Thursday, 20 August 2020

Surveying Heswall Dales


Hilary Ash surveying the heathland at Heswall Dales
Hilary Ash surveying the heathland at Heswall Dales

Recording teams from Wirral Wildlife, led by Dr Hilary Ash, have just spent three, mostly enjoyable, days on a major botanical survey of Heswall Dales. The recording group make a point of surveying all SSSI sites on Wirral on a 10-year cycle. The idea is to keep track of all species growing there, with particular attention to the features listed in the SSSI citation. In the case of Heswall Dales, the main features relate to its Lowland Heath characteristics.

At this time of year one sees a beautiful palette of colours: the light pink is the Common Heather, the yellow is Western Gorse in bloom and the deep purples and browns are the Bell Heather now moving into the seeding stage. This was a real treat for us. The weather was wonderful on the first day, so the only real hardship was cutting our way through encroaching scrub to reveal these lovely panels and wading through the mostly healthy and vigorous heather and compact western gorse.




Part of our duties was to assess the level of scrub encroachment and so identify scrub control priorities to help with site management. For reporting purposes, the entire site of some 50 acres or so of heathland was divided up into compartments where complete lists of species were recorded along with estimates of relative abundance.  In the case of the heather we also noted the condition and age structure, again with a view to site management. The data and associated notes will be made available to the land owner, in this case Wirral Borough Council, as well as Natural England who are entrusted with monitoring the status of sites with special designations.


Interesting finds at Heswall Dales
Interesting finds at Heswall Dales

The woodland areas will be surveyed next spring when the bracken has died back and the woodland plants start to bloom making identification easier. While on the heathland survey, we also noted down anything interesting we happened to come across, for example: birds, bees, dragonflies, butterflies, lizards, lichens and fungi. The young lizard pictured above was discovered hiding in a bag the day after the survey was completed when bracken pulling restarted in the Dales. There seems be lots of interesting stuff around in Heswall Dales just waiting to be discovered. Overall, the impression of the heathland was that quite a lot of it is in a very healthy state but a lot of management effort is needed both to protect these areas and to reduce the rate of further succession into scrub of the heathland fringes.


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