Friday 29 November 2019

Wirral Tree Strategy

Wirral Tree Strategy

The value of trees is being recognised. Please read and comment on the draft Wirral Tree Strategy.

Comments need to be in by 20 December. Everyone can read it and give their feedback to the Council.

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Award Winning Volunteer

Presentation of the award to Tim Ganicliffe (right)

Presentation of the award to Tim Ganicliffe (right). The other people are (left to right) Charlotte Harris (CEO of Cheshire Wildlife Trust), John Thurston (son of Eric Thurston after whom the awards are named) and Felicity Goodey (President of Cheshire Wildlife Trust).

Eric Thurston was an eminent Cheshire naturalist and also an experienced and skilful photographer. The Eric Thurston Award is the highest accolade for volunteering given by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust. It seeks to showcase the Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s most inspirational and outstanding volunteers, recognising the importance of wildlife, conservation and the natural environment throughout both urban and rural areas of Cheshire.

One of this year’s recipients is Tim Gannicliffe. Tim has been working locally in Wirral with the Cheshire Wildlife Trust for 27 years. His strength is carrying out fresh water invertebrate surveys in ponds and streams. Tim’s survey work has been important in assessing Local Wildlife Sites, and the state of the Clatter Brook which runs through Thornton Wood and he has also been monitoring nitrogen inputs at Red Rocks and at Thornton Wood.

Tim Ganicliffe (left) with Stephen Ross, Chairman of Wirral Wildlife.

Tim Ganicliffe (left) with Stephen Ross, Chairman of Wirral Wildlife.

He is a valued volunteer at New Ferry Butterfly Park, especially encouraging participation in pond dipping. This includes our very busy opening days (circa 1000 visitors), regular Sunday opening and on group visits. He shares his expertise, enthusiasm and knowledge of the pond’s denizens.

Tim is also involved in a broad array of conservation networks within Wirral. The hedgerows of New Ferry Butterfly Park have been kept in good order partly through Tim’s skills at hedge-laying. Importantly Tim has been tenacious in his removal of Himalayan balsam in the Dibbin catchment. These events are not exactly popular: “Come to the wood to be stung by nettles, scratched by brambles and bitten by flies whilst removing the Himalayan balsam!”. Sometimes there is only one other volunteer. Tim has recently taken on a new role on the steering committee of the recently created Dee Coastliners project. As you can see, Tim certainly deserves this Award.

Wednesday 13 November 2019

Autumn 2019 at Cleaver Heath

Cleaver Heath in November (above) and August (below)

I recently got back from a trip to South America where spring was in progress. Further north in the tropics, the ‘seasons’ were described as simply rainy or dry. Returning to Cleaver I was reassured that normal service had resumed and autumn colours were starting to show. Above is a comparison of our reserve in August and November.

You will know that our native broadleaf trees turn off photosynthesis in autumn losing their green colour and preserve energy by absorbing nutrients back down from the leaves. Below (left) is an oak sapling in Cleaver in the transition phase where the leaf is yellowing while the leaf veins are still green as the chlorophyll drains back. Now that the predominant fluid flow is down rather than up, we can carry out our glyphosate stump treatment more effectively. The glyphosate is colourless but we add a blue dye to make sure we can see what has been done and also reduce the trip hazard (below right).

Oak leaves (left) and stump treatment (right)

The last Oldfield swallows left on 22 September just a few days earlier usual. I saw 2 Chiffchaff in Cleaver on 14 September. One of them was actually singing and continued to do so for a few more days. In autumn, Wirral sees quite few birds on passage back to warmer climes while the first of the winter visitors start to arrive. We had a couple of Redwings in our rowan tree as early as 9 October this year.

Spotted flycatcher

Local resident Frank Burns, whose garden backs on to Cleaver, was lucky enough to spot, and photograph, this Spotted Flycatcher in late September (above). It stayed a couple of days and then, presumably, continued its journey south suitably refuelled with Cleaver insects. Frank was able to observe, from his kitchen window, the typical flycatcher behaviour where the bird darts off following an unseen prey then loops round back onto its chosen perch.

As well as plentiful insects, we have been seeing lots of spiders tending their webs in the heather. These are most visible in the morning when the low sun and moisture make them stand out. As well as the traditional spiral webs (below left) we saw lots of ‘sheet’ or ‘hammock’ webs (below right).

Spider webs

Sometime this winter, we hope to get access to a list of the invertebrates found on Cleaver during a series of visits this summer by colleagues from the World Museum (Liverpool). The sightings are being logged in the rECOrd biological database at It should be interesting.

We are being visited soon by a reptile expert who is going to advise us on reptile conservation and survey techniques. As far as we know our only resident reptile is the Common Lizard. Larger lowland heath sites also have Adders. We don’t know of any recent sightings on Wirral.

On the subject of surveys, we duly completed our 26-week transect survey from Cleaver to Church Farm. The summary which went to Butterfly Conservation along with our data said:
‘This 2km transect, which is mainly along farmland footpaths, yielded similar numbers overall to last year with a few anomalies: Painted Ladies (70 this year, none last year); fewer whites particularly the early ones, and especially the Large Whites; many fewer Common Blues; Commas and Small Skippers were down: Red Admirals and Speckled Woods were up. The overall species count (17) was typical. We didn’t see anything we hadn’t seen before.’

Workday at Cleaver Heath

We have now had 3 formal Autumn/Winter workdays in the 2019-20 session. Birch control on the upper heathland panels is now complete and we took the opportunity to extend the stoning on the main path using the spanking new wheelbarrow provided by the trust (above). There is always something to do no matter the weather. In this case we were waiting to be sure the rain would clear to allow stump cutting to go ahead. There is little point in cutting if you don’t treat the stumps more or less straight away, or if the rain is about to return and wash it out.

As well as continuing birch control in the lower panel, our next sessions will include coppicing of the tallest birch saplings in our designated scrub area and European gorse in the main stand between heathland panels. Oh, and we still haven’t cleaned our nesting boxes. We certainly need to get on with the Tawny Owl box as these early nesters will soon be scouting for accommodation.

Birch Milkcap (Lactarius tabidus)

Fungi are present all year round in woodland and an essential part of the ecosystem but it is in autumn that we tend to be more aware of them via their fruiting bodies. One of our local volunteers is particularly interested in fungi and we have been drawing on his expertise to log what is present in Cleaver. At the latest count, some 15 species have been identified. In last year’s Autumn Newsletter, I was able to highlight quite an array of colourful fungi all showing well. There were Fly Agaric (the spotty red poisonous ones) everywhere. This year, I don’t recall seeing a single Fly Agaric here or in Heswall Dales. Presumably the state of the ground plays a role. We had quite dry conditions in the summer and now quite a bit of water-logging in the reserve. Nevertheless there are many interesting fungi to look for including this Birch Milkcap (Lactarius tabidus) photographed by Gianfranco Uli (above). Note the latex dripping from the damaged gills. The milky substance gives rise to its name.

Cleaver Heath entrance

Alan Irving
Volunteer Reserve Warden for CWT
Cleaver Heath
November 2019

Saturday 9 November 2019

What’s On In Cheshire This Winter

Wild Question Time

Friday 15th November 2019, 5:30pm
Parkgate Road, University of Chester

Are you aged between 16-25 and want to speak up for the environment?! Come along to our Wild Question Time!

On Friday 15th November, Cheshire Wildlife Trust are hosting a Wild Question Time with the University of Chester. This is for anyone aged 16-25 who wants to be part of the environmental debate. Our panel will include councillors, parliamentary candidates and sitting MPs from parties across the political spectrum. This is your chance to ask your political leaders specific questions about our natural world and hear what they are going to do to put nature into recovery.

Cost: Free, however donations to the charity are always welcome

Annual General Meeting, followed by Eric Thurston Memorial Science Forum

Saturday 16th November 2019, 10:00am - 3:00pm
Ness Botanic Gardens, Ness

Are you a member of Cheshire Wildlife Trust? Would you like to hear about our achievements this year, plans for the year going forward and to have your say on how we are governed? Well join us for our AGM within the beautiful surroundings of Ness Botanic Gardens.

This year's AGM will be followed by our Eric Thurston Memorial Science Forum, where you can hear from the researchers we're working with about their findings of the local state of nature in the North West.

Cost: Free without lunch or £8 with lunch included

Searching for rare mossland spiders by Richard Gallon

Wednesday 20th November 2019, 8:00pm - 10:00pm

Nantwich Methodist Church, Nantwich

Join South Group local group for their monthly winter talk.

Cost: £3 on the door

No booking required

The birds and insects of Gowy Meadows

Friday 6th December 2019, 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Holly Bank House, Thornton-le-Moors

The wildlife of Gowy Meadows Nature Reserve changes dramatically throughout the seasons, from wintering waders and water birds, to breeding warblers and a diverse insect life. Join naturalist and site surveyor Steve Holmes as he looks through some highlights from every month of the year. Whether you're planning a trip to Gowy Meadows or wonder what you've missed, this is essential listening to really get the most from the reserve.

Cost: £5 per adult, £4 per adult for members

Family events this November and December

Family Forest School

Family Forest School is an event for all the family. Activities may include den building, fire lighting, exploring the woodlands wildlife, environmental art, games and free play.
(Not suitable for children aged under four years old - take a look at our Nature Tots sessions below.)

Saturday 9th November 2019, 10:30am - 12:30pm

Sunday 17th November 2019, 10:30am - 12:30pm

Cost: Free thanks to players of the People's Postcode Lottery

Booking essential for both sessions.

Nature Tots

Nature Tots is our toddler group aimed at encouraging pre-school children, aged 2-4, to gain a love for nature and wildlife. Join us for lots of different activities; hunt for mini-beasts, play games, search for twigs, leaves, seeds and make natural crafts to take home, listen to stories and have lots of fun exploring.

Nature Tots at Spud Wood, Warrington

Wednesdays 13th, 20th and 27th November and 4th and 11th December, 10:00am - 11:30am

Cost: Free thanks to players of the People's Postcode Lottery

Booking essential each week

Nature Tots at Moore Nature Reserve, Warrington

Thursdays 14th, 21st and 28th November and 5th and 12th December, 10:00am - 11:30am
Cost: Free thanks to players of the People's Postcode Lottery

Booking essential each week

Six weekly sessions, starts Tuesday 5th November, 10:00am - 11:30am

Cost: £30 per child or £24 for members, for all six sessions

Friday 1 November 2019

A Light In The Dark

Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s latest newsletter shares some fascinating facts about fungi.

Mycena chlorophus

Imagine taking an evening autumn stroll through your local woodland, crunching over the crispy fallen leaves and watching the light slowly fade. Something catches your eye in the now dark surroundings, a dim light, almost like a comforting bedside night light. The closer you get the more obvious it becomes that the small glowing hummocks are in fact fungi.

Bioluminescent fungi are fungi that, incredibly, glow in the dark. There are around 80 species worldwide that produce the fairy-like luminosity which has caught many a dreamer’s imagination. Mark Twain even noted the phenomenon in his book,The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, writing, "Rotten chunks that’s called ‘Foxfire’ that just makes a soft kind of glow when you lay them in a dark place."

Foxfire, is just one of the many words through the ages that has been used to describe the glowing fungi. The bioluminescence emitted has also been mistaken for strange fixations such as a ghostly presence or fairy light.

So what is it about certain species of fungi that makes them glow? Well, it’s caused by a chemical reaction between oxygen and the compound luciferin in the presence of an enzyme. This results in the formation of oxidized luciferin (oxyluciferin), which when it decomposes, gives off light. The bioluminescence of fungi is produced without heat and still glows in the daylight - it’s just not easy to see. The luciferin found in fungi of this kind is actually the same compound that is found within glow worms and those deep sea curiosities we watch on David Attenborough’s Blue Planet.

Sulphur tuft

Why would fungi glow?

There have been many debates as to the reason. Some argue it is to attract more insects to carry off their spores; some say it’s just an unusual by-product of fungal metabolism. Whatever the reason it’s been supplying us with endless entertainment for years and even sometimes been put to use. It’s been said that the soldiers in the WWI trenches fixed bits of rotten wood to their helmets to guide their way in the dark.

The luminescent species we have in the UK include the likes of Sulphur tuft (above) and Mycena chlorophus (top). They don’t however give off as much light as some species overseas. In the United states, Omphalotus illudens' ability to glow in the dark has given it its common name of Jack O’Lantern.

So, you now know it’s not all doom and gloom in the decaying world of fungi - there is always a light in the dark to be found.

Fungi detective

Be a fungi detective

Autumn is the perfect time of year to get out there and look for fungi. Use our above guide to help you ID some of the most common species.

Don't know where to begin? Our nature reserves are a great place to start the search:

Let us know what you find and where by sharing your pictures with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.