Rob Duffy: Report of the 2017 Botanical Survey of the Liverpool Loopline

Zig-zag Clover (Rob Duffy)


Report of the 2017 Botanical Survey of the Liverpool Loopline between West Derby Station (L12) and Halewood Triangle (L26)


The Loopline was surveyed by Rob Duffy (Liverpool Botanical Society), between February and September 2017 and some 290 taxa were listed.

The Loopline had been surveyed, in the Childwall section (Liverpool 16), by Howard Harris (Liverpool Botanical Society) some years earlier and subsequently, by himself, leading the Liverpool Botanical Society (LBS), in the summer of 2014, in the same section, where a party of 12 listed some 170 taxa.

‘Sustrans’ held a ‘BioBlitz’ at West Derby Station later in the summer of 2014, where Rob Duffy and Steve Cross (The President of the LBS) were present. Rob Duffy conducted a survey in the summer of 2016 and listed, once again, 170 taxa, but on a longer stretch of the Line; this was to support the August 2016 BioBlitz by Sustrans.

This was held at Warmington Road, Knotty Ash (Liverpool 14) and Dave Earle, the Vice County Recorder for Lancashire, attended. Some half a dozen species could not be corroborated in 2017, excluding the difficulty in separating Rubus fruticosus. This would be due to a variety of factors important to realise in any survey:-

1/ The observational skill of the recorder.

2/ The loss of some plants due to spraying.

3/ The definition of where the Loopline ends (the boundary of the survey) eg. how far do you record up embankments where it may be dangerous, or garden plants that grow over the fence?

4/ The gaps between repeat visits (sometimes 3 weeks) may have missed flowering times and made plants difficult to identify.

Recording methodology

The Loopline was split into 4 sections for management and recording purposes, each section being done monthly :-

This allowed for recording sessions to be of a reasonable time (between 90 minutes for a circular walk on most sections, but up to 210 minutes for the longer amble from Gateacre to and around Halewood Triangle (Liverpools 25-26 ). A circular walk meant scanning one side of the path on the way out and the other on the way back.  A sum total of 18 km per month.

It also allowed- for i Record purposes- of fixing a particular taxon at the monad level (one or better, for grid referencing purposes,  for all sections, apart from Gateacre to Halewood.

The topography of the Loopline

The northernmost section between Knotty Ash and West Derby Stations is a canyon cut through solid rock and as such displays a wide variety of bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) and pteridophytes (ferns).

The northern, middle section, between Knotty Ash and Childwall Stations, levels out at Sainsbury’s and then becomes a path between shady, fern and tree lined embankments. Proceeding through Childwall the path levels out and by Childwall Station has become elevated. Either end of this section are wild flower seeded areas where the vista opens out. Housing is generally of the semi-detached variety (1930’s-1940’s).

Both the above sections allow pools and ribbons of water to form.

The southern, middle section, is an embankment running to Gateacre Station, with 1950’s Liverpool overspill housing estates to the north and meadowlands and slightly more salubrious housing to the south.

The southern section starts as an embankment with housing estates either side becoming gradually rural at the boundary of the Halewood Triangle Country Park. The Triangle as such is based on disused railway lines and here the terrain levels out. This is the only section with a Ranger Station (Knowsley Borough Council) and is both woodland and meadow with pockets of small pools and the only proper pond.

The flora:-

1/ Ferns:-

Ferns proliferate north of the M62; common ferns such as Male, Borrer’s and Broad Buckler in the main. Houndstongue was an ever present. A noted feature was that as one proceeds northwards, the predominate ferns change from Male, to Broad Buckler, in the “canyon”. In this section was found Scaly Male Fern, Common Polypody, and Lady Fern but remarkable was the proliferation of Royal Fern (noted in 2014). Shield Ferns were scarce throughout.

Liverworts cover the walls in the canyon, two species of which were confirmed by Ben Deed of BioBank.  (Dave Earle recorded three mosses but not in West Derby).

2/ Trees:-

The tree flora was unexceptional, featuring expected pioneers such as willow, poplar, birch, ash, sycamore and the understorey yew, cherry, hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel and elder. But there were plenty of oaks (usually turkey), some beech, sweet chestnut, rowan, whitebeam, lime, seedling horse chestnut, even aspen and elm.

3/ Grasses:-

The usual common bents, fescues, meadow grasses, rye grass, were well represented, along with the ubiquitous Yorkshire Fog and False Oat Grass. False Brome was present in some shady areas and there appeared to be a colony of Meadow Brome but this was dead due to spraying (see below).

Reed Canary Grass, favouring the damper, seepage areas, was well represented.

More interesting, a colony of Timothy and its smaller sub species was noted in Gateacre and Creeping Soft Grass in Knotty Ash. The true wetland grass, Sweet Grass, was notable for its scarcity (see below).

4/ Rushes and Sedges:-

Were poorly represented apart from the abundant shade loving Remote Sedge. A small colony of False Fox Sedge and the inescapable Pendulous Sedge were present in the odd waterlogged location. Rushes were the expected Hard and Soft Rush in a few restricted locations. The usually very common Toad Rush was only recorded by the Redrow estate maintenance trackway (L14).

5/ Woodland species:-

Apart from the below mentioned bluebells, those well loved species redolent of early spring were patchily represented eg. Common Dog Violet, in Gateacre, Dog’s Mercury, in Halewood, Wild Arum at Knotty Ash, Wild Garlic, here and there. However, the non-native Pink Purslane added a splash of colour, in the deepening shade, in May, at two locations, in West Derby and Childwall.

6/Wetland species:-

Touched on above in sedges, included Water Figwort -but only in two locations, Sweet Grass –in only one location, Watercress (unfortunately later eliminated in drainage operations) and a handful of species from the Halewood pond which bordered the path. See note below about Purple Loosestrife. Marsh Woundwort was present only at Knotty Ash, at the same site as Sweet Grass and Watercress. Brooklime, a Speedwell, was present throughout.

4/ Garden Escapes and curiosities:-

There were many -the least desirable being probably the garden Yellow Archangel (that’s without mentioning the hybrid bluebell x massartiana).

A delight to see Zig-zag Clover on a Halewood embankment, seemingly more vibrant than the common Red Clover with which it can be confused.

Sweet Violet is represented in Childwall- its only (shady) location.

Winter Heliotrope, just north of the M62, provided a welcome harbinger of spring, in late February.

Orpine, often regarded as a plant of dry, exposed sites, had established in semi shade in damp conditions, at two sites, miles apart.

Four varieties of garden Geranium were present in small patches, well apart.

Watch this space..... for the possible spread of shade tolerant Fringecups (Tellima grandiflora) found at two well separated sites- some 3 miles apart- but both in semi shade.

And for......Purple Loosetrife, one colony found in the West Derby canyon, on the last day of recording, and sometimes a chronic weed of wetlands, was only previously recorded from the pond in Halewood, five miles to the south. It is intriguing to think that its seed has hitched a lift from a passing cyclist!

An orchid was found in the Halewood section, the only one along the entire route- without flowers it couldn’t be identified but was possibly a Helleborine.

5/ Pests:-

Himalayan Balsam is thankfully absent but Japanese knotweed isn’t, although far from rampant, its preference is for slopes so it can open its arching canopy of flowers in September (see below).

Bracken, similarly, is confined, in the main.

A note on chemical spraying

Spraying of the path edges is essential for user safety but late spring spraying had reduced species diversity. Catsear and Red Valerian were eliminated from the East Prescot Road bridge (Knotty Ash) before they could flower. Similarly for Meadow Cranesbill- at its only site, in Liverpool 16- but it was good to see it returning in August before the early autumn maintenance. On the other hand spraying had no effect on the dense colony of JK in Knotty Ash.

Spraying, at other road bridges, also had a noticeable impact on the small numbers of species that congregate at seepage points (joints).

....... And the wildflower seeded areas

The embankment at Warmington Road, Knotty Ash, is a mini nature reserve on the Loopline and a good site for butterflies, hoverflies and bees. The Well Lane site, Childwall, contained an arresting colony of Chicory. But the Lanfranc Close seeded area, nearby, which contained the non-native Sticky Catchfly was eliminated in 2017 by clumsy maintenance.

Rob Duffy