Nature Natters (5) Borough Bird Life

Borough Bird Life – Nature Natters 5

Even in the depths of our wintertime our resident birdlife is busy protecting its own little piece of land.  Our lovable robin will sing its delightful song throughout this time and we may be forgiven for indulging ourselves to think he is singing those honey sweet harmonies just for us, but what to us is a sweet melody, to other robins is a warning to keep away as they will fight fiercely, even to the death to preserve their food source for themselves and any future mate and young family.

You may have seen a local thrush indignantly, striving to preserve its berry crop from marauding winter visitors such as Redwings and Waxwings intent on plundering his winter larder.  Mixed flocks of small birds move busily through our tree lines scouring the canopies for the smallest of live morsels or tiny pine cone seeds.  In this day and age many people help our wild birds by supplying seed and insect impregnated suet feeders etc, important at all times of the year but especially so throughout the colder months.  Our benevolence will save an infinite number of lives but do please remember to keep your feeding stations clean and free from harmful bacteria.

In the latter part of March, through April and into May, while our winter visitors are departing our shores, driven by instinct towards summer breeding grounds, we are blessed with the return of our own migrant birds to their place of birth here in the British Isles. Many of these birds will have flown thousands of miles from sub Saharan Africa very likely to the same bush or singing post it sang from last spring.  How many of us, even those who know little about our birdlife will still comment with pleasure on seeing their first Swallow arriving for the summer.

Other migrant birds are passing through our lands in this vast movement, perhaps Fieldfares to northern Europe, Redwings to Iceland or Wheatears to Greenland.  This is a great time of the year to keep a look out for special birds.

The harsh months are now behind us.  Summer is here and we have already observed the solstice, our feathered friends have sung their enchanting songs and attracted a mate although some species pair up for life. Now they have built their nests, many that are literally works of art like the Long-tailed Tits’ domed creation which takes several weeks to complete, made with the softest materials of mosses, interwoven with fine spiders’ webs and camouflaged with lichen, then lined inside with up to 2000 feathers; so designed as to expand as the family grows inside – a masterpiece, surely the favourite for a Turner Prize.

In these modern times there is concern for our environment. Over the last half century records show much of our wildlife including birdlife has been in steady decline, due to a number of factors; however most concern is for the dramatic losses of our farmland birdlife: Skylark numbers down more than 60%, Corn Buntings, Tree Sparrows, Grey Partridges down by around 90% others such as Yellowhammers have suffered greatly due to changes in land management, farming intensification, increased pesticide, herbicide and fertiliser use, the removal of hedgerows and other non cropped features resulting in a massive loss of suitable feeding and nesting habitats causing a reduction of available food.

Equally since farmers are now growing two crops a year there are few or no fields being left in winter stubble which would help prevent mass starvations.  Some of our farmers have realised the gravity of the situation and are working very hard with programmes to help remedy the situation by creating rough field margins where weed and insect life can thrive and sometimes planting winter seed crops for wild birds but we need more farmers to become proactive if we are to halt these declines.  Countryside Stewardship schemes are still available from the government.

During our summertime there are countless thousands of fledgling birds which have left the nest but may not yet be able to fly and may be hiding in shrubbery in your garden or a local park etc waiting to be fed by parents.  Sometimes people mistakenly believe these birds have been abandoned or injured.  If you come across young chicks in your garden which are not yet able to fly, unless they are in immediate danger they should be left alone.  You can observe them from inside your property.  The parents are usually close by and will return to feed young once you are out of sight. If a bird is obviously injured, ring your local wildlife hospital or RSPCA for advice. Domestic cats kill millions of young birds every year. If you own one try to keep your pet indoors or away from this area for a few days until young birds are able to fly.  Cat collars are available with bell attached to help warn birds of an attack.

If you would like to get more involved or just keep up with local wildlife events then go to our new website at:

Les Jones.

Warrington Nature Conservation Forum.

Les Jones 28/6/2017




Nature Natters (4) Batty About Warrington

Imagine being able to fly at speed, day or night, weave in and out of natural or structural objects, detect, catch and eat food as you go and communicate with others whilst doing so?  Tricky maybe but not if you are a bat!

Bats are amazing creatures, a warm-blooded mammal that truly flies and often only noticed at dusk but which can be active throughout the night consuming thousands of insects in the process.  Most insects are eaten on the wing and although bats have good eyesight they prefer to hunt in the dark using a specialized form of sonar known as echo location, a high-pitched signal emitted by the bat which not only enables it to locate and avoid objects from the ‘echo’ it receives back from its calls but also as to where its prey is and even what size it maybe.

Although echo location is generally inaudible to most adult’s young ears can sometimes pick up the bat calls whilst the rest of us must rely on a piece of technology called a bat detector, a device which converts the high frequency sound of the bat to our level of hearing which in the process and with practice, allows us to identify the bats moving around us.

Of the 18 species of bat recorded in the UK, 17 species are known to breed here with a further 6 species regarded as rarities or vagrants.  Previous records show that in 1986 there were just six species of bat recorded in Cheshire with a further four species being added to the list by 2012 (The Mammals of Cheshire) and additional species being added since.

Species to look out for around the Warrington area include the Noctule one of the largest British species and usually the first to appear and easiest to recognize as they feed out in the open, often above tree top height where they are frequently noted going into sudden steep dives when chasing insects.  The Leislers is a bat of similar size and characteristics which also emerges before sunset and feeds in a similar manner to the Noctule.  Although Leisler’s bats are found throughout the UK there have only been a handful of records in Cheshire.

Other bats widespread in the region and most likely to be seen include the fast weaving flights of the Common and Soprano Pipistrelles, Daubentons and Natterer’s bats and in contrast the slower butterfly like flight of the Brown long Eared bat.  Two other species found around us include Whiskered and Brandt’s, both of which are similar in appearance and frequency of their echo location and only really identifiable in the hand or by use of sophisticated computer programs analysis of their calls.  In addition, albeit with limited data of its status and distribution, is the Nathusius Pipistrelle, a migrant species which appears to be on the increase in the UK generally and has been recorded on few occasions in Cheshire in recent years.  The Lesser Horseshoe is known to hibernate in the county and possibly recorded on rare occasions whilst there have been unverified records of two further species the Serotine and Barbastelle.

Although our knowledge of bats in the UK and Cheshire is continuously improving we still get the odd surprise and additions to the list when – through DNA analysis, a new species of bat is found to be present among similar types of bat as for example the Nathusius pipistrelle being separated from the Common and Soprano pipistrelle and more recently, the Alcathoe from Whiskered and Brandt’s.

You are never quite sure where you are going to find bats but generally if you venture out on a warm, calm night they can be seen and heard as they forage for insects in various locations such around barns, buildings, gardens, hedgerows, tree lined canals and waterways, ponds and lakes and where it is possible with the aid of a bat detector to listen too several individuals and species feeding there.

Although bats are warm blooded and very active between early spring and late autumn they are an insectivore and as such are dependent on temperature and especially the availability of insects.  Once temperatures fall and insects disappear bats are forced to go into hibernation which they might do so in caves, trees, tunnels or cavities in buildings during the winter period but may reappear for short periods during this time to drink or change location before going back into hibernation.

Sadly over the past 100 years the UK bat population has declined dramatically due in part to loss of roosting, hibernation and maternity sites, fragmentation and loss of habitat and in particular hedgerows which form important links between roosting and foraging sites but also the use of pesticides on crops which not only kill the insects but often the bats themselves whilst some timber treatments and roofing materials can also be harmful to bats.   Added to this is that UK bats also have a slow reproduction rate and only produce a single pup each breeding season as such population increase is slow and more long term but which can be quickly undone if they or their maternity sites are lost.

As a result, bats are now designated as a European Protected Species and are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) which not only gives individual bats and their roosts legal protection from harm or destruction.  Where building works are likely to impact on roosting or breeding bats then there is a legal and licensing process to follow as determined by Natural England, a necessary precaution in this day and age of fast change.

Bats are harmless mammals which do a great deal of good in the environment and cause no damage to property but if you are looking for more information and advice on bats check out the Bat Conservation Trust web site or ring the National Bat Help Line on 0345 1300 228.

You can also send Warrington Nature Conservation a message via our website

Rob Smith is a founder member of the Warrington Nature Conservation Forum and a Consultant Ecologist.


Rob Smith

May 2017

Nature Natters (3) – Garden Bees

Nature: natters (3) – Garden Bees

The first bees to visit the garden in early spring are the bumblebees, the queens emerge from hibernation in early spring usually after the first spell of warm weather. Often the Buff-tailed Bumblebee is the first to emerge, this is our largest bee and as its name suggests has a buff coloured tip to the abdomen, the similar White-tailed Bumblebee is smaller and has a white tail, both have two yellow bands on a black body. The Red-tailed Bumblebee is jet black with an orange-red tail and the ginger-haired Common Carder Bee are also common garden visitors. Initially they will visit early flowers for nectar before seeking out a suitable nesting site, they will then begin to collect pollen to feed their offspring.

Bumblebee nests will often attract unwanted visitors in the form of Cuckoo Bumblebees, these have no workers and do not collect pollen, instead relying on the host species to rear their offspring. There are six species which have similar appearance to the species whose nest they take over, although they are less hairy and have a dark tinge to the wings.

The Honey Bee is another spring species, often appearing just after the bumblebees, these are slender bees and less hairy than bumblebees which live in large colonies. They collect both nectar and pollen straight away to replenish the stocks of supplies for the hive, the pollen is often visible on the hind legs of the bee.

Many species of solitary bee visit gardens, unlike bumblebees and honey bees they do not live in colonies although many nest in large numbers in close proximity. The female will construct a small nest often in the soil, in dead wood or even in soft mortar, she will then lay a small number of eggs. The eggs are provided with a supply of nectar and pollen and sealed within the nest, the majority will not hatch until the following year. The majority of solitary bees emerge in spring and are particularly important pollinators of fruit crops. Leaf-cutter Bees are an interesting group of solitary bees, the females of these insects are often responsible for cutting neat semi-circles from the leaves of roses. They will carry the cut section under their body back to the nest where they are used to line the cells in which the eggs are laid.

Solitary bees can be encouraged into the garden by providing suitable nesting sites, both natural and artificial, south or east facing situations work best, especially if there are nectar sources nearby. Holes up to 10mm in diameter can be drilled in logs or other wooden structures to various depths, these will attract a variety of species. Otherwise short lengths of bamboo cane or even drinking straws can be placed in bundles in suitable sites around the garden.

As with bumblebees the nests of solitary bees may be taken over by cuckoo bees which enter the nest where they lay their own eggs. These hatch out before those of the host species, they then feed on the contents of the nest cells prior to emerging. The so-called Nomad Bees are often the most obvious, these are almost hairless bees often with red, yellow and black stripes on the abdomen giving them a wasp-like appearance.

Recent declines in populations of many bee species has seen gardens and allotments become increasingly important as food sources and nest sites for many bee species. As part of the project to produce a distribution atlas of Hymenoptera in the Cheshire region RECORD are looking for volunteers to record visits by a selection of those bee species which regularly gardens or allotments. Details of the species concerned, their identification and recording form are available from the RECORD or by post from the Zoology Department at World Museum, William Brown St, Liverpool, L3 8EN.

You can also send Warrington Nature Conservation a message via our new web site

Tony Parker – Assistant Curator Vertebrate Zoology

Zoology Department at World Museum

Digital Path Wardens take to Facebook

Digital Path Wardens take to Facebook


Path Warden Geoff Settle has just started his annual audit of footpaths within the Parish of Poulton with Fearnhead. His duties, like those of other volunteer Parish Path Wardens are to send regular reports to the Rights of Way lead officer, John Thorp about the condition, accessibility and signage of footpaths across the Borough.

Building on his time as the first Digital Mayor of Warrington and Knowledge Management advisor for Vertex Data Science, Geoff has trialled social media to see what benefits it can bring.

He set up a new Facebook page called the Warrington Rights of Way Forum and posted photographs and comments about six definitive footpaths (i.e. the ones with green signs).

The trial went well and John said at last week’s quarterly meeting of the Rights of Way “This looks like it could be very useful. I could get on the Forum page you’ve set up to view the photos and comments. Thanks for those. I intend to be in the area soon so will walk the paths and consider your requests.”

The obvious benefit is that a picture is worth a thousand words said Geoff and I he found the current paper forms a bit cumbersome.

He continued “I used to deliver simple web sites using Microsoft SharePoint as part of a Knowledge Management Team for clients like United Utilities and Westminster County Council and I am applying the basic principles we developed.

The Facebook is a free resource that path wardens can use to share information, it is easily accessible, paperless and we can quickly alert John by sending a photograph or video of the issue.”

As Chair of Warrington Nature Conservation Forum, we have been using it as an effective tool for many years. We have also added a Twitter account to make the process even better. They are both proving to be very successful and effective tools that have broadened our area of influence and enhanced our ability to communicate with our partners, members and the public.

The only problem Geoff has experienced so far has been when he I decided to start getting fitter. He combined path audits with his passion for running. Unfortunately, two weeks ago, whilst running fast along a footpath he tripped over some concealed branches and fell head first.

He said, “As I flew through the air I knew that it was going to be painful but as I sat on the ground getting some wind back into my lungs I managed to take a selfie to view the damage to my head.”

He has of course posted the selfie on Facebook and recovery is progressing well but don’t make him laugh as his ribs are still a bit tender.

Everyone is encouraged to get out and use the footpaths and post any comments etc on the Facebook site. To access just enter Warrington Rights of Way Facebook into the Facebook search engine or use this link.

Geoff Settle 6/8/2017

Orchid protection: an email to the Council


Hi Kevin,  (WBC Wildflower expert)

I sent an email to contact on 15/6/2017 about the issues being raised by the WNCF members year on year about the cutting of Bee-Orchids.

We did write a few years ago and a meeting was to be arranged but never took place.

Back in 2014 I remember painting their beauty when there were 50 spikes off Greenall Avenue in a small wood and grassed area not far from Morrisons.

Your department was informed and sent a map but a week later they mowed down. We were told that this was an error on behalf of an inexperienced mower who hadn’t been shown the map we provided.

In a subsequent year when there was a halt to grass cutting a further 100 spikes appeared at the side of the Birchwood expressway by the bridge over the M6 and many people contacted us to describe this rare sight. Alas this has since been mowed and manicured!!

This year I found NONE at Birchwood site and only 5 at Greenall Ave. In addition this area had in fact been churned up as you can see from the attached photo. In the small wood saplings had been cut down and turned into sawdust that has been scattered throughout the thicket.

I’m not sure who maintains this thicket but I’m sure that the action and disturbance was detrimental to the orchids ability to grow.

We realise that some residents do not appreciate wildlife and would rather see our grass verges and small meadows turned into bowling greens only to look at as they drive past but the vast majority of people don’t, at least they wouldn’t if they knew what they were missing. On a related issues this does damage to the environment for the wildlife especially the birds, bees, insects etc.

Have you yet had time to consider our proposals to at least sustain from cutting grass in these areas until the seeds have set and others that can be identified whilst the wild flowers have their moment in the season?

It was only two weeks ago that I saw a very good example of how this is being managed at Clapham in the Yorkshire Dales a village next to my namesake of Settle. The area was simply signed with a brief description of the intent and photos of the wildflowers they hope to protect and why i.e. protect a small meadow of wild flowers and roped off.

Nearer home this happens at Southworth Hall Farm just west of Croft.

Can you comment on our suggestions? We are more than happy to help you to work towards a best practice for wildflowers.

Geoff Settle (Chair WNCF)