Hugh Harris: NATIONAL TRUST COASTAL BIOBLITZ, Sat 20th and Sun 21st June 2015

Hugh Harris. Lime Hawk Moth

The area at Formby Point managed by the National Trust has increased (520 acres) through a gift of the former tobacco waste areas by the British Nicotine Company, the purchase in 1985 of the Larkhill Lane heathland area from Ideal Homes Ltd and the recent purchase of the former agricultural area north of Wicks Lane. This area is heavily used for recreation and accessed via the large Victoria Road carpark. Here the frontal sand dunes are being rapidly cut back by the sea and prehistoric footprints can sometimes be found on the beach. Levelling of the land in the past for asparagus cultivation means there are few natural slacks in this duneland. South of the carpark is situated the “tobacco dump”, a nicotine waste tip, developed in the 1960s and 1970s and now largely colonised by nettles. Another notable feature is the “Squirrel Reserve”, part of the large area of pines behind the open sand-dunes, where the famous but sadly declining Formby Red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) have become accustomed to visitors  and can be fed by hand. At Larkhill Lane, Formby, the National Trust manages small but interesting areas of heathery dune-heath and flower-rich meadow on former farmland. In 1974, the coastline came under the control of one local authority, Sefton Council which allowed for the development of a coordinated approach to management which continues today.

morning after the night before!

Arriving at the Countryside Office as a volunteer on the Sunday morning had very much the 'morning after the night before’ feel about it: the overnight moth traps had been opened and recorded by the Lancashire Moth group, the Early Morning Bird Walk had taken place, Shrimping at the water’s edge investigated, the small mammal traps had been opened and one male Wood mouse released, and naturalists were assembling for ‘Bumbling for Bees’. In fact most of the 24 hour event activities had taken place on the shoreline, mobile dunes, dune grassland, dune heathland, plantation conifer woodland and deciduous woodland habitats on the Saturday and were very successful in discovering and counting species.

Having seen the very beautiful Large Elephant Hawk Moth (Deilephila elpenor) for the first time I was tempted to stay and watch Richard, Lancashire Moth Group display his catches. Goat Moth (Cossus cossus), Lime Hawk Moth (Mimas tiliae), Fox Moth (Macrothylacia rubi), Figure of Eighty Moth (Tethea ocularis), Ghost Moth (Hepialus humuli), Pale Tussock (Collitteara pudibunda). These were first-time sightings for me although they are common in this coastal area of Sefton.   

Tony, Lancashire Mammal Group, demonstrated how to set and release the small mammal traps which captured one Wood-mouse from the 30 concealed traps in the woodland. However such is the resilience of naturalists he told us that was the norm in that habitat. Also, he identified the gender of the captive Wood-mouse: it was male.   

Meanwhile other naturalists were bumbling for bees in the dune heathland behind the Countryside Office. I shall be interested in the final number of species counted in the 24 hours as they will be entered into the National Trust’s national biodiversity database.

HH @ Formby