Sunday, 29 March 2015

It was the wettest of times

Seed sowers -Kepler Street Plot

It was the wettest of times, but like Hen Harrier day it was also one of the best of times... Not a bad turn out considering the downpour, but then it was for a grand, worthy cause, wildflowers for Everton and nature.

Last year the Landlife National Wildflower Centre, Manchester City Council and the Friends of Everton Park entered the Grow Wild England Landmark Project. The project was named.’ A Tale of Two Cities’ and they won.

Grow Wild is creating four high profile flagship sites, one in each UK country.  Tale of Two Cities won the public vote in England in November 2014

The vision is to deliver a unique cultural landmark project in the northwest of England to:
-       redefine wildflower best practice
-       turn people’s heads and hearts
-       inspire new Grow Wild communities

The plan was to sow bold landscapes in both Liverpool and Manchester on a grand scale – about 10 hectares (equivalent to 20 football pitches!), and into the spaces between where we can.  Uniting the people and communities in both cities to experience, celebrate and create Grow Wild adventures. Igniting a new generation of wildflower lovers - especially aiming to involve local children.
A Tale of Two Cities won £120,000 to achieve this. Liverpool and Manchester will be forging new pathways between environment and culture, using music and arts practice, to bring the beauty of wildflowers to people in intriguing and imaginative ways. Our project will run until 2017.

I don’t work too far from Everton Park and enjoy dinnertime strolls there in the summer. I’d seen areas of white lines being marked out the week before, so when I read Damien Young’s tweet (Young4Damian) about the seed sowing event. I thought I’d mosey along.

Three areas of the park have been  marked out for wildflower sowing,  roughly large rectangles on the  slopes overlooking the city.(Great view of the city, river and out New Brighton and beyond by the way) Each plot representing an old Everton street, long demolished and now buried under the park. Kepler, Sampson and Druid Street.  
Kepler and Sampson street plots
Druid Street Plot

Keeping in faith with the ethos of links to the environment, culture, music and arts different organisations and individuals were invited to observe and join in with the seed scattering.
Richard Scott, Landlife’s Senior Project Manager led the event, Damian from the wildflower centre brought the seed and distributed it to the scatterers.  The chosen wildflowers were Poppy, Chamomile and Cornflowers -   red, white and blue!  
Richard Scott
Ken Rogers attended the event, author of the book ‘The Lost Tribe of Everton’’ thus linking  history and cultures of the area from past times.
John doing his reading,  Ken to left 

The friends of Everton Park & Everton in the community were well represented Foe’s John Hutchinson gave a spirited reading from Charles Dickens’s   a tale of two cities
     It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….

We even had a musical accompaniment to the morning activities with Accordion player Helen Maher. Maybe we should have sung ‘we plough the field and scatter’, instead we attempted streets of Everton (Streets of London Ralph Mctell) mmh

Better - Listen to Helen and Ian sing the war cry - Flowers to the people - Vote for A Tale of Two Cities

This video was made during the Launch event for our Tale of Two Cities Grow Wild England Flagship bid to win 120K.
Helen provides the music for Silky Skills

Well it is Liverpool so we also had a little bit of football,  in the form of - Richard Braithwaite (silky skills) showing us some of his magical  freestyle football skills  

So there you have it, in a couple of month’s the slopes will be in bloom.

I’ll be following their development with interest, besides it will get me out the office for a couple of hrs, and it's good for your mind and waistline!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results: Fewer finches visiting our gardens in Merseyside

But visits to gardens made by wrens, robins and blackbirds up from last year
More than 585,000 people across the country took part in this year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, spending an hour over the weekend of 24 and 25 January watching their gardens and recording any feathered friends which made a flying visit - close to a 100,000 increase on 2014. In Merseyside, over 8,000 people took part, helping to contribute to the national results.

Overall more than eight-and-a-half million birds were spotted, making it another bumper year for the Birdwatch. Refreshingly, sightings of every bird that featured in this year’s national top 20 increased on the numbers recorded in 2014, apart from the three finches; chaffinch, goldfinch and greenfinch - a trend which was also seen in Merseyside, with lower numbers of finches spotted in people’s gardens compared to last year. 

However, the average number of robins seen visiting gardens nationally was at its highest since 2011, helping it climb three places to number seven in the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings, its joint highest-ever position. The robin also climbed up the sightings table in Merseyside, from tenth place to seventh.
Blackbird was another climber, moving to number three and becoming the UK’s most widespread garden bird after being spotted in more than 90% of UK gardens. In Merseyside, blackbirds held onto third position, but were seen in 90% of gardens – an increase on last year.

Despite being the UK’s smallest garden bird, twice as many people picked out a wren calling by their garden this year than in 2014, consolidating its place in the top 20 most popular garden birds nationally.  In Merseyside, the wren flew into 20th position after being spotted in 26% of gardens compared to 14% last year.

However, two species found in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch’s top 20 most popular birds remain in the red of Birds of Conservation Concern , highlighting just how valuable our gardens can be. House sparrow and starling are on the red list meaning that they are of ‘highest conservation priority – species needing urgent action’.

RSPB Conservation Scientist, Dr Daniel Hayhow, said: “Many garden birds are in desperate need of our help. During winter, birds need extra food and water, a safe place to shelter and make their home. Gardens providing these things are an invaluable resource for birds and are likely to have a significant effect on their numbers, perhaps even playing a pivotal role in reversing some declines.
“We hope through this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch challenge, of seeing things through the eyes of birds, really helped people to understand exactly how they use your garden, and will allow them to improve the ways to give nature a home all year round.”

Despite the Big Garden Birdwatch results also showing a drop in finch numbers this year, scientists believe there is no need to panic just yet.
Daniel added: “Birds such as goldfinch, greenfinch and chaffinch may not have been as reliant on food found in our gardens during the cold snap because of a decent natural seed supply found in the wider countryside this winter following a good summer.

“The weather can have varied effects on different groups of birds in terms of behaviour and habitats used. This year, a better seed supply in the countryside for finches means that we saw fewer visiting our gardens. On the other hand during the cold spell, birds like blue tit and robin would still be more reliant on food found in our gardens.”

While alarms bells aren’t ringing about this annual variation in finch numbers, for greenfinches this drop in numbers continues a long term decline of 53% since 1979, which is likely due to Trichomonosis disease. Intriguingly, the top four locations for greenfinch in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch are islands; Orkney Islands, Isle of Scilly, Eilean Siar and Isle of Anglesey, possibly suggesting the disease hasn’t spread to these areas yet. This further highlights the need to maintain a high level of hygiene at garden feeding stations to halt the spread of Trichomonosis.

“Trichomonosis disease has reduced the greenfinch population severely in recent years, and has been documented in other garden birds, including chaffinch. Following simple sensible hygiene procedures when feeding garden, such as regularly cleaning feeders and tables, is a step in the right direction in stopping the spread of this deadly disease,” added Daniel.

Other continuing national declines include starlings and song thrushes, which have dropped by an alarming 80% and 79% respectively since the Birdwatch began in 1979. Both species are on the UK ‘red list’ meaning they are of the highest conservation concern.

There was also a notable decline in the number of winter migrants that were spotted over the Birdwatch weekend. Redwing, brambling and waxwing all dived down the rankings although RSPB scientists believe this may have more to do with the good conditions on the continent over the winter, reducing the need for these birds to migrate to the UK.

There is slightly better news for the house sparrow, as its long term decline appears to have continued to slow, and it remains the most commonly spotted bird in our gardens nationally. However, it remains a conservation concern as numbers have dropped by 57% since 1979.

For the second year running, participants were also asked to log some of the other wildlife they see in their gardens. The RSPB asked whether people ever see slow worms and grass snakes as well as deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads in their gardens, which were all added last year. This information, which will help build an overall picture of how important our gardens are for giving all types of wildlife a home, will be analysed and results will be revealed next month.

The parallel event, Big Schools’ Birdwatch, continued the record breaking theme with more schools and children taking part than ever before. The UK-wide survey of birds in schools had almost 90,000 participants and revealed that blackbird is the most common playground visitor for the seventh year in a row. The top three was rounded off by starling and house sparrow, which is now at its highest-ever position in the Big Schools’ Birdwatch rankings.

Big Garden Birdwatch and Big Schools’ Birdwatch are a part of the RSPB’s Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the housing crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their own gardens and outside spaces – whether it’s putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond to support a number of different creatures or building a home for a hedgehog.

To find out how you can give nature a home where you live visit:  

This table shows the top 10 birds seen in Merseyside gardens in 2015

Average number per garden
House sparrow
Blue tit
Feral pigeon
Great tit

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Searching for skydancers in Lancashire

The Harrier Hotline number is 0845 4600121


With spring around the corner, the RSPB is asking people who spend time in the uplands of Lancashire to keep their eyes peeled for hen harriers, England’s most threatened birds of prey.

The nature conservation charity has relaunched its Hen Harrier Hotline with the aim of finding out where these birds might be breeding.   

There is enough suitable habitat in the English uplands to give a home to at least 320 pairs of breeding hen harriers but last year there were only four successful nests in the whole country. The Bowland Fells in Lancashire are recognised under European law as one of the best places for breeding hen harriers. Natural England, the statutory agency that looks after the countryside says there should be 12 breeding pairs at this site but in 2014 there were only two nests, both of which were on the United Utilities Bowland Estate. 

Amanda Miller, Conservation Manager for the RSPB in Northern England, says: “Sadly, hen harriers are a much rarer sight in the Lancashire uplands than they should be. But if you are lucky enough to see one, it’s an experience you won’t forget in a hurry. The male’s courting ritual is a particularly stunning spectacle; a series of breathtaking swoops and somersaults that earns it the name Skydancer.” 

Hen harriers are in trouble largely because of ongoing illegal persecution. In addition to their diet of small birds and mammals, hen harriers sometimes eat grouse, which brings them into conflict with the driven grouse shooting community. This type of shooting requires huge numbers of gamebirds and some game managers feel they need to illegally kill or disturb harriers to protect their business.

A government-commissioned scientific report, published in 2011 , found that illegal persecution continues to be the biggest single factor preventing the hen harrier’s recovery in England.

Amanda Miller continues: “Breeding hen harriers are so rare that any sighting is extremely important. We have dedicated staff and volunteers ready to protect nests around the clock but we can only do so if we know where they are. I would urge anyone who spends time in our beautiful uplands to keep an eye out for these stunning birds and get in touch with us if they see one.”
Male hen harriers are an ash-grey colour with black wing tips and a wingspan of just less than a metre. They are sometimes known as “ghostbirds” because of the pale colour of their plumage.

Female hen harriers are slightly larger, owl-like in appearance, and have a mottled brown plumage, which camouflages them when they nest on the ground. They have obvious horizontal stripes on their tails, giving them the nickname “ringtail” and a patch of white just above, on the rump.
The Harrier Hotline number is 0845 4600121 (calls charged at local rate).  Reports can also be e-mailed to  Reports of sightings should include the date and location of sighting, with a six-figure grid reference where possible.

The Hen Harrier Hotline is part of Skydancer, a four-year RSPB project aimed at protecting and conserving nesting hen harriers in the English uplands. The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and United Utilities, with additional support from the Forestry Commission. For more information about the project, visit

This year, Skydancer’s monitoring and protection work will be getting an extra boost from the RSPB’s new European-funded Hen Harrier LIFE Project, an ambitious, five-year project, which aims to expand on hen harrier conservation work across northern England, and southern and eastern Scotland. For more information about the Hen Harrier LIFE Project, visit

Male Hen Harrier