspans of less than 20 millimetres.

And macro-moths, which are more often than not significantly bigger.

Whilst we're probably more familiar with macro-moths, micro-moths are far more numerous with some 1,500 in UK, whereas 'only' around 900 macro-moths occur here.

Hummingbird hawkmoth

It’s also somewhat of a myth that moths only fly at night. Many species fly during the daytime and a whole host more can be seen when they are disturbed in their daytime resting places.

Look for the clues of micro-moths

Just as you can ID a bird from its call, you can ID many species of moths without actually seeing them.

As larvae, micro-moths live within leaves, leaving behind trails called mines. Most of us who pick blackberries will have seen these white lines on some of the leaves. Well, these are made by the micro-moth Stigmella aurella (below).

Mines - trail left by micro-moth in a leaf

Have you noticed parts of the leaves of a horse chesnut (conker) tree turning brown. This is the infamous larvae of the horse chestnut leaf-miner moth (below).

Horse chestnut leaf

The larvae of one entire family of micro-moths even go as far as to build themselves mobile homes, or cases, in which they move around in relative safety, being out of sight of any would-be predators’ eyes! Others fold leaves over for safety or spin silken webs to deter predators.

Micro-moth in case on leaf

Macro-moth larvae

Macro-moth larvae on the other hand choose camouflage; some are cryptic in colouration, others mimic twigs.

Yet more adopt the opposite approach, declaring their presence through vividly coloured or extremely hairy larvae. Most people will have noticed the ‘tiger-tail’ larvae of cinnabar moths on ragwort in late summer – but the less frequently seen adults are pinky-red and black and a very beautiful insect in their own right!

Cinnabar moth caterpillar

Where to see moths

Our own Gowy Meadows Nature Reserve had until recently recorded 247 species of moths within its boundaries. However, after one light trapping session a few weeks ago, this figure rose to 304! The probability is that there could be as many as double that figure present, the remainder as yet unfound.

Moths are everywhere! You just need to have your windows open on a summer's evening to know this. Your own gardens are a great place to start.  There are some Cheshire gardens where trapping has been regularly carried out over the years that have lists in excess of 700 species!

You can start your moth quest by simply leaving the kitchen light on and see what comes to the window – a jam jar is enough to carefully catch it in and then look online to see if you can identify it.

You could even create your own moth trap using a bed sheet and a torch:

Moth watching

Sunday 4 August 2019

Ragwort: Insect Banquet

Two of our recorders were recording plants on Thurstaston Common, when the painted lady migration had just arrived. One of the plants being greatly enjoyed for nectar was common ragwort. This native plant supports many nectar-seeking insects including over 20 species that rely on it. The photos show how important it is to leave ragwort to grow except where it is a direct threat to horses and other farm animals.

These are my favourite photos:

5 painted ladies, a gatekeeper and a hoverfly all feeding on one ragwort plant

Painted lady basking on sandstone

Gatekeeper on heather

Red-tailed bumble bee on ragwort

Dr Hilary Ash
Photos by June Mortazavi

Thursday 1 August 2019

Summer Events at Port Sunlight River Park

There is lots going on at the River Park this month.

Friday 2nd August
11am – 4 pm
River Park Bug Safari
Scour the park for all the mini-beasts that live beneath your feet. Meet at the Heritage Centre.

Wednesday 7th August
10am – 12 noon
Family Mindfulness
Please contact Sam on 07967 634208 for cost and more information.

Sunday 11th August
12 – 4pm
5th Birthday Picnic
A fun day with family trail, refreshments, Tai Chi, stalls, wildlife identification, raffle and lots more. Bring a picnic. Disabled parking available if pre-booked. See poster below for list of attractions.

Thursday 15th August
11am – 4pm
MowMow Rock Painting
Create your very own MowMow rock creature that you can hide somewhere in the park. Track where you have hidden it using a special app on your phone. Drop in event at the Heritage Centre.

Thursday 22nd August
9 – 10.30pm
Bat Walk
Cost: £3 per person.
Walk length: 1.5 miles.
Booking essential.
For accompanied children, aged 8 and over.

For enquiries, booking and disabled access please contact the Ranger on 07587 550060 or email