Saturday 22 February 2020

Nature's Solutions To The Climate Emergency

Cheshire Wildlife Trust's February newsletter is about the need to protect nature and wild ecosystems in order to tackle the climate crisis.

Golden plover

The climate crisis regularly makes the headlines, and rightly so. But there’s another crisis - the massive ongoing loss of nature.

In the UK, 41% of our species have declined since 1970 and one in seven species are now threatened with extinction. The climate emergency has terrible ramifications for wildlife, but the loss of wildlife and wild places also makes the climate crisis worse.

Healthy wild places can store huge amounts of carbon, taking it out of the atmosphere and locking it away in soils and plant matter, sometimes for thousands of years. But many of these wild places are damaged, fragmented and threatened with further destruction. As these habitats are lost, carbon is released.

To tackle the climate emergency, we need to protect and restore our wild places.

A recent estimate suggests that around one third of the greenhouse gas reduction required between now and 2030 can be provided by carbon drawdown through Natural Climate Solutions. Natural Climate Solutions, roughly speaking, mean ecological restoration. Let’s take a look as some of them:

Green carbon
  • Tree planting
When you think about natural solutions to climate change, tree planting is probably the first thing that springs to mind. Trees absorb carbon as they grow, storing it in their trunks, boughs, roots and in the soil, so allowing woodlands to grow naturally will lock up carbon and help counter our manmade carbon emissions. But trees can only be part of the solution; alone they are not enough. Nature has an arsenal of other, powerful natural climate solutions that currently receive much less attention.
  • Peatlands
Peatland is a type of wetland, made up of soil formed from slowly decomposing plants. Peatlands cover just 3% of the earth’s surface but store more carbon than any other habitat on land, with the UK’s peatlands alone containing 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon. Healthy peatlands also play a role in reducing flooding and improving water quality, as well as providing a home for some wonderful wildlife, like the dazzlingly plumaged golden plover.

But damaged peatlands are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Peatland has to be wet to be healthy, and much of our peatland has been drained. At least 80% of the UK’s peatlands are damaged and may be releasing up to 23 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year – that’s more than is absorbed by all our woodlands. Fixing them must be a first step.
  • Grasslands
The same is true for many other habitats: when healthy, they’re excellent carbon stores, but when damaged they release carbon. Grasslands soak up and store carbon in their roots and the soil but, between 1990 and 2006, an estimated 14 million tonnes of carbon dioxide were released by grasslands being put to the plough.

Blue carbon

Seahorse in seagrass meadow

Blue carbon is carbon that’s stored in our seas.

  • Oceans
Our oceans lock up even more carbon than the habitats on land, absorbing an estimated 20-35% of manmade carbon dioxide every year. We call this blue carbon, and it can be stored in plants, sediments and even the bodies of animals.
  • Saltmarshes
Saltmarshes are superstars of the carbon storage world, absorbing carbon at a faster rate than either peatlands or woodlands. These coastal habitats also act as a buffer against erosion and as important breeding and feeding grounds for a host of birds and other animals.
  • Seagrass meadows
Seagrass meadows are almost as impressive, responsible for 10% of the ocean’s total burial of carbon, despite covering less than 0.2% of the ocean floor.
  • Marine life
Carbon is also stored through the actions of marine life, from tiny phytoplankton that absorb carbon as they grow, to huge whales that carry carbon down to the seafloor when they die.

But our blue carbon solutions are threatened. In the UK, we’ve lost nearly 50% of our seagrass beds in the past 35 years, and we’re losing around 100 hectares of saltmarsh each year to development and rising sea levels. As these habitats are damaged, carbon is released, making the problem worse. Our seas are not as healthy as they should be, but even in their current state they take up huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Imagine how much more they could hold if we restored them, bringing back more seagrass meadows, coastal marshes and the wildlife they support.

Restoring the natural solutions

Peatland is a carbon store

Clearly natural solutions have a big part to play in tackling the climate crisis, so restoring these damaged habitats and ecosystems must be a priority. The Wildlife Trusts are playing a leading role in making this happen, with projects around the UK improving, expanding and protecting the wild places that are key for capturing carbon.

Through our work for wildlife, Cheshire Wildlife Trust is restoring and protecting places that store carbon on land and sea. We’re planting thousands of trees and hedgerows, rewetting peatlands and sowing acres of wildflowers meadows each year and every year.

Did you know that our Holcroft Moss Nature Reserve is the only peatland site in Cheshire never to have been cut for peat?

As well as managing our own sites, we also respond to consultations and planning applications that would threaten these important carbon stores on land and at sea.

Working together

As one of 46 Wildlife Trusts across the UK, Cheshire Wildlife Trust are championing a Nature Recovery Network nationally – a coordinated, effective plan to restore and connect habitats across the whole of the country. Essentially, we need to work together for more wild places that are healthier and better connected. This broad, connected approach is vital to reversing the loss of our nature. With 66% of carbon in nature-rich areas lying outside of our protected sites, we need to look at the bigger picture to help combat the climate crisis.

Nature has solutions – and we’re in desperate need of them all. By working together, we can buid and speed up nature’s natural solutions. It is essential we restore these damaged systems. Thank you for helping us to create a wilder future.

Thursday 20 February 2020

Powering Through Nature

SP Energy Networks Team by Steve Lyus

The SP Energy Networks team based in Prenton wanted to organise a corporate work day at New Ferry Butterfly Park.  As honorary secretary/ reserve manager, I normally take a day’s annual leave for this, but for the first time in 15 years, I took a ‘volunteer day’, taking advantage of the Liverpool University’s Staff Volunteering Framework, which now allows you three days volunteering for charities.

New Ferry Butterfly Park is a post industrial habitat, a classic brownfield site with a diverse number of grassland types; acidic, nutrient poor and calcareous grassland reflecting the former coal staithes, railway track beds and water softening plant from the days of steam power. These open mosaic habitats are a great benefit to butterflies and other insects.

Eight eager volunteers came from SP Energy Networks. They were greeted with a hot drink, a briefing and signed the risk assessment which they had been sent prior to their visit. No escaping from risk assessments even on a volunteering day, our safety co-ordinator would be proud!

Clearing over grown garden spreading onto the path. Photo: Paul Loughnane

Then they split into four groups, one putting in fence posts, another creating a large dead wood habitat pile from a clump of large birches cut for safety reasons. The third was removing some unwanted shrubs which were taking over the path and the fourth group removed turf and birch trees over laying the railway track beds. The turf removal process is a rapid way of a creating wildflower patch by re-starting natural succession and allowing carpets of bird’s-foot trefoil to develop which is both the larval and adult food plant for the common blue butterfly.

The volunteers all got a good work out, knocking in posts using a post driver, swinging mattocks, sawing, wheel barrowing turf and other unwanted materials, using loppers and muscles they never knew they had. Justin, the team leader, surprised himself with the ease he could remove the sizeable birch saplings just using a mattock. In his report he had to put some figures in, such as how much material had been removed. I reckoned 400kg of turf was removed.

Justin triumphs over the birch tree. Photo: Paul Loughnane

For ‘elevenses’ the volunteers were supplied with tea and homemade cakes delivered to them in a wheelbarrow. Following lunch they had a tour of the park, and its varied habitats and to see each other’s projects. They needed a recovery break anyway! After the tour, they eagerly went back to their projects again for another hour to complete them. The mixed teams of office workers and onsite engineers, who they rarely meet up with, had a chance to interact with each other in an enjoyable setting.

This corporate group of physically fit and keen young people enabled the park’s project to move forward with many jobs that never get started being completed. Other groups of volunteers are welcome to come to the park for a one off event. I would suggest September/October better than a cold January. Please contact me on for further details.

Paul Loughnane BEM

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Winter 2019-20 at Cleaver Heath

Flooded paths at Cleaver Heath

So far, at mid-February, there has been no ‘Beast-from-the-East’. The frosts have been few, no snow but plenty of wind and rain, as the pictures above demonstrate.

We have now used up the remaining pile of approved stone to reinforce some more of the main paths. The weather on the monthly work party days has been kind, allowing us to complete our planned birch and gorse control. The birch and selected European gorse within the main heath panels was cut and treated. Our volunteers helped us coppice the taller birch within the manged scrub area and we made a start on further coppicing of European gorse in the lower part of the reserve. The gorse strategy is to prevent further incursion, improve the age structure and hence provide more valuable wildlife cover. 

Birds at Cleaver Heath

Winter is generally thought of as a quiet time on a nature reserve like Cleaver Heath but here is a list of 20 bird species seen at Cleaver in the last few weeks: Pink-footed Goose, Woodcock, Herring Gull, Woodpigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Raven, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Wren, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Redwing, Robin, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Goldcrest. 

Some, like the Woodcock (top left in the above photo) which is normally hiding in the heather and the Pink-footed Geese flying overhead, are obviously winter visitors. So too are Redwing (top right) and Fieldfare (lower right). Birds such as the Jay (centre lower) and the tiny Goldcrest are here all year round. However the numbers of some resident species including Blackbird and Robin are greatly swollen by visitors from continental Europe. I am told this will still happen after January 2021.

I have again started to record bird sightings more regularly outside of formal surveying activities. The BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) has been promoting the value of ‘complete lists’. In many ways, the information from these is just as, if not more, useful than random casual records of ‘interesting’ sightings. The online resource BirdTrack ( is very simple to use. When you are out for a walk, perhaps along a favourite route, you keep track of how many goldfinches, blackbirds, curlew etc. you have seen or heard. You can enter them on a smartphone app as you go or, as I do, keep them in a handy notebook and enter them back at home. It can be strangely satisfying if you are of that sort of mind and, possibly, a source of intense irritation for your walking companion. I don’t remember hearing as many birds singing in January and February as I have in walks this year. They are as confused as us about the weather patterns.

Cramp-Ball Fungus Weevil

Talking of surveys, Tony Parker of the Liverpool World Museum and rECOrd ( has kindly helped me assemble a list of all the sightings which he and his fellow naturalists accumulated during four field visits to Cleaver this last summer. These are all now publically available as part of the huge wildlife and plant rECOrd database covering Cheshire and its surroundings. The groups made 474 confirmed sightings including over a hundred invertebrate species, 31 birds, 64 plants, 3 mammals as well a frog and 4 sightings of Common Lizard. I had no idea just how many species of hoverfly, wasps and bees there were! The star was probably the ‘first for Cheshire’ finding of this Cramp-Ball Fungus Weevil (Platyrhinus resinosus © Leanna Dixon).

Most of the sightings were well beyond my abilities to identify. However, there were two common species reported which do not appear in my own Cleaver records: a Skylark and a Rabbit!

Common lizard

I am looking forward to re-starting the annual butterfly transect surveys at the end of March/beginning of April. Another survey which we hope to start in the spring is for Common Lizard. We have taken advice on how best to do this and, on our March work day, we will be deploying a new set of ‘refugia’ in an orderly manner within the reserve. You may have previously seen small sheets of corrugated iron lying about in Cleaver. These provide cover and indeed basking areas on sunny days.  The lizards shown here were actually photographed in the Dales where the sandstone outcrops provide many basking opportunities. In the planned heathland restoration area in the SW corner of the reserve, we hope to provide bare ground patches on the south facing slope and ‘hibernacula’ for winter refuge.

FAQs - Let me try to answer a couple of questions I often get asked:

Q1: Why is heathland management done only in the autumn and winter months?

A1: Cleaver is of course a SSSI and so its management is regulated by Natural England (NE). NE specifies when we can work in habitats like heathland and woodland. The timing is based on the notional bird-nesting season.  But surely birds nest in trees so you should be able to carry on working in heather and gorse? No, a lot of the birds using Cleaver nest very close to the ground in the cover provided by the heathland. Warblers, for example, are most obvious while singing in the trees but are actually nesting in the gorse and bramble cover. 

Western and European Gorse at Cleaver Heath

Q2: How can you tell the difference between Western and European Gorse?

A2: The most obvious difference is that the Western Gorse is very compact and rarely grows tall enough to shade the heather. The left photo above shows a carpet of Western with a stand of (flowering) European in its top right. The willing volunteer on the right photo is carrying off some cut European Gorse giving the shaded heather a better chance. On closer inspection, the stalk of the Western is quite densely covered with prickles whereas the barer European stalks can been seen quite clearly.  Most of the Western gorse flowers at the end of summer rather than the beginning. 

Heathland Management

We are working with the Friends of Heswall Dales to run a Wirral Workshop on Lowland Heath Management on February 29. With the cooperation of delegates from Wirral Borough Council, Cheshire Wildlife Trust, the National Trust and Natural England, we are exploring opportunities for greater cooperation in the management of Wirral heathland.  On April 21 there will be a Cheshire Lowland Heath Forum hosted by Heswall Dales. These Forums are an excellent opportunity for conservation people to see each other’s reserves and share good ideas as well have a joint hand-wringing session about how hard it all is. When cattle used Wirral heathland for grazing, the conservation of this resource was ensured. Now, if we wish to keep this habitat, we have to intervene directly. We need volunteers to do the work of the cattle. 

Sunset at Cleaver Heath

Colleagues at CWT are in the process of updating our reserve websites, including that for Cleaver. Among the attractions listed, is that Cleaver is a ‘perfect reserve for an evening stroll at sunset’.  Indeed, this winter has seen a regular sequence of spectacular sunsets as this recent photo demonstrates.

Cleaver Heath entrance

Alan Irving
Volunteer Reserve Warden for CWT
Cleaver Heath

February 2020

Wednesday 12 February 2020

Prize Quiz Spring/Summer 2020

The hills are alive! John has set another prize quiz, this time with an upland theme.

Test your brain for your chance to win a £10 gift voucher.

The quiz can be downloaded here:

Friday 7 February 2020

Hedgehog Citizen Science Project

RECORDS’s next Wildlife Exchange Session at Chester Zoo is hedgehog themed.


We'd like to invite you to our February Wildlife Exchange Session. Find out about an exciting new citizen science project all about hedgehogs that you could be involved with.

Wednesday 26 February
7 – 9 pm

Mottershead Suite, Cedar House, Chester Zoo

Book your FREE place via Eventbrite:

When was the last time you saw a wild hedgehog?

These much-loved animals have often been voted the nation’s favourite native species. But in recent years their populations here have declined dramatically, with rural hedgehog numbers plummeting by around 50% since the start of the century.

The species faces many threats including agricultural intensification, urban development and roads. However gardens, parks and other green spaces can provide perfect hedgehog habitat.

Chester Zoo scientists are launching an innovative new project that will see local people using camera traps to survey their garden visitors (including any spikey ones!). The aim is to find out which garden features are important to hedgehogs, understanding the habitat conditions needed for them to thrive. This knowledge will ultimately help to encourage and protect these charismatic animals and inspire communities to improve gardens and greenspaces for biodiversity.

Come along to find out all the details and learn how you could be involved with this exciting new project.

These evenings provide a brilliant opportunity to learn a bit more about UK native species from local experts. If you’re interested in meeting like-minded people in a relaxed environment, there’s also the chance to chat with conservationists, wildlife recorders and others to share experience, knowledge and ideas on Cheshire’s natural history and how we can all play a part in monitoring and protecting it.

What’s more…. There will also be tea, coffee and biscuits!

The event is hosted by hosted by RECORD and Chester Zoo.
Please note photos may be taken at this event for use in RECORD publications.

Thursday 6 February 2020

Beside The Seaside: Wildlife Quiz 2019 Answers

Fulmar, the answer to question 3. Photo: Andreas Trepte, Wikipedia

Here are the answers to the Wirral Wildlife Prize Quiz 2019.

Many congratulations to Linda Sutton of Upton who got 50 correct answers out of 50 and was chosen as the winner in a random draw from seven all-correct entries.

1Bad weather upsetting Peter, novice flyer.5, 6Storm petrel
2Spoil sheep with pasture seen in forty-seven.6, 5Marram grass
3Left mother wrapped in ermine, maybe, seen on twenty-eight.6Fulmar
4Would it stoop to demolish the green pier?9Peregrine
5Shellfish starters - bread is valuable addition - loaves very easily sliced.8Bivalves
6Pigeons fluttering over docks.4, 5Rock doves
7Fish-girls’ handbags containing new skates.8, 6Mermaids’ purses
8Holy seal flops at the top of the beach.3, 5Sea holly
9London thoroughfare with railway on twenty.6, 4Strand line
10R.W. Blackadder turned brown forty-eight.12Bladderwrack
11One of twenty-one hidden in the slim petals of sea-aster.6Limpet
12Five - part of the heart that needs warming?7Cockles
13Upset? Trust none on the shore!9Turnstone
14Forty - the queen follows good man behind world without General Electric.7Lobster
15Snowy chargers, effect of the wind.5, 6White horses
16Mammal seen in the sea, not terribly far from the shore.5Otter
17Flowers saving pennies.6Thrift
18Bounces left this scattered on nine.10, 5Cuttlefish bones
19Sea swallow, BLT maybe, with change of direction reportedly8, 4Sandwich tern
20Labour leader leaves chemical whitener beside the sea.5Beach
21Octopuses, for example, with a short time left - left you and me with tear gas.8Molluscs
22Seabird which, when it turns round ...4Skua
23... finds more seabirds.4Auks
24A thousand cockneys’ cry for assistance for forty-eight.4Kelp
25“Two-ale” Phil, when drunk, sometimes ends up beached.5, 5Pilot whale
26Horseplay, and more horseplay, for an uncommon bird.5, 4Shore lark
27Scattered leaves, and, er, flowers.3, 8Sea lavender
28Feature belonging to Dallas’s Mr Barnes.6Cliffs
29EU glass broken by one of twenty-one.3, 4Sea slug
30Explosive projectile, remains of twenty-one or forty.5Shell
31Seasonal washing powder for state of the sea.6, 4Spring tide
32Gestures of parting on the sea.5Waves
33Keep your crazy beard crisp with this forty.6, 4Spider crab
34Coastal feature swallowed by scavenger.4Cave
35One of five that accompanied the walrus and the carpenter to the bitter end.7Oysters
36Duck! Lambretta loses duck!6Scoter
37From a bird I hear the cry: “Rouse yourself, pussycat!”9Kittiwake*
38The queen, after religious holiday, finds fast flyer.5Eider
39Bird of music genre, and Philip Pirrip with it.4, 5Rock pipit
40Does Cheshire railway interchange remind you of this type of arthropod?10Crustacean
41Fruit-flavoured dessert followed by e.g. salmon - beware of getting stung!9Jellyfish
42Swimmer left at sea wasting time with balance.8Porpoise
43Could this echinoderm be the last sign of the zodiac?8Starfish
44Five that reportedly give me strength.7Mussels
45European royal dynasty cut short beside unknown river mouth.7Estuary
4616 + 30 = 46 (one of five).5, 5Otter shell
47Sweden - and nudes cavorting at the top of the beach!9Sand-dunes
48Not cold, we ceased mixing types of algae.7Seaweed
49Various tailless seabirds.6Divers
50Just one, including hospital, a feature of twenty.7Shingle

*We also allowed “KITTYWAKE” as an alternative spelling.

Monday 3 February 2020

Volunteers Wanted at RECORD

RECORD are currently looking for more volunteers to join them in a number of roles. RECORD are based at Chester Zoo, although the Engagement Volunteer role will be in various locations across Cheshire depending on where events are taking place.

If you are interested in applying for any of the roles or want find out more about volunteering, please email:

Data Processor Volunteer: Help enter wildlife sightings onto RECORD's web-based bespoke software, RODIS. Full training on the package will be given. Full Role Description here.

GIS Volunteer: Help digitise habitat data using mapping software (MapInfo and/or QGIS). Full training can be given. Full Role Description here.

IT Volunteer: Help with programming such as web applications, database development, and computer maintenance. Full Role Description here.

Engagement Volunteer: Engage with the public at wildlife events. Help to spread the word about our amazing UK wildlife and the conservation importance of recording it. This would suit people with an interest in UK wildlife who enjoy interacting with others and inspiring them to take action. Full Role Description here.

Drop-in Session Volunteer: Help prepare resources for our invertebrate identification drop-in sessions. Engage with participants at the sessions, assisting with queries and questions. This would suit people with an interest in UK wildlife (in particular entomology) who enjoy interacting with others and inspiring them to take action. Full Role Description here.