Where to spot wildlife in Cheshire throughout the year
PUBLISHED: 09:00 11 January 2016 | UPDATED: 09:56 11 January 2016
The natural world holds wonders to discover in every season, writes Katie Piercy of Cheshire Wildlife Trust. She recommends the county’s best nature spots to visit in 2016
Spending time in nature is something which has become less and less common in our everyday lives. However, studies have found that even a small amount of time spent outside can have significant improvements to our mental and physical health. Research shows that immersion in the natural world helps to decrease stress in adults, improves children’s ability to focus and study, lowers the chances of obesity and even allows us to live longer. So make time to get outside with your families and friends this year, because whatever the month, there’s something amazing happening right on your doorstep, be it the bright foliage of autumn, the clamour of songbirds in the spring, or the fluttering dance of courting butterflies in the summer.
January - February
Post-Christmas blues shouldn’t keep you inside at this time of year. Indeed, perhaps getting out in the cold air is a good chance to walk off some of that holiday feast. Winter is a fantastic time for birding and, amateur or enthusiast, now’s the time to grab the binoculars and head to the coast. Red Rocks Nature Reserve in Wirral is an excellent spot to try, with huge numbers of knot, dunlin and other wading birds lining the shore, while passage birds on their way south stop off for a brief respite. Rarities like snow bunting and twite sometimes pay a fleeting visit.
March - April
Natterjack toads are one of the UK’s rarest amphibians, specialised to heathlands and dune systems, two of our most endangered habitats. A protected species, they can be distinguished from our common toad by the yellow line down the centre of their back. In March and April these tiny creatures begin to make their presence known by croaking their throaty love songs out into the night. Evening is the best time to hear this unusual chorus, so take a flashlight to find your way in the dark, but remember not to disturb these amorous amphibians. The only remaining population in Cheshire is among the Red Rocks dune systems.
In Japan it is traditional to celebrate the coming of the cherry blossoms by spending time socialising below them and observing these magnificent trees. Perhaps the British equivalent is a trip to see the stunning carpets of almost luminous bluebells which brighten our native woodlands each spring. They’re a temporary wonder, so make sure you check the latest updates online as to when the blossoms are at their height. Try Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s reserves at Owley Wood Nature Reserve in Weaverham, or Warburton’s Wood Nature Reserve, near Kingsley, for a wander this spring.
From May to August a sound which heralds and celebrates summer like no other can be heard calling down to us from the heavens. The skylark is surprisingly noisy for its miniscule frame, and often you will be left scanning the sky in vain as they serenade the world from on high. Skylarks often like to breed and forage among arable fields, so keep your ears peeled when out on a summer’s stroll. However, for an excellent chance of enjoying one of their manic melodies, try the Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Bickley Hall Farm, in Malpas. Follow the Farm Trail, just off the Sandstone Trail, which runs right through the farm’s best skylark fields. Alternatively why not stop in when the Trust throws open its gates to the public on Open Farm Sunday and find out how it’s being managed in harmony with nature to ensure the very best for the wildlife that makes its home there.
July and August
These are the best months to see some of our most charming and beautiful insects; butterflies and dragonflies. There are currently 58 species of butterfly in the UK and 36 species of dragonfly, with an additional 21 species of damselfly, the smaller, more delicate version of the dragonfly. Not all are easy to spot. The white-letter hairstreak, for example, restricts itself to flitting around the canopy of elm trees. However, if you want a closer look, one of the best places for these aerial jewels can be among flower-rich meadows, sadly no longer a common sight though this is something Cheshire Wildlife Trust is working hard to redress. Swettenham Meadows in Swettenham near Holmes Chapel is well worth a visit at this time of year with species such as the Small Copper, Meadow Brown, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Painted Lady a common sight among the slender grasses and brightly coloured flowers. For dragonflies and damselflies, a trip to Black Lake in Delamere Forest, near Northwich, is essential. The dark waters of this naturally acidic pool perfectly reflect the iridescent bodies hovering above, and the surrounding trees make ideal perches for these magnificent insects. Remember, you’ll need a warm, sunny day for these creatures to be happy flying. And don’t forget to take a camera for those close-up shots!
September - October
Autumn is a time for brightly coloured foliage and even more vibrantly coloured fungi. As the world begins to dampen, watch with fascination as toadstools push their way up through the leaf litter, bracket fungus erupt out of the trucks of ancient trees, and fairy rings take up their stations on lawns across the country. Look out for the red headed and white spotted fly agaric, a beautiful but poisonous woodland species, the velvety brown jelly ear (shaped as it’s named) and the wonderful round little earth balls, hunkered close to the soil. But remember not to have your eyes on the ground the whole time; raise your gaze and watch the trees burn in reds, oranges and yellow before the painted leaves float gently to the ground. Warburton’s Wood can be great for both or give Hunter’s Wood in Frodsham a go for those autumn colours.
November - December
Starling murmurations have to be one of the most fascinating of nature’s wonders. Watch these tightly packed flocks undulate through the evening air in winter, as late comers swoop low over your head to join the dancing throng. Murmurations can be made of thousands of birds and usually start around dusk, as birds gather together ready to settle down in their selected roost for the night. Listen out for their high pitched chatter and the rustle of their wings as they move in perfect harmony. Marbury Country Park in Northwich is a good spot for this feathered wonder. Try the bird hide by the park’s reedbed. Don’t forget to look out for the bittern as well, so well camouflaged in the reeds that you might only spot him when he leaves them.
Nature is a wonder at every time of year. However, often what we see depends on luck. Who’s to say you won’t spot a pair of boxing hares while listening out for skylarks, or spy the ripples spreading out across the water from the glossy head of an otter as you wait for the starlings to start their dance. The only thing you really need to enjoy nature is to spend a little time with it.
The more our daily lives become removed from it, the more we come to realise how nature can fascinate, heal and inspire us. Without it we lose something vital to ourselves, with it we gain much more than we yet have the ability to comprehend – in fact all our lives are better when they’re a little bit wild. w
Play your part
The work done by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust to protect our countryside is dependent upon the support of its members. If you would like to support this work please consider becoming a member. Remembering them in your will could ensure that the Cheshire Wildlife Trust can continue to protect Cheshire’s wildlife and wild places for generations to come. For more information call 01948 820728 or go online to cheshirewildlifetrust.org.uk where you’ll also find details on how to join.