Sefton Coast

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes December 2018

Petalophyllum ralfsii (Dr Phil Smith)

After months of dry weather, December returned to something like normality, measurable rain falling on 15 days, including the wettest day since August on 3rd. This helped the severely depleted water-table, my measuring point in the Devil’s Hole blowout showing a rise of 13 cm by the month’s end. Despite this, most of our dune-slacks remained dry. It was also a relatively warm month with hardly any frost.

The moist, mild conditions were perfect for bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), which rapidly recovered from brown, dried-up remnants to brilliant emerald-green patches on both the open dunes and the limbs of older broad-leaved trees. Josh Styles and I continued our study of the critically endangered Large Hook-moss, visiting the large slack south of the Ainsdale Discovery Centre where Des Callaghan reported this species in 2010. Sure enough, it was still there, with several colonies, especially on a lightly-trampled path through the slack where the vegetation was shorter. We recorded quadrats and took soil samples to describe the habitat.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes November 2018

Pseudocalliergon lycopodioides (Dr Phil Smith)

It has been known for centuries that rainfall on the coast is much lower than a few miles inland, yet I have never heard this reflected in regional, let alone national weather forecasts. So yet again, the default forecast for the Northwest of “frequent heavy showers” was wrong day after day. The result was another dry month here with measureable rain on 11 days but not in sufficient quantity to recharge the sand-dune water-table which remained static throughout.       

Anthony Carter: Ravenmeols and Lifeboat Road

Geastrum schmidelii (Tiny Earthstar)

Sixteen members of North West Fungus Group attended on a beautiful autumn day. Our first foray since the area was taken over by The National Trust. First stop was at Ravenmeols where we checked on the decreasing patch of Tulostoma brumale. We also recorded some rarities in Hebeloma dunense and Inocybe dunensis, in the dunes (where else?).

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes October 2018

Fly Agaric (Dr Phil Smith)

After the great drought of 1976, the heavens opened in September and October of that year, rapidly replenishing ground-waters, rivers and other wetlands. In complete contrast, following this summer’s comparable drought, September 2018 was dry, while October was even worse, with measurable rain on only five days, a named storm on 13th producing the only really wet day. Average October rainfall for Formby is 84mm (3.3 inches); we probably had half that. This is important because, apart from impacts on farmers, gardeners, water-supply, etc., so much of our special duneland wildlife depends on recharge of the water-table to produce seasonally flooded slacks. Instead of rising in October, the water level dropped by about 3cm at the Devil’s Hole measuring point.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes September 2018

Yucca (Dr Phil Smith)

September was another relatively dry month. Although measurable rain fell on 12 days, there were significant amounts on only three dates. As a result, the sand-dune water-table at my Devil’s Hole measuring point continued to fall when it would usually be starting to re-charge. I had a letter published in the Radio Times pointing out that TV weather presenters are supposed to be educated people and should be aware that this country is only habitable because of regular reliable rainfall. Perhaps, therefore, they should stop perpetuating the myth that rain is bad. Evidently, they didn’t read it!

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes August 2018

Bishop's Mitre (Dr Phil Smith)

In this driest and hottest summer since 1976, the blessed relief of at least some rain on 12 August days helped to temper the worst effects. However, the damage and costs to the country became increasingly evident, with agriculture reporting production losses of 50% or more. Not to worry, rather than celebrating desperately needed rainfall, the TV weather presenters described the only really wet day during the month (26th) as “Soggy Sunday”!

Freshfield Dune Heath: Rhacognathus punctatus

Rhacognathus punctatus (Dr Phil Smith)

Another interesting discovery at Freshfield by Dr Phil Smith. This Shieldbug (Rhacognathus punctatus the Heather Shieldbug) is otherwise unknown from locations in South Lancashire (VC59). As a whole there are only 200 records for the UK (NBN Atlas 09.08.2018).

The only other records for our area are from Coastal Surveys carried out by the natural history staff at the World Museum Liverpool. This survey produced 4 records of this species. All of them from locations within the same nature reserve and all collected on the 15th July 1997.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes July 2018

Coastal fire damage (Dr Phil Smith)

With the countryside in flames, farmers losing millions and the water-supply industry in turmoil, the TV weather presenters finally acknowledged the longest summer drought since 1976 and started to talk about the “chance” of showers, rather than the “risk”! We actually had six days with measurable rain during July but only on 29th was there enough to make a difference to the parched landscape. A spate of fires along the coast seemed inevitable. The biggest at Hightown dunes, Altcar Training Camp and Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve each destroyed several hectares, while several smaller blazes were also reported. Further afield, about a third of Lytham St. Anne’s Local Nature Reserve went up in flames. These fires can kill small mammals, reptiles and invertebrates but most plants usually recover quite quickly. Thus, after three weeks, the Hightown fire site was already showing regrowth of vegetation.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes June 2018

Maiden Pink (Dr Phil Smith)

Reports of Red-eyed Damselflies at new localities in Merseyside led Trevor Davenport and me to visit the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Aintree where this distinctive species can be found perching on Fringed Water-lily leaves. We logged about 25 Red-eyes, including several pairs, as well as four other species of dragonfly in this exceptional month for these ancient insects.

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