Tuesday 13 December 2022

Green Flag Judge's Report

The Butterfly Park's Green Flag award certificate
The Butterfly Park's Green Flag award certificate

On October 12th the Green Flag judge paid a visit to New Ferry Butterfly Park to assess it.

The Park was rated Green in all categories, which means it "meets the standard with no concerns raised".

Here are a few extracts from the Report:

The site is quite small but packed with interest. Interpretation and information signage is in excellent condition.

The illustrated map shown on the entrance board at the Butterfly Park
The illustrated map shown on the entrance board at the Butterfly Park

Is there evidence that the site is managed to have a positive impact on the environment and biodiversity?

Of course, it is, this is not just a site hoping to get butterflies, it has been carefully planned in the selection of trees, shrubs and plants.

ommon blue butterfly at New Ferry Butterfly Park
Common blue butterfly at New Ferry Butterfly Park

There is a strong volunteer group with links to educational organisations… and local companies come in for team building days.

Employees from WSP helped us celebrate the Green Flag award at a workday at the park
Employees from WSP helped us celebrate the Green Flag award at a workday at the park

Final comments: 

A very impressive entrance to a very impressive site. Not only is this site steeped in history, it has been scientifically planned, cultivated for wildlife and of course butterflies. The interpretation and interactive panels keep everyone of all ages engaged in the search for knowledge without being overbearing. The artwork on these boards and information sheets have been beautifully undertaken and considering this site is run by volunteers it is a credit to them. They should be, and I am sure they are, very proud of what they have achieved.

Well Done this does deserve the green site award. In fact, think about going in for the Heritage award, with the brick making and the railway connections.

This is a ringing endorsement and an acknowledgment of all the hard work that goes in to maintaining and continually enhancing the Butterfly Park. Thank you and well done to everyone involved.

Saturday 3 December 2022

A Tree-mendous Celebration of Cheshire Wildlife Trust's 60th Birthday

Tree planting at Brotherton Park, Dibbinsdale, to celebrate Cheshire Wildlife Trust's 60th birthday
Tree planting at Brotherton Park, Dibbinsdale, to celebrate Cheshire Wildlife Trust's 60th birthday

One hundred and eighty tree whips planted in 22 minutes! Not sure if we would make the Guinness Book of Records but it is impressive.

On Saturday 26th November Wirral Wildlife celebrated the 60th birthday of Cheshire Wildlife Trust by organising a tree planting at Brotherton Park, Dibbinsdale. These trees will buffer Brotherton Park against pollution and noise from the busy Spital Road. They are native species and when grown will absorb carbon dioxide and pollutants and support wildlife.

Ron Warne (left), Howard Gibson (centre) and Tim Gannicliffe (right)
Ron Warne (left), Howard Gibson (centre) and Tim Gannicliffe (right)

Around 40 people turned up to help on the day but much meticulous planning had gone on beforehand, by Hilary Ash and Paul Loughnane, who liaised with Dr Nicola Wallbank, Tree Strategy Landscape Manager for Wirral Council. Thanks also to Ron Warne and the Friends of Dibbinsdale, and the Wirral Countryside Volunteers.

Cheshire Wildlife Trust Vice-Chair Charles Neame about to cut the cake
Cheshire Wildlife Trust Vice-Chair, Charles Neame, about to cut the cake

Afterwards hot drinks and cake were enjoyed and Charles Neame, Vice-Chair of Cheshire Wildlife Trust, cut a celebration cake with a specially polished billhook. Thanks are due to the helpers baking cakes, boiling the kettles and washing up afterwards!

A close up of the birthday cake and the ceremonial billhook
A close up of the birthday cake and the ceremonial billhook

Of course that is not the end of it. The trees will need weeding and mulching for the next two summers. We will be asking for volunteer help to do so. Ron and the Friends of Dibbinsdale will keep an eye on them and let us know when care is needed. If we get another drought, then Nicola will organise watering.

Stephen Ross, Chairman of Wirral Wildlife (left), and Charles Neame, vice-Chair of Cheshire Wildlife Trust (right)
Stephen Ross, Chairman of Wirral Wildlife (left),
and Charles Neame, Vice-Chair of Cheshire Wildlife Trust (right)

Finally a message from our Chairman:

I cannot thank you all enough for making the 60th Anniversary of Cheshire Wildlife Trust such a success.

Never have I seen so many trees planted so rapidly by so many keen enthusiastic volunteers. It was pleasurable to converse with so many of you thereafter while the excellent cakes and tea were consumed with such vigour.

It could not have happened without so much planning and care, supported by our cake makers and caterers. To Ron and Friend's of Dibbinsdale, together with Wirral Countryside Volunteers who make such a profound contribution to wildlife conservation across Wirral, particular appreciation.

Once again, many thanks,

Stephen Ross

All photos by Richard Ash.

Thursday 1 December 2022

The Hoverflies of New Ferry Butterfly Park

Many thanks to Roy Lowry for sending us his report and photographs of the hoverflies he has recorded at New Ferry Butterfly Park.

I thought I should start with a brief introduction. I am a retired oceanographic data manager with an interest in wildlife photography going back to the 1970s. Since retirement I have developed an interest in insect photography, using it as a tool for invertebrate recording. This has led to my becoming involved in two invertebrate recording projects, one in the Butterfly Park and the other in the Chester Zoo estates such as the nature reserve and the wildlife corridor. My Butterfly Park surveying during 2022 has involved 23 visits between the beginning of April and the end of October and whilst I record anything that flies or crawls, hoverflies are one of my main subjects. I became interested in them about five years ago when my identification skills were non-existent. Since then, I have developed to the stage where I can identify around 50% of UK hoverfly species reliably, learning a few more each year. My progress up this learning curve has been greatly assisted by corrections and patient guidance from experts on the identification platforms such as Matthew Vosper and Ian Andrews on iNaturalist and Roger Morris on iRecord.

Whilst bees capture the headlines as pollinators, hoverflies are just as important. Their larvae have many, varied lifestyles but the adults, like butterflies, mainly make a living by visiting flowers for nectar. During feeding they get covered in pollen which is then transferred to other flowers. One of the objectives of projects like the Butterfly Park is to provide an environment that supports as many different insects as possible. As far as hoverflies are concerned this has been successfully achieved during 2022. During the year I have recorded 25 different hoverflies to near species level plus an additional 7 identifications to genus level. My best estimate is that this gives a species count of 30 different hoverflies.

Hornet hoverfly (Volucella zonaria) - left and lesser hornet hoverfly (Volucella inanis) - right
Hornet hoverfly (Volucella zonaria) - left
and lesser hornet hoverfly (
Volucella inanis) - right

I will now give a brief introduction to some of the hoverflies that may be found on the reserve. Adult hoverflies are totally defenceless and, as many are quite large, they provide nutritious snacks for many predators. Their main strategy for escaping the menu is by pretending to be something else that is far from defenceless such as bees, wasps and even hornets. Two species of hornet mimics regularly found in the Butterfly Park in July and August are shown in the photo above. The one on the left is the hornet hoverfly (Volucella zonaria) and the one on the right is the lesser hornet hoverfly (Volucella inanis). Both species are increasing their range northwards and have only been recorded on the Wirral in the last four or five years.

Bumblebee hoverfly (Volucella bombylans plumata)
Bumblebee hoverfly (Volucella bombylans plumata)

The hoverfly above is one variant of the bumblebee hoverfly (Volucella bombylans plumata) that does a reasonable impersonation of a buff-tailed bumblebee. A second variant, also seen in the Butterfly Park this year, pretends to be a red-tailed bumblebee. Another large group of hoverflies known as the drone flies choose to impersonate honeybees. A typical example, the common drone fly (Eristalis tenax), is shown below.

Common drone fly (Eristalis tenax)
Common drone fly (Eristalis tenax)

Whilst there are other bee mimics, most hoverfly species have chosen to impersonate wasps with yellow and black striped abdomens. One of the commonest that may be seen all over the Wirral throughout the year is the batman hoverfly (Myathropa florea) shown below. The common name comes from the distinctive marking on the thorax which resembles the signal that calls the Caped Crusader to Gotham City. The insect in the background is a birch shieldbug.

Batman hoverfly (Myathropa florea), with birch shieldbug (Elasmostethus interstinctus) in the background
Batman hoverfly (Myathropa florea), with birch shieldbug (Elasmostethus interstinctus) in the background

One of my favourite wasp mimics, the hook-barred spearhorn (Chrysotoxum festivum), is shown below. The common name comes from the shape of the yellow markings on the abdomen and its antennae.

Hook-barred spearhorn hoverfly (Chrysotoxum festivum)
Hook-barred spearhorn hoverfly (Chrysotoxum festivum)

So, that’s my quick run through hoverfly mimicry. They may look ferocious, but hoverflies are totally harmless and neither bite nor sting. They are beneficial in many ways. In addition to pollination, the larvae of many species are predators of pests in the form of aphids and even wasp grubs. So, please admire their beauty but don’t fear them or harm them. They are our friends.

All photographs were taken by me in New Ferry Butterfly Park during 2022 and are published under cc-by licence.

Roy Lowry