Sefton Coast

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.

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.

MCS: Big Beach Clean

Dear Sir or Madame 

My name is Andy Laverick; I am a local Marine Conservation Society Sea Champion

There is a big beach clean event at on Monday 12th of June 2017 from 10.00 am. It will be at Freshfield beach again (on the national trust property). Please find attached the poster which advertises the event. 

The previous local event in April 2017, 130 kg of waste was collected by 38 volunteers in 90 minutes. This total included 938 separate items of plastic and unfortunately, a sizeable number of wet wipes and cotton bud sticks were also found.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes March 2017

Common Toad (Dr Phil Smith)

In contrast to the previous six dry months, March had average rainfall with measurable amounts on 12 days, most notably on 22nd when several hours of steady rain was something we haven’t experienced here for over a year. Despite this, there was minimal recharge of the water-table, my measuring point at the Devil’s Hole dune-slack being still 5cm below ground by the end of the month. Breeding by Common Toads, Common Frogs and Smooth Newts was therefore restricted to the deeper wetlands on the coast. Common Toads were active at Cabin Hill on 4th, when about 100 batches of frog spawn had already been laid in the main scrape. Later, I counted 50 dead Common Toads at this site, only four of which had been predated. I have seen mass mortality of this species here before but those corpses had been partially eaten. This time, the cause of death remains a mystery. The Lifeboat Road Natterjack scrapes were almost dry but it was good to see many immature Smooth Newts under pieces of wood, reflecting last year’s better breeding conditions.

Tony Carter: A Mission to Ainsdale

Caloscypha fulgens (Tony Carter)

I received a request from Kew Herbarium to collect some specimens of the morels that can be found at the Ainsdale Sand Dunes Reserve. They are recorded as Morcella elata (Black Morel), an uncommon species.  A recent European molecular study has revealed some new species. There is a distinct possibility that the Ainsdale dune collections and British sand dune collections in general, belong to a species not previously recognised in Britain.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes February 2017

Phil Smith

The driest autumn and winter in living memory continued for the first part of the month with measurable rainfall on only three days up to the 17th. Finally, more normal Atlantic conditions reasserted themselves, with high winds of storm “Doris” rattling in on 23rd. At last, some proper rain fell on each day from 21st to 28th. Nevertheless, this had minimal impact on the depleted water-table. At the Devil’s Hole, I found the level had risen by only 4cm by the end of the month, being still 12cm below the ground surface. A Common Frog was hiding in my measuring hole!

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