Thursday, 25 March 2010

More fires and the search for summer visitors

On Sunday I had a few spare hours so I took a stroll over Lower Hardy Farm towards Barlow Tip at the western end of Chorlton Water Park in search of my first chiffchaff of the season. Chiffchaffs are usually the first of the summer migrant warbler birds to arrive in the UK and although the warblers can be tricky to distinguish by eye the key to identifying the chiffchaff is to listen for its song. It sings it's name by repeating two notes quite close to each other. Sadly, I didn't hear the bird and was instead shocked to see the damage caused by fires all over Lower Hardy Farm and Barlow Tip.

On a more positive note I did have a close encounter with a fox as I disturbed it was hunting for small mammals. It never ceases to surprise me how in the middle of a busy Sunday afternoon with hundreds of joggers, cyclists and dogs passing up and down the Mersey banks what wonders you can be seen in the Mersey Valley when you step off the beaten track. I was particularly captivated by the beauty of this lichen. I don't have any books on lichen but my general British Wildlife book has a similar picture for Hypogymnia physodes. Please comment if you think I've got this one wrong.

Despite the depressing site of acres of burnt vegetation I was pleased to see a common shrew and a short tailed field vole under an old bit of metal sheet I found. I also saw frogs mating and spawning in the pond at Chorlton Water Park, so in spite of the devastation caused through the valley by fires spring is still exerting its very special appeal.

Incidentally, I heard my first chiffchaff of the season on Tuesday at Pickerings Pasture in Widnes.

Posted by Richard Gardner, March 2010

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Firestarter on Chorlton Ees

There have been some developments in this sorry tale. My spies tell me that the police have actually stopped a man who they think is responsible for these fires. Unfortunately, they didn't manage to catch him in the act - so they could only warn him. The warnings don't seem to have had much effect because there have been more fires since he was stopped last week.

Nevertheless, we now have a more detailed description: He is a white male in his late 40s, early 50s. He is clean shaven and has short, greying hair (he may, at times, wear a baseball cap). A witness suggested that he looked a little bit like the actor who played the Scouse builder, 'Moxey' in the TV series 'Aufwiedersehn Pet' (if anyone remembers that?). When stopped by the police he was wearing a sort of 'camel hair coat' with a wide, fleecy collar over a red sweat-shirt. On the right breast of the sweatshirt was a stitched, half-circular motif which may actually have included his name (!) He was also wearing blue trousers or jeans. I believe that he also drives a van - but I have no description of that.

Again, I can only repeat, if you see him hanging around, don't approach him but ring the Police of 0161 872 5050 or the Mersey Valley Warden Service on 0161 881 5639 (Chorlton Water Park) or 0161 905 1100 (Sale Water Park).

Posted by Dave Bishop, March 2010

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Chorlton Ees Heronry

Above is Thomas McEldowney's wonderful picture of a pair of the Herons which are currently nesting on Chorlton Ees.

Thanks, Thomas!

March 2010

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Greater Manchester Local Record Centre - Training Programme 2010

The Greater Manchester Ecology Unit (GMEU) provides specialist advice to, and on behalf of, the ten district councils that make up Greater Manchester on biodiversity, nature conservation and wildlife issues. Although hosted by Tameside MBC, GMEU works across the whole of Greater Manchester. To find out more about GMEU and their roles and objectives go to: www.tameside.gov.uk/ecologyunit .

GMEU houses the Greater Manchester Local Record Centre (GMLRC) which contains detailed records of wildlife in the county. The more information the Record Centre holds the better because it’s through accurate record keeping that GMEU can better identify local areas, habitats and species worthy of conservation and also monitor changes in the local environment. You can do your bit by learning to identify particular groups of plants and animals. If you’re at all interested in wildlife and its conservation, acquiring identification skills and making accurate records of what you see is definitely one of the most important things that you can do.

This spring and summer GMLRC are running a series of species identification training courses for people at beginner and intermediate level.

The courses are as follows:

Tuesday 27th April, Woodland Flora at Healy Dell, Rochdale (Trainer: GMEU)

Thursday 6th May, Identifying Bird by Sight & Song at Sale Water Park (GMEU)

Monday 14th June, Invertebrate Identification & Survey at Reddish Vale, Stockport (Don Stenhouse)

Wednesday 14th July, Wildflowers & Grasses at Chadkirk, Stockport (GMEU)

Wednesday 21st July, Dragonflies & Damselflies at Philips Park, Bury (Dave Winnard)

Each course costs £25

For a booking form and/or further information please e-mail Suzanne Waymont at:

Posted by Dave Bishop, March 2010

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Gatley Carrs in February by Peter Wolstenholme

I'm afraid I'm a bit late in posting Peter's report this month. This is entirely your editor's fault - sorry, Peter!

Between midday and 4 pm on the 6th at least ten flocks of Pinkfooted Geese flew west towards Martin Mere from East Anglia and towards month end two more flocks followed. Tens of thousands were still wintering in East Anglia at month end so there is still scope for further birds flying over in March before the flocks finally depart for Iceland.

Vegetation has been slow to develop because of what is billed as the coldest winter for thirty years, but the Alder Catkins are still to be seen by the stream and both Daffodils and Snowdrops were budding or in flower by month end. Birds of prey this month have included Sparrow Hawk, Buzzard and Kestrel.

By month end Robins are again present in pairs. Hedge Sparrows are in song as are a much smaller number of Wrens than in the autumn. Despite the cold weather there are plenty of species of birds in song, which had not been heard earlier in the winter. A pair of Mistle Thrush are in territory and their slurred song is to be heard at the west end of the poplar plantation. The repeated phrases of Song Thrush are now a feature in several parts of the reserve and the slow dreamy song of Blackbird is again a sound to be listened for from now until the summer. The cheery song of Chaffinch has been a sound we have heard towards month end. Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Nuthatch and Goldcrest have all joined the chorus and it is worth listening out for the drumming of Great Spotted Woodpecker against the trunks of mature trees. In the late evening listen for the hooting call of nesting Tawny Owls.

Do not forget to continue feeding the birds in early spring. Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Blue, Great, Cole and Longtailed Tits have all been visiting bird tables and bird feeders. Fat balls, peanuts and birdseed are all eagerly devoured as the number of insects for the birds to feed on remains pathetically low. During the latter half of the month a male Blackcap has fed on fat and once even ventured to sing for a few minutes. Blackcaps during the winter months are likely to have come from Germany or further afield. Our summering Blackcap are likely to come back in early April, together with other migrants from southern Europe or Africa.

When the pool has been unfrozen during February there have been up to four pairs of Canada Geese prospecting for nesting sites. Up to five pairs of Mallard are also there. Heron hunt on the pool and a pair of Moorhen are in the vegetation. The stream attracts a pair of Grey Wagtails. A Snipe has appeared on the pool but there have been no sightings of Kingfisher since December. Cormorants are still fishing along the cleaner waters of the Mersey.

Up to forty Blackheaded Gulls are feeding on the playing field to the west of the wildflower meadow and by month end there were already a couple with the blackheads of summer plumage.

With best wishes for the warmer spring weather.

Peter Wolstenholme RSPB, Manchester and SK8

Monday, 15 March 2010

UN International Year of Biodiversity - Fire Raising on Chorlton Ees

As well as the authorities doing their very best to destroy our remaining scraps of biodiversity, in what is supposed to be an important and significant year, members of the public are getting in on the act now.
In the last few days several large areas of Chorlton Ees have been deliberately set on fire. This will have killed millions of insects and other invertebrates and killed or endangered many ground nesting birds and small mammals. In addition the vegetation seldom recovers from such fires and what should be species rich grassland will tend to be replaced by a virtual monoculture of Rosebay Willowherb (which is why it's sometimes called "Fireweed").

There have been other such fires, in previous years, usually in March. A picture is building up of the main culprit - but he hasn't been caught yet.

He appears to be in his late 40s to early 50s (hence old enough to know better!). He dresses in "outdoor" clothing and wears a baseball cap. He also carries a black rucksack and brown oil/gas cylinder (which appears to be part of his fire-raising equipment).

We do not know whether this grossly irresponsible and anti-social idiot is dangerous or not, but, to be on the safe side, it's best not to approach him. Nevertheless, if you do get close enough to see any further details of his appearance, without any risk to yourself, please make a note and pass it on to the Police on 0161 872 5050 and/or to the Mersey Valley Wardens on 0161 881 5639 (Chorlton Water Park) or 0161 905 1100 (Sale Water Park).

I had hoped that 2010 would really be a special year in which we would begin to turn the corner and start to value the remaining wildlife in South Manchester. Instead, it's shaping up to be one of the worst years on record with lots of 'officially sanctioned' destruction ongoing and even more in the pipeline. No wonder people like the 'Chorlton Ees firebug' have no respect for the environment!

Dave Bishop, March 2010

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Village Green Application - Help Secure an Undeveloped Future for Hardy Farm

The recent attempt to build a huge sporting development at Hardy Farm has been a 'wake-up call' for the whole community. In spite of its nominal Green Belt status this seemed to count for nothing to the Council's Planning Department who, you will remember, were "minded to approve" the development. It was only because the politicians on the Planning Committee refused to approve the plans, and the developer withdrew them, that we're not now saddled with twelve 49 ft floodlights, eight to ten football pitches (including an astro-turf one), fences, lots of extra cars and coaches parked on local streets, and lots of swearing, litter and late night drinking in the clubhouse that, unfortunately, seems to go with football these days.

As a result several members of the Save Chorlton Meadows group have been looking into the possibility of obtaining Village Green status for Hardy Farm. Below is a message from Joanne Newberry asking for your help:

We are seeking to preserve free access and the right to roam across the meadows for all local people, whilst protecting the meadows from development. Greenbelt status alone is insufficient, but village green status would formalise and safeguard the use over the past twenty-five years as a popular informal open space. This is a positive process to protect our local breathing space, ensuring it continues to be freely available for local residents to access and use, now and in the future.
We need support from as many people in Chorlton as possible. You can help if you, your friends or family have used the meadows (section between the paths to Jackson’s Boat bridge from Hardy Lane and Brookburn Road in Chorltonville) and have lived in Chorlton(within the parish of St Clement...please ask if you're unsure ) at any time in the last twenty years. If you haven’t already filled in a questionnaire, please request one by sending your name, address or contact number to:


Please help with this - it's a great and worthy cause and it's also important that we all do as much as possible to protect our remaining green spaces.

Posted by Dave Bishop, 3rd March 2010