Our Local Natural Landscape
This feature is an introduction to the wildlife we have in our local region Newton Le Willows, Burtonwood, Winwick, Golborne, Croft, Culcheth, Lowton and immediate surrounds
The second page on the nature aspect of this website is concerned with links to relevant sources of information and specialist groups.
There is no point in replicating the huge amount of information available on the local nature scene put together by experts however we hope this inspires you to look further.
The natural landscape in our part of the world is like much of the North West of England but we do have some unique features that make this attractive to wildlife.
Firstly it is in a huge valley between high moorland – the Pennines, Horwich Moors and the Peak District. Secondly we are close to the sea and thirdly much of our area is geologically on the Manchester marl which has natural geological faults. This means much of the area is marshy.
This is a nice mix for us. The fact we are in a huge natural valley means we are channelled as a migration route for birdlife in the spring and autumn. Many of the birds spending the summer on the upland areas move down to the valleys in the harsh winters and are inevitably followed by birds of prey.
We are near the sea which means we have waders and wildfowl feeding in the winter months inland. The marshy areas give us interesting plant and insect life and a greater diversity of plants, animals, birds, amphibians and insects.
In the nearby coastal areas we have two Ramsar sites – the Dee and Mersey estuaries A Ramsar site is one that is recognised under the Ramsar convention. This means it is an internationally significant wetland reserve where birds from all over Europe and Africa visit over winter, breed in summer and migrate to and from the area. We also have some regionally significant nature reserves; Risley Moss, Pennington Flash, Wigan Flashes, Rixton Claypits, Houghton Green Flash, Moore Nature Reserve and Woolston Eyes.
This is the melting pot in which our wildlife exists. It is not fragmented nor is it one entity. It is the sum of all of its parts. If one part of it is lost the rest does not remain unaffected. All the area is in effect diminished. This is because of migration, roaming and cross pollination of plant and insect life. Nature does not stay passive or inert, it is constantly moving and developing.
Habitat, the ability to connect and roam provides food for all.
As we continue to develop our countryside we must look to the quality of the countryside we are losing not forgetting connectivity and corridors. On the negative side we are losing green space at a terrifying rate. Many towns in our region will soon be adjoined with little green space or biodiversity buffers between them.
On the positive side we are becoming much more aware of nature and biodiversity. Technology helps. We own HD TVs with superb nature programmes, smart phones, smart TVs, tablets, desktops and laptops. Any information we require is seconds away from our fingertips in a way our parents and grandparents could not dream of.
Both as a society and legislatively we are more environmentally aware. Gone are the days where we cover the fields with pesticides, kill birds of prey on a large scale or pour untreated industrial waste / effluent into our river systems. Specialist protection groups covering birds of prey, insects, amphibians, mammals etc are more prevalent and the internet and social media have helped in this regard. Grants and local funding are available in some cases.
The Mersey basin which was one of the most polluted river systems in Europe, if not the world, 40 years ago, now teems with life including the Atlantic salmon.
Even climate change with its negative overtones is bringing some opportunities with new bird and butterfly species now re-colonising our region.
So it’s bad and it’s good in terms of our wildlife landscape. But the pace of development is a threat and it is now becoming more important than ever that we lever the advantages we have and mitigate the harm that will occur by the loss of habitats and roaming connecting corridors.
In many ways we are more fortunate than our parents and grandparents in that some aspects of wildlife are more widespread and with the information technology revolution there is no excuse for not being aware of what is going on.
Let us now look at some of the more interesting wildlife you can see in our region. This is not an exhaustive list- just a brief taster. These are almost entirely taken in our area and are all taken by local photographers who live in the OLV region.
Making a real comeback from the bad old days of pesticides and persecution by gamekeepers. The fastest animal on the planet , it can, in certain conditions, reach 200 miles per hour in its stoop. The Peregrine has adapted well to our present day habitat and is now fairly common in cities and towns. Perhaps the most famous local stars are the peregrines on the Arndale Centre in Manchester. (see RSPB webcam below). There is also a pair in Leigh town centre. You have a very good chance of seeing one in our local countryside especially in the winter months
Spreading its range rapidly although this may be impacted by the controversial badger cull. Badgers are reasonably common in Lancashire and Cheshire and are to be found in our region. However we cannot be specific over details due to illegal baiting and set disturbance.
A common scavenger on the streets of medieval Britain feeding on the waste thrown out into the streets before the days of refuse collection. Following a series of parliamentary acts in the mid 1600‘s, which had the aim of controlling vermin, the Red Kite was systematically persecuted. In the mid 1980’s it was down to a handful of pairs in the remoter mid Wales’s valleys. Then came a remarkable success story- a reintroduction programme was formed by the RSPB and in 1996 the Red Kite Trust was set up to ensure that the success already achieved was continued. Reintroductions in Yorkshire (Harewood), the Lake District (Grisedale) and southern Scotland (Ayrshire) followed and the spread of the Red Kite continues unabated. They are not common but are increasingly found in our region. Last year (2012) two were seen on Parkside, a single over Lowton and a single over Burtonwood. As their strongholds become more populated they will be forced to seek new areas and it is almost inevitable we will see more of these over time provided they have the habitat.
Formerly persecuted and unheard of in this area up to 20 or 30 years ago you would need to go to the uplands of Wales or Scotland to see one. Now commonplace in our area due to conservation measures. The buzzard was given the name”the tourists Eagle” because of the fact that tourists in Scotland, desperate to see a Golden Eagle, would point with joy to a Buzzard thinking it was the bigger Golden Eagle! It is an easy mistake to make, for although smaller than a Golden Eagle, the Buzzard is a formidable predator swooping down on medium sized animals such as rabbits. You often see them soaring in the sky with their wings outstretched sometimes alone sometimes in small groups.
The quintessential sound of an English summer and green fields, the skylark is nationally endangered but reasonably common in our region in the moss land and farmland areas.
Corn Buntings declined very steeply between the mid 1970s and1980s, withdrawing from large areas of their former range. Subsequently the decline has continued but at a reduced rate thanks to conservation measures and more sympathetic farming practices. Nationally it is quite a rare bird but reasonably common in our area. It is a large stocky finch often perched on fence posts or telegraph wires.
Roe deer are native to Britain, having been present since before the Mesolithic period. Forest clearance and over-hunting led to Roe Deer becoming extinct in England by 1800 but they remained in wooded patches in Scotland. Several reintroductions during Victorian times and their subsequent natural spread, aided by an increase in woodland and forest planting in the 20th century, has meant that Roe Deer have become widespread and abundant today. They can be seen in our area especially early in the morning. They are subject to illegal hunting and persecution. Roe Deer are great roamers and will travel many miles often overnight. They are extremely secretive during the daytime.
White Letter and Purple Hairstreaks
Both these species of butterfly are spreading northwards due to climate change. The purple is the more common of the two. Because both these species live at the tops of trees and rarely come to ground level they are often overlooked and may be more common than we think. Both species are to be found in our region with increasing regularity. The Purple prefers the tops of oak trees and the White Letter prefers elm trees. Where there is an abundance of elm trees there is a very good chance of finding White Letters. The name White Letter is because of the W on their hind wings.
The Barn Owl is a very special species, a much loved icon of the struggle between wildlife and agricultural changes in the UK. Numbers have plummeted since the 1930’s, but in recent years, many people in the countryside- landowners, farmers, conservationists and birdwatchers, have invested a great deal of money, time and energy in an attempt to reverse this population decline. We have in our region farmers and local conservationists in the form of the local raptor trust who seek to preserve the Barn Owl in our area. So far it has been a success story with the Barn Owl recovering from the position in the seventies and eighties where it suffered due to the impact of pesticides and farming practices. However it is very much a species of habitat grassland, wild meadows and territory where it hunts it prey of mice and voles. It also needs an extensive range to set its territory. A Barn Owl may fly 5 miles or more per night when it is hunting. It is under great threat from the excessive development we may experience in our region over the coming years.
Short-eared owls are large owls with mottled brown bodies, pale under-wings and yellow eyes with a huge wingspan of over three feet. They are one of the few owls which hunt during the day. In winter there is a big influx of continental birds from Scandinavia, Russia, Iceland. These winter visitors often descend overnight, sometimes single or sometimes in groups of two or three. We also have our own indigenous Short-eared Owls or “Shorties” as local birdwatchers call them. These birds often drop in from the Pennines or the Horwich Moors in cold weather when the mountain tops are frozen. There are few more beautiful sights on a late winters afternoon than the sight of a hunting Shortie. They are to be found in our region.
The UK’s smallest bird of prey, this compact, dashing falcon has a relatively long, square-cut tail and rather broad-based pointed wings, shorter than those of other falcons. Its wingbeat tends to be rapid with occasional glides, wings held close to the body. Its small size enables it to hover and hang in the breeze as it pursues its prey. In winter the UK population increases as most of the Icelandic breeding birds migrate to our warmer climate.
Brown hares were introduced in Iron Age times from the other side of the North Sea. They are widespread on low ground throughout England, Wales and Scotland. Brown hares live in very exposed habitats, and they rely on acute senses and run at speeds of up to 70kph (45mph) to evade predators. Hares do not use burrows. They make a small depression in the ground amongst long grass – this is known as a form. They spend most of the day on or near the form moving out to feed in the open at night. Though generally solitary, hares sometimes band into loose groups when feeding. We are fortunate in our region to have the Brown Hare but they do suffer from illegal coursing, lamping and hunting with dogs. They are under threat of green belt loss-the more green belt we lose the more vulnerable they become both through habitat loss and illegal activities. They are a beautiful animal and it is surprising how big they are. They cannot be mistaken for a rabbit- they are more akin to a Wallaby.