On Saturday Risley Moss Action Group (RIMAG) hosted an event
entitled Wildlife Wonders at Birchwood Shopping Centre’s Micro Park.
Organiser Paul Speake, RIMAG chair, said “It was a lovely warm sunny day. We invited eight partner groups to take part to help raise awareness of Birchwood’s natural environment and wildlife.
“We had experts as well as enthusiasts to
answer questions, give out free leaflets and activities for the young along
with wild birds of prey on display.”
The wildlife partners taking part included Carbon Landscape Partnership, Warrington Nature Conservation Forum, Friends of Gorse Covert Mounds, Friends of Birchwood Forest Park, Friends of the Walled Garden, Birchwood Plant and Seed Swap, Birchwood Hedgehog Rescue and Wild Wings of Prey.
The unpredictability of British weather produced a few gusts of wind around midday. The first casualty was the Hedgehog Rescue gazebo that was blown over and had to be dismantled. Ironically hedgehogs are an endangered species, but it was the lovely hand-made ones that needed to be rescued. They were available for adoption at £5. The second gust hit the next-door Friends of Gorse Covert gazebo where Jill’s frog dip game was being enjoyed. The frogs took fright and dived below the water line.
Jenny Griggs Carbon
Landscapes – Community Engagement Co-ordinatorsaid, “No
sooner had we rescued the hogs our gazebo flipped over backwards. We realised
that the best way to stabilize it was remove the sides because they were acting
like sails and carried on without incident.
“We were very grateful to
Birchwood staff and Nigel Balding for their prompt help in the recovering the
gazebo. I noticed the two girls who had been working on a Carbon Landscape
activity, hadn’t moved inch. They’d been so engrossed in colouring and carried
on for a long time.”
Geoff Settle, Warrington Nature Conservation Forum (WNCF) chair said, “We
were sharing Jenny’s gazebo and our identification leaflets and books were
scattered. The books are written by Rob Smith, local author and ecologist,
about the birds and amphibians of Risley Moss.”
Rob is selling his books and donating the
proceeds to a RIMAG fund that will go towards the costs of a replacement for
the Observation Tower that was burnt down. A model of the replacement was on
display at the RIMAG table.
Paul concluded by saying that “We are very grateful
that Birchwood Shopping Centre for letting us use the Micro Park. It is a
lovely outdoor space with play facilities and picnic tables.
“We are pleased to have achieved our main
objective of raising people’s awareness about the variety of wildlife in
Birchwood and how to get involved.
“It was great to see Jenny Griggs from the
Carbon Landscape Partnership. All the groups here today have an association
with the project that extends from Wigan to Warrington. It incorporates the
Pestfurlong and Risley Mosses as well as Rixton Clay Pits, Woolston Eyes and
Paddington Meadows. You can discover more by going to their web site https://carbonlandscape.org.uk/ .”
The Warrington Nature Conservation Forum (WNCF) have joined
Chris Packham in urging people to join in the Big Butterfly Count.
WNCF media manager Paul Speake said “This is a great
annual event and just like the Garden Bird Count anyone can take part.
“All you need to do is to log onto the
Butterfly Conservation web page and download a The Big Butterfly Count Chart
containing 19 species of butterflies and count how many they see in a place in
15 minutes. The results can then be easily entered on your mobile or PC.”
Chris Packham, who is patron of Woolston Eyes where you can find
most varieties, launched the Big Butterfly Count on BBC 1 TV. He said that over
100,000 people took part last year and recorded one million sightings across
He said “We need the raw data to learn more about the
natural world and what is happening to butterflies, its good science.
“This is also a great opportunity to get
people outdoors and help improve their mental health. We are proud
to be doing this in association with MIND this year.”
WNCF chair, Geoff Settle said “I’ve seen most of the butterflies
on The Big Butterfly Count Chart this year and all within five minutes-walk of
my house. One good place for me is standing on the “new” environmental bridge
that crosses Spittle Brook. It was built as part of the environmental flood
protection scheme for Cinnamon Brow and has fantastic view across the stream’s
floodplain where there is a tremendous variety of wildflowers.
“In the early warm Spring weather, I spotted the following butterflies in the area: Brimstone, Ivy Blue, many Peacocks, Commas and loads of Orange Tips during the warmer months early in the year.
Unfortunately, since then there has been a lot of rain which has put a dampener on the butterflies. They need the warmth of the sunshine to bring them out and it’s only recently that the Large and Small Whites have appeared flying high and fast and the meadow browns scurrying between the tall grasses.”
Geoff is now looking
forward to a buddleia cutting, given to him by his brother some four years ago
that has begun to flower attracting Peacocks and Red Admirals butterflies. He
said “The buddleia has taken ages to grow but this year it is
looking good and open for business.
“The rest of the garden contains many plants that my wife who is a keen gardener has planted flowers that have attracted many insects and butterflies to the garden, including the Holly Blue.”
To find out more about the Big Butterfly Count and plants to grow
in your garden go to https://butterfly-conservation.org/ and like Chris
Patten says get out there and enjoy the experience.
Conservation Forum (WNCF) whose members include ecologists and wildlife
specialists are urging people to ask themselves
“Is wildlife under threat on your doorstep by the proposals in the draft local plan?”
The WNCF was
established in 1992 as part of Agenda 21 which was itself a spin off from
United Nations Rio Summit on the Environment, the forum’s aims are to involve
local people in decision making on matters affecting the natural environment
and enable the management of wildlife habit threats in the Borough of
Warrington and provide better access to nature alongside our Wildlife partners.
Ecologist and WNCF media officer, Dr Paul Speake said “Hardly a week goes by without a reference in the media to threats on wildlife and climate change, for example
Les Jones, ornithologist welcomes the plans acknowledgement of the Borough’s natural assets that include 55 local wildlife sites, 5 local nature reserves, 4 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and 3 Special Areas of Conservations (SACs). He said “Warrington has so much more that also needs protecting especially on very small sites such as the rare orchids (Bee and Northern Marsh) from being mowed down in Stockton Heath and Birchwood Way verges. Other wildlife species are sprayed with herbicides.”
“Our view is that a
plan should begin with an assessment of the natural environment. What we see is
a plan driven by exaggerated Central Government housing targets and a lottery
for land grab by developers. Sacrificing the Green Belt is not an option that
Since 2014 the town has
been without a natural environmental officer, Brian Martin renowned
ornithologist said “We are renewing our call for WBC to re-instate the role of a natural
environmental officer which was killed off five years ago because of austerity.
This is a very significant role which has been contracted out to Greater
Manchester Ecology Unit based in Tameside.
“Warrington needs to
re-instate the role in-house that is so important because of the sheer amount
of planning applications due to be processed. There have been too many examples
of developers destroying creature’s habitat like badger sets, small thickets or
Paul Speake said “People
should contact us (via our web site wncf.co.uk or Facebook) or the Cheshire
Wildlife Police Officer via 101 if they suspect anyone causing damage to local
alerted Geoff to a tree chainsaw massacre taking place on the Latchford railway
embankment prior to a planning application being made for flats. He was able to
contact the WBC Tree Officer to investigate and he immediately served tree
preservation orders on the remainder. Time is of the essence in the cases some
developers are either ignorant or don’t care. There is no excuse for ignorance
in such matters”
The Mersey Forest based
at Risley Moss have a plan for Warrington that is of great importance to the
borough which is not referenced in the plan. It contains a Tree Strategy
Planting Map with 21 policies and opportunities for the borough. As a former
steering group member for nine years Geoff is very aware of the leading role
that the MF play in the UK Community Forest network and their numerous awards
for conservation excellence.
He said “The council has
a great partner in the Mersey Forest who can understand the greater importance of
trees to capture carbon and pollution to help mitigate climate change. This
would reduce impact of sound alongside busy roads and motorways. In addition, tree
roots bind earth and help fight against soil erosion and flooding whilst their
canopies provide a wildlife corridor for bats, insects, birds etc. and shade.
The WNCF welcomes the recognition in the plan that it’s environmental assets, including its sites of international, national and local importance for biodiversity must continue to be protected and opportunities taken to enhance their function and value, including improving linkages between them, through a comprehensive Green Infrastructure network.
Geoff said “As a
geographer and a parish path warden, I hope there will be an opportunity to
establish new footpaths even though WBC is without a rights of way officer. From
a wildlife point of view, I would like to see the development of Linescapes or
green footpaths for wildlife as advocated by Hugh Warwick.
“He told me about his lifetime
research of hedgehogs and their movements. He argued that the principles are applicable
to other species to get to places to feed or breed. They should be protected,
and any obstacles removed or mitigated.”
The WNCF are very concerned
about loss of parts of Moore Nature Reserve.Brian Martin said “The well-established evidence
of the health benefits of exposure to wild places and wildlife which will
be no longer available to the hundreds of people who regularly visit Moore
Reserve if it is lost.
“Many of them tell me how important the Reserve is to them as
a refuge from all the stresses of everyday life. I see no evidence in the
Plan that such important issues have even been considered.
“The wet woodland habitat found here is
increasingly rare and is home to several Red List species such as Lesser
Spotted Woodpecker and Willow Tit as well as the bittern with its deep
boom. Recreating wet woodland would
not be easy and inevitably take a long time. Planners seem to take the
simplistic and uninformed view that any loss could easily be compensated: it
Ecologist and author (on
birds of Risley Moss) Rob Smith a member of the RSPB said “When new members receive their
information pack they are immediately struck by the strap line ‘GIVE NATURE
A HOME’ this is the message that we believe should also be at the heart of the
Local Plan.” Once the natural environment is concreted, bricked or tarmacked
over they will be lost forever.”
A letter sent by our Chairman to Warrington Borough Council in the spring of 2019
can you pass this email onto the person in charge of the mowing team please and ask for a response?
I am writing on behalf of the Warrington Nature Conservation Forum as chair and checking up on the holding off mowing in two small area of land for a month or so. Birchwood Way grass verge alongside the cycle path (People are amazed at the sight of Bee-Orchids) and Greenall Avenue Stockton Heath at the edges of the small field along side the footpath by the woods). This gives rare orchids and other wildflowers to grow and supports many other things into the bargain.
Firstly – pass on our thanks for not mowing the grass either side of the
M6 bridge that goes from Poulton North to Birchwood on the left grass verges.
We note that there has been a minimal border cut which is fine.
What has emerged is clear evidence on many rare bee-orchid spikes, but no northern marsh as of yet. There have been no signs of either during the last couple of years because of mowing.
In the second area at Stockton Heath this morning beyond the WBC vehicle and woodland there is only about 6 spikes and these are on the right hand side of the path through the thicket. Five years or so ago I recorded about 50 bee-orchid spikes. There are none around the small edge of the field and clear evidence that the mower is being worked close to the small wood. However there is one solitary purple orchid that has so far survived. It would be nice if this could be preserved in some way.
The WNCF would like to meet up with a representative to see if anything
can be done to protect wildflowers in Warrington – perhaps not to the extent of
a Scottish Sign that I have attached but certainly something along these lines.
I will copy in to this email Gail Quartly-Bishop whose specialises in
identifying where Warrington wildflowers are located and can perhaps be part of
the process to build up maps, processes etc that could prove useful in
protecting them and ultimately helping people of Warrington to appreciate their
beauty, well-being and preservation.
Swifts (Apus apus) are superb fliers; you will see them soon when they return to Warrington from Southern Africa. They spend most of the year in Africa but during our summer the birds migrate to the UK to breed from May to September
The Warrington Nature Conservation Forum (WNCF) hope that they will nest in the St Elphin Tower in the swift nest boxes that they installed late last year and in the Swift Tower close to the Warrington Guardian Head Office on Centre Park.
They nest inside cavities, mostly in buildings across traditional terraced housing estates in Warrington and their nests are located high up in the roof space under the eaves of old houses and churches where the birds can drop into the air from the high nest entrance.
There used to be a colony of swifts breeding in St Elphin’s
Church Tower in Warrington for many years where their acrobatic displays were a
great sight to see. Unfortunately, populations of these magnificent birds have
fallen by 51% in their breeding numbers in the UK between 1995 and
2015, swifts are now an amber-listed species and no longer nest in the tower.
Brian Martin, former Chair of the Warrington Nature
Conservation Forum has been studying the swifts for decades and has documented
the changes across Warrington and Cheshire. He is a renowned expert on the
species and said, “There are still colonies of swifts that can be seen
across the town where older housing stock exists, Westy for example is a good
place to see them. However, our survey results in the town confirm the national
trend that their numbers have fallen.
“I have been looking at ways to reverse the downward trend by advising new house builders to design the eaves of houses to accommodate them. I have also tried to persuade people to stop blocking up existing nest entrances and encouraged others to mount swift boxes below the eaves of their houses. They are not too expensive, and you could put one below the eaves of your house.
Brian’s comprehensive records show that there used to be a
successful swift colony breeding in the St Elphin’s Church Tower several years
ago. He has been investigating ways to improve the chances of enticing them
back and after a lot of tireless work it looks as if his efforts may soon be
He said “I contacted ornithologists Louise and Jim
Bentley for their expertise in designing, constructing and installing boxes.
They came to look at the site and confirmed that it was an excellent one with a
high chance of establishing a colony.
With this positive news myself and Helen Lacy contacted the
Rector of St Elphins, Paul Wilson, to get permission from members of the
Parochial Church Council to permit the installation of the swift boxes. The
Rector was very supportive, and I am pleased to announce that work to install
swift boxes by Louise and Jim Bentley assisted by Les Jones of the forum took
place late last summer.”
Helen said, “In an effort to draw swift’s attention to
the new site and tempt the birds into the boxes at St Elphins and the Sift
Tower at Centre Park recordings of swifts will be played in both towers.
It is hoped that the recordings may entice investigation by
swifts that may be fruitful in future years. There is no immediate guarantee,
but it is hoped that we will be able to look up at the tower this summer and
see the birds in action during our warm pleasant evenings catching insects
on the wing.”
Chair Geoff Settle said “I took over the Chair of the
WNCF from Brian 10 years ago. I consider myself so lucky as a rooky amateur to
be able to draw from expertise and knowledge from members like him and champion
Here are my initial thoughts about the Local Plan published
Responding to the draft local plan, Geoff Settle Chair of the
Warrington Nature Conservation Forum says:
“Good to see that our request for the concept of Linescapes,
remapping, enhancing and reconnecting Warrington’s fragmented wildlife sites by
enhancing and improving linkages has now been incorporated.” But “Very
concerned about the Port of Warrington’s impact on Moore Nature Reserve”
“Concerned about the inclusion of Peel Hall – the inspector
currently says a big fat NO to applicant”
“Loss of Green Belt unacceptable there must be a better way –
if not it’s gone forever”
“Need greater assurance that WBC will properly scrutinise
planning applications for potential impact on wildlife and scrutinise and
enforce planning guidelines on cowboy developers”
“Our grandchildren are going to hate us if we get this and
climate change wrong, we have to deliver a sustainable plan that protects the
Whilst a comment from an exec member reads:
My only comment in such as short time is – and it’s based on
something that’s happened in the past week.
A piece of land near the Spar at Risley has just been cleared
& the trees along the roadside have been felled. I assume its for construction
of a new office block/warehouse which – if true, is surprising given that there
are several empty warehouses/office blocks around the area that are up for rent
or sale. Surely part of the plans priority and development should be
about utilising these buildings or the land they stand on rather than using new
land for construction or these properties standing empty.
How many buildings like this stand empty & unused around
the town and potentially could be brought back into use as housing or even
better flats, thereby taking the pressure of green belt land perhaps?
And in response to the article Geoff wrote
Thanks Freddie, I got a
degree in Geography and Economics at Lanchester Polytechnic Coventry
University) and I look bad at what we were taught the in planning etc and look
at what is happening now with disgust – guess who was at the same place as me a
certain director Andy Farrell? Why does he not have the same ethos as me? I
spent time in my Mayoral year helping to redevelop the WNCF page on the council
web site (having had a thirty year career in IT) and I felt that the changes
were very good we had a backlog of our WNCF newsletters etc.
Approximately 4 weeks
later the page was taken down due to a need to save money blaming austerity it
was like a smack in the face but only worse – what about the expense already
spent on the IT man’s time what a waste e was up to date and virtually
maintenance free. Unbelievable but at least Andy is going to retire like me
this year. I used to have time for him but I can’t understand why protection
for the Natural Environment is not top of such a Local Plan. Oh did I say Natural
Environment well what hurt me most was the loss of Warrington BRILLIANT Natural
Environmental Officer – she had to go to save money! Fortunately she got a job
straight away and is doing very well and with the kind help of RIMAG (Risley
Moss Action Group) we have a new WEB Site www.WNCF.co.uk.
There’s saving money and
there’s ..I could go on but …take a look at our Facebook site that I set up
some time ago and pls like it. https://www.facebook.com/Warrington-Nature-Conservation-Forum-110886079024465/
BTW Russ Bowden did a
tremendous job on the fight to stop the Rixton Clay Pigeon Shoot castle from
being built – that was one we lost at the Inquiry after the cowboys had built
the thing without planning permission and no meaning full enforcement by the
council plus in the process they got the Wildlife status of the area removed
because they found a loop whole in the Cheshire Wildlife evidence – they showed
the Inspector that due process of the survey they did was flawed because they
missed out talking to a farmer. The planning world is crazy and I spent 4 years
on the committee. Having said this the bad experience has helped me fight Peel
Hall along with a FANTASTIC drive of local residents none more so than Margaret
Steen – the Fountain of knowledge (and Queen of Peel Hall) about planning in
relation to the area since 1999 and more recently Wendy Johnson-Taylor. Two
BRILLIANT ladies who have shown great leadership qualities. We still have a
long fight ahead but all sorts of stuff is and has been going on that we always
try and get across to the Inspector as we get to the Inquiry stage for the
umpteenth time – there is very little time between successful milestone plans.
We also have Steve (Wildlife Photographer extraordinaire and WG Green Champion
of the year a while back). Its such a boost to have them and a couple of others
who won’t give up easily. Rant over.
On a general note please lets us know via our web site www.wncf.co.uk if you have
an items of concern that you think might impact wildlife and the natural
For many years there used to be a colony of swifts breeding in St Elphins Church Tower in Warrington.
Since it was interrupted, Brian Martin has been working tirelessly to try and get the colony re-established. His attempts have taking another step recently with the installation in early June of bird nest boxes specifically designed for swifts.
These will be enhanced with recordings of swifts to tempt birds into the boxes. Although this will not happen this season at least the recordings may entice investigation that may be fruitful in future years. WNCF would like to thank firstly, Louise and Jim Bentley for their expertise in designing, constructing and installing the boxes, the Rector of Warrington, Paul Wilson, for his support for the project over many years and members of the Parochial Church Council at St.Elphins who helped in so many ways. Les Jones of the Forum did a lot of carrying of materials and assisting with the installation on the day. Last, but by no means least, thanks must go to Helen Lacey who worked with Brian Martin on this project for several years and is so delighted to hear that the boxes are now in place and awaiting their first breeding Swifts. The population of these magnificent birds has fallen by over 50% since 1995 and it is through initiatives such as this, that we hope to maintain and even increase the numbers of breeding Swifts in Warrington. They certainly need our help!
On Sunday last I woke up and switched the radio on just after 6 30am and suddenly heard my voice! it was on a programme called the Living World that was recorded at Woolston in 2000. I walked around the Eyes with a man called Lionel Kellaway who introduced the programme for many years. It was part of a new series highlighting the apparently best of the old Living Worlds. I didn’t know it was going to be broadcast but in the following hour received 3 emails and 2 telephone calls from people who had heard it. It can be found on the BBC iPlayer for Radio 4 starting at 6 30 am on 24th June.
As I write, we are in the grip of a Siberian cold snap right at the end of February. This afternoon, while perusing the newspapers in one of our local supermarkets, headlines suggested that we were all going to die because of this terrible beast from the east. An elderly lady looking at the same tabloids mocked the fearful headlines exclaiming “But it’s winter!” I had to laugh at her look of incredulity at all this fuss… oh how the press love a good old cold snap.
Perhaps we should spare a thought for the Siberians, who are currently carrying on with their daily lives in what, for them, are normal seasonal temperatures approaching -40 degrees. By the way, their kids are still going to school.
Hopefully we are all able to put on a few more layers and can afford to turn up the heating a little. Unfortunately this is not possible in the natural world. Quite how any of our wildlife, let alone some of our tiny feathered friends that may only weigh a few grams, can actually survive these kinds of temperatures is truly amazing. Of course the truth is, in these circumstances, many do perish. Having access to a regular food source and especially a supply of water, is now critical.
This winter, Bramblings (a species of finch) flying in from Scandinavia have been abundant in our area. They feed on seeds at this time of the year and can be seen ground feeding on beech-mast, most often in the company of Chaffinches. These will stay with us up until late March and even into April.
Our Hawfinch population has been declining over recent years and it is feared they might become extinct, being down to around 1000 pairs however this winter saw a substantial influx of these large elusive finches; in Kent alone there has been a count of 700. These birds have such powerful bills that they will split cherry stones. It is hoped that some might stay to breed and therefore boost the numbers of our resident birds. There have been about half a dozen over-wintering in Marbury Country Park and they may still be visible up to the middle of March. There’s plenty more to look for at Marbury even if you miss out on the Hawfinches.
In the depths of our winter when all seems grey and lifeless, put on some warm clothes and take a walk. Fields, hedgerows and woodland walks allow us to reconnect with nature. Have your own wildlife adventure you will slowly start to realise just how much life there is going on around us. Show your kids that there is more to life than computer screens and mobiles. There’s much to gain physically and spiritually from a walk around your local green space. I remember some years ago walking the Sankey Valley Way when a stoat appeared ahead of me. It was standing on its hind legs seemingly dancing, then back onto all fours as it came nearer and nearer, repeating its dance until we were within ten feet of one another before it slowly became aware of my barely breathing, motionless body. The stoat casually returned to all fours and stepped into the hedgerow never to be seen again. What a wonderfully uplifting moment and a memory I treasure to this day. Time spent outdoors is not just enjoyable, it is as vital for our own wellbeing as are those same green spaces.
As spring approaches, the lack of natural wildflowers on our estates is causing young birds to starve in their nests, why not allow a portion of your lawn to grow? You’ll be amazed at the wildflowers that appear, followed by butterflies, bees and so many colourful insects and caterpillars which then become a much needed food source for your local birds and their young chicks during the breeding season.
If you have room, a small patch of nettles make great breeding plants for butterflies. A small pond with at least one sloping side (stops wildlife accidentally drowning) will attract yet more wildlife. Want even more? Put away the chemicals and think organic – local wildlife will love you and reward you with their presence and survive perhaps because of your actions.
How wonderful it is to hear our dawn chorus again. This phenomenon only takes place in late winter and through spring as birds re-establish their breeding territories and pair up for the breeding season. Birds also sing in the evening but it’s not as spectacular as in the morning.
Some early arriving birds to look out for as we near the end of March: Wheatears drop in to feed up on any rough ground or on ploughed fields; Oystercatchers can be heard calling often after dark; equally listen out for the call of an early warbler, the Chiffchaffs and Sand Martins begin to arrive before the end of the month.
If this is all new to you and you are interested in getting out there, perhaps involving your kids, there are local groups you can join, organised walks with local experts or you might be interested in some voluntary work to give nature a helping hand.
Below are a few contacts and places to visit:
Risley Moss has events for your kids and there is a winter feeding station at their woodland hide.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is an internationally respected conservation group with more than one million members which includes many young members. There is a quarterly magazine with around 200 nature reserves for members to visit.
Cheshire Wildlife Trust has been working hard for wildlife for 50 years. Discover more about the wildlife on your doorstep. See their programme of events and there are more than 40 nature reserves you can visit.
We were concerned about the mitigation in place for all of the trees that were removed as part of the road improvements along the A574, Birchwood Way. Have a read of this article from the Warrington Guardian there are a number of very constructive comments to this article.