Sunday, 31 August 2008

Reminder: Bat Walk

An evening Bat Walk is to be held next Saturday.

Leader: Jim Taylor of the Greater Manchester Bat Group

Date: Saturday, 6th September

Time: 7:15 pm to 9:00 pm

Place: Chorlton Ees Car Park (end of cobbled road).

Bring a torch and dress for the weather

For more info. ring Alex Krause on 0161 881 5639.

Coppicing on Ivy Green

Some of you may remember coppicing Hazel and Ash, on Ivy Green, on the 18th November last year? Well, the other day I thought that I would stroll over to the site and see what had happened in the intervening 10 months or so. I was quite amazed by what I saw - some of the Hazel, which was cut almost to ground level in November, has produced shoots 6 ft high in just that short time! Of course, these shoots are still quite thin and whippy - but I'm sure that they will thicken up in the next year or two.

Our ancestors were well aware of this propensity of many of our broad leaved trees to sprout from the base when cut down. Coppicing is a practice which dates back at least to the Bronze Age (around 5 - 6,000 years ago) and is probably even older. In 'traditionally' wet parts of the country - like the Fens or the Somerset Levels - archeologists have found trackways, and other structures, buried and preserved in peat deposits. Examination of these remains reveals that they were originally constructed from coppice poles.

Right up until the early years of the 20th Century coppice poles had many uses including: wattle and daub walls, hurdle-type fence panels, tool handles and anything which required long straight poles. Coppiced wood was also turned into charcoal by heating it in the absence of air. Perhaps the most sophisticated use for coppice poles was found around High Wycombe, in Buckinghamshire, where craftsmen, working on pedal-driven pole lathes, in the open air, produced high quality furniture components (chair legs etc.).

Coppicing is a good environmental practice because it lets light onto the woodland floor and allows other plant species to flourish - thus boosting the biodiversity of the site. It also, and this may seem paradoxical, prolongs the lives of the coppiced trees (some coppiced Ash stools may be some of the oldest living things in the country).

If you are interested in coppicing or, or woodlands in general, you might like to read the following books:

'Woodlands' by Oliver Rackham (Collins, 2006)

'Seahenge' by Francis Pryor (HarperCollins, 2001)

'Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees' by Roger Deakin (Penguin Books, 2007)
Dave Bishop, 31.08.2008

Friday, 22 August 2008

Mersey Valley Plants - Part 3, The Twentieth Century

In many ways the modern Mersey Valley embodies 20th Century people's view of the land and its uses: land was there either to grow crops or to raise livestock on or to build on. Any scraps that were not suitable for either of these purposes (because of the possibility of flooding or other problems) was regarded as ‘waste land’ and could have rubble or household waste tipped on it. This view regarded all of the other organisms - plants and animals - that lived on the land to be, at best, irrelevant, and, at worst, just a load of weeds and vermin to be exterminated. In the 21st Century I believe that this is still the predominant view (although I’m convinced that the vast majority of people hardly think about it al all). But now there are stirrings of unease - lots of fashionable twittering about ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ (of ten, I suspect, from people who have no intention of changing their own behaviour) and some, not very effectively enforced, laws designed to protect ‘biodiversity’. Occasionally, vaguely scary things happen, such as largely unexplained crashes in the populations of once common organisms such as house sparrows, starlings and small tortoiseshell butterflies. Recently there has even been talk of mysterious maladies affecting bees – and if bees die out what will then pollinate fruit trees and other crops? Where will it all end?

I think I know … but I’m straying too far from the point.

In the first of these articles we saw how the Mersey Valley landscape was shaped by people. They first harnessed the power of the river and eventually used flood waters to create water meadows which were cut for hay or grazed. Higher ground, less prone to flooding, was ploughed and used for growing crops. This landscape was, of course, the result of countless thousands of man and woman hours of back-breaking labour. The fields and meadows would have accommodated a lot of wildlife but the people would have lived in an often uneasy relationship with it. I sometimes wonder if the modern world’s shocking disdain for wildlife is in some way the ploughman’s atavistic revenge against the tares that tangled in the ploughshare or the birds that ate the corn.

Nevertheless, the 20th Century tore this old and carefully nurtured landscape apart in just a few short years - mostly well within living memory. Rubbish tips, sewage works, golf courses and sports pitches all took their toll, followed by gravel extraction and motorway construction. Remaining scraps of meadow were either badly over-grazed by tenants’ livestock or allowed to grow out until they fell prey to local vandals with matches.

In the 1970s decisions were taken to improve the mess that the Mersey Valley had become. Unfortunately the local authorities proceeded with more enthusiasm than knowledge. They failed to recognise that the Mersey Valley was, from an ecological point of view, mainly important for its unimproved grasslands and their rich floras, and obliterated even more of this grassland by tree planting. Planting trees is not a universal solution to all conservation problems and can be counter-productive. Unimproved grassland is a much rarer and more precious habitat than new plantations of trees – no matter how pretty the latter may look! Recently some prominent figures in the fields of conservation and ecology have begun to speak out about the catastrophic losses of grassland; for example George Peterken, OBE one of the UK’s most eminent woodland ecologists, has commented: “As a professional ecologist who has promoted woodland conservation for almost 40 years, I have no hesitation in saying that the priority is now grassland conservation” (quoted in ‘Plantlife’ – the magazine of the wild plant conservation charity – Issue 50, Spring 2008).

Dave Bishop, August 2008

Friday, 8 August 2008

Small Mammal Survey event, Sunday, 3rd August

A big thank you to everyone who attended, and a special thank you to Nick Martin (BTCV) for lending his time and experience. Despite recent rains, we hit lucky and the morning was dry and largely sunny. The turnout too was a great success, with around 20 people in attendance.

Here’s the vital statistics of what we caught on the day.

Trap Species Sex Weight
1 Wood mouse Apodemus sylvaticus Female 23g
2 Wood mouse Apodemus sylvaticus Male 16g
3 Wood mouse Apodemus sylvaticus Female 26g
4 Wood mouse Apodemus sylvaticus Female 19g

Only catching wood mice bears out surveying undertaken prior to the event. Wood mice are the UK’s most common rodent and can be found around most habitats, their preferred habitats fields and woodland. See the Mammal Society’s Fact Sheet on Wood Mice for more information:

The traps successful on the day were ones positioned around brambles and woodland margins. The field surveyed proved fruitless, backing up trials done in previous weeks. Though there is a population of field and bank voles, we’ve heard them and seen evidence of their ‘runs’ in the grass, the fact that the field isn’t grazed means that it is not as well-suited as it could be. Similar grassland around Chorlton Water Park (particularly Kenworthy fields and Barlow tip) have shown to have a healthy population of field and bank voles – backed up by the greater kestrel numbers that reside there. One possible reason for this is these area’s rabbit population, their grazing creating the lush, ‘grassy’ habitat preferred by voles.

We did manage to see a bank vole on the day – though sadly one found dead on a footpath.

Please leave any comments as to what you thought about the event, including any similar follow up events you’d like to see run by FoCM in the future.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

More Dates for your Diaries

Dear Friends,

Here are a few more dates for your diaries:

Saturday 9th August

Working with the BTCV to finish off the benches on Chorlton Ees.

Time: 10:00 am to 3:00 pm
Meet: Chorlton Ees car park (end of cobbled road)

Wednesday 13th August

The Amphibian and Reptile Group for South Lancashire will be leading a free training day on reptiles aimed at parks & countryside wardens and rangers (and interested volunteers). This is a great opportunity to learn and develop ways to promote and enthuse people about reptiles and to create a survey network. The training will cover the following:
An introduction to slow-worms and other reptiles
The principles of surveying for reptiles, the value of public involvement and what to do with the information collected
Reptile habitat requirements and habitat management for reptiles
How to set out survey refugia
Practical demonstration of survey techniques
The session will be held at the Mersey Valley's Visitor Centre at Sale Water Park, on Wednesday the 13th of August, from 10am to 3pm. There are limited places - please contact Alex Krause on 0161 881 5639 or email her at(a.krause@manchester.gov.uk) to book your place!

Thursday 14th August

Friends of Chorlton Meadows Annual General Meeting.

This will be held at Chorlton Library at 7:00 pm. All members welcome! If you need more info. please ring me, Dave Bishop on 0161 881 6276.

Sunday 21st September

Chorlton Water Park's 30th Anniversary!

The Friends of Chorlton Water Park are working with the Wardens on an event for the day and are asking people to share their memories of the park. They need these memories by 25th August. For more info. email Tracey Pook and Janet Copley at waterparkfriends@yahoo.co.uk

And don't forget the Bat Walk on the evening of Saturday 6th September (see below for details).