Saturday 30 May 2020

Verges In Bloom

Earlier in May we asked readers of our Facebook page and Blog if their daily exercise took them past any grass verges. Many verges had not been cut due to Council restrictions imposed by Covid19. Most had sprouted lots of dandelions and daisies but we wanted to know whether people had seen other flowers.

Wirral Borough Council wanted to know where flower-rich verges already exist, with a view to getting more flower-friendly mowing regimes in place, at least for next year. We collated all reports and passed them on to the Council.

Many reports and photographs were received and we show some below.

New Brighton from Jan Peddie...

Meols by Kathryn Fegan...

Arrowe Park Road/ Upton Bypass by Lily Clough...

Lily has been in touch to say the Council have mowed the verges since she took the photos above.

Hoylake and Meols by Susan Kemp...

Friday 29 May 2020

The Secret of the Spooky Hedgerow

Sarah sent a video to New Ferry Butterfly Park Facebook page showing a hedge covered with strange webs and thousands of tiny caterpillars and asked if we knew what it was. It looked spooky but was fascinating.

The caterpillars are from Ermine moths which had laid their eggs on this hawthorn hedge. Large groups of thousands of caterpillars are easily seen by predators so the silky web hides them from view.

The webs are usually seen in May to June and slowly disappear over the summer. By next year the hawthorn hedge will have recovered. The adult moths fly later in summer and are greyish white with small black dots and their appearance gives the name  ermine moth.

Thursday 21 May 2020

Butterfly Park In May

Hilary has been out with her camera again to bring us photographs of the flowers at New Ferry Butterfly Park in mid May.

1. Granny's bonnet or Aquilegia. This escaped from a local garden, the pink ones are a garden form but the purple ones are reverting to the wild colour.

2. Ox-eye daisies are just coming out. This one had a male thick-legged flower beetle sitting on it.

3. Buttercups are out and this is a Meadow buttercup with a beetle. Behind it is false fox-sedge.

4.  Guelder rose in full flower providing pollen for insects now the hawthorn is fading.

5. The broom cultivar in the former demonstration garden. Bees like it just as well as the native all-yellow one.

Monday 11 May 2020

Insect Friendly Gardening Notes

Primroses are a good source of nectar for insects. Photo: Wikipedia

Pollen and Nectar - Spring

We need pollinating insects for many of our food crops. Insects coming out of hibernation need food. For many, that food is nectar for energy and pollen for protein to make their eggs and feed their young. Look around your garden and neighbourhood: are there flowers around to supply their food? Are there bees, hoverflies, butterflies feeding in your garden? If not, maybe you could plant suitable flowers in your garden. Think primroses and cowslips, creeping comfrey, honesty. Include tree fruit and soft fruit, which need the pollinators to yield a good crop. Also spring-flowering shrubs such as hawthorn and cotoneasters. Remember to avoid double varieties, which often lack pollen.

Log pile
Create a log pile to provide shelter for invertebrates. Photo: Andy Roberts, Flickr


Our climate is famously variable. Most invertebrates need somewhere to hibernate in winter. Even in summer a wet day can mean butterflies, bees, hoverflies and other creatures need somewhere to hide from the rain. Look round your garden – are there places to shelter? Maybe a dense hedge or group of shrubs, a loose pile of large stones or bricks, or a ‘log-pile’ of larger prunings. Dead leaves heaped in a corner are useful to some species, as are tussocks of unmown grasses such as cocksfoot. If space is limited, how about an evergreen climber up a wall or fence.

Small copper butterfly on knapweed flower
Small copper butterfly on knapweed flower. Photo: Giles Watson, Flickr

Helping Breeding Butterflies

Many of us like to see butterflies in our gardens – except those who grow cabbages! Most gardens can provide food (nectar) and shelter for adult butterflies. Adults (the flying stage) will take nectar from a range of flowers, so long as the nectar is available to their long tongues. Open flat flowers are favourites – think Daisy family (aster, dandelion, knapweed, coneflower, fleabane); the hardy Geraniums; Carrot family (fennel, Eryngium), Mint family (lavender, marjoram). The key thing is to have flowers all season from March to September, so whenever the adults fly there is something to eat. You may not be able to supply that in your own garden, but remember these are flying insects, so look what it in the neighbourhood and try to fill any gaps.

Speckled wood caterpillars
Speckled wood caterpillars. Photo: Dean Morley, Flickr

Provide Food For Caterpillars

Butterflies are very choosy creatures – each species has only one or two food plants which their caterpillars will eat. Not many of these can be grown in the average garden, but one species that often thrives in groups of gardens in Holly Blue. Look for small pieces of blue sky flying head-height and above in spring and late summer. The April-May generation lays eggs on female holly bushes, so the caterpillars can feed on the flowers and developing fruits. The August generation lays on ivy to take advantage of their flowers and fruits. So look around, is there flowering holly and ivy in reach? If not, could you plant some? Ivy rarely needs planting, but could you tolerate some climbing up a fence or wall (it needs to climb to flower)? Dense ivy also makes good shelter and hibernation places.

Several of our butterflies breed on stinging nettles (small tortoiseshell, peacock, red admiral and comma), but they are choosy creatures – they insist on sunny nettle beds. There is plenty of stinging nettle in most landscapes, even urban ones, so unless you have a very large garden, you probably have better uses for a sunny corner than a stinging nettle bed – plant herbs and other nectar-rich plants there instead. Nettles in shade are used by some moths – we have mother-of-pearl and nettle-tap at New Ferry Butterfly Park. The caterpillars roll up a leaf and secure it with silk to make a shelter against being eaten by birds. Look for the rolled-up leaves in June on your local nettle patch.

If you can leave an area of your lawn to grow long, cutting it down only in autumn, then you might be lucky enough to get one of the butterflies whose caterpillars eat grasses. At my allotment set, we have a border along the access path which is a mix of nectar-producing flowers and, because we never manage to keep it too tidy, some clumps of grasses. Also a small wildlife area in one corner, with a pond, large log-pile for shelter, stinging nettles and rough grass. Speckled wood butterflies have taken up residence in recent years – their caterpillars like semi-shaded grasses, mainly Yorkshire fog and Cock’s-foot, which are grasses that grow on fertile garden soils. And yes, we do have frogs breed in the pond (to eat our slugs) and small tortoiseshell butterflies breed on the nettles.

Leafcutter bee
Leaf-cutter bee cutting a circle from a leaf, which it takes back to its nest to use to build cells to lay eggs in.
Photo: The Guardian

Please Don't Use Pesticides Or Peat

Insect populations have dropped drastically in the last 50 years – some studies say the amount of flying insects has dropped by 75%! This impacts us (they pollinate our crops and process dead plants and animals), and all animals that feed on insects (birds, bats, spiders, etc). So we all need to help our insect friends where we can. So please, don’t use pesticides if you can possibly help it! In most gardens, they are unnecessary. Even herbicides such as glyphosate can have side-effects on insects, and no insecticide is specific to a given species, whatever the packaging claims. Tolerate a bit of damage – you are not Tatton flower show! Admire the perfect circles cut by leaf-cutter bees and the wiggle traces made by leaf miners on holly. Encourage predators such as spiders, earwigs, small birds – a pair of blue or great tits nesting in your garden will hoover up a lot of aphids and gooseberry sawfly caterpillars to feed their young. And please don’t use peat-based compost or buy plants grown in peat: peat bogs support specific rare insects like Large Heath butterflies, and are large stores of carbon, vital to the fight against climate change.

Dr Hilary Ash

Friday 8 May 2020

Water – Use It Wisely

water butt

This long spell of dry sunny weather is good for our spirits, but not so good for our gardens and fields. Tap water takes a lot of energy to pump and clean, so do use rainwater in the garden (and for house plants) whenever possible. If you don’t have a water butt but do have a downspout, perhaps you could get one now ready for when rain does arrive. Get one with a cover to deter mosquitoes (and for safety if children are around). Reasonably clean “grey water” can also be used e.g. from washing vegetables.

Bathing blackbird
A bathing blackbird. Photo: RSPB

In the garden:

If you don’t have a pond, keep a shallow dish of water, such as a large plant saucer, on an open piece of ground away from cat-cover such as shrubs. Brush it out and refill daily, preferably with rainwater. Put it where you can see it from inside and be amused by watching the birds bathing.

Water only plants that need it: newly-planted trees and shrubs, seedling and newly-planted vegetables, and as we get into summer, leafy crops such as lettuce. Water beans and courgettes once they are flowering and fruiting.

Water the soil not the plant. Water thoroughly every 3-4 days, not a dribble each day. Sprinklers waste a lot of water, so use a can or, if needs be, a hose you hold on to.

Self heal and clover
Self heal and clover

Don’t water the lawn – grass is amazingly resilient to drought. Cut it on the longest setting, and only when really essential. Maybe now is the time to keep the mower off some parts, and see what wild flowers come up to flower. Try a “meadow” patch which is left long until late July. Insects will relish some long grass and any wild flowers.

Dr Hilary Ash

Thursday 7 May 2020

Butterfly Park News


On Sunday May 3rd we should have been welcoming hundreds of visitors to our annual Open Day and celebrating the start of our new season. Luckily the lockdown hasn’t affected the flowers, trees, butterflies, bees, newts and the other creatures that make their home in the Park. The newts may even be relieved to miss being dipped out of the pond every Sunday afternoon.

Dog Rose
Dog Rose

We are lucky that Hilary has been able to take some photographs recently. This spring is running several weeks early! Out in flower on 2 May, when they are usually at least 2 weeks later, were hogweed, dog rose and elder. This means plenty of nectar and pollen now, but what will be flowering come July and August??


Here are some more photographs from the Park. First is a shot of May-blossom itself – hawthorn.


The next shows ragged robin and cuckoo-flower (ladies smock) by the pond. Both were planted as plugs after the pond was re-lined in 2016, and have survived the drought of 2018. There are cowslips in the meadow behind.

Ragged Robin and Cowslips
Ragged Robin and Cowslips

Finally bulbous buttercup in the meadow by the pond – to identify them look for the sepals turned back away from the petals. It has a crocus-sized "bulb" underground and dies back to that around midsummer.

Bulbous Buttercup
Bulbous Buttercup

Check our Facebook pages where we will keep you informed of progress. When we can eventually open again watch out for wardens sporting our new T-shirt.

Linda modelling the new Butterfly Park T-shirt

Wednesday 6 May 2020

Flower Friendly Verges

Orchid on a grass verge
Orchid on a grass verge. Photo: Hornbeam Arts, Flickr

Does your daily exercise take you past any grass verges? You may have noticed that road verges have not been cut yet this spring. Most have sprouted lots of dandelions and daisies, but have you seen other flowers on your daily exercise?

Wirral Borough Council would like to know where flower-rich verges already exist, with a view to getting more flower-friendly mowing regimes in place, at least for next year. Send details to and we will collate and pass them on.

Cuckooflower (Ladies Smock) on a verge at Eastham
Cuckooflower (Ladies Smock) on a verge at Eastham

Current plans are that sight-lines and other safety strips will be mown shortly, with other verges waiting till later. So do send in records in the next few weeks.

Tuesday 5 May 2020

International Dawn Chorus Day on Cleaver Heath

What better way could I use up my ‘exercise walk’ on International Dawn Chorus Day (first Sunday in May) than bring it forward quite a few hours to 04.20 and ensure the annual Cleaver & Heswall Dales Dawn Chorus Walk went ahead, albeit with no extra participants.

The forecast was for clear and still conditions - not always the case - so I didn’t really have an excuse to stay in bed. Of course I didn’t see a single human being at that hour so no need for even the slightest form of ‘social distancing’. First out of the traps this year were two male Tawny Owls at 4.25am, closely followed by the usual gang in order: Robin, Blackbird, Pheasant, Wren, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Song Thrush and so on.

Before I retired back to bed, I had heard or seen 23 species which is roundabout what we usually get when conditions are good. The Tawny Owls regularly feature, calling just before dawn. It’s a shame they have not yet taken advantage of our specially installed owl box in Cleaver. More surprising calls were from Shelduck in private land adjacent to the Dales. We have heard/seen these before. We know they nest there and also in the land next to Dungeon Woods where there are suitable rabbit burrows. The estuary is a long way to walk for ducklings. However, they do cover distances – I was once held up on the A540 while a mother with 9 ducklings crossed the dual carriageway.

The lockdown arrangements this year meant I had fewer pairs of ears to help me hear things but, on the plus side, the ‘group’ was really quiet and I was able to try recording the chorus with my smart phone. If you click the 'play' button below you might be able to hear one of my attempts. It lasts about a minute and is dominated by a nearby Blackcap as pictured above with a Blue Tit in sunnier conditions. Can you detect what else is contributing? I am already looking forward to doing a proper walk next year with a live audience this time.

Alan Irving
Volunteer Reserve Warden for Cleaver Heath Nature Reserve

Sunday 3 May 2020

Hedgehog Awareness Week

Thank you to Steph for sharing this video of a hedgehog in her garden in Irby.

Steph has a wildlife blog on Instagram:

She will be giving a talk about hedgehogs on Instagram Live at 4.30pm on Tuesday 5th May for Hedgehog Awareness Week.

Steph has also created a video to show how to find out if there are hedgehogs in your garden.