Thursday, 31 March 2011

My Forthcoming Talk on South Manchester Plant Life

I've been invited to do a talk on the Plant Life of the Mersey Valley and South Manchester. The talk is hosted by the Friends of Chorlton Water Park at The Albert Bowling and Tennis Club, 39/42 Old Lansdowne Road, West Didsbury, on 19th April starting at 7:30 pm (it should last about an hour). Entry is free.

Because I retired a few years ago I've had the leisure to explore local plant life in more detail than I have been able to do before. A summary of my talk is given below:

Living plants are the foundation of our local biodiversity and they may provide clues to many historical aspects of our local area, for example:

- Former landscapes and habitats

- Former land uses

- Former economic and cultural practices (e.g. herbal medicine and cottage gardening).

Botanists from South Lancashire and Manchester have played a very important role in the development of both British and European Botany.
Many of the plants that the old botanists knew are (with a few exceptions) still to be found locally.

Dave Bishop, March 2011

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

e-mail Addresses

I've just e-mailed out a message to the membership (a message about the outcome of the litter picking event on Sunday and thanking all of the people who turned up). Every time that I send out one of these mass mailings I get quite a few 'undeliverable' messages bouncing back - mostly as a result of defunct e-mail addresses.

So, if you read this and haven't received any e-mails from me recently, and would like to receive e-mails from me, could you please send me (at davegbishop@aol.com) your most recent e-mail address. Please note the 'g' (my middle initial) in my address - if you miss this out your message will go to a long-suffering gentleman in West Virginia!

Dave Bishop, March 2011

Monday, 28 March 2011

Litter Picking on Ivy Green

Yesterday afternoon (Sunday, 27th March) a litter picking event was held on the Ivy Green part of the Chorlton Ees and Ivy Green Local Nature Reserve (that's the part north of Chorlton Brook). The event had been organised by the Mersey Valley Countryside Warden Service in conjunction with FoCM.

We know that there's a lot of concern locally about litter but we were suprised, and very gratified, when 22 people turned up for this event! A fanatastic turn-out for what is not a very glamorous task.

In all between 45 to 50 black, plastic bin liners were filled with rubbish. Last month a smaller number of people filled 15 bags - so that's over 60 bags of assorted litter removed from the reserve in a month.

Mainly the litter consisted of:

- Plastic soft drinks bottles.

- Beer, cider and soft drinks cans.

- Beer and spirits bottles.

- Plastic bags - the most unpleasant of these being those containing dog faeces.

- Discarded clothing.

- Various scraps of wood, cloth and paper.

- Miscellaneous 'stuff' - the most surprising being a part of a steel exercise machine and a small safe which had been prised open!

Sadly, among all of the responsible people who enjoy our precious green spaces, there's a sizeable minority of anti-social people who spoil it for everyone else. No doubt, if challenged, those people would whinge about there not being enough litter bins - but they should bear in mind that it costs money to empty bins, and if there were a bin every few yards, I doubt that such selfish idiots would use them.

I must also add that looking at the types of litter picked up it's fairly obvious which types of users are the main culprits.

Over the last few years the local authorities have prioritised access to the Meadows over everything else. But they have to realise that giving priority to access is a 'two-edged sword'. On the one hand it is a good thing that more people are now enjoying the countryside on their doorstep. But every population contains anti-social elements and these people also now have increased access to our Meadows and are threatening to spoil things for the responsible majority. I think that the local authorities are themselves guilty of irresponsibility over this and they are now compounding the problem by cutting the Warden Service even further. FoCM are not happy at the prospect of having to do even more litter picking - that's not why we formed in the first place! If you are as concerned about litter as we are please ensure that you complain long and hard to the Council.

Dave Bishop, March 2011


Tuesday, 22 March 2011

A Glorious Spring Day!

I woke to a beautiful spring morning today (Tuesday, 22nd March) so decided to go for a walk on Ivy Green and Chorlton Ees to see what I could see. This year the month of February felt like the longest February of my life (probably as a result of the harsh winter) and early March was like more of the same. So, to be out on a proper spring morning felt wonderful! True, we’ve had some ‘spring-ish’ days in the last week or so – but today felt like the real thing at last!

I spotted the following flowers, mainly along the banks of Chorlton Brook: Barren Strawberry, Lesser Celandine, Butterbur, Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Dandelions, Coltsfoot and Wavy Bittercress. Sections of the banks of Chorlton Brook were clothed in the fresh green leaves of Bistort. I had thought that this highly characteristic plant of this area was in decline, but since FoCM have made a concerted effort to remove Himalayan Balsam from the banks of the brook, in late summer, the Bistort seems to have taken on a new lease of life. It’s possible that the accumulated dead stalks of the Balsam had been inhibiting the Bistort from sprouting in the spring.

Virtually all of the local Willow trees were smothered in catkins. Willows are ‘dioecious’ with male and female catkins on separate trees. You can easily tell the difference between the two sexes as males have pollen bearing catkins, like yellow ‘bottle-brushes’ whilst female catkins are less ‘fuzzy’ and ‘flamboyant’ and are a fairly uniform green. Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera), with its gorgeous display of snowy-white flowers has been in flower for at least a week whilst its smaller, commoner relative, Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) is only just opening its smaller, but equally snowy-white, flowers (see top photograph above).

As I walked along a path towards the river I stopped to watch two Toads, one tightly clasping the other, slowly making their way across the path towards the taller vegetation at the side (see bottom photograph). Not to put too fine a point on it, these two Toads were mating. The smaller one was the male who was clasping the larger female in ‘amplexus’ (the technical term for it, I believe). They were probably making their way towards one of the ponds on Chorlton Ees where, having been ... ahem! ... impregnated, the female would lay her eggs. I suspect that these two were stragglers – and if I’d been in the same spot several hours earlier I might have seen many more.

As I moved on I heard a shrill ‘peee-oww!’ cry above my head. Circling above me was a Buzzard and there was another in a tree on the edge of a large open space near the river. I think that the circling, calling bird was the male whilst the one in the tree was the female (any ornithologists out there should not hesitate to correct me if I’m wrong). The male (if it was the male) was very distinctive with a sort of ‘notch’ in its wing (almost certainly the result of a missing feather or feathers). I have seen these birds before and think that they are probably nesting on the Ees – which is an interesting development. They are another addition to our local biodiversity, along with the Herons that, in recent years, have established a thriving heronry in one of the old, fenced off sewage beds near the river.

Several Bumble Bees buzzed among the dry foliage of last year and the new green shoots of this year. I think that they might have been queens looking for suitable nesting sites (again, if you know different, please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). I also spotted three different species of Butterfly: Peacock, Brimstone and Comma. At one pointed I watched, what appeared to be, an aggressive Comma chasing a Brimstone away from its territory.

In the course of my walk I had a look of the sites of our two (relatively) rare ferns: Adderstongue and Narrow Buckler Fern. With some help from the Warden Service, FoCM have been working to improve the habitats of these two ferns. When they finally emerge above ground, in a couple of months, we will be monitoring them and starting an on-going record which will, hopefully, help us to conserve them.

Dave Bishop, March 2011

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Bat Boxes on Chorlton Ees

You may have noticed some (slightly sinister looking!) black boxes on some of the trees on Chorlton Ees? These are bat boxes which we purchased with the money that we obtained from a council grant. The boxes are made of a substance called ‘woodcrete’ (literally a mixture of wood chippings and concrete). They are painted black to retain some heat from the sun.

The smaller boxes provide day-time roosting habitats for bats in our young woodlands which provide few natural roosting opportunities (i.e. the sorts of cracks, crevices and knot-holes which are found in old trees).

Four different designs of box are represented and we believe that these are suitable for the species of bat which have been recorded locally; these include Pipistrelles, Noctules and Daubenton’s bats. Although each box type is not specific to any particular bat species, those species listed above have been observed to show a preference for this range of box designs.

It is hoped that the larger boxes (particularly the flat ones) will accommodate female bats in maternity roosts. Such roosts can contain up to 40 bats plus young.

The boxes were erected by local members of the Bat Conservation Trust who are licensed to work with bats and are insured to climb trees; we are grateful to them for their help (I’m glad that it wasn’t me who had to climb the trees!). The Trust members are planning to re-visit in the autumn of this year to see if any bats have decided to take up residence (this may not happen immediately and we will have to be patient).

Traditionally bats have roosted in old buildings and old trees but these are both disappearing from our urban and urban fringe landscapes. Already this year various agencies have been savagely massacring what few old trees we have left. The construction of the new Metrolink lines, by contractors working for GMPTE, has seen the loss of many older trees with many more to come (their feeble and pathetic promises to plant trees to replace those they cut down are completely empty; a few ‘lollipops’ are no substitute for biodiverse old trees!). I am also getting reports that the Environment Agency has massacred around 20 mature trees on the river bank at West Didsbury – but I haven’t been to check this out yet. In addition the inhabitants of Whalley Range have managed to save some of their old trees from the Council but for how long, I don’t know; once they get an idea in their heads they won’t let a few voting, council taxpaying ‘tree huggers’, or concerns about wildlife, stand in their way.

Naturally we are grateful to the Council for supplying us with grants for things like bat boxes but we wish that they would also do much more for our local biodiversity. Taking wildlife more seriously would be a start as would ‘getting a grip’ on the various agencies who insist on getting their chainsaws and JCBs out every spring so that they can destroy everything in sight!

Dave Bishop & Richard Gardner, March 2011

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Wrong Kind of Trams by Ian Brown

No doubt everyone has now noted the bulldozing of the Lower Hardy Farm SBI by GMPTE's contractors? I've been composing a piece about this but I asked my friend Ian Brown (formerly Chair of Manchester Wildlife) to comment on it first because he gave evidence at the Public Inquiry in 1995. Ian's piece is given below:

After successfully fighting off a plan, in the early 1990s, by U.M.I.S.T., the owners of Lower Hardy Farm, who wanted to fill the site with 23 ft of rubble, to make it level with the adjacent Upper Hardy Farm, for the extension of their playing fields, we were confronted by a plan to damage the site by an extension of Metrolink to the Airport.

In 1995, I attended the public inquiry into this proposed extension of Metrolink on behalf of Manchester Wildlife (a now defunct local conservation organisation). We were objecting on the grounds that the extension would destroy, or damage, a number of sites of importance to wildlife. The main points I made at the inquiry were:

a)That there was no need for a Metrolink extension, to the airport, as this was adequately covered by the new railway link. The airport was only a 15 minute train journey from the City centre; the Tram would take a lot longer than that.

b)That if there was a need for a Metrolink extension then it should be along a route with the best chance of picking up passengers. The planned route runs over several miles of unpopulated Mersey Valley. How much better would it be if it were to run along the Oxford Road/Wilmslow Road corridor. This would take it past the University, the Hospitals, Hollins College, Fallowfield, Withington, Didsbury and Northenden. A few more passengers to be found in those places! There would be less need for busses and the "tram" stops could be synchronised with the traffic lights to ease congestion. I was told that this was not practical as, in some of those places, there was not room for the platforms which the "trams" required and the "trams" were not designed for street running, except where it was absolutely necessary. This brought me to the point, which I was subtly making, that Manchester has the wrong kind of "tram". It should be better described as a light rail system. In most continental European, and some British, cities, Trams have access at pavement level. How typical of Manchester, with its love of White Elephants, to pick the wrong kind of "tram". It was at this point, in the inquiry, that I realised, what I had long suspected, that the people who are running things tend to veer towards the stupid side of stupid!

c)I also gave evidence on the wildlife and ecological importance of the sites which would be damaged, or destroyed, by the Metrolink extension. This included Lower Hardy Farm, which was a Site of Biological Importance. I suggested that, if the extension were to go ahead, the line should be taken along the Upper Hardy Farm side of the ditch, which separates the two "Farms". Then it could cross the ditch, at the last possible moment, in order to bridge the Mersey on the upstream side of the Jackson's Boat pub. This would have avoided the area where some of the more unusual plants, including orchids, were growing. I also mentioned the butterflies on the site. At the time, 13 species had been recorded. This may not sound a lot but, to put it into perspective, a survey at Rostherne Mere National Nature Reserve, at about the same time, found 14 species of butterfly. I, and others, have found that a good variety of butterflies is a sound, and easy, way to assess the ecological health of a habitat(See David Bishop about the importance of wild plants, in this respect). I knew not to put too much reliance on ecological evidence as, at the time, wildlife and wild habitats were not highly regarded by the planning system, particularly in Manchester.
For all I know, this may still be the case. I was relying more on the common sense arguments in a) and b). Common sense, when did that ever come into it?

I left the Inquiry with the feeling that the outcome was inevitable. Manchester wanted its prestige project (another White Elephant?) and was going to get it. Public Inquiry Inspectors are supposed to be independent but, as I attended a number of these farces, you will forgive me if I appear a little sceptical! Best of luck to you all.

Ian Brown, March 2011

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

New Nest Boxes on Chorlton Ees and Ivy Green

Recently, with the aid of a grant from the City Council, FoCM were able to purchase a number of bat boxes and twenty bird nesting boxes.

Ten of the bird boxes have been sited on the Chorlton Ees side (south side) of Chorlton Brook and ten on the Ivy Green side (north side).
The boxes are located both within the woodland and on the woodland edge adjacent to paths and open grassland.

The boxes are positioned so that their entrances face north/north east and this orientation shields the entrances from direct sunlight and the prevailing westerly winds.

There are very few mature trees on Chorlton Meadows because, prior to landfill, they were part of the flood plain of the river Mersey and used for grazing cattle. What is to be seen today is plantation woodland, thirty to forty years old - and certainly no older than fifty years; these trees are too young to have developed natural nest holes. Given good management and a hundred years there will, perhaps, be no need of nest boxes.
In the wider countryside there are fewer old trees available, due, in part, to the modern practise of lopping branches or clear felling trees at the first sign of rot (Health and Safety) thus denying birds of natural nest holes in which to raise their young and provide refuge in the winter months.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and The British Trust for Ornithology give guidance on the size of aperture for boxes depending on what species it is hoped to attract 25mm for Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus) 32mm Great Tit (Parus major) But all our boxes are 32mm as we believe that this provides access to many woodland species. In the wild natural holes in trees do not appear in any particular shape or size.

The value of nest boxes as shelter in winter is illustrated by the fact that sixty Wrens (Troglodytes troglodytes) have been counted occupying a single box!

By installing these boxes we hope to attract a greater number of species which can only add, especially in spring, to the enjoyment of all who use our local green space. We will add more boxes as funds become available.

All of the boxes have been numbered and their exact locations measured using GPS. They will be monitored to determine which species use them. Sadly we seem to have lost one box already - we think that it has been stolen.

We would like to thank Mark Hackett and Mark Agar who did the hard work of putting up the boxes.

John Agar, March 2011