Wednesday, 7 April 2021

50 Years of Wirral Wildlife

In the early days of the Cheshire Conservation Trust (how Cheshire Wildlife Trust was originally known), Wirral group was part of the West group based in Chester. Sixty members living in Wirral were needed before the Group could become autonomous. That happened at a meeting at Bebington Oval on 7th April 1971.

The original committee consisted of Chairman Major Frank White, Margaret Gilmour, Henry Larsen, Nora MacMillan (Mrs Mac), David Mills, Jane Ratcliffe, Richard Smith and Graham Taylor.

The group manned two caravans each summer weekend, one at Thurstaston Visitor Centre and one at Eastham Country Park and meetings were held at a variety of venues. Jim Gilmour, a previous Secretary to the committee, remembered passing a queue waiting for our jumble sale in Liscard and hearing a woman wondering what a ‘Conversation Trust’ actually did. After Wirral became part of Merseyside in 1974 we changed our name to Wirral Wildlife.

We had little base data on species distribution in 1971 – an essential pre-requisite of conservation action. Recording of species in Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Local Wildlife Sites has been carried out regularly since then. The information accumulated by our recorders has been of value to the Planning Department and Ranger Service. Our records and plans have been incorporated into management plans and used to obtain grants. They have enabled us to contribute knowledgeably to Council initiatives like the Local Plan and make recommendations when we scrutinise planning applications for their impact on wildlife.

We are now involved with six Wirral nature reserves and practical work is led by honorary wardens and teams of volunteers. Our urban reserve, New Ferry Butterfly Park, celebrated being open to the public for 25 years in 2020.

A busy day at New Ferry Butterfly Park
A busy day at New Ferry Butterfly Park

We have also created a programme of talks and guided walks open to the public. Monthly talks from September to April are held in Heswall Hall and feature a wide range of speakers.  In the summer guided walks include a (very early) Dawn Chorus and a bluebell walk.  Each autumn we hold an Apple Day at Eastham Country Park where visitors can taste locally grown varieties of apples and help to make juice using our traditional wooden apple press. Our group also attends events like Science Day at Ness Gardens, Ness Children’s Day and Science under the Stars.

Our display at Ness Science Day
Our display at Ness Science Day

None of these things would be possible without a dedicated team who form the Wirral Wildlife committee and the host of volunteers who help out in so many different ways. We value their support and we are all committed to a Wirral richer in wildlife.

Science Under The Stars
Science Under The Stars

We are currently considering what we can do to celebrate this 50 year milestone. For our 40th anniversary we met in November at Brotherton Park, Dibbinsdale and planted two native black poplars.

Tree planting at Dibbinsdale to mark our 40th Anniversary
Tree planting at Dibbinsdale to mark our 40th Anniversary

When the newly formed committee left the Oval in April 1971 they could have had no idea of how the world would change. In 2017 we were awarded the Queens Award for Voluntary Service in recognition of the impact the group has had in protecting nature in Wirral. Our aim is to inspire, inform, educate and encourage people to protect nature in Wirral – values that were as true in 1971 as they are today.

Acknowledgment: most of the early information was taken from an article written by Jim Gilmour for our 40th anniversary.

Saturday, 3 April 2021

Spring/ Summer Prize Quiz 2021

View over the Mersey from Port Sunlight River Park
View over the Mersey from Port Sunlight River Park.
Photo: Darren Hillman, Flickr

John has set a new quiz to pit your wits against. This time it is in two parts. Part one consists of cryptic clues about butterflies and moths. Part two is called 'Hidden Rivers', where you need to read through four short paragraphs and find the names of British and Irish rivers.

A £10 gift voucher will go to the entry with the best overall score. There will also be two £5 vouchers for the best score in each of the two parts of the quiz.

Download the quiz here

The closing date is 31st July.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

A Good Neighbour

Liverpool Echo Environment Award
Our Liverpool Echo Environment Award

In April 2019 the New Ferry Butterfly Park team was awarded the Liverpool Echo Environment Award for the Community Impact category. This award was appropriately sponsored by Merseyrail, our neighbour.
The following week Dave Kyle, Merseyrail Electrics Facilities Manager, helped the park on its Opening Day by providing temporary railing up Howell Road to the entrance of the park, splitting up pedestrians from motorised traffic. Just as well, as unknown to Dave, works were happening on the line that day and a JCB came up the road with nearly 1,000 visitors expected that day.


The JCB arriving to work on the railway on the same day as the 2019 Open Day
The JCB arriving to work on the railway on the same day as the 2019 Open Day


For the day Dave put up a repurposed yellow metal framed Merseyrail poster display cabinet up with a photograph of the NFBP team receiving the award at the Gladstone Isla Conservatory, Stanley Park, Liverpool. This was put on the railings of the fence but slipped down during the year and water got in.


The Butterfly Park team receiving the Liverpool Echo Environment Award
The Butterfly Park team receiving the Liverpool Echo Environment Award

Howard Gibson and Peter Miller, New Ferry Butterfly Park volunteers, designed a free standing waterproof frame which was put up outside the main gates of the park in Charlie’s Field. This will give passers-by information about the park’s attractions and forthcoming events. It was a challenge to put up. When digging holes for the uprights a bed of railway sleepers was discovered 50 cm down and the display had to be re-positioned several times so the uprights lay in the gaps between the sleepers.

The new display board outside the Butterfly Park
The new display board outside the Butterfly Park

Merseyrail have helped us several times over the years on opening days, corporate work days, donations of primroses saved from railway works, supporting the planning application for a new a set of spectacular Silver Jubilee Gates and with this display cabinet. They are a good neighbour to the park.

Saturday, 13 March 2021

Natterjack Toads at Red Rocks


Natterjack toad
Natterjack toad

Red Rocks Marsh is a Cheshire Wildlife Trust coastal reserve covering 4 hectares of sand dunes, reedbeds and marsh. The reserve lies within the Red Rocks SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). Open pools support the rare natterjack toad and this is the only breeding colony of natterjack toads in Wirral. This species is extremely limited in Britain and is protected by the 1975 Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act.

Red Rocks Nature Reserve Red Rocks Nature Reserve information board
Red Rocks Nature Reserve information board

Active management occurs to maintain the breeding pools and monitor both the adult numbers and the toad spawn. This winter the Royal Liverpool Golf Club have cut the natterjack pools and they are looking a nice depth going into spring. A small interpretation panel has been installed next to the natterjack pools. It was paid for through the Tesco funding and the Royal Liverpool Golf Club kindly put it in for us. There will be three panels, changed throughout the year, each explaining what’s happening at that time of the year with the natterjacks. The panel has already attracted the attention of walkers which is good to know.

Aerial view of Red Rocks Nature Reserve
Aerial view of Red Rocks Nature Reserve

RECORD recently published an interesting article about the genetics of this natterjack population and a population at Talacre. We have reproduced this below.

Microsatellite Markers Reveal Inbreeding In Reintroduced Natterjack Toad Populations

By Susie Phillips

Natterjack toad
Natterjack toad

Our latest article is by Susie Phillips, RECORD volunteer and Democracy & Insight Coordinator at the University of Chester. She tells us about her Masters research into Natterjack toads, which included studying a re-introduced population of this charismatic species on the Wirral.

The Natterjack toad (Epidelea calamita) (below left) is distinctive not only in its prominent dorsal stripe and loud nocturnal mating call, but also in its rarity, being found at only a handful of isolated sites in South East England, North West England, East Anglia, North Wales and parts of Scotland.

Following several local extinction events in the 1900s, the Natterjack and its breeding sites were legally protected and a series of reintroduction programmes, using individuals from extant populations alongside various habitat management techniques, took place across the UK in the 1990s. In the north west, spawn strings were taken from Ainsdale, Merseyside (a recognised stronghold for the species) to repopulate both Red Rocks Nature Reserve on the Wirral and Gronant Dunes/Talacre Warren in North Wales, both Sites of Special Scientific Interest within the Dee catchment area.

Following the reintroduction, breeding success was recorded annually by site managers via spawn string counts during the breeding season (April – July). Over the last 20 years, these counts showed interesting fluctuations in population size at both Red Rocks and Talacre but identifying population trends from demographic data alone can be misleading. Therefore, our study aimed to conduct the first genetic analysis of these populations in order to shed light on the genetic diversity of the two reintroduced populations, and to identify any potential conservation actions required to ensure the genetic longevity of the species at these sites.

Collecting natterjack toads for swabbing

Adults were sampled using a non-invasive swabbing technique and nine microsatellite markers (short segments of DNA where the nucleotide sequence repeats) were amplified across the samples to assess genetic variation within each site and for comparison with the Ainsdale source population. We observed a high inbreeding coefficient at both sites, which indicates that individuals within the two populations were more related than would be expected where random mating occurs.

When paired with the observed level of genetic variability (heterozygosity), which is currently lower in the reintroduction sites than it was in the source population at the time of the reintroductions, this indicates that genetic diversity is low in both populations. Indeed, such low genetic diversity has not previously been recorded in any Natterjack population.

Without intervention the two populations are at higher risk of reduced fitness, increased vulnerability to disease and, ultimately, a second extinction event. However, genetic rescue via introducing new breeding individuals to the population and increasing the available breeding habitat via pool creation has been shown to effectively increase genetic diversity within this species. Therefore, with this knowledge, site managers have the opportunity to mitigate for these risks sooner rather than later and safeguard the species at these sites into the future.

You can read the full scientific paper here (open access).

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Water, Water Everywhere!: Autumn/Winter 2020/21 Wildlife Quiz Answers

Water rail. Photo: Tony CC Gray, Flickr
Water rail, the answer to question 4. Photo: Tony CC Gray, Flickr

The prize quiz winner has been chosen in a random draw from 10 entries with all 50 correct answers. The winner is Mrs Kate Kuss of Haydock, St. Helens. Congratulations Kate!

Here are the answers:


Biting insects causing angst.




Thematic warrior plant.

5, 7

Water Soldier


Is this plant what nine nibbled?




Bird, or thematic mode of transport.

5, 4

Water rail


Plant shocked Lupper with unrestrained conflict.

6, 11

Purple loosestrife


Male goose swallowed nothing very large, a duck!




God! Hospital habitat!




Type of woodwind with spice plant.




There’s nothing in the former West Germany for this creature.




Stirring reveals two mammals.

5, 5

Water voles


Bird is what push comes to with the French right.




I’m told people with birthdays in December to February form an intermittent stream.




Bird sees Ray, for example, come between maybe Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth.




Bird in very large quarry.




Thematic corpse?

5, 4

Water body


Insect has permission to take off.




Keep your hair on!  I hear a bird.




Ocean, burn, river, fish.

6, 5

Arctic charr


Primate and follower, forgetting Old Latin, see this plant.

6, 6

Monkey flower


Host, once seen “beside the lake, beneath the trees”.




Grand odds on Trump’s barrier for a swimmer.




Thematic sailor, a six-footer.

5, 7

Water boatman


Bird from Westminster house together with traditional Scottish instrumentalist.

6, 9

Common sandpiper


Huge friend of Ant turns round, takes in recuperation with ... novel tango.

5, 7, 4

Great crested newt


... or with good fermented beer.

5, 7, 5

Great crested grebe


I had nap disturbed by small creature.




Are these algae just simple molecules?




Feature that hides in Lake Windermere when a flock of ducks is landing on the water.




Sad young woman, take an aeroplane, a little flyer.

4, 9

Blue damselfly


Creature is ’pon land strangely.

4, 5

Pond snail


Thematic potter’s rest, arachnophobe’s nemesis.

5, 6

Water spider


“Don’t tell him” this fish’s name!




I hear strong man Edward lower his head for a swimmer and diver.

6, 4

Tufted duck


Fifteen is verse rewritten in Republic of Ireland, middle of Waterford.




You can read the tea leaves and predict where you’ll find this bird.




Does this insect eat its own rear end?




Tree may be seen, if you look westward, among a hundred lakes.




The Torville and Dean of one kind of fifteen?

4, 7

Pond skaters


Fifteen sea, French and European.




Is Ms Lovelace able to pinch the bottom of this bird?

6, 5

Canada goose


Plant of thematic corvine extremity.

5, 8

Water crowfoot


Lens opacity featured in a river.




Royal drinking vessel is a May-blob.




Turbulent R Dee is subjunctively dead habitat.




Insect, a fuzzy target (a non-starter), almost heavenly good vegetable the Spanish turns round.

5, 6, 6

Great diving beetle


“Duck - it’s a James Bond film!”




Fifteen cooked kale.




Dragonfly, a fat Grand National runner maybe?

5-6, 6

Broad-bodied chaser


Fish spectrum, start of this defeat.

7, 5

Rainbow trout


Neston holes scream excitedly as East African leaders fall out in Scotland.

4, 4, 7

Loch Ness Monster

For anyone wishing to give their brain cells another workout, we will be launching the spring/ summer 2021 quiz soon.