The Friends of Hilbre Newsletter 
Volume 1, Issue 28 - Online version

main menu

Open Days.
Plan Your Visit.
How to Join.
MIU Events.
Volunteers' Work.

Inside this issue:
Notes on a Former Keeper.
Biological Research.
Tribute to Peter Williams.
Seal Watching Day.
June Task and Lunch
Chairman's Words
For Your Interest
Safety Notice.



The Friends of Hilbre re:
Membership Forms,
General information,
Volunteers Work: Tasks, Open Days, Seal Watching, Mobile Information Unit

Tides and Information
Hilbre Islands Local Nature Reserve Ranger: 0151 1632 4455

Wirral Country Park Ranger Service 0151 648 4371/3884

North Wirral Coastal Park 0151 678 5488

Metropolitan Borough of Wirral Web Site:

If anyone has information, or photographs, or postcards regarding Hilbre from the past and would like to share them please contact:

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Friends of Hilbre
Annual General Meeting

7.30 p.m. 27th May 2009
West Kirby United Reformed Church Hall*
Meols Drive, West Kirby

You are invited to attend the AGM to hear about the work of the Friends of Hilbre over the past year and to have the opportunity to ask the committee questions. You can also renew your membership on the night. In the interval light refreshments will be available and there will be display stands about Hilbre. Our guest speaker this year is John Huthnance who is presenting a talk on ‘Marine Science in Liverpool’.
As usual, FOH members will be eligible to elect the committee members for 2009 to 2010. There are three executive officers (Chair, Treasurer and Secretary) and seven committee members. Should the need arise, it is also possible to co-opt a further three committee members during the year. Nominations for committee members should be submitted to the FOH Chair on our e-mail address to be received by 25th May at the latest.
We are putting out an urgent call for nominations for the position of Treasurer. Our outgoing Treasurer is willing to support/assist the incoming Treasurer in their new role. If you think you can help, please contact the Chairman on our e-mail address:

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 Notes on a Former Keeper

The Buoy Keeper’s House {left} was built in 1850; the southern rooms of
Telegraph Cottage {centre} may have been part of the old inn on the island;
the Telegraph Keeper’s Cottage {right} was built 1841-2 and is now occupied by the Hilbre Ranger.

Peter Bailey and his wife, Barbara, were resident in Telegraph Cottage in the 1960s and 1970s. A former teacher at Calday Grange Grammar School, Peter was interested in the outdoor life, the wild animals and plants of Hilbre and running practical tasks for young people to carry out. Many local people have happy memories of working under supervision on Hilbre, cutting bracken, painting walls and restoring bits of buildings.

Peter built a Minoan style wind mill in the back paddock, not to generate electricity, but to try raising water from the old well. He was helped in this by some local students. The water in the well often went dry and when there was some, it was salty, so the experiment did not continue. No one knows when the well was cut into the sandstone. It could have been done in monastic times, or later in the period when Hilbre was a small shipping out port of Chester, and briefly housed a salt boiling works. The Victorian keeper and Buoy Master used water from the house roods, stored in new underground tanks, as did the Bailey family.

Peter owned goats, which ate their way through a fair quantity of the Hilbre plant life. Their milk kept the family supplied, along with the visitors, such as school study parties staying overnight in the barn or the cottage. The Rangers now sometimes use Manx Loghtan sheep to keep the long grass in order, without damaging the fragile turf.

Peter’s children went to school in West Kirby. This meant fitting in with the tides, some times riding their pony, which was put in a field near the station. At other times, they travelled by boat. His son later trained as a marine biologist.

During the Bailey’s time on Hilbre, Prince Philip visited three times as a guest of the annual bird watching party, with Dr Lewis McAfee, the photographer Eric Hosking and the retired field marshal Lord Allenbrook. Under conditions of great secrecy, the Prince and his equerry were driven to Hilbre, watched the wading birds from canvas hides, spent a few nights in the simple accommodation of the Buoy Master’s House, and then flew off by helicopter, piloted by Prince Philip himself.

Peter and Barbara moved to the West Indies, where they ran a sailing school. They keep in touch frequently with the Friends of Hilbre and hear our news. We send them our best wishes and look forward to their next visit to Wirral.

Sue Craggs

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Biological Research on Hilbre

Several Projects have been run in recent years. There is continuous monitoring of birds by the Hilbre Island Bird Observatory, in connection with the national network of observatories and ringing stations. Their work has established migration patterns and has enabled conservation projects to protect bird species in Britain and other countries. Natural England, the government-linked body which monitors wild life and its management, surveyed the reef worm Sabellaria alveolata, on the shore and found that the colonies were thriving and plentiful around Hilbre. Research continues into the populations of cockle beds, Cardium edule, as part of measures to protect the sustainable fishery in the Dee. Left: Sabellaria Reef.

Left: Tortoiseshell Butterfly Right: Short-tailed Field Vole

Searches for the Hairy Millipede, Polyxenus lagurus, have shown that its location, recorded in 1980 in a reed patch, needs to be reassessed. It was found there because that was where the researchers looked for it! This minute, hairy beast has since been found in other places too. It is still rare and should not be captured. Butterflies and moths are easier to identify and monitor without catching them, or by disturbing them in other ways such as trampling on their food plants. Visitors are encouraged to stay on the paths and dogs should be kept on a lead at all times of the year. Even if the Hilbre species are not different from those on the mainland (for example the Field Vole Mictotus agrostis, which is typical of Wirral voles in size and tooth formation) the effect of removing a few individuals from the gene pool could do a lot of damage.

Sea Thrift and Birds-foot Trefoil.

Plants are protected by law. No plant, seed or bulbs may be removed from the wild. Identifying plants should be done on the spot, using a plant identification guide. So many people visit Hilbre that it is better to leave the detailed identification to trained botanists and zoologists, to avoid removing specimens from the breeding pool. Plant counts are done from time to time, to confirm that the species list published in 1982 is still a good guide to Hilbre flora. Rock Sea Lavender, Limonium binervosum, has increased in numbers and distribution. Heather Erica cinerea and Ling, Calluna vulgaris, are more vulnerable, possibly after several dry periods and warm winters. Sea Thrift, Armeria maritime, flowers best after a really cold winter, so has not given us such a show in May in recent years.

Hilbre is not far enough from the mainland for a truly isolated island community to develop. Human influence has been quite important too. C. Felton found that the species of spiders are typical of a domestic setting, probably because earlier inhabitants of Hilbre brought spiders over in their luggage and furniture. Hay carts will have brought small mammals such as mice and voles. Foxes and even hedgehogs have been seen crossing the sand at low tide. Birds fly in, of course. A colony of House Sparrows, studied by J Craggs in the 1950s, left when the Hilbre keeper replaced his horse with a car. The insects and larvae feeding on horse manure have been shown in other research to be a vital part of the sparrows’ diet, as well as corn taken from the keeper’s hen run.

Sue Craggs

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Tribute to Peter Williams
Chairman of Hilbre Bird Observatory 1982-2009

Peter Williams outside the Hilbre bird Observatory

Regretfully we inform our members of the death of Peter Williams, a popular local ornithologist, who collapsed and died on 7th March 2009 aged 65 whilst out walking near the Dungeons, Heswall, Wirral – with Doreen, his wife of 43 years.

Peter developed an interest in birds as a boy and made his first visit to Hilbre Island as a five year old - he would continue to visit the island for the next 60 years. Peter’s ornithological finds and achievements were many, his avid enthusiasm for birds and all aspects of natural history were to take him on quests all round the world with his family and friends. Children and adults alike reaped the benefits of Peter’s experiences, knowledge and humour - which he would willingly impart.

Peter joined the recently formed Hilbre Bird Observatory group in the early 1960s and in 1982 he became the Chairman of the Bird Observatory. Under Peter’s leadership, the group thrived, members built a new sea-watching hide in 1988, moved into new premises in 1989 at the south end of Hilbre, and built {and continually re-build} three heligoland traps. Members, under Peter’s guidance, continued with the production of the Hilbre Bird Observatory’s Annual Report until the present day {an Annual Report has been produced since the Bird Observatory’s foundation in 1957}. In 2006/7 Peter organised and oversaw the celebrations of 50 years for the Bird Observatory, and, the North West Ringing Conference. Hilbre Bird Observatory achieved official bird observatory status with accreditation from the Bird Observatories Council in 2008.

Under Peter’s tuition many bird-ringers succeeded in becoming C Permit and A Permit holders and some of his trainees are now trainers in the UK and around the world. Peter also ringed birds all round the UK, Holland {during the 1990s} and in Hong Kong {2001}.

In addition to being a birder and ringer Peter had a great love and knowledge of many aspects of natural history including mammals, butterflies, other insects and wild flowers. Peter’s respect and joyful enthusiasm for the natural world was generously shared with many folk. Peter was also a talented photographer and lecturer and an enthusiastic filmmaker - the DVD he made of Hilbre included numerous species of birds and the emotive photography of the island is wonderful.

Peter’s family and friends will sorely miss his effervescent personality. The esteem in which Peter was held was reflected in the large numbers of folk who attended his funeral - including fellow birders from across the region and country. Peter’s wife Doreen, his two sons - Steve and Chris {both are birders and ringers} and other HiBO members, thankfully continue with their work at the Hilbre Bird Observatory. Hopefully Peter’s grandchildren will also continue in the family tradition.

Valerie Burnett

  Seal Watching Training Day

Five FOH members attended the Seal watch training afternoon in March, led by June. It was a very windy afternoon, which was a bit of a challenge for the telescope but, an enjoyable and interesting time was had by all.
It is hoped that the new trainees will join our enthusiastic Seal Watch Team who enable visitors to learn more about the seals and to have the opportunity to view them through the telescope.

June Task and Lunch {Friends of Hilbre Members Only}

If volunteers want to attend this task on Hilbre Island (with lunch provided by the FOH), it is essential we know how many people to cater for.

If you would like to come, please e-mail Barbara between 5th May and 20th June for details and to confirm your attendance on:

  Words From Our Chairman

Any organisation of volunteers relies heavily on support from the membership and, we are no exception. The members of the Committee are grateful for the support which comes from all our members in various forms. I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone just for being a member and thereby making a contribution.

On occasions there are people with particular skills who make a special contribution. We were recently given the benefit of some very specialised knowledge when we needed to update our Risk Assessment methods. One of the members - Charles A. - led a small group and almost single handed produced a document worthy of any organisation, big or small. Special thanks are due to him.

I look forward to seeing those of you who are able to attend the AGM to launch us into our ninth year.

Allen Burton

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For Your Interest

Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Oyster Catchers and Herring Gull

Hilbre Bird Observatory publishes an Annual Report which is due out soon:

Hilbre Bird Observatory and Ringing Station Report 2007, Editor: Steve Williams.

Please send a cheque made out to ‘Hilbre Bird Observatory’ for £5.00 {inc. p & p} to:
Hilbre Bird Observatory, c/o 129 Ennisdale Drive, Newton, West Kirby, Wirral, CH48 9UG

Hilbre Bird Observatory also has daily sightings on:

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Do you have any MEMORIES or stories about Hilbre Island?

We would love to hear from you - please send your contributions to:


The Newsletter Editor at:


Always check the tides before going out to Hilbre. Tides change each day. Use the safe route, it is dangerous to use any other route. For full details of when to cross safely and the safest route to Hilbre see our Planning your visit to Hilbre Island page.


PLEASE NOTE: All articles and photographs in this web site are ©  COPYRIGHT of Friends of Hilbre unless specifically otherwise stated.

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