Wildlife Notes

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes November 2017

White-tipped Bristle-moss (Dr Phil Smith)

The average November rainfall for Formby is 89mm or 3.5 inches. We just about got that, with 16 rain-days, including a few short downpours between 20th and 23rd. This produced flooding in North Lancashire but I reckon we had about a tenth of their deluge. Some of the deeper dune-slacks began to show surface water but I measured a water-table rise of just 8cm at the Devil’s Hole which remained largely dry. I was amused by a letter to the local paper which blamed the Council for Wicks Lake at Formby Point drying up. This was actually due to low rainfall over many months, for which our Council is hardly culpable.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes October 2017

Buckthorn Bashers (Dr Phil Smith)

October is supposed to be our wettest month but, with measurable precipitation on only nine days, this time it did not live up to its reputation. Confounding the forecasters, one of two named storms produced no rain at all! The trend for mild autumns continued, with several warm spells and no frost at all. Regularly monitoring of the dune water-table showed that it started to rise, as would be expected, surface-water appearing in the deepest slacks but not in the Devil’s Hole, which remained stubbornly dry.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes September 2017

Sericomyia silentis (Phil Smith)

It’s supposed to rain in September and, in complete contrast to 2016, this year it did, with measurable precipitation on about 16 days, though in no great quantity. Total rainfall was about average, doing little to restore the sand-dune water-table which remained below ground at the Devil’s Hole blowout, while Wicks Lake at Formby Point was bone-dry throughout.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes August 2017

Dr Phil Smith with TV presenter George McGavin

The unsettled weather of July continued into the first half of August with measurable rainfall on 11 days up to 18th but then hardly any for the rest of the month. This meant that the dune flora recovered somewhat from the severe early summer drought, this being reflected in a fantastic display of Grass-of-Parnassus, especially on the New Green Beach north of Ainsdale-on-Sea. Even I baulked at trying to count them but there were certainly tens of thousands in what is probably the largest British population of this nationally declining plant. Thousands more were at the Devil’s Hole, though this colony was down on the numbers present a few years ago.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes July 2017

Forester Moth (Dr Phil Smith)

July is usually a great month for wildlife along the coast and this one was no exception, though the early season meant things were already looking rather autumnal by the month’s end. The Devil’s Hole blowout at Ravenmeols is a must in high summer, treats on 1st including the first flowering Grass-of-Parnassus and thousands of Marsh Helleborines. Shocking pink Pyramidal Orchids lined the dune ridges to the west. As usual, Northern Dune Tiger Beetles scurried about on the bare sand slopes, while two spectacular Dark Green Fritillaries and a Spiked Shield-bug added further interest.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes June 2017

Early Marsh-orchid (Dr Phil Smith)

There could hardly be a greater contrast; Edinburgh had the wettest June ever, while desperately needed rain fell here on only eight days during the month. Though limited in quantity, it allowed some recovery of sand-dune vegetation and even stimulated a little Natterjack Toad activity, a few late spawn strings being found, though they didn’t survive long. The dune water-table continued to fall, partly due to a heat-wave from 17th to 21st, including the hottest June day nationally since 1976.

Rimrose Valley – A year in the life of a threatened wildlife site.

Rimrose Valley canal (Barry Smith)

Rimrose Valley is a 3.5 km country park and valley in North Liverpool which provides a vital mosaic of habitats for wildlife in an urban built up area, it is a ‘green lung’ for the area and lies between Crosby and Litherland in the borough of Sefton.

The deeper I look the more I see what an amazing place it is and how important it is to preserve its existence – Not just for wildlife but also for the different communities that surround it. Hopefully this piece will do justice to its beauty, it won’t be filled with words and scientific information, I aim to provide a more visual guide to what I have found over a twelve month period.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes May 2017

Drooping Star-of-Bethlehem (Dr Phil Smith)

Normally resilient plantlife took on a late-summer hue with straw-colours dominant as far as the eye could see. Fortunately, some light rain in the second half of the month improved conditions a little but many plants struggled. I estimated a 90% reduction in marsh-orchid flowers on the New Green Beach near Ainsdale compared with 2016. As usual, the TV weather presenters treated the slightest hint of rain as a national disaster. A letter from Oxford to the Radio Times said it all. “What kind on madness is it for weather forecasters to refer to the “threat” of rain, when we’ve had the driest spring for 20 years? Rivers are running dry, wildlife is threatened, farmers and gardeners are tearing their hair out ....”

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes April 2017

Purple Ramping-fumitory (Dr Phil Smith)

Since I started these notes in 2007, almost every April has been characterised by prolonged drought conditions. However, with a total of about 5mm of rain falling on five days during the month, this has been arguably the worst yet. The Met. Office acknowledged that April 2017 was the 10th driest on record for the UK but most other parts of the country had far more rain than us. Climate scientists have shown that spring droughts here are linked to persistent high-pressure systems over Greenland. These interfere with the North Atlantic Jet Stream that controls our weather and are the result of a warming trend in the Arctic brought about by climate change. This has major implications for our wildlife, not to mention agriculture and water supply but the TV weather presenters were still having apoplexy at the slightest hint of rain in the forecast. So much for our “green and pleasant land” as vegetation became parched and numerous grass fires were reported, one destroying Heysham Moss Nature Reserve in north Lancashire.

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