Monday, 31 August 2009

A Glimpse of the Mersey Valley 50 Years Ago - Hilda Broady's Journal

30th August, 1959

Everywhere the plot was dry and brown, apart from the banks of the stream where some of the plants were still green. The stream had completely dried up, the mud having now quite disappeared. Many of the plants are now seeding, and the plants are bending over the stream. Specimens of different grasses were taken, but on examining these at home it was found that the seeds had already dispersed.

Water pepper provided the one bit of colour with the pink tips of the flowers and the red swollen stems of the plant.

The sycamore leaves appear very dull and dark green, many white speckled, and no longer sticky. The young oak seedlings appeared to be flourishing, the leaves still being shiny and deep green.

Posted by Dave Bishop, 31st August 2009

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Perennial Rocket in Heaton Mersey

Last Saturday (22.08.2009) the regular Manchester Field Club walk was at Mersey Vale, Heaton Mersey. Several interesting plants were encountered including French Hawksbeard (Crepis nicaeensis), Sand Spurrey (Spergularia rubra) and a few other slightly obscure ‘treasures’. As you can imagine this was just up my street!

As it happens I was the walk leader and I had chosen this walk for its botanical interest. I had done a number of reconnaissance visits in the previous few months and knew that a walk with fellow enthusiasts was likely to be interesting and productive. Mersey Vale is a ‘linear’ park so any walk is basically ‘there-and-back-again’. On the return trip I spotted the remains of a plant that I had noted in flower on a previous visit back in June. I had determined that this plant was Perennial Rocket (Sisymbrium strictissimum) – which is, if anything, even more obscure than some of the other species that we found on last Saturday’s walk. It is an introduced plant, native to central and eastern Europe, from France and Italy eastward to Russia and Bulgaria (ref. 1). How it became naturalised in a few places in England, from Durham to Surrey (ref. 2), is not at all clear. Seeing it again jogged my memory. Back in June I had meant to look something up but hadn’t managed to get round to it. So I now found the entry for S. strictissimum in ‘Travis’s Flora of South Lancashire’ (ref.3 –Note that Heaton Mersey may be in Stockport, and hence in Cheshire, but for botanical recording purposes it is in Vice County 59, South Lancashire). The note read: “On land surrounding the Mellard and Coward bleach-works at Heaton Mersey ... First Record about 1890, Bailey (1905)”. An interpretation board near where I found the plant informed me that the nearby modern industrial estate had once been a bleach-works and other members of the Field Club confirmed this.
So it would appear that Perennial Rocket had been growing in that small area for at least 119 years! I wonder how long it had been there before that?

Bailey’ refers to Charles Bailey (1838 – 1924), an amateur botanist who also happened to be a rich Manchester businessman. He took up botany after attending a series of evening classes given by William Crawford Williamson who was Professor of Natural History at Owen’s College (later Manchester University). Bailey amassed a private herbarium containing some 300,000 specimens of mainly European plants which, on his death, was bequeathed to Manchester Museum and now forms an important reference collection. Many of these (pressed, dried, labelled and mounted) specimens were purchased via auctions but he does seem to have done some collecting himself in the South Manchester area. He also seems to have been intrigued enough by his Perennial Rocket find to write a paper about it for the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society (Bailey, C., 1905. Notes on Sisymbrium strictissimum at Heaton Mersey, Man. Lit. Phil. Soc. Proc.). I’ve not seen this paper but must see if I can find it in Central Library.

The name ‘Rocket’, by the way, is applied to a number of members of the Cabbage or Mustard family (Brassicaceae). ‘Rocket’ seems to be derived from the word, ‘eruca’ that the Romans used for the peppery, somewhat bitter herb which is now a trendy (although beginning to slip out of fashion) salad ingredient, the scientific name for which is Eruca sativa (or Eruca vesicaria subsp. sativa - depending upon which expert you consult): “Just drizzle it with a little balsamic vinegar dressing, darling!”

I don’t know whether you can eat Perennial Rocket (with or without balsamic vinegar dressing) but, as with all wild plants, I’d thoroughly check its toxicity first. On the other hand it is quite rare so that’s another reason for not dining on it!


1. ‘The Wild Flowers of the British Isles’ by Ian Garrard and David Streeter, Macmillan, 1983.

2. ‘New Flora of the British Isles’ by Clive Stace, Cambridge University Press, 1st Ed., 1991.

3. ‘Travis’s Flora of South Lancashire’, Eds. J.P. Savidge, V.H. Heywood & V. Gordon, Liverpool Botanical Society, 1963.

Sunday, 23 August 2009


On a recent walk over Barlow Hall Tip (the area between Chorlton Golf Course and Chorlton Water Park) I spotted this grasshopper sunning itself on a lump of concrete. I am fairly certain that it is a Common Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus). This sighting reminded me that I know very little about grasshoppers, nor about their status in the Mersey Valley.

I seem to recall from my childhood (admittedly in Peterborough – not South Manchester) that grasshoppers were very common in the summer months and one could hear their ‘songs’ (stridulations) even in my parents’ suburban garden. Several questions occur to me:

· Were grasshoppers always more common in Peterborough than in South Manchester?

· Were they once commoner in South Manchester but have declined in numbers in recent times?

· Have their numbers declined everywhere?

I suppose another possibility is that, due to my advanced age, I can no longer hear them – just as I can no longer hear bats. But bats’ echo-location sounds are very high pitched (at the edge of audibility for a young person with good hearing) and I wouldn’t have thought that grasshopper songs were anything like that sort of high frequency. Perhaps I’ve just, somehow, ‘tuned them out’; next time I’m in a suitably grassy place, on a warm day, I’ll listen out for them.

The stridulations, by the way, are produced by the insect rubbing its back legs against its wing cases. Small pegs on the inner surfaces of the legs are thus dragged across the stiffened edges of the wings and give rise to the sounds. Apparently, in many species, both male and female insects can produce these sounds but the males stridulate more than the females. Needless to say the sounds have a number of functions but are mainly connected with mating.
Does anyone out there have any more information about grasshoppers – especially about grasshoppers in the Mersey Valley?

Going back to the photograph above, you may have noticed something that I missed whilst taking the picture. That is the spider which appears to be creeping up on the grasshopper from the left hand side of the block of concrete. Was this spider hunting the grasshopper? Have I inadvertently captured a scene from a ‘mini-drama’? Apparently spiders have been observed preying on grasshoppers “but information is very sparse”. Grasshoppers themselves are vegetarians and feed mainly on grasses, by the way.

Anyway, for me, the scene above evokes some sort of ancient fable – in which the wily grasshopper outwits the fierce spider, perhaps?

Dave Bishop, August 2009


‘Naturalists’ Handbooks 2: Grasshoppers:’ by Valerie K. Brown, Cambridge University Press, 1983.

A Glimpse of the Mersey Valley 50 Years Ago - Hilda Broady's Journal

23rd August, 1959

I was horrified on visiting the plot to find there had been a fire and the original part of the plot was a charred bank of ground with one or two dry grasses and a very few rose bay willow herb plants still standing. The fire had spread up to the Sycamores but had not damaged the main tree. Fires were still burning in various parts of the meadows and I only hope that the rest of the plot is not damaged.

The stream was almost completely dry, even the mud now hardening. Numerous spiders were running about in the bed of the stream, also many crane flies. Fewer moths were seen than usual.

One of the hawthorn trees appeared very dry and there were very few leaves left on the tree, particularly on the lower branches. The hawthorn haws were turning red and specimens were collected.

A Red Admiral butterfly was caught.

A meadow pea* plant (Lathyrus pratensis) was found growing near the thistle.

Flowers were still found on bittersweet, also green and red berries.

*More recent books tend to call this very common, yellow-flowered member of the Pea family, ‘Meadow Vetchling’ – Ed.

Posted by Dave Bishop, 23.08.2009

Friday, 21 August 2009

Friends of Chorlton Meadows AGM

Our Annual General Meeting will be held at Chorlton Library on Friday 28th August at 7:00 pm. Everyone is cordially invited to attend (although if everyone on the mailing list turns up we'll be in a 'pickle'!).

Greetings to everyone who joined up at the Beech Road Festival in July. I got some sort of 'lurgy' soon after the festival (I suspect that it might have been swine 'flu) so was 'out-of-it' for a couple of weeks and then procrastinated about putting all of the email addresses into the database - so that's why you haven't heard from us sooner (sorry!).

One thing I've noticed is that there is sometimes a problem with Yahoo email addresses - quite a few of them seem to bounce back with cryptic, 'techy' type messages to the effect that the named person hasn't got a Yahoo email address. So if you haven't heard from us recently that might be why. Has anyone else noticed this and can anyone shed any light on the problem?

An Autumn/Winter Events Programme is currently in gestation and should be published shortly.

Dave Bishop, FoCM Chair

Monday, 17 August 2009

A Glimpse of the Mersey Valley 50 Years Ago - Hilda Broady's Journal

17th August, 1959

I visited the plot mainly to collect fresh specimens of water pepper which was in flower. The whole plant is very prolific on the banks of the stream, and also growing in the bed of the stream which had become quite hard in places. Further along, however, the bed of the stream was muddy and I also collected pondweed which I believe to be common water starwort (Callitriche Palustris)*.

With difficulty, I also uprooted the runners of creeping buttercup. This plant has spread considerably over the last couple of months, though no flowers are to be seen.
I saw two brightly coloured moths or butterflies, but they disappeared beyond reach. They were red and rust coloured.

*The Water Starworts are a particularly difficult group and identification of the different species depends on microscopic examination of their tiny fruits (first find the fruits!). It would appear that a common species in this area is C. stagnalis – Ed.
Posted by Dave Bishop, 17th August 2009

Saturday, 15 August 2009

A Glimpse of the Mersey Valley 50 Years Ago - Hilda Broady's Journal

15th August, 1959

It was a very windy day when we visited the plot and the most striking change was the appearance of the willow herb as most of the seeds have now dispersed. Many were blowing about in the wind and few remained actually on the plants.

The underside of the bramble leaves presented a silvery appearance. The thistle was fruiting and another specimen was taken.

Bittersweet is fruiting and in many places, including the sides of the stream, is still in flower. The blackberries were mostly a deep red, a few being quite ripe and black.
Water pepper is flowering and a specimen was taken.

It was much easier to move about the plot, the grass appears to have been trampled down a good deal. The undergrowth was quite brown and thick.

Silverweed (Potentilla anserina) was seen growing near to the path where I had not previously noticed it.

Posted by Dave Bishop, 15th August 2009

Events - Cheshire Wildlife Trust North Group

Forthcoming events for members to take part in during the latter half of the summer and autumn are nearly finalised and will be posted on this blog and emailed around to you all. In the meantime, I thought I would take the opportunity to make you aware of a varied and interesting regular series of talks and lectures organised by Cheshire Wildlife Trust's North Group, including one in January by our Chairman, Dave Bishop.

All of these talks take place in the Lounge of St Mary Magdalene Church Centre at the side of the church. The church sits at the junction of Harboro Road and Moss Lane, Ashton-on-Mersey, Sale. Meetings commence at 7.45pm. Admission charge £2.00 for members, £3.00 for visitors

SEPTEMBER Wed 23rd. RED KITES IN YORKSHIRE. Illustrated talk by Doug Simpsom MBE of the fascinating story of the re-introduction of this beautiful bird.

OCTOBER Wed 28th. FROM GRAVEL TO GREBES. Illustrated talk by Sophie Leadsom, Manager of Lancashire Wildlife Trust's Brockholes Reserve.

NOVEMBER Wed 25th. OTTERS IN BRITAIN. Illustrated talk by Dr Elizabeth Barratt (rescheduled).

DECEMBER Wed 16th. NB This meeting will be in Raglan Road Community Centre, enrtance from Raglan Road, off Washway Road. CONSERVATION GRAZING - WHAT, WHO, WHERE AND WHY? Illustrated talk by farmer and CWT staff member Richard Owen.


JANUARY Wed 27th. PLANTS OF THE MERSEY VALLEY. Illustrated talk by Dave Bishop, Friends of Chorlton Meadows.

FEBRUARY Wed 24th. A DAY IN THE LIFE OF THE LOCAL RSPCA OFFICER. Illustrated talk by Paul Heaton about his work with wildlife, farm animal and pets.

MARCH Wed 24th. PETER RUDKIN MEMORIAL LECTURE "WELSH COTTAGE DAYS". Illustrated talk by CWT North Group member Margaret McCormick.

More information about Cheshire Wildlife Trust and its local groups can be found at:

Richard Gardner, August 2009

Monday, 10 August 2009

New Plant Finds - Part 5

The Sunday before last (2nd August 2009) I decided to have a little wander around the Hough End area to see what I could find. My first stop was the little bit of waste ground off Mauldeth Road West, next to the Police Dog Training Centre. The most obvious plants were the Melilots – tall members of the Pea family (Fabaceae) with yellow or white flowers. I found both of the common yellow flowered species: Ribbed Melilot (Melilotus officinalis) and Tall Melilot (M. altissimus). The first species has smooth brown pods and the second has hairy black ones; there are differences in the shapes of the flowers as well. White Melilot (M. albus) has (yes, you’ve guessed it!) white flowers and smooth black pods.

Also present on this site were suckers of a shrub called, Staghorn Sumach (now given the scientific name, Rhus hirta, but still called, in some books, R. typhina) which I’ve not seen growing wild around here before. This shrub is originally from North America. It has leaves rather like big, spiky Ash leaves and branches which are covered in a very short ‘fuzz’ of hairs like a sort of brown velvet (the branches rather resemble deer antlers – hence the common name). I seem to recall, from my childhood, that this shrub was once commonly grown in front gardens but in the last few decades it has rather fallen out of fashion. This is probably partly due to its suckering habit but mainly because the ‘velvet’ can irritate human skin and cause dermatitis.

My best find from this area was Haresfoot Clover (Trifolium arvense). This is a true clover but with tight, elongated heads of flowers. These flower heads have a ‘furry’ look as a result of long fine, pale brown teeth of the joined sepals (see top photograph). Haresfoot Clover is usually found near the coast in dry, sandy places. Nevertheless, it can be found inland and has been found in South Manchester before – but this is the first time that I’ve seen it in this area.
Also on this site were other interesting plants such as Chicory (Chicorium intybus) and Spearmint (Mentha spicata).

The next area that I wanted to take a close look at was associated with the newer part of Southern Cemetery (that is the area to the north east of Nell Lane). At the back of this area, up against the allotment fence, are piles of earth which are, presumably, the soil dug out when preparing new graves (I’m sorry if this upsets anyone). I had noticed on a previous visit that these heaps were covered in weeds and that many of these plants were representatives of South Manchester’s ‘lost’ arable weed flora (see my article entitled, ‘Arable Weeds of South Manchester’, 17th July 2009). Disturbing the soils which composed these heaps had obviously unlocked the long-buried seed bank.

Here were both Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) and Long-headed Poppy (P. dubium). And I managed to identify two species of Fumitory: Common Ramping Fumitory (Fumaria muralis) – which is our commonest species and Common Fumitory (F. officinalis) – which definitely isn’t ‘common’ around here! The bottom photo shows F. officinalis with Black Bindweed (Fallopia convolvulus).

Also growing on the heaps were Small Nettle (Urtica urens), Sun Spurge (Euphorbia helioscopia), Redleg (Persicaria maculosa) and Wild Pansy (Viola tricolor). The Small Nettle was only the second local specimen that I’ve seen. Growing among all these were specimens of those ‘archetypal’ weeds the Goosefoots (Chenopodium) and the Oraches (Atriplex). These can be ferociously difficult to identify, but after much swearing and head scratching I managed to identify two of each: Fat Hen (Chenopodium album) and Red Goosefoot (C. rubrum) plus Common Orache (Atriplex patula) and Spear-leaved Orache (A. prostrata).
In all I found nearly 50 different species in this small area.

I did wonder if I was being disrespectful, poking around at the back of a cemetery on a Sunday afternoon – but no-one appeared to pay me any heed. I suppose that I could come up with some glib thoughts about so much colourful life springing up at the edge of such a sombre place – but out of respect for the living relatives of the people interred there, I think that I should probably keep them to myself.

Dave Bishop, August 2009

Saturday, 8 August 2009

A Glimpse of the Mersey Valley 50 Years Ago - Hilda Broady's Journal

8th August, 1959

There had been very little rain since the last visit to the plot and we found the stream almost dry again though in one spot the mud was quite soft and a light brown in colour. At the edges of the bed the mud was hardening. Insects were troublesome, and there were a great number of bees busy in the Willow Herb patches. The patches of Willow Herb formed a white carpet just tipped with purple, and the seeds were being blown everywhere. The seeds seemed to join together in chains, in many parts forming loops of chains among the other plants.

The leaves of the Sycamore were very dry looking and a dark green. Buds were present in the axils of the leaves.

A light green plant is spreading rapidly at the sides and in the bed of the stream. Buds are present on this plant and we intend to visit the plot again soon, hoping to be able to identify this plant* when the flowers are out.

A brown and orange moth was caught in the shade of the trees.

*In a marginal note Mrs Broady identifies this plant as “Water Pepper” (“Polygonum aviculare” although this may be a mistake as Water-pepper is Persicaria (formerly Polygonum) hydropiper; Polygonum aviculare is the name reserved for Knotgrass. These Dock relatives are very confusing and it would be easy for a beginner to make such a mistake. – Ed.

Posted by Dave Bishop 8th August, 2009.

Monday, 3 August 2009

A Glimpse of the Mersey Valley 50 Years Ago - Hilda Broady's Journal

3rd August, 1959

Though the ground was quite wet, the water in the stream appeared to be quickly disappearing and it was possible to walk along the muddy bed of the stream in many places, though care had to be taken on account of the many stinging nettles.
We made particular note of the number of plants we could find growing along the path, and these included dandelion, clover, horsetail, plantain, and a short distance away in the grassy part we found tufted vetch.

We were surprised when looking up at the high branches of the Sycamore to see bunches of Sycamore keys as we had not noticed any flowers on the tree*. Possibly these had been missed on account of the height of the tree, and previously we had taken more particular notice of the younger trees and seedlings which are not yet old enough to bear fruit.
With difficulty we managed to collect some of the keys for specimens.

*This year (2009) I photographed Sycamore flowers on the 11th April. At this date they had not quite fully opened – Ed.

Posted by Dave Bishop, 3rd August 2009