Return of Swifts to the Towers of Warrington

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.

Swift Tower at Centre Park, Warrington

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.

Swift Boxes in the tower at St Elphins Chuch, Warrington

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 rewarded.

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 their work.

“Click on this link to hear an interview with radio 4, a couple of years ago, talking about the birds of Woolston Eyes at this time of the year https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b0b7d2nf

“I’m sure that after hearing this you will want to find out more about Warrington’s SSSI site Woolston Eyes https://woolstoneyes.com/ “

Geoff Settle

Chair WNCF

WNCF reaction to the Local Plan

https://www.warrington.gov.uk/localplan

Here are my initial thoughts about the Local Plan published today 

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 natural environment”


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 environment.


Regards

Geoff Settle

Re-establishing a colony of swift at St Elphins Church

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!

Tree Felling along the Birchwood Way

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.

http://www.warringtonguardian.co.uk/news/16071500.Conservationists_express_concerns_over_number_of_trees_felled_for_roadworks/

 

Warrington Local Plan comments from the Warrington Nature Conservation Forum

Warrington Local Plan comments from the Warrington Nature Conservation Forum

 

I am writing on behalf of the Warrington Nature Conservation Forum, as Chair, to express the views and opinions of our members concerning aspects of the Warrington Local Plan.

With the number of units required increasing to 24,000 this has an even greater widespread impact across the Borough on the natural environment especially places like Moore Nature Reserve and the habitat that has taken centuries to evolve. We are not convinced that some of the policies like QE5 & QE6 are strong enough to protect the Borough’s Wildlife sites or creation of new ones.

We would have liked to have seen the addition of overlays to the local plan.

These overlays would highlight the location and extent of wildlife sites (which would map the Biodiversity list of appendix3), the Mersey Forest plan (for Warrington page 82), the Mersey Environment Gateway Trust area of interest (Upper Mersey Estuary) and the Environmental Agency’s flood map for planning. These examples would give people a spatial awareness and an indication of the impact, issues and proximity of the proposed developments within the Local Plan and Westernlink network.

In another there is a list of partners. The plan however gives no indication of the work that they are doing which could be incorporated into the Warrington Borough Council, Vision and Long-term plan. The plan should have vision that makes people want to live, visit and invest their future here whilst at the same time protect and enhance the biodiversity of the place.  If we get it right for the wildlife then it will hopefully be right for the humans as argued by Hugh Warwick in his book LINESCAPE. We don’t want a vision of a concrete jungle purely driven by the Government unit target we would like to see greater input and local control.

We expect that this may well appear in the more detailed plans that will be developed in the spring of 2018 along with the transport networks and housing developments but please not at the expense of the wildlife networks of green corridors, carbon landscape connectivity, green canopy, water network etc.

Examples can be seen on such approaches by the work of the Environment Agency and their flood defence work, the Mersey Gateway Environmental Trust monitoring the new Bridge Build and the many projects large (Saltmarsh) and small (Orchids) as well as Mersey Forest plantations to name but a few.

Our membership consists of hundreds of Warrington residents with a keen interest in Wildlife, several of whom are local ecologists and our partners such as Cheshire Wildlife, rECORd, RIMAG, Wolston Eyes, Mersey Gateway Environmental Trust, Liverpool Museum. Between them they have entered thousands of sightings into the rECORd database that is used as evidence to verify the biodiversity status of wildlife sites and scrutinise planning applications across the Borough of Warrington.

Austerity measures have unfortunately see the demise of the Warrington Borough Council (WBC) environmental office and the transfer of some of the services that they used to provide to the Manchester Ecology Unit based in Tameside. Some of our partners have had their funding from WBC reduced or withdrawn and we ourselves have lost our presence from the WBC web site after a couple of decades. It used to be an active portal with links to wildlife groups and archive of WNCF newsletters until it was removed in 2016 shortly after being updated! All these actions were confirmed as being due to cost cutting in a reply to our environmental question posed at Full Council twelve months ago.

Fortunately, some funding has been given to one partner although less than the amount they used to receive. The WNCF has found a host associated with RIMAG. They have stepped in and created a much-improved web site from the original, a new meeting place has been found, a monthly column in the Warrington Guardian established and a very strong Facebook site of with over 500 members.

None of the 3rd sector wildlife groups and individuals want wildlife sites to be reduced or threatened in any way.  We are asking for a clearer statement of how the places especially Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) they support are to be protected, enhanced, created and if appropriate linked especially between like species and environments. We believe that by doing so the final Local Plan will be improved and more sustainable for wildlife and enhance our surroundings.

Importance of  Wildlife Sites and protection from developers

Warrington has 3 European Sites of |International Importance (Special Areas of Conservation), 4 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), 3 Regionally Important Geological Sites (RIGs), 4 Local Nature Reserves (LNR), 55 Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) and 3 Wildlife Corridors as depicted in appendix 3 (Biodiversity Designations) there is therefore a great deal to protect as described in their respective and collective citations.

 

Despite sites being listed in appendix 3 there is no map showing their location or better still their locations overlaid over the main Local Plan map. We would envisage this being better described by the adoption of interactive layers. We believe that it would also be very useful to do the same for the Mersey Forest Plan for Warrington and the area of interest for the Mersey Gateway Environmental Trust. Both organisations have been in existence between 25 and 7 years respectively and their current visions and latest plans have been around for a good time, work that has involved a great deal of analysis and design and grown in significance. As they are partners we feel that their plans are of significance to the local plan and should be incorporated.

Whilst we realise that the local plan is an overview, we would like an indication of how LWS will be protected. We remember the loss of one at Rixton a few years ago when a new enterprise application was approved after appeal to the Inspector. The applicants fought hard when appealing to the Inspector to overrule WBC planner’s decision to turn down the application. Their development was haphazard and piece meal with little or no enforcement monitoring or challenge taking place by WBC until the development was to all intense and purpose complete.

The applicant’s solicitor took apart the WBC case and even undermined the Cheshire Wildlife Trusts status of a LWS that was believed to be secure. The episode illustrated how a wildlife’s protection could be undermined if you have enough financial & legal clout, knowledge and experience and that was when we had a very competent ecologist selling their soul.

We ask that WBC’s policies, especially QE5 and QE6 be strengthened to protect the wildlife habitat and that policies are actively enforced with the policies being spelt out clearly to potential applicants who will sign up to them and that these will be enforced vigorously by WBC. Habitats such as these take centuries to mature and be recognised they very important assets in Warrington’s natural history.

Over recent years examples of rogue developers who hope to make their land more easily developed by destroying its habitat before they apply for permission to build have been on the increase. Examples exist where important green canopies have been felled, however where these have been caught because members of the public have contacted WBC – preservation orders have been served, but not often enough. It was good to see the mitigation of tree planting by the EA/WBC in Victoria Park as part of Phase one of their Flood Defence work.

A good example of a development was at a former naval base Croft site in Croft for more than 20 properties. The site was infested with invasive plants, namely Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed close by was a pond. The site plan and application highlighted these features and how the developer was going to treat the evasive plants whilst protecting and enhancing the pond to increase biodiversity as well as creating a walk and viewing areas. We hope that future developments take note of this good practice. We would like to see this as a recommendation for applicants requesting that they enhance the areas that they propose to develop instead of getting an ecologist on board as something they feel compelled to do or as an afterthought. We would like to see a Warrington Guide to good environmental practice issued to all applicants.

We do not want further wildlife sites status challenged, undermined and destroyed as they were at Rixton, where they totally ignored for several by the enforcement and planning team. We do not want to see such technical escape clauses being activated by default under stealth. We do not want to see any other Wildlife site face extinction. We would like these and other wildlife sites to receive the highest level of protection that they deserve especially if when as seems highly likely we leave the EU because of Brexit.

The significance and status of these places have been achieved by our members and partners collecting huge amounts of data over decades of hard work. There are numerous prominent eminent environmentalists like David Bellamy (Risley Moss), Woolston Eyes (Chris Packham) who have put their name and support behind the Borough’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest as well as BBC documentaries that have all highlight the important wildlife sites of Warrington.

One example was when David Lindo (Urban Jungle North West) visited Warrington because he was made aware of numerous groups with wildlife stories to tell. His visit in the summer of 2013 was facilitated by members of the WNCF who showed him the Swift colonies (highlighted by the Swift renown & local expert Brian Martin), hedgehog hospital, etc. Even Jeremy Paxman travelling down the River Mersey through Warrington, not to mention the growing number of seals lending their environmental support. Both highlighted the importance of Woolston Eyes.

 

 

The WNCF has been involved in many surveys to designation many sites in compiling the evidence that acknowledges their importance as Wildlife sites. We argue strongly that they must be protected against bulldozer and tons of brick and concrete, covering the landscape beyond all recognition. Once destroyed by large developments or damaged through encroachment these habitats cannot be recreated and will be lost for ever.

We mustn’t forget that there are other areas for example where wild orchids grow that need protecting during the summer months and we are appreciative of the work and partnership that we have with WBC as we develop that protection and policies just as we did to protect birds during the breeding season that are now followed and enforced. We would like to see the growth of other places in and around the Town where for example invertebrates are thriving and provide food for the wildlife food chain, in wild flower meadows, nectar for the bees providing a safe haven for them away from pesticides etc.

 

 

 

We believe that biggest threat to Wildlife sites is by lack of management that could result in de-designation.  We believe that the local plan should also be forward thinking in accordance with NERC Duty with reference to rECORd (the Local Biological Records Centre serving Cheshire, Halton, Warrington and Wirral) and a view to exploring the potential for new sites for designation. It would be ideal if developments located near or next to LWS sites have some element to support such maintenance of wildlife sites built into the approval process as occurred in the Croft development.

Developers must be educated in the way that they can support and reduce to a minimum any impact they may cause. There is a need for plans to be scrutinised by a competent ecologist, looking for how plans can be ecologically enhanced.

It must be beholden on WBC to offer the appropriate advice, expertise and knowledge to help the developers achieve a high standard of care for the environment as part of the planning process. Following approval then the development of the site must be monitored on a regular basis to make sure that appropriate and timely action is taken to rectify any deviation from the agreed plans. On a larger scale, we expect the same to be done with larger construction projects, networks etc as they have been with the Merseylink bridge by Halton.

 

LINESCAPES – connectivity and networking

We feel that the local plan should say something about identifying new sites and joining up sites to create a eco network, maybe recognizing existing networks of paths as ecosystems worth saving.

Members of the Warrington Nature Conservation Forum believe that the Local Plan must identify the measures to mitigate, protect and even create new wildlife places. The Local Plan should be an opportunity to make sure that their boundaries are protected and that wherever possible they are connected as described by Hugh Warwick in his research and his book “LINESCAPES – Remapping and Reconnecting Britain’s Fragmented Wildlife”, along with green corridors and green canopies.

One of the largest and significant LWSs under threat is Moore Nature Reserve (originally 2 LWS but more recently combined into one). It is an incorporated as part of the Local Plan’s Waterfront encroached by the Peel Port’s development of the Port of Warrington.

 

This comes as a great shock to our members when they viewed the plans and they cannot believe the potential damage and loss to one of Warrington’s premier wildlife sites and what are the provisions to protect from flooding?

Peel Ports is offering up a huge chunk of their land for the development of the Port of Warrington. The is part of the Waterfront Development that will accommodate in total 4,000 units (houses and industry).

 

 

 

This has been a hugely successful wildlife site development of the extended Nature Reserve that has become a home to bitterns  (rated amber), heronry and so much more. ‘Friends of Moore Nature Reserve’ has many active members and it has been well supported by thousands of people from near and afar. Anyone who saw the early developments of 20 years ago and returns now will marvel at the changes, they just get better and better. However now that the funding from WREN due to closure of Arpley Tip is taking place there is an issue of future funding following the capping of the site. The transition to a regional park needs to have wildlife conservation and biodiversity to the forefront as well as a carefully thought out plan for the appropriate management features in what the MGET is already looking at being a Mountain on which hides can be sited to view the birds and tidal surges on the Upper Mersey Estuary across to Fiddlers Ferry.

 

Hides provide great leisure places for bird watchers and people travel long distances to see the type of wildlife that has been attracted to this place. Having said this at the opposite end of the spectrum are the vandals who have recently set ablaze a hide not only here but at Risley Moss. For this place to be built on or around (the map isn’t too clear) is certainly a retrograde step in our view and we wonder what consideration has been given to managing the flood plain. It is one of Warrington’s great successes that needs to be promoted not threatened by layers of concrete.

We imagine that many people in the Town are unaware of Moor Nature Reserve and to take it away from those who are yet to discover the hides, walks, peace and quiet is a great shame. Warrington needs to learn about how to promote such places and educate and inform people about where they are and their value as an asset.

Wildlife sites should be an opportunity for a promoting a positive future outcome. These places should be lauded and their benefits actively publicised. Ideally these principles could be incorporated

The proposed increase of units means that the original plan’s impact must be revisited because the surface area under construction has increased across a wider area. The impact on local wildlife sites is therefore even more of an issue than it was.

Given that these areas are spread out there should be a greater emphasis on connectivity as the smaller isolated areas run a great danger of collapsing inwardly.

Moore Nature Reserve (MNR) consists of two original LWS’s that have been merged into one circa 2012. A huge amount of data records has been gathered for Moore and is held on rECORd thanks to some very dedicated people there over the years. It would be worth not just focussing on the LWS designation for the site but how the records stack up, e.g. we suspect the records and species lists for the site compare well to SSSI’s and LNR/NNR’s. That would be one avenue to really push. We don’t want LWS’s to get dumbed down and face little or no protection in planning terms. Focus on the sites strengths such as the species and habitats as well as the huge community asset it is for recreation (don’t use the words dog walking!!)

With all this new impact, we don’t want to be having to search for the green space or be quoting from the Joni Mitchel’s song Big Yellow Taxi saying ‘they paved paradise and put up a parking lot!  Or as one ecologist has been heard to say, “we don’t mean cycle ways with strategically planted token trees!” What we need are proper creation of habitat links and enhancements to existing ones.”. This should be designated on the outline plans up front as well as the bridges ready for the later detailed plans in spring 2018. We need development that is sustainable for the natural environment.

Mersey Forest Plan

The Mersey Forest continues to develop a growing network of woodlands and green spaces across Cheshire and Merseyside, it has been creating ‘woodlands on your doorstep’ for 25 years. This organisation has won numerous awards for its planning and has a comprehensive plan for future development as well as organising international and regional conferences.

At recent conferences in Birmingham and Liverpool attention has turned to the thought provoking concept of the Northern Forest or a green Northern Powerhouse Canopy stretching from Delamere Forest, through Warrington, Merseyside, Lancashire, Yorkshire and across to Hull.

Within this is the concept of the development of associated industries to do with wood, e.g. a new Widnes power plant drawing from the management of plantation areas harvested by Eddie Stobbart down to a local level of people harvesting for their wood stoves and in doing so helping manage a sustainable woodland.

Educational resources are another activity at the micro level planting school orchards at Warrington Schools to learning forestry and carpentry skills. Skills that can be used on local projects along with training at local colleges such as Myerscough and Reaseheath.

Warrington Borough Council has over the last two years ceased to fund the likes of the Mersey Forest, Cheshire Wildlife Trust, WNCF, reCORd as well as the Wildlife Environmental Officer. This is despite the excellent work these organisations have done in the Borough. The Mersey Forest for example has a very successful first 25 years and has produced a plan for the next 25 years and the Town shouldn’t have to miss out participating in that great vision due to it’s lack of insight into a green future.

We call for rethink as to why this is going on and the impact that it is ultimately having on the wildlife and the wildlife habitat. The council has not only thrown away expertise, but it has broken links to a great Cheshire Ecology Network.

Mersey Gateway Environmental Trust (MGET)

The MGET whilst younger than the Mersey Forest shares many of its values. In the brief seven years that it has been in existence it has grown in significance and has seen successful ecological expertise that are of benefit to the Upper Mersey Estuary plan that extends from Widnes, Fiddler’s Ferry and the development and PhD research of the regeneration of the salt marshes along with long-horn cattle grazing to stimulate the recovery of wildlife to Woolston Weir were monitoring of salmon is taking place.

There is no reference within the local plan to the vision of plans of the MGET which is a key partner that has a planned 30-year interest in the Upper Mersey Estuary and therefore the Regional Park, Waterfront, Moore Nature Reserve and beyond. It is believed that the RSPB have expressed a key interest in being involved within the area.

Whilst the two new bridges/routes aren’t the same scale as the Merseylink crossing, they should be taking heed of lessons learnt and any offers of advice and help. A great deal of assistance has been received by the MGET that demonstrate assistance and co-operation can be achieved from such a partnership. It would be good to see WBC successful follow this model and develop a working relationship with the construction companies and developers to ensure that long lasting ecological benefits are accrued that will benefit the area.

Land loss offset

We understand that for any land lost e.g. greenfield or brownfield then the DEFRA Biodiversity offsetting metric should be applied, is this the case with the local plan? Has there or will there be any S106 funding available that can be used towards environmental projects or mitigation, there is talk that S106 money from Omega was destined to be spent on Gatewarth Phase 2 and on creating grassland somewhere, if so is this still in the pipeline?

Green Energy

Are there any plans for developing Green Energy sites? A few years ago, these were discussed and modelled as part of the Climate Change initiatives being considered by WBC but nothing came from those tentative ideas, for example a small wind farm on the higher reaches of Warrington. Are there any proposals to improve air quality especially near to the many sites close to the large motorway network?

Geoff Settle

(Chair WNCF)

PRESS RELEASE Warrington Local Plan and Western Link: Comments from Warrington Nature Conservation Forum

Warrington Local Plan and Western Link

Warrington Nature Conservation Forum

The 500 members of the Warrington Nature Conservation Forum (WNCF) are concerned about the threat that the proposal of 24,000 houses bring to the Warrington’s natural environment and it’s 69 wildlife sites whose patronage includes Chris Packham and Professor David Bellamy.

They want to see a stronger vision of how WBC intends to promote a sustainable natural environment. Policies such as Biodiversity and Geodiversity (QE5) and Environmental and amenity protection (QE6) of the Local Plan Core Strategy need to be more robust considering the changes.

WNCF chair, Geoff Settle said “This is an opportunity for WBC to incorporate a vision that will enhance and improve Warrington’s natural environment and make it a healthier place to live and work in. I have submitted two consultation papers outlining our views.

“We know that environmental protection is under the cosh from the answer given to our Full Council Question last year. Austerity was blamed for the loss of their Natural Environmental Officer post, our removal from the council web site, reduced funding for wildlife partners and planning application with wildlife content were transferred to the Greater Manchester Environment Unit in Tameside.”

The WNCF do not want to have any more Local Wildlife Sites de-designated. This occurred a couple of years ago in Rixton when a developer took WBC to a Planning Inquiry and won. The natural environment is also under threat from vandals destroying hides and platforms most recently at Moore Nature Reserve and Risley Moss respectively. It is also being destroyed by speculative rogue developers who cut down trees and destroy habitat that has taken centuries to evolve so that they can submit their application. Their intent is to claim that the development site has little or no biodiversity value and believing that they have outwitted the enforcement team by destroying the evidence.

Founder member Brian Martin, a renowned ornithologist and Swift expert, would like to see the inclusion of wildlife maps as overlays. He said, “Overlays would help show how the proposed Local Plan will map onto the existing 69 wildlife sites, Mersey Forest Green Infrastructure plan and the Environmental Agency’s Upper Mersey Flood plain. Without these laid on top of the Local Plan it is very hard to make sense of many parts of the plans.”

The WNCF argue that the Local Plan should be an opportunity to protect and develop wildlife networks, as advocated by Hugh Warwick in his latest book “LINESCAPE Remapping and Reconnecting Britain’s Fragmented Wildlife”, rather than create roads and estates that fragments these wildlife routes and encourage the greater use of cars adding to Warrington’s shameful pollution statistics.

Ecologist Rob Smith who is also a member of Risley Moss Action Group (RIMAG) said “Our SSSI sites are home to many birds that appear on the ‘UK’s list of ‘Birds of Conservation Concern(BoCC)’. They are a major reason why Warrington’s Site of Scientific Intertest (SSSI) and Local Wildlife Sites citations exist especially those of Woolston Eyes, Risley Moss and Moore Nature Reserve (MNR).

“The MNR site that is at greatest risk from the Local Plan and the proposed development of the Port of Warrington and the Waterfront. There are at least six BoCC Red listed (the highest conservation value) species of birds found there including the lesser spotted woodpecker and song thrush and at least nine species on the Amber list including the seldom seen but often heard Bitten that makes a booming sound.”

Forum members would like WBC and developers to commit to the development of new wildlife sites, innovative policies and agreements.

A housing developer in Croft has recently removed invasive plants like Himalayan Balsam from their site and enhanced a wildlife pond as part of its development commitment. Brian Martin has advised a Cheshire house builder how to incorporate special bricks for Swifts to nest in the eaves of new houses. This has resulted in re-establishing a colony when they return from Southern Africa to breed. WBC have in the past taken advice from the WNCF to deliver policies to halt to hedge cutting during the bird nesting season and more recently agreed to protect rare and sensitive Wild Bee Orchid sites from being mowed down in Stockton Heath. Two years ago 50 Bee Orchids were seen at the site but this year only 4 flowered after the site had been mowed and churned up, hopefully it will not be too late to save this beautiful specimen that imitates a bee.

These are just four examples of what may seem like small things but the WNCF believe that they do make a big difference to wildlife and if WBC can encourage developers to do more things like this through their policies then Warrington will be a better place to live in.

Dr Paul Speake social media officer said “The WNCF do not want to be quoting from the Joni Mitchel’s song Big Yellow Taxi saying, ‘WBC paved paradise and put up a parking lot!’ The Local Plan should be a vision that makes people want to live, visit and invest their future here whilst at the same time protecting and increasing the biodiversity of the place. 

“We want a healthy sustainable natural environmental strategy that protects the wildlife and in turn the people of Warrington and as Hugh Warwick argues if the wildlife habitat is healthy then so will the associated population’s health and wellbeing.

“You can read the full transcripts of the two documents we have submitted as part of the Local Plan and Western Link consultation on our new web site  https://www.wncf.co.uk/ and Facebook page.”

Geoff Settle

Chair Nature Conservation Forum

Fly tipping, happening more and more often

Dear Editor,

Warrington Nature Conservation Forum (WNCF) are asking people to respect the countryside whilst we still have some left in Warrington.

A couple of years ago they campaigned and got WBC to place a waste bin on Delph Lane at the start of the footpath to Croft and Houghton Green Pool. It was the time when the BBC’s weather lady Diane Oxberry featured the fly-grazing horses grazing on the land in her news programme North West Tonight.
Secretary Roger Lamming said “I have enjoyed visiting Houghton Green Pool for many years but one issue that annoys me is the way litter is discarded by visitors, BBQs and fires in the summer months.
At our last annual litter pick we collected several black bin bags full of plastic bottles, crisp packets, cigarette cartons, dog poo bags hanging from branches and two dinghies.
Visitors could easily have carried most of these things to our waste bin or taken them home!”
Last Wednesday WNCF chair Geoff Settle was running from Cinnamon Brow to the wildlife site to check on the Pool’s water level. He crossed over the M62 Delph Lane bridge and headed downhill towards the footpath. He stopped halfway down the hill when he saw a mass of rubbish tipped down the steep embankment. It looked like it had come from a low loaded lorry that had fly-tipped plastic crates, toys and all sorts of household rubbish.

He said “I had my camera with me and shot a small video of what I saw there and 20 meters further on by the waste bin where there is lots of litter and five tyres
https://www.facebook.com/geoff.settle/videos/10215172648890607/
“I also took some photographs and logged details on the WBC fly-tipping web page
https://www.warrington.gov.uk/flytipping

ref: 412130.

The problem doesn’t stop here, farmers in Winwick are constantly battling to stop fly-tipping on their land by barricading field entrances with straw bales. The countryside is following the rest of Warrington in having to deal with these issues unfortunately everywhere is under siege.

Geoff said, “Not only does it look unsightly, but the rubbish poses a great threat to local wildlife. There must be smarter ways that will lead to convictions of these cowboys and litter louts such as:

  1. Use of wildlife cameras featured Countryfile and record details of the fly-tippers, perhaps their vehicle registration.
  2. Litter warden scheme my local Parish Council, Poulton with Fearnhead Parish have started a pilot scheme. The warden has already collected a lorry load of rubbish and two car tyres in a few days. However, the Parish shouldn’t be duplicating the work that we are paying WBC to do.
  3. More educational visits to schools by Phil Chadwick, WBC’s educational waste and recycling educational officer. He does fantastic work and hopefully the children go home through peer pressure spread the word of a cleaner environment.
  4. We need more people reporting and logging details about fly-tipping, litter and dog fouling. The more evidence gathered leading to prosecutions and fines the better.

Kind regards
Geoff Settle – Chair WNCF

Nature Natters (6) Wild Flower Campaign

WNCF – Wild flower campaign: Bee-Orchids – Nature Natters (6)

Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera) are wild flowers that look like bees on a spike but they are sensitive to disturbance and can be difficult to spot however when you do you will be amazed at what you see. The Bee Orchids of Stockton Heath inspired me to make them the subject of a watercolour painting that I submitted in the local arts competition.

It was one of our members who first reported seeing them at a Greenall Avenue site. He sent me a map of their location which I passed on to Warringgton Bourogh Council so that they would protect them by leaving an unmown strip. It turned out that a trainee didn’t receive the message in time and mowed them down. Fortunately, no damage was done to the 50 Bee Orchids that were in the adjacent small wood.

A year later, as part of a cost saving exercise, WBC stopped mowing grass verges across the borough allowing the landscape to return to its natural habitat of tall grassland. In one of these patches in Birchwood, alongside the expressway, more than 100 Bee Orchid spikes and 50 Marsh Orchids (Dactylorhiza praetermissa) flourished, hidden amongst the tall grass.

Unfortunately, since then both sites have been mowed annually destroying any chance of them growing. To make matters worse this year some of the young saplings in the Greenall Avenue wood were cut down and turned into saw dust which was scattered across the wood and over the Bee Orchids. The net result was that this year only 4 Bee Orchid spikes were found in the wood and none at the grassland area.

This summer our eagle-eyed member has found a new site further on a grass verge further up Greenall Avenue but before the land owner could be alerted their grass cutter operative had mowed them down.

These examples go to show just how fragile wildlife is and why it needs to be protected. We hope that WBC will adopt policies like Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s web page that states “Bee orchids are protected, as are all wild flowers, under Section 13 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). This section prohibits unauthorised and intentional uprooting of any wild plant. In addition, because orchids are particularly slow growing and may only flower once in their lifetime, it is important to never pick the flowers.”

We are more hopeful for next year because both the private landowner and WBC have agreed to refrain from mowing these grassed areas during the Bee Orchid’s brief flowering season and for future years.

We are so lucky to have at least three sites in Warrington and our aim is to protect them as best we can. We need your help, so If you come across any wildlife sites that you feel need protecting then please contact the WNCF via our contact web page www.wncf.co.uk and tell us about what you have found.

 

Geoff Settle

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: www.wncf.co.uk

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 http://www.wncf.co.uk/

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

 

Rob Smith

May 2017