Middle Eye from Hilbre Island
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Days; Seal Watching Days;
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Chairman of the
Friends of Hilbre
Allen Burton 0151
Tides and Information
Wirral Country Park Ranger Service 0151 648 4371
Council Web Site:
'Inside this issue'.
Overview of Hilbre Island
Dee Estuary (including the Hilbre Islands) is a Site of Special
Scientific Interest (SSSI, or Triple SI) which is a National
Classification conferring a degree of protection on the area. It also
has the accolade of being a Ramsar Site, this is a World-Wide
recognition of its importance for wildlife, in particular for birds.
Hilbre is also recognised as a Local Nature Reserve (LNR), a Special
Protection Area (SPA) and a Regionally Important Geological and
Geomorphological Site (RIGS).
The sandstone rocks, of which the Islands (and much of Wirral) consist
of, were laid down around 220-240 million years ago. At one time they
would have been part of the mainland. The rock is relatively soft, so
the ravages of the sea, rain, wind and temperature variations have
constantly worn away the rock surfaces. This process continues today.
Barely a winter passes without some damage to the fabric of the islands
or to the buildings.
On Hilbre, there are four buildings constructed mainly of wood and each
has been occupied at certain times. The stone buildings all date from
the later part of the 19th Century and were built by the Liverpool
Docks Trustees, which later became known as the Mersey Docks and
Harbour Board. To protect the crumbling cliffs, there are also some
Victorian sandstone reinforcements. At the northern tip, the remains of
the last Lifeboat Station have been rescued from complete ruin and are
now used by the Hilbre Bird Observatory (HiBO) as a bird hide. Over 5
decades enthusiastic rnoithologists of HiBO have observed and recorded
sightings of birds from most of the globe.
and Birdsfoot Trefoil
Some of the flora
and fauna are specially adapted to a maritime environment, the prime
example is Rock Sea Lavender (Limonium Britannicum ssp Celtium) — a
rather rare species, only found at certain points on the West Coast
from North Wales to Cumbria. Another is the Sea Campion (Silene
Maritima). The pink Thrift and yellow Birdsfoot Trefoil are eye
catching. There are many more species of wildflowers e.g. Bluebells and
Along the margins of Hilbre there are seaweeds and amphibious plants.
Little beasties too abound in the rock pools and crannies of the
cliffs. Sea snails, star fish, sea urchins and sea anenomes can all be
seen when the time is right. The Sabellaria (reef worm) is a tiny worm,
it lives in colonies, in which each individual builds a house for
itself. Gradually, as the colony grows, the individual cells join up to
the equivalent of a huge apartment block! This is similar in the way
that Coral grows, but the Sabellaria structure is a dull brown and
lacks the brilliant colouring of a Coral Reef.
If you visit at low tide, you will be able to see the colony of
Atlantic Grey Seals, which are in permanent residence in the Dee
Estuary. The numbers vary from 30 to 40, to a record of 800 or more in
the summer of 2012. They lie, or ‘haul out’ on Hoyle Bank, between
Hilbre and the Welsh coast. You may even hear them ‘singing’, although
identifying the tune may be difficult!
The seals can be spotted even at high tide, but you have to be more
watchful. They spend most of their time underwater catching food and
only pop up every so often for air. By the time you’ve told your friend
“there’s one!” it has already disappeared from view. They are attracted
to movement on land, so if you ’wave your arms at them, they may linger
to watch you - but if you make a noise at them, or talk to them they
will just dive under the water again.
Occasionally, another variety of seal, the Common Seal, will appear on
the Island. Here, on Britain’s West Coast, this species is less common
than in other parts of the country; in the Dee Estuary they are not
common. They are much smaller than the resident Atlantic Grey Seals and
are sometimes mistaken for one of their pups.
It is surprising how many Wirral Residents have never visited Hilbre,
even those who have lived here all their lives! I hope this article has
given you a flavour of some of the delights that can be experienced and
may even tempt you to visit Hilbre to see for
this is an edited extract of an article which first appeared in The
'Inside this issue'.
As we approach Autumn, already the Committee has
begun discussing plans for next year. To book a suitable venue and a
speaker, we really do have to act now. Fortunately, we have been able
to book the same hall as in recent years, the United Reformed Church
Hall in West Kirby.
The matter of a speaker has also been resolved and we are pleased to
confirm that Gavin Hunter, a well-known Wirral resident, will give us
an illustrated talk on the Dee Estuary and Hilbre. I have seen one of
his other talks which is eye-opening and beautifully presented.
Although it may seem a long way off (and most of use haven’t even
thought about buying a diary for 2014!), I would encourage everyone to
make a note of the date — Thursday,
May 22nd 2014. We hope to attract a greater number than
ever before, hence the early warning.
Summer Tasks 2013
We have all worked hard this year to ensure that we contribute to
preserving Hilbre environs, buildings and wildlife habitats.
Andy repairing sea defences
Andy has continued to lead the work on the Welsh-side of Hilbre,
patching up the sea defences, where there have been small landslides.
This is an important task and helps to contain the soil and vegetation
and thereby protect valuable habitats for fauna and flora.
We continue in our programme to ‘pull’ (remove) invasive species such
as Bracken and Ragwort, this helps to allow other, more important
species to flourish. Our Bracken-pulling on Heather Mount (south end
Hilbre) has allowed a remarkable regeneration of heather which, as well
as making a stunning display when in full flower, provides an important
habitat for wildlife.
Cinnabar Moth larvae feed on Ragwort, they are voracious eaters and can
actually consume the plant. The larvae absorb the bitter alkaloids that
are distasteful to animals and birds; their bright colours act as a
warning to birds not to eat them. Controlling the Ragwort helps to
prevent it from out-competing other important
species. For a short video see:-
Litter picking is another important activity as it removes unsightly
rubbish, to allow visitors to appreciate the full beauty of Hilbre, it
also has a more important function in removing items that can prove
dangerous to wildlife e.g. plastic bags and ring pulls from cans.
Our annual lunch on Hilbre Island took place in
August, to thank our volunteers for their hard work. As usual, Barbara
laid out a wonderful spread of delicious food, which was enjoyed by
'Inside this issue'.
Renewal - Last Chance!!
If you wish to renew your membership for 2013 -
2014, this is a final opportunity. Please e-mail the Membership
Secretary, Barbara Burton, at firstname.lastname@example.org and request her
address. You won’t need to fill in an application form, just
send a cheque made out to ‘The Friends of Hilbre’ with your name and
address on the back and post it to Barbara.
Mr H. L. Ross's memories continued - part 4:
Over the next ten to twelve years, I was at home less and less, but the
Hilbre visits went on and on, usually by train from Parkgate to West
Kirby, over what is now the Wirral Way. The Keepers changed, the ponies
and traps vanishes and less people seemed to be visiting the islands.
Two or three times I went on school trips, the last of which in July
1940, started a gap of over nine years in my visits, with one
exception. It was just after the end of the Dunkirk evacuation. I was
on holiday when I received a postcard from the ‘Master in Charge of the
School’s Field and Outdoor Section’, to say that he was ‘organising a
day trip to Hilbre on such and such a date—meet at West Kirby Slip’.
It was a lovely day and off we went. We were just past Little Eye when
we heard engines behind us and turned to see a Bren Gun Carrier towing
a 15-cwt Bedford Truck. There seemed to be a total of about 10 soldiers
aboard the two vehicles. They stopped alongside us, a Sergeant climbed
out and asked our Leader where we were going. ”To the Island” he
replied. “Can’t do that Sir, I’m afraid—the Island is now out of
bounds, under military control and in the process of being fortifies
and garrisoned”. That was a facer, but the NCO relented. “Look Sir” he
said “take your lads on, seeing you’ve come so far. Somehow, I didn’t
see you at all. Don’t yap to anybody about what you see, say, or think
you see. OK?” Certainly ok, but further conversation was even more
interesting. “There is a feeling Sir, that the Jerries may try an
airborne landing on the banks here, sneaking up under cover of Irish
Neutrality, to destroy the Birkenhead Docks, the shipyards, the rail
systems and perhaps getting across the Liverpool side. They wouldn’t
survive, but they could do a hell of a lot of damage!” - All very
We did a quick tour of the main island, saw some barbed-wire laid out
and a Vicker’s Medium machine-gun in position, various slit-trenches
being dug and possibly 20 men at most. One of the senior boys who had
his OTC ‘Cert A’ said to the Sergeant “Wouldn’t it be better if you put
a gun on Middle Eye? It’s three to four hundred yards closer to the
likely landing place. You might get at them a bit sooner and before
they could perhaps seek cover under the low cliffs of Middle
Eye?” “Good thinking Son” the Sergeant replied,
“might be a good idea at that.
We’ll see what happens when the War’s over — eh?”
I hope you have all been as fascinated as I have
been, to read Mr
Ross’s memories of Hilbre and we thank him for sharing his experiences
Do you have any recollections you would like to share with Friends of
Hilbre members? No matter how recent, or long ago your experience is,
we would love to hear from you. You may want to write just a
few lines, a short paragraph, or a longer article. To encourage you to
make a start — in the next newsletter, I will briefly recount some of
my favourite memories of
Nicky FofH Editor
The Friends of Hilbre
new members to our group.
you would like to join us please email the Membership Secretary for
an Application Form at: email@example.com
OF THE PUBLIC
Please note that members of the public can visit
Hilbre Islands’ Local
Nature Reserve throughout the year. The Friends of Hilbre do not guide
visitors across the shore to the islands.
TIMES AND INFORMATION
Please contact the Coastal Rangers at the
Thurstaston Visitor Centre,
Wirral Country Park.
Tel. 0151 648 4371 (10am to 4pm, seven days a week).
BIRD OBSERVATORY BLOG HAS DAILY SIGHTINGS ON:
DEE ESTUARY BIRDING
The Dee Estuary is one of the UK’s premier birding
wetland and shorebirds. The Dee Estuary Birding web site describes the
best Dee Estuary birdwatching areas with detailed maps and latest bird
news for dedicated twitchers and casual birdwatchers alike.
PARK NEWLETTER BY THE RANGER
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check the tides before going out to Hilbre. Tides change
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For full details of when to cross safely and the
safest route to Hilbre
see our page:
your visit to Hilbre Island
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Friends of Hilbre
unless specifically otherwise stated.