Saturday, 26 February 2011

The Forest Sell Off Controversy continued

After posting the last piece on John Leech and his speech on the Government's forest sell off proposals, I received an e-mail from FoCM member Ben Smart (some of you may recall that Ben is our local moth expert). I thought that Ben's comments were interesting and highly relevant and, in the interests of balance, I thought that, with Ben's permission, I would post our correspondence here (leaving out some of my more intemperate and sweary remarks - none of them directed at Ben, I hasten to add!)

Hi Dave

I know you said to contact John Leech re the speech, but I don’t really think it’s appropriate to have this speech on the FoCM website. The group should not be a mouthpiece for Con/Dem (sic) policies. If this policy was being proposed by a majority Tory administration alone, I suspect John Leech and the rest of the Liberal [Democrat] party, like the rest of us, would probably have opposed it (only guesswork, I know) and would probably have made much the same points that the opposition are putting.

The destruction of a good chunk of the [Lower Hardy Farm] SBI proceeds apace. Standing by the wooden fence on the north side of the Mersey, there is now a wide open track all the way through Lower Hardy Farm, towards Hardy Lane.

Best wishes,


Hi Ben,

Yes, I struggled with my conscience about this. But so many people spoke to me about it that I thought that I ought to ask John Leech myself. He wrote back to me and explained to me what actually occurred and what his thinking was. I decided that his reply was confidential between me and him (although he probably sent the same letter to all those of his constituents who wrote to him).

But the speech is in the public domain and I thought that it made a lot of sense - and although it is (unavoidably) political I think that it cuts through a lot of the general hysteria that has surrounded this issue. Whilst the sell-off was on the table I really couldn't make up my mind about what I thought about it. Although I believe privatisation, generally, to be ideologically driven madness I've also got little time for the Forestry Commission who have been responsible, in the past, for destroying huge tracts of our woodland.

Finally you mention Lower Hardy Farm. Please remember that it is a Labour Council that has allowed this to happen. They have utterly neglected our local environment and I suspect that they think that the environment, in general, is irrelevant (I've seen it reported that Gordon Brown himself considered the environment to be irrelevant). And in spite of the fact that they label themselves as 'Socialists' (when it suits them) I believe that Metrolink to the Airport is mainly about a toxic mixture of greed, vanity and airport expansion. I fear that they will eventually concrete over everything.

[At this point I expressed some of my own political views, which are not strictly relevant here and included some rude words which I would not like to inflict on our refined and genteel readership ...]

Anyway, I will try to avoid politics on the blog as much as possible ... but, I repeat, the environment is an intensely political subject (as the forestry furore showed).

Best Regards,


Hi Dave,

This is the actual question John Leech and his colleagues were voting on – I’d certainly have been with the motion rather than against on that one, despite any reservations towards the Forestry Commission. (I see 3 Conservatives and 4 Liberal Democrats voted with Labour).

That this House believes that the Government’s intention in the Public Bodies Bill to sell off up to 100 per cent. of England’s public forestry estate is fundamentally unsound; notes that over 225,000 people have signed a petition against such a sell-off; recognises the valuable role that the Forestry Commission and England’s forests have made to increasing woodland biodiversity and public access, with 40 million visits a year; further recognises that the total subsidy to the Forestry Commission has reduced from 35 per cent. of income in 2003-04 to 14 per cent. of income in 2010-11; further notes that the value of the ecosystems services provided by England’s public forest estate is estimated to be £680 million a year; notes that the value of such services could increase substantially in the future through the transition to a low carbon economy as a carbon market emerges; notes that the public forest estate has been retained in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and calls on the Government to rethink its decision on the sale of England’s public forest estate in order to protect it for future generations.

As to the Metrolink, the system and the developments have been supported by Council, Government and John Leech. I am certain that much the same decisions would have been made whichever of the three parties were in power locally and nationally.
I’ve always, perhaps naively, thought that getting people out of cars and onto public transport must be a good thing, so am somewhat torn on the issue. Nevertheless it is incredibly depressing to be out looking at Lower Hardy Farm at the moment (and the sign telling us that the area has been surveyed for protected species and promising an increased number of trees seems to add insult to injury)!
I totally agree that politics and the environment era inextricably linked. I just don’t like seeing Liberal Democrat party speeches on the Friends of Chorlton Meadows blog, with no critical comment whatsoever. It might be worth at least printing the actual motion on the website so people can decide whether John Leech did the right thing.


I would just like to add a couple of footnotes to this correspondence:

(1) I am planning to post an article about Lower Hardy Farm and Metrolink very soon.

(2) It must be remembered that many people in South Manchester welcome Metrolink and many of them know nothing and care less about biodiversity. John Leech has a duty to listen to the views of all of his constituents and he has certainly listened, and actively supported, those of us who are pushing for the best mitigation for biodiversity loss possible.

Posted by Dave Bishop, February 2011

Thursday, 24 February 2011

John Leech and That Vote on Forests

I never intended to talk much about politics on this blog but the Environment is an intensely political topic - so it's unavoidable really.

Many people are under the impression that our local MP, Mr John Leech, MP for Manchester Withington, voted in Parliament recently to sell off UK forests. A lot of people have come up to me in the street and asked, "why did John Leech vote to sell off the forests?" (as though it were somehow my fault!). I actually wrote to Mr Leech and asked him why he voted the way that he did. I have now received a reply from him in which he explained that the vote that he participated in was not a vote to implement the proposals set out by Defra, but a vote of opposition brought forward by the Labour Party. Mr Leech spoke in this debate and I re-print his speech below without further comment. If you have any questions, please address them to Mr Leech:

John Leech’s Speech:

(For the Hansard transcript including all interventions please go to: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110202/debtext/110202-0003.htm)

I am glad to have the opportunity to take part in the debate. Although my constituency may not be the most directly affected by the proposals to sell off or lease woodland currently owned by the state, the issue has attracted considerable interest among hundreds of my constituents who are rightly concerned about the impact that such a sale might have. There is little doubt that there has been much speculation, and even scaremongering, about what may or may not happen to public forests. I have received hundreds of e-mails from constituents, some of whom have been led to believe that whole swathes of woodland will be razed to the ground to make way for housing developments, golf courses and leisure clubs.

Other constituents have sent e-mails suggesting that forests are going to be closed off to the public and surrounded by 10-foot fences, but that is clearly not the case. Unfortunately, the Labour party has been complicit in this misinformation and shameless in its attempts to scare people into believing that the future of our forests is under threat. Instead of participating constructively in the consultation on the future of our woodland, Labour Members simply choose to try to score cheap political points by tabling an Opposition day motion to grab the headlines. That is why I certainly will not be voting for Labour's motion and why I will support the Government's amendment, which exposes the disgraceful sell-off of thousands of acres of public woodland by the previous Labour Government without any of the protection being put in place and promised under the coalition Government's consultation. However, I wish to go on record as welcoming the measured comments made by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) about staff at the Forestry Commission, which should be added to the consultation process.

I will never support the sell-off or leasing of woodland if I think that it will be detrimental to the long-term sustainability of the woodland and its biodiversity, and will threaten the access that people have enjoyed over a long period. What better safeguards will Minister's introduce to protect the land and access to it compared with those that we already have? These forests will outlive all of us in this Chamber today and the public want to know how long these safeguards will be in place. Can I be assured that, whichever organisation might take on the running of a public forest, these safeguards will remain in place for not only our lifetime, but centuries to come?

Guaranteeing the future of the woodland is important, but so, too, is the guardianship of that land in the meantime. There is a real fear that the trend to improve the forests will fade over time. What assurances can the Minister give that the woodland will not just be maintained as it is and that the new owners will be compelled to improve both access and the natural habitat? The public estate enjoys 40 million visits a year, a quarter of it is dedicated as a site of special scientific interest and it hosts a wealth of biodiversity. None of those things should be under threat, and they must flourish under this coalition Government.

One of the big unanswered questions is whether or not the private ownership or leasing of forest land will make the savings that the Government anticipate. I am not convinced that these proposals will save any money; they may end up leaving the Government with a bigger bill to maintain the forests, because the sale or lease of commercially attractive forests will mean that their revenue is no longer available to subsidise the running of heritage and other loss-making forests. That was the only sensible point made by the shadow Secretary of State.

I do not think we should be too precious about the model of ownership of our forests. The previous Government could not be trusted to safeguard the future of the public forests that have been sold off in the past 13 years. It is certainly not the case that the forests would be safer in Labour hands. Many might argue that the future of the forests would be more certain if they were run and managed by organisations such as the Woodland Trust or the National Trust. It is not the model of ownership that we should be precious about but the people, including the staff, and the organisations that might run the forests.

In my constituency, after the previous Labour Government closed my local hospital, Withington hospital, Paupers wood on that site was put up for sale. Like many others, I expressed grave concerns about what that might mean for the future of that relatively small piece of woodland. However, the sale of that land to one of my constituents, Mary, resulted in enormous benefit for the community. That area of woodland, which had not been maintained for years and had been inaccessible to local people, is now available for local community groups to enjoy and for schools to use for outdoor classrooms. The woodland is well managed and is now sustainable for the future. That would not have happened without that sale. It is not simply a case of public ownership being good and private ownership being bad. This debate should be about what is best for individual woodlands and communities and about securing the future of our forests for generations to come.

Posted by Dave Bishop, February 2011

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Chorlton Shafted Again - No Village Green Status for Hardy Farm

Last year six Chorlton residents applied for Village Green status for Hardy Farm. Some of you may remember that in 2009/10 this area was the subject of a fierce planning battle between the vast majority of Chorlton residents and the West Didsbury and Chorlton Football Club, who own the land and had applied for planning permission to convert it into a vast sporting complex with several grass pitches, an Astroturf pitch and floodlights. In this case the local residents won a famous victory and planning permission was refused. Nevertheless, the club keeps coming back for more and in 2010 received planning permission to install floodlights at their existing ground at the end of Brookburn Road – again in the face of fierce opposition. To many of us granting planning permission for this scheme and not for the earlier scheme made little sense. The application for Village Green status was a brave attempt to protect this much loved area of local green space from further damaging developments.

In order to proceed with the application it was necessary to show that the former owners of the land, UMIST, had, or had not, erected “permissive signs” on the land at some point in the past. This question was addressed at a ‘Non-statutory Public Enquiry’, held before Mr Vivian Chapman QC, at Chorlton Irish Club in January of this year. Mr Chapman concluded that UMIST had erected two signs in the 1970s and even though these signs had been grafittied over and had been illegible for a long time they still counted in Law and that the application for Village Green status should be rejected (please take this point up with lawyers and not with me!).
The matter was put before the City Council’s Licensing and Appeals Committee on Monday and the Committee accepted Mr Chapman’s conclusion and rejected the application. Chorlton Councillor Victor Chamberlain represented the applicants before the Committee and I have published his account verbatim below. Looking at the voting pattern shown below I can only conclude that we Chorlton residents have been the victims of petty political point scoring here. But having said that I’m not going to discuss politics any further in this forum and leave you to draw your own conclusions.
In what follows the term, “the Meadows” refers specifically to that part of Chorlton Meadows known as Hardy Farm.

I'm very sorry to report that the Licensing and Appeals Committee have accepted Mr Chapman's recommendation and have decided not to register the Meadows as a village green.

Mr Turley spoke first and said he had very little to add as the item had been considered by a QC and he supported the findings; he encouraged the Committee to support that recommendation.

Thanks to everyone who sent me comments to make at the Committee; I incorporated all of them into what I said. In summary I raised our objections about the lack of signs and their illegibility and abandonment. I challenged Mr Iredale's evidence and the photos from May 2008. I told the Committee that they have a duty to consider the substantive issue in detail. I asked the Committee to give more weight to the evidence of the Applicants and the public; and told the Committee that by accepting the recommendation they would be choosing to disbelieve the direct testimony of hundreds of Chorlton Residents. I urged them to reject the recommendation and reconsider the application with a mind to registering the Meadows as a village green.

Cllr Sheila Newman also spoke she said it would be a shame if the application fell at its first hurdle. She also said she wished the Committee was looking at the wider issue and not examining just one point in the application.

The Committee Members then deliberated.

Cllr Firth expressed concern that this application was being considered only on the signs. She asked what would happen if the Committee recommended further consideration.

The response from Mr Stoney was that there were strict conditions about what was classed as a village green; and because of the signs had existed the officers concluded that the Application was fatally flawed.

Cllr Helen Fisher said that she had lived in Chorltonville a number of years ago and used the Meadows regularly then. She said that in the whole time she lived there she did not see the signs and therefore understood and sympathised with Applicants' and Residents' accounts.

Cllr Chowdhury argued that WDCAFC took over the land in 2009 and so they had a duty of care to ensure the land had sufficient notices. He said that Chapman's report was based on the Balance of Probabilities and so there is an element of doubt which meant he would not be supporting he recommendation.

Cllr Burns asked what the normal way of providing Notices on the land was. He was informed there was no normal way and so the onus was on the Applicants to prove that there were not suitable Notices on the land throughout the period.

A number of Labour Councillors then spoke to say they supported the recommendation and that they do not consider the land meets the defined definition of a village green.

Mr Turley then responded to some of the points and said that it was private land that had been acquired to provide playing fields. He said there wasn't and won't be any attempt to prevent public access. He said the land would be 'improved' as the Club would protect it. He said that the Public will be able to use the fields as long as they don't damage them.

The Committee then voted.

Against the Recommendation (3): Firth (Liberal Democrat), H Fisher (Liberal Democrat), Chowdhury (Liberal Democrat)
Accept the Recommendation (5): Burns (Labour), Carmody (Labour), Longsden (Labour), O'Callaghan (Labour), Smith (Labour)

As I was leaving the Committee Room Mr Turley stopped me and told me to stop trying to 'perpetuate the myth that the land will be fenced off'. I said I had not done this and was against development of this meadow because I felt it was going to be restrictive to normal people being able to use the land and could be harmful to the local biodiversity and botany. He was clearly very bitter about past events.
We then had a chat and he made it quite clear that he is intending to create pitches on the land very soon. He reiterated that it is private land and the Club can do what it wants with the land; but he did express a wish to engage the Community and end the animosity. I said I would mention this to you all and muted that maybe it would be worth initiating regular meetings with the local community to discuss issues at the club. I said this because I attend a quarterly meeting the Chorlton Irish Club has with the local neighbours where they air their concerns, problems and complaints and the two sides work together to solve them. It works well because the Club listens to the local community and takes action based on what they say to reduce disturbance. Whilst past experience of WDCAFC suggests this may not work I would be interested to hear your opinion.

I'm afraid I don't know where we go from here; presumably we could challenge this decision with a Judicial Review. I would happy to meet up to discuss any potential options.

If you are a Chorlton resident and/or a user of Chorlton Meadows, and feel as strongly about this as I do, I urge you to write to both your local Councillor and to your MP. No matter how pessimistic you may feel there is no excuse for doing nothing!

Posted by Dave Bishop, February 2011

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Flooding and Gulls at Fletcher Moss

I took a walk along the river bank to Didsbury and Fletcher Moss park the other day. The sports fields on either side of Stenner Lane were still under water as a result of the heavy rain and flooding of a couple of weeks ago. I must say that the whole scene looked dramatic and spectacular but what added to the drama were huge flocks of gulls which had congregated on the fields. I think that they were mainly Black-headed Gulls - but I'm not too hot on gulls. They were extremely noisy and were occasionally 'spooked' by something and then took off in great wheeling clouds. I assume that they were feeding on worms and other invertebrates driven to the surface by the flood-waters.

Of course these fields were once water meadows and have been regularly inundated like this for centuries. Water meadows used to be among our most biodiverse habitats, but a few decades ago these particular meadows were converted into regularly mown sports fields - which are virtual wildlife deserts. I wouldn't mind but they don't even seem to get used much - perhaps a few hours a year by a few young men. After the recent floods they are bursting with life (i.e. bird life) again, for a few weeks, before going back to boring, lifeless mown grass.

But I believe that the Environment Agency have now got plans for massive engineering works to 'protect' these sports fields from flooding. Several of these fields are rugby fields and, like golfers, rugby players tend to be influential people - so their playgrounds need to be protected, at all costs, from the inconvenient 'forces of nature' (even though it could be argued that establishing a playground in a floodplain, and expecting it to remain flood-free, is arrogant and silly!).

I feel more sympathy for the allotment holders of the adjacent Stenner Lane Allotments whose plots were also flooded. At least growing vegetables on an allotment is a healthy and sustainable activity and allotments are also much richer in wildlife than sports fields. I believe, though, that the allotment holders have been told, by the EA, not to eat their carefully nurtured vegetables because they might be contaminated by sewage and heavy metals. And there was I thinking that the Mersey was now a clean and healthy river - silly me! Perhaps the EA should be expending more effort in stopping sewage and heavy metals getting into the river, rather protecting a few rarely used sports fields ... ?

Dave Bishop, February 2011

Monday, 7 February 2011

Wild Flower Meadows by Charlotte Abbas

This is an article by Chorlton resident and FoCM member, Charlotte Abbas. Charlotte is also a member of The Friends of Hough End Clough and The Friends of the Fallowfield Loop. Like me she deplores the continuing destruction of our local biodiversity through over-development, mis-management, ignorance and neglect. I agree with every word of the following article - Ed.

In Britain we have lost enormous areas that used to be wildflower-rich grasslands. This was mainly because of intensive farming and the liberal use of herbicides. Have you noticed the uniformly green fields while driving or being driven around the countryside? Not a buttercup or dandelion in sight! There were also lots of pockets of underused land – often considered as 'derelict' around towns and cities that provided a home for a great variety of wildflowers. But much of this has disappeared under concrete for houses, roads, runways, supermarkets etc. or just been 'tidied' up e.g. landscaped with regularly cut grass or ornamental shrubs.

It is not just the wildflowers that we have lost but the whole biodiversity of these places – the flowers being just the most eye-catching and pleasing aspect. There was a host of insects (grasshoppers, bees, butterflies, moths, to name a few) that provided food for birds, bats, amphibians; other birds, field mice and voles ate the seeds of grasses and plants, and in turn fell prey to foxes, owls, kestrels.

What can be done to reverse this trend or at least mitigate for the loss? Last year I went to Germany in spring. In the cities you find housing estates with large apartment blocks. In between them are what would here be closely cut lawns but there the grass was left to grow and it was full of wildflowers: cowslips, celandine, lady's smock and so much more. Back here in Manchester on my way to town on the bus I passed Hulme along Princess Road. Lots of lovely meadow buttercups, and along came the lawnmowers and chopped off their heads. Why? Could we not enjoy the beauty of nature in our cities? I know, there are people who are used to short uniformly green lawns and find it disconcerting when nature makes a mess of this. But maybe if they realized how artificial this is, how barren and poor compared with a lawn full of flowers, bees buzzing, butterflies, they would change their minds? Let's try it out. Especially now that we are expecting cutbacks everywhere, saving on petrol alone would be good for the Council's coffers and the environment.

Creating or maintaining a meadow takes some effort. I will not go into the 'creation’ bit here.
Maintenance is basically mowing at the right time of year and removing the cuttings. The time to cut is when the seeds have ripened, the second half of August is usually okay. Mowing much later is not a good idea. In late summer the grasses will still grow, certain moths and butterflies lay their eggs on grasses or their caterpillars overwinter in amongst the plants, invertebrates and even small mammals like somewhere to hide in the winter. When the cuttings are left on the ground they will add nutrients to the soil which is not desirable because it will encourage tougher grasses and plants to dominate and squeeze out the more dainty ones.

I would love to see more wildflowers in our city landscape and with them greater biodiversity in general. Maybe the term 'meadow' is a bit ambitious but let's try to be less tidy, give nature a chance, even our gardens could be so much more interesting instead of fighting 'weeds' we learned to appreciate them for the little gems they really are. This also applies to municipal green spaces. Could we come up with a mowing regime in some parks where there are paths cut through the grass and then the grass is cut after the flowers have shed their seeds. I realise it takes a bit of an effort to get that right. There are some people of a certain age who might remember lying in long grass in those endless summers 'we used to have' surrounded by flowers and beautiful grasses buzzing with bees and butterflies. How many children can experience this simple pleasure now?

Charlotte Abbas, February 2011

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Jackdaw City!

My house is near to the Chorlton Ees and Ivy Green SBI and just outside of the the Chorltonville estate. I live on Brookburn Road - the extension of which becomes Claude Road in Chorltonville.

For some years there has been a flock of Jackdaws in this area and in previous years they have numbered between about 50 and 100 birds; but this winter (2010/11) the flock size seems to have exploded - and there now seem to be 100s of birds in the flock (perhaps as many as 1000). Every evening, about 4 or 5 pm, they start noisily congregating in tall trees along Brookburn/Claude Road and along Chorlton Brook which runs parallel to these roads behind the houses.

The Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) is the smallest member of the Crow Family (Corvidae). It is mainly black in colour with a grey nape to its neck. Its call is either a clipped, metallic ‘kow’ or ‘kyow’ sound or a softer ‘chack’ (which is probably the source of the common name). A big flock of these birds creates an amazing racket, which I find rather cheering – especially on a cold winter evening. Their flight and gait are much quicker and jerkier than other members of the Crow family.

Traditionally, Jackdaws have tended to prefer open and cultivated country with rocks, crags and old trees. They have also tended to be frequent on sea coasts and in towns and villages, especially around cathedrals, castles and ruins and to nest in holes in trees, rocks and buildings (ref. ‘The Birds of Britain and Europe’ by H. Heinzel, R. Fitter and J. Purslow, Collins, 3rd ed. 1974).

I have to say that none of this sounds much like Chorltonville – or much of South Manchester, for that matter. So I spoke to Judith Smith, County Bird Recorder for Greater Manchester who replied:

“Many thanks for this interesting record. There is no doubt that Jackdaw is a rapidly expanding species in Greater Manchester, utilising chimney pots as people have changed to gas/electricity from coal (but how they avoid getting carbon monoxide poisoning I don't know!). Not knowing the area particularly well, I can't really hazard a guess as to why the roost has suddenly increased so much ...”

Nevertheless, she also tells me that a local bird watcher is ‘on the case’. He believes that Brookburn Road/Claude Road is only a pre-roost site and he is trying to find out where the birds are going later in the evening. If I find out any more I will post it here.

Dave Bishop, February 2011

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

New Mersey Valley Plant Finds 2010 - Part 2

Well, it’s the first day of February and in another few weeks spring will be here again and who knows what vegetable wonders and marvels I’ll find this year? Will it be a bumper year, like last year, or have I spotted all of the available wonders and marvels now? Somehow I doubt it.

Anyway, here are three more special finds from last year. This time I’ve chosen three introduced plants – what we botanists call ‘aliens’.
Although I would never, ever, advocate the deliberate introduction of plants into the wild I find it fascinating that some alien plants escape from cultivation and seek to establish themselves in the British countryside. A few of these aliens succeed only too well and become invasive, others are relatively well behaved and may actually add to our biodiversity, whilst a few just about hang on and remain as rare as ‘hen’s teeth’.

New Zealand Bitter-cress (Cardamine corymbosa) (Top photograph)

I live on Brookburn Road and at the bottom of this road is a pub called ‘The Bowling Green’. In front of the pub is a small paved area with wooden tables. This area is separated from the pavement by a brick-built, raised flower bed which is about waist high. One day last April I was walking down the road towards the pub and spotted, at the base of the raised flower bed, some tiny but brilliant white flowers. So vivid were these flowers that I actually spotted them from several yards away. As an inveterate weed spotter my heart began to race as I knew that this was something new!

These plants really were tiny – a maximum of a single brick-course high. Looking closer I saw that each flower had four petals and already there were long, semi-cylindrical fruits (i.e. seed pods) present. These features strongly suggested that this was a species of ‘crucifer’ and thus a member of the Cabbage family (Brassicaceae – formerly Crucifereae). But what genus and species was it? I confess that first I thought that it might be a species of Scurvy-grass (Cochlearia) – but that was a rather stupid guess because the leaves were completely wrong. Examining the bronzey coloured leaves I realised that they consisted of a few pairs of opposite leaflets and a single, larger, terminal leaflet. This is typical of the Bitter-cresses (Cardamine). Several native plants such as Lady’s Smock (C. pratensis), Large Bitter-cress (C. amara), Hairy Bitter-cress (C. hirsuta) and Wavy Bitter-cress (C. flexuosa) belong to this genus.

To determine the species there was nothing else for it but to key it out in Professor Clive Stace’s magisterial (but scary) ‘New Flora of the British Isles’ (3rd Edition, Cambridge University Press, 2010). After much swearing I decided that my plants were New Zealand Bitter-cress (which is really native to ... yes, you guessed it!). Stace tells us that it is: “Intr[oduce]d-nat[uralise]d but only in gardens; spread as horticultural contaminant to paths, rockeries and pavement cracks; scattered in Br[itain], Ir[eland] and [Isle of] Man, first recorded 1985”. So my specimens probably came from the flower bed above (and originally from a garden centre). I’m not sure, but my record could be the first Manchester record.

Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) (Middle photograph)

Last June FoCM Committee member, Julian Robinson led a guided walk around Sale Water Park. The focus of the walk was bird watching but here I have to confess that I’m a totally useless bird watcher. Someone spots a small, feathery dot in the distance and I point my binoculars in what I’m convinced is the right direction. Everyone else is ‘oohing and ahhing’ and commenting on the finer points of the feathery dot’s plumage ... and all I can see is a tree branch! By the time I’ve pointed the binos in the right direction the feathery dot has decided to fly away and to leave my newly acquired field of view!

After about half an hour of this I was skulking along at the back muttering balefully to myself (“Flipping birds! Why can’t they stay still and stop flapping about?”). By this time I must have reverted to my usual habit of scanning the ground because I suddenly stopped dead! There by the path was a plant around 500 cm tall and with purple, dandelion-like flowers. I knew instantly that it was a plant called Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius). This species originates from the Mediterranean region and has been cultivated in the past (and may still be cultivated) for its roots – which can be eaten as a vegetable.

I had never seen Salsify in the wild, in Britain, before – but about 20 years ago I did find one of its close relatives when I was on holiday in Macedonia.

By the time that I’d checked the identity of the plant in the book and photographed it the rest of the party had disappeared and no-one else saw it.

Everyone else thoroughly enjoyed Julian’s walk but I suspect that they were all more adept at using binoculars than I am!

If anyone grows Salsify as a root vegetable I would be interested to hear about it.

Sowbread (Cyclamen hederifolium) (Bottom photograph)

The species Cyclamen hederifolium has a wide Mediterranean distribution and is found from south-east France to south Turkey, including many Mediterranean islands but excluding Cyprus (‘The Genus Cyclamen’ by Christopher Grey-Wilson, Timber Press, 1988). According to Prof. Stace it has been introduced and naturalised in Britain and was first recorded from the wild, in East Kent, in 1778 (Stace, 2010). This is long enough for it to acquire the common name, ‘Sowbread’. It is also probably the most common species in cultivation and is often grown in gardens.

On the 8th March last year (I’m being very specific about the date for a reason) I walked along the north bank of the river from Chorlton to Fletcher Moss. Around the West Didsbury area I found about 20 or 30 Cyclamen leaves spilling down the upper flood-bank. I suspected that the species was probably C. hederifolium but needed to see the flowers to be sure. I had to be patient because the flowers don’t appear until September; as it happens I found the flowers, in the same spot, on the 8th September – exactly 6 months after I found the leaves.

I still can’t decide if the plants were deliberately planted in that spot, or the corms deposited there in some flood, or they were self-seeded from someone’s garden (this species certainly seeds itself around in my garden).

As it turned out there were also some plants closer to home. At the bottom of Brookburn Road there’s a lane which leads to Hardy Farm and the path to Jackson’s Boat. The lane is gated at the Brookburn Road end and just by the gate is a spot where some people dump garden waste. This year a Cyclamen corm flowered on this dump. This plant was also C. hederifolium but a variety with white flowers (forma album). This was almost certainly a garden throw-out.

Dave Bishop, February 2011