DALS WILDLIFE SITE { WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND}

WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND

A look at Mere Sands Wood Nature Reserve West Lancashire.

THIS SITE IS AFFECTIONATELY REFERRED TO AS THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN OF THE LANCASHIRE WILDLIFE TRUST.

A brief history may be prudent at this point to give the reader an awareness of its origins. The Lancashire Wildlife Trust {LWT} first became interested in the site when it was declared a SITE OF SPECIAL SCIENTIFIC INTEREST. At that point the site was in the ownership of the Rufford Sand Company who was given permission to extract sand from a few acres of the site. The company wanted to extract from all over the site of this former mere.

To avoid possible objections from the public and the consequential Public Enquiries they invited the L.W.T to devise a plan that would involve restoration and landscaping when sand extraction was completed. For this cooperation and expertise the company promised to convey in stages the freehold of the site to the L.W.T. The residents of nearby villages voted in favour of this outcome.

Restoration produced a series of small lakes with gently sloping edges and tree planting was done on an impressive scale.The L.W.T. took over 40 acres in 1980, and, after further restoration and landscaping  the remaining land was transferred in 1982 .

In the next few years 3-4000 trees were planted and the Trust obtained planning permission for offices and a car park. In 1985 a head Countryside Ranger was appointed. The staff worked hard to promote the site by the general public and hides were constructed at strategic places around the site. The enthusiasm of staff and volunteers proved to be successful and this led to a visitor center being constructed, and a network of footpaths that meander through woodland to the hides. Conservation and Maintenance which continues unabated steadily improving the site for wildlife and visitors alike.

The site is situated near Rufford and the near by Holmeswood along the Lancashire coastal plains the car park is situated at the end of a narrow tarmacked lane that  divides arable land. The visitor center is plainly visible from the car park.  To access the visitor center you cross over a board walk which straddles a pond containing fish, aquatic plants  and other associated wild life. Below the center is welcoming-above inside the visitor center.

The visitor centre and wild flower meadow.

The visitor center offers toilet facilities refreshments, gifts and exhibits work from local wildlife artists, sculptures and all kinds of information about the site. For those unable to walk or have difficulty in walking long distances the center offers motorised "scooters" for a small donation which will convey the rider to most parts of the site on well sign posted pathways. Any pathways not suitable for the vehicle will be clearly marked as such. 

Leaving the visitor center there is a choice of three directions that one may take. On my visit I turned immediately right and keeping immediately right leads to the wild flower meadow. Being a plant enthusiast this is one area I could not bypass it would be like a child passing a free ice cream. A pathway runs straight down the meadow towards woodland. Many species of flora tenant the grassland on each side of the pathway,but it is the fenced off meadow land that plays host to the majority of plants, along with a plethora of species from insect land that are attracted to the flowers, which wild meadows attract as a natural part of their existence.

Evening primroses stood tall among the herbage which consisted of bird,s foot trefoil, greater willow herb, centaury, ragwort, self heal, red bartsia, St Johns wort, Yellow rattle, knapweed, and the scarce yellow bartsia thrive. The sandy substrate helps the plants to thrive.

 

Photographs above---flower buds of the evening primrose below bird's foot trefoil.

This is one of only two sites where the yellow bartsia grows in the north west of England. Earlier in the season marsh orchids abound and the more observant may well encounter the scarcer bee orchid.

WILD FLOWER MEADOWS---need to be managed in order to keep them producing the diversity of flowers that we love to admire. Thus, during the winter the meadows are grazed which helps move the vegetation and associated nutrients. Orchids and marsh helleborine thrive on nutrient deficient land. Grazing also prevents tree seeds from becoming established as saplings. as a result of this management strategy up to 55 species have been recorded at the site.

Those species from insect land include the more obvious ones such as dragon and damselflies, butterflies, moths and other more secretive and elusive that are to many to name in the confines of this article. Butterfly records show that in most seasons 19 of the 59 species that occur in Britain may be encountered at the reserve. The vast majority of these are attracted to the wild flower meadows {again demonstrating the importance of this habitat.}. These include the meadow brown,gate keeper {probably the most numerous}, the common blue, small copper, small skipper, peacock, comma and brimstone.

 Courtesy of charlesjsharpe {Sharp photography } CC BY-SA 3.0 License.Peacock butterfly (Aglais io) 2.jpg

More records kept.--

Night time sees a variety of moths take to the air.Again the use of records show that moths were initially surveyed at the reserve in 1978, and regular moth trapping nights {they are later released unharmed}, started in 1997. It is an interesting fact that moth trapping is done once or twice a month throughout the year. This has revealed that in January only two or three species are caught, while in the months of July and August there may well be 60 species recorded.

The records also reveal that of 750 macro moths {larger ones} that occur in Britain there have been over 250 species recorded at the reserve, however, in an average year the species counts around 200. There are public events during the year when the populace can see for themselves the moths being caught and identified. Such records are invaluable and it is thanks to the staff and dedicated volunteers, that such records are available. For it is these records that monitor the health or otherwise  of the species can be ascertained.This can be observed in the following synopsis--Large yellow under wing have reduced in number. Setaceous  Hebrew character moth is increasing in numbers. The flame shoulder moth the numbers are stable.One species -the yellow horned moth has shown a trend of increasing population numbers. They have increased from one or two a year when records began up to 40 per year at the present,conversely the buff tip moth numbers have fallen from 40 per year down to 1-4 per year.

The Trust [ in common with many monitoring groups throughout the country] send this data to the County recorder, which in turn, incorporate it into a National Data base. It is from the National Data base that the health or other wise of a species is determined. Those that show a significant decline of more than 50% or more over the last 30 years  are designated as a Priority Species of conservation concern under the U.K. Biodiversity Action Plan. This is true of all species of fauna and flora in the U.K. 

woodland and associated inhabitants

There are several marked walks at the reserve one of which is a circular boundary walk while others criss cross the reserves woodland that allows one more opportunity to encounter the wildlife that dwells in its shady tranquility. All of the woodland paths are quite level and therefore easy to negotiate. The woodlands are composed of pine trees and elegant airy birch in the main, other species include oak,beech,and sycamore which are dotted in various localities around the site. 

flora---

The spring woodland flora includes bluebell, lesser celandine, primroses and red campion. Later in the year ragged robin sports her pink flowers from where she dwells in damp situations. Self heal and willowherbs along with foxgloves also join the fray during the summer months. The cool shade and humid conditions provided by the water sources helps ferns to thrive giving the location an appearance of tropical splendour. The species include the male fern the broad buckler fern and bracken.

During the height of summer bracken caresses the feet of almost every tree.The bracken allows security and seclusion for many creatures . Among the pine trees squirrels' drays are not difficult to locate as they are bulky and nestle between a bough and the main trunk of the tree. Unfortunately, in common with most of England,the native red squirrel is no longer seen. The constructors of these drays are the introduced grey species from north America , which are now part and parcel of the British fauna.

 

 Courtesy of Beko  CC BY-SA 4.0 License.

photograph above the grey squirrel questing along a branch.

Many small birds breed at the reserve and the greater percentage are woodland birds, which include the tree sparrow { a priority species} robin, most members of the tit family, finches and larger corvines such as the colourful jay. During May an early morning walk around the reserve will ensure a treat as a million feathered throats omit a million intermingling notes that make up the dawn chorus. In the not to distant past turtle doves nested in the hedgerows that divide the reserve from nearby arable land. Sadly these birds have not been recorded for the last five seasons,I sincerely hope they will be seen again some time in the near future.

Many bird boxes are spread out throughout the woodlands and are regularly monitored by staff and records are kept of breeding successes or otherwise of the occupants. Bat boxes are also numerous and strategically placed to encourage the eight species of bat that occur here. They offer alternative places for the bats to roost. They are constructed of wood crete a mixture of sawdust, clay and concrete. Boxes for summer use have been constructed , these are of various sizes. Two large boxes have been created to entice hibernating bats during the coldest months.

The eight species that occur at the reserve are--

The common pipistrelle-Pipistrellus pipistrellus.

The soprano pipistrelle--P pygmaeus.

Brown long eared bat--Plecotus auritus.

Daubenton,s bat--Myotis daubentonii

Whiskered bat. M.mystacinus

Brand'ts bat M brandtii.

Natterer's bat. M. natterii

Noctule bat. Nyctalus noctula.

In common with the bird boxes the bat boxes are regularly inspected  by a person with a license allowing him/her to do so. All bats in Britain are fully protected by the law and this includes their roosts. They appear on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. All relevant information is passed on to the Bat Conservation Trust. 

Woodland fungi

During autumn in particular the reserve is noted for its woodland fungi. There is a vast number of species which include the fly agaric, lawyers wig, chicken of the woods, and the stink horn.Forays are arranged at the reserve where all members of the public who is interested in the subject are allowed the opportunity to take a walk led by an expert who will identify the species for them 

Meres and ponds.

The lakes and meres are one of the main attractions at the reserve especially to those birders that concentrate on waterfowl and associated habitat. as previously mentioned the lakes and meres were formed when the extraction of sand was completed. The individual bodies of water are surrounded by woodland and can only be seen with any clarity from one of the strategically placed hides dotted around the reserve, with the exception of the lake that can be viewed from a purposefully  constructed viewing platform. This lake plays host to the yellow water lily,Nuphar lutea, a robust aquatic plant, with large foliage that may cover large areas of the waters surface. The solitary rounded flower heads are small in comparison, yet it is the seed vessel that are the salient feature once the flowers have faded. They have been sculptured by nature to resemble small brandy bottles or flasks of a dark green colour.

PHOTOGRAPHS--TOP-small lake surrounded by woodland. Below the seed vessels of the yellow water lily.

Dragon and damsel flies are often seen on the foliage of water lilies and marginal vegetation during the summer months,in their quest for prey..These creatures cab be observed from the hides around most lakes. A creature that frequents the small lake pictured above is the little grebe commonly referred to as the dabchick. It is the smallest of the European grebes.Its presence is often revealed by its high pitched rapid trill which gradually fades away, but not before shattering the tranquility of this setting.Its plumage is dark although closer observation will reveal that on its face and neck there are rufous tints. There is a pale yellow stripe or light marking near the base of the bill. Its outline is rotund and gives the impression of having no tail.

The individual hides are relatively large structures seating up to 15-20 people , positioned so as to allow discreet viewings of the wild fowl without disturbing the inhabitants of the lake. Although still popular in the summer months, it is from late October until March that the the hides are popularly visited, when the geese arrive from Greenland and Russia in great numbers to over winter here in the comparative mild climate of ours.

Geese and ducks.--

Pink footed geese may number many thousands and they are often joined by the Whooper swans and a varied variety of duck, which include the Shelduck,Widgeon, Garganey, Gadwall, Tufted, Pochard, Shoveler, Teal, and of course the resident Mallard. The reserve also attracts wading birds in lesser numbers for the Sefton Coast and Southport Marshes are relatively close by and many wading birds winter on the mud banks where their natural food is available.

One of the rarest breeding birds in Britain,the bittern, may be seen from the Marshal hide during the winter months.This heron like bird is secretive and elusive spending much of its time amid tall stems of reed and sedge which grow in profusion around the many lakes. As the reed beds grow deeper and thicker it is hoped that one day the bird may join the breeding bird list at Mere Sand Wood.

During the late spring and early summer, sedge warbler, reed warbler and reed bunting all successfully breed in the security afforded by these reed beds. The ponds play host to beautiful water lilies, bog bean and other aquatic vegetation that attracts wild life. On the surface duck and coot frequent the reeds while beneath the surface many creatures dwell in their watery kingdom. In order to observe the complex comings and goings of aquatic creatures one has to follow some basic  necessary guidelines and one will be rewarded with sightings that would be missed by the mobile casual observer.

You need to find a comfortable yet discreet spot, preferably with a tree behind your back with branches over your head. Many aquatic creatures can see shadows through the surface of the water to shapes against the sky.  Keeping still will help prevent shadow movement but also diminishes vibrations from the ground which carries into the water, thus detected by many aquatic creatures.

In common with all habitats in England the Mere Sands Wood Nature reserve is constantly changing with the seasons. Nature lovers will find something of interest all year round at this site of Special Scientific Interest.

Photographs on this page may be reused ,however, the name of the relevant author nust be attributed along with any accompanying license.


Thank you for visiting.