Wednesday 22 April 2020

Spring 2020 at Cleaver Heath

Installing reptile refugia at Cleaver Heath

On the last Sunday workday of the season on Cleaver, one of the tasks was to deploy 32 reptile refugia or ACO (Artificial Cover Objects) in preparation for a Common Lizard survey. This was on 1st March before things went crazy. Local reptile expert Tom Doherty-Bone showed us how to set out the refugia in suitable locations. Most of them were within the heather panels in the upper and lower part of the reserve. The others were placed in the relatively bare areas earmarked for our heathland restoration project. We deployed them in a sequence allowing reasonably convenient checking in a subsequent transect. They were all numbered and the GPS coordinates recorded (4 digit OS grid).  Cheshire Wildlife Trust has provided guidance from ARG UK on the best way to carry out surveys including weather conditions and timing. I have been keeping an eye on the ACO as I pass round the reserve and did dedicate one of my day-release ‘exercise’ walks in April, to a proper survey. Although, I have seen nothing, Tom tells me of third party reports of sightings, including the photo of a dead lizard he thinks might have been regurgitated. Ugh. I found lots of ants however. It is a shame that Green Woodpeckers (unlike dogs) are not able to lift the ACOs (squares of roofing felt) as they would have an endless supply of tasty food, without having to queue for it or have it delivered. In fact, there has been constant Green Woodpecker activity within the reserve and in the nearby gardens over the last month.

Green Woodpecker

Local resident Frank Burns has kindly supplied me with this excellent photo of a male which he and my wife watched climbing the large Scots Pine one afternoon. I am pretty sure there is at least a pair present as, during one of my early morning Common Bird Census ‘exercise walks’, I watched a female posing on a tree while another called from some distance away.  I am also pleased to report that we have at least one singing linnet present again. This means that all the usual birds that we think breed here are back in town. The first dates when I heard the visitors singing in the reserve this year were:
Chiffchaff, March 20th
Blackcap, April 1st
Willow Warbler, April 15th

Linnet singing at Cleaver Heath

Whitethroats have been a bit scarce on the reserve in recent years. I have watched one singing on Heswall shore this week but have so far seen none up here. The Oldfield Farm Swallows’ arrival pattern has been slightly different this year. The first arrived on April 6th (a few days early) followed by sporadic sightings since. It might be that some of these are just passing through.  Normally, by mid-April the numbers have grown to around a dozen making use of the farm stables. I haven’t seen any House Martins in Oldfield yet, although I have seen them feasting on insects above Heswall sewage works – always a good place to look for birds.


Sadly, the annual Dawn Chorus Walk through Cleaver and Heswall Dales has had to be cancelled this year, so here are a couple of photos of this year’s singing warblers instead: Blackcap and Willow Warbler. We were shocked one morning to find a deceased Blackcap below our dining room window. It had presumably flown into the glass. I am happy to report that there are still at least two males singing on the reserve following this.

Blue Tit and Blackcap (left) and Willow Warbler (right)

The European Gorse has been looking stunning this spring. As you can see, there are plenty of insects, including this Red-Tailed Bumble Bee, taking advantage of the blossom. 

European Gorse with Red-Tailed Bumble Bee

Another plant doing really well is Bilberry. As previously noted, this plant grows widely in the main Heswall Dales but is restricted to a small, but expanding, panel within our managed scrub area. It is currently developing flowers and is also being heavily used by insects.


On the subject of insects, while conducting one of our 3-yearly heathland condition surveys last September, we came across this lovely green and yellow caterpillar. I sent the photo to our county moth recorder, Steve Holmes, who confirmed that it was the larva of a Beautiful Yellow Underwing moth and, as a relatively rare sighting, has been included, with photo, in his annual report.

Beautiful Yellow Underwing moth caterpillar

As a parting shot, I leave you with a recent sunset photo - now well over Liverpool Bay. Compare this with the Clwyd Hills photo of the Winter Newsletter.

Sunset over Liverpool Bay

You may also notice that the traditional reserve entrance photo has been seasonally adjusted.

Cleaver Heath entrance

Alan Irving
Volunteer Reserve Warden for CWT
Cleaver Heath
April 2020

Monday 20 April 2020

April Notes on Wildlife-Friendly Gardening

Encourage hedgehogs into your garden. Photo: Gibe, Wikipedia


I’m writing this in early April - Hedgehogs are emerging from their winter sleep. There has been a huge decline in hedgehog numbers over the last few decades, driven by loss of habitat, loss of connections between habitats, road traffic and pesticides. Gardens can be good habitat, but a hedgehog needs around 10-20ha of habitat to roam in, so getting between gardens is essential. Make sure your fences have holes near the base to let them move around – a hole the size of a CD case (13cm square) is enough, and will not let any children or dogs through.

Do not use metaldehyde slug pellets, as they leave the dead slugs poisonous to birds and hedgehogs. If you use garden netting (I do when the soft fruit is ripening) then make sure it is checked twice daily, and that it is secured firmly to the ground so hedgehogs do not try to get under it.

If you do hear our prickly friends (they sound like small pigs, of course), then try putting out a small amount of tinned cat food to encourage them to come where you can see them after dusk and maybe photograph them. Do let Cheshire Wildlife Trust or Record (local biological records centre know) – hedgehogs are often not recorded, especially in urban areas.

Growing Food In Wildlife Friendly Ways: Getting Started

My main gardening interest is growing food. I am also lucky enough to have a half-allotment (20 years ago they could be had for the asking). With global climate change escalating, growing even a small amount of your food is good for the planet (no food miles) and for your health (allotment growers stay healthier longer). There is no reason why food-growing cannot be friendly to wildlife, especially on a garden scale. If you are new to food growing, start small: maybe a herb bed in a sunny corner with chives, marjoram, thyme or whatever you like to use in cooking.

Most herbs are good nectar plants when in flower, and the perennial ones are very easy to look after (just a weed and tidy away of dead stems in spring). Also easy to look after are soft and tree fruit, and will yield you far more than you would buy. Some will tolerate light shade e.g. raspberries, gooseberries, red currants. All soft fruits freeze well raw, tree fruits mostly freeze well once cooked. Get stock from a reputable supplier, plant properly, mulch with garden compost and read up about pruning.

Salads and vegetables need a well-lit area and more fertile soil, so choose your spot and spread it well with garden compost. If you don’t have a compost bin, start one! Raise from seed for cheapness, and be prepared to weed and harvest as needed. Easy ones to start with, which give a good yield, include broad beans, tomatoes, lettuce, dwarf beans (known to the allotment world as French beans). Take the chance to plant unusual varieties. And of course – no pesticides, no peat!

Dr Hilary Ash

Wednesday 8 April 2020

Garden Mammals on My Patch

RECORD's theme for this weeks My Patch campaign is garden mammals.


MY PATCH Week 3 - Mammal Theme
These are often the most elusive garden visitors and we usually only know they're around because we notice signs, like poo or footprints. There are 108 UK species of mammal, from field voles (most numerous with ~60 million) to the Greater Mouse Eared Bat (only 1 individual!).
1 in 5 mammal species face a high risk of extinction in the UK and some have declined by up to 66% in the last 20 years! Recording garden mammals can help scientists understand what's happening to their populations which informs decisions on how to protect them.
Owl Pellets: has anyone ever tried dissecting owl pellets? You can find the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about owl pellets here.
Mammal poo - not everyone's favourite topic, but its often the main evidence that mammals have been visiting a garden. If you know any young mammal detectives with a particular interest, we have a downloadable activity here perfect for them. They might also enjoy learning the basics of mammal detecting here.

QUIZ of the WEEK: Mammals
Sadly no prizes but email with your answers!
1) How many mammal species do we hold Cheshire records for from the last 10 years?
2) What is our most commonly recorded mammal in the last 10 years?
3) What was our most commonly recorded bat species in the last 10 years?
4) Can you name these mammal footprints?

Mammal footprints

5) Can you name these mammal faeces?
Mammal faeces

A reminder of how to join in My Patch

Upload your garden wildlife sightings here OR email if you'd prefer

You can find resources and useful links on this page of our website.
Where you can, we'd love you to share our posts, news etc. about the campaign with your contacts and encourage as many people as possible to get involved. You can also post your own sightings with the hashtag #MyPatch to help spread the word and share with others what you've been up to.

Tuesday 7 April 2020

Creating A Gap at Thornton Wood

Fallen ash tree in Thornton Wood. Photo: Paul Loughnane
Fallen ash tree in Thornton Wood. Photo: Paul Loughnane

The last event at Thornton Wood was “bridging a gap” across the ditch between Heavy Oak and Lamperloons coppices. The next event, and last event for a while, was creating a gap.

Cut through the fallen ash tree in Thornton Wood. Photo: Paul Loughnane
Cut through the fallen ash tree in Thornton Wood. Photo: Paul Loughnane

A large canopy Ash tree had fallen across the path to the coppice areas. This was not a victim of Ash die back just part of the normal woodland cycle. This will be an increasing frequent task for the volunteers as ash die back takes its toll on mature ash trees. The tree was too large for the prospective Wirral Wildlife spring wildflower walkers to clamber over, so the volunteers carefully cut through the considerable trunk. The path was cleared of trip hazards such as fallen limbs of wood and brambles and the area below the Heavy Oak coppice was cleared.

Primroses in Heavy Oak Coppice visited by bumblebee. Photo: Dave Edwards
Primroses in Heavy Oak Coppice visited by bumblebee. Photo: Dave Edwards

In Heavy Oak coppice 23 flowering primrose were counted, the most ever. Several species of bumble bees were landing on them to gain nectar. It was quite comical as the weight of the bumble bee landing on the flower pulled the flower down. It was good to see these pollinators visiting as this should further increase the primrose population in the wood. 

Sunday 5 April 2020

Wild Wellbeing Whilst In Isolation

Some excellent advice from Cheshire Wildlife Trust…

During this difficult time, it’s more important than ever that we look after ourselves and each other. As your local Wildlife Trust, we want to make sure that all our communities keep connected, keep happy and keep healthy, as well as protecting the natural world we all cherish so much.

From experience as well as scientific research, we know the five natural ways to wellbeing are:

1. Being active
2. Connecting with other people
3. Giving to help your local community
4. Taking notice of nature
5. Learning something new

With the current lockdown and social distancing, it’s very hard for us all at to practise these at the moment. However, we all must make an extra effort to get as much sunshine, fresh air and nature as we can.

Whether you’re working from home, looking after children or doing chores, it’s important that you take breaks to go outside or look through your windows. Close your eyes and listen to the birds for 30 seconds. Follow the early queen bumblebees as she flies searching for food and places to nest. Take notice as the plants begin to sprout new life seemingly overnight. These things are all going to help manage stress, re-energise and refocus your busy mind.

Exercise is also great and one of the reasons we can leave our homes each day if we’re able. Whether it’s a walk, a spot of gardening or a run around your local park (whilst maintaining safe distances from others), anything that raises your heart rate will help. Outside on a balcony or inside with a window open, wherever you feel happiest will make the world of difference.

We’re continuing to send out our weekly e-newsletter to bring a little joy and inspiration into your inbox, as well as daily posts on social media. Our social media channels are brilliant online communities to share photos, ideas, thoughts and videos with other likeminded people. This is a really important way of not feeling alone.

We also have a host of online activities you can do at home or in your surrounding outdoor space. Below are just three to get you started.

Remember – share with us anything ‘wild’ you get up to, to inspire others.

1. Provide water

Despite the rainfall of last month, puddles and bird baths are already starting to dry up. Clean and refill your birdbaths, or simply put out a bowl of water on the ground for mammals as well as birds. Just make sure it’s near a window so you can enjoy all the visitors stopping by for a drink.

2. Build a bird box

Got some old untreated wood lying about the place? Using a few tools, you can upcycle it into a shiny new bird nesting box. Take a look at our website for step-by-step instructions.

3. Enjoy your magazines

We were just able to get out the latest issue of Your WildLife and Wildlife Watch to our existing members before we were asked to stay at home. Therefore, your latest magazines should be with you next week, ready for you to flick through, learn some new facts and read about what you are making possible for local wildlife through your vital support.

Send us through pictures of you enjoying the magazines to social media and let us know what you think.

Keep in touch

Become our friend on Facebook, join in the conversation on Twitter or find out more about our work on our website.

Wednesday 1 April 2020

Birds on My Patch

For just over a week RECORD have been encouraging people to connect with nature at home, through recording garden wildlife as part of the My Patch campaign. The theme for last week was 'Becoming a Wildlife Recorder' and this week's theme is.....BIRDS!

Female House Sparrow
Female House Sparrow, Passer domesticus.
Did you know... a group of sparrows is called a 'Quarrel'.
We think it's the perfect name for these noisy garden visitors!


So far, we have over 100 Garden Wildlife observations on our iNaturalist page, which is brilliant! Thank you to everyone who's joined in and please keep your records coming in.

Add your Garden Wildlife Sightings here:

Online Resources

We're trying to make it easier for those people who might not regularly record wildlife to get involved (as well, of course, as those of you who are already pros!). This includes young wildlife enthusiasts and their families. Take a look at our online resources page for some helpful guides, tips and activities and feel free to share these with anyone you think might be interested. Perhaps you know someone who is looking for homeschooling ideas or similar?


Garden Explorers Collection - activities for young wildlife recorders great for ages 5+

What makes up a Wildlife Record? - learn about what information is needed to make your records as useful as possible

Out and about recording sheet - useful to note down what you've seen whilst out in the garden, all ages


This week is BIRDS. We'll be adding more bird-related resources and links and would love you all to get involved by telling us about the birds you see in your garden.

QUIZ of the week... Bird Records!

Sadly there are no prizes, but we thought this might be a fun addition to our weekly email, reply to with your answers.

1) How many Cheshire bird records in total do we hold from the last 10 years?

2) Which bird species do we hold the most records for in Cheshire (in the last 10 years)?

3) How many different species of bird do we hold Cheshire records of (within the last 10 years, including sub-species)?

A reminder of how to join in My Patch

Upload your garden wildlife sightings here:

You can find resources and useful links on this page of our website.

Follow us on facebook or twitter for the latest updates.

Where you can, we'd love you to share our posts, news etc. about the campaign with your contacts and encourage as many people as possible to get involved. You can also post your own sightings with the hashtag #MyPatch to help spread the word and share with others what you've been up to.