The Friends of Hilbre Newsletter
Volume 1, Issue 44 - Online version
September 2013

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Friends of Hilbre
Plan Your Visit.
How to Join.
MIU Events.
Volunteers' Work.
Task Days.  

Inside this issue:
Overview of Hilbre Island.
AGM 2014.
Summer Tasks 2013.
Membership Renewal  - Last Chance!!
Mr H.L. Ross's memories continued - part 4.
Safety Notice.
Archived Newsletters


 Middle Eye from Hilbre Island


For information on:
Weekend & Mid-week Task Days;  Friends of Hilbre Open Days; Seal Watching Days;
Mobile Information Unit Days; Membership Application Forms; Newsletter contributions;
General Information.

Chairman of the Friends of Hilbre

Allen Burton 0151 648 7115

Tides and Information
Wirral Country Park Ranger Service 0151 648 4371

Wirral Council Web Site:

Back to 'Inside this issue'.

Overview of Hilbre Island

The 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.  

Rock Sea Lavender                                                   Thrift 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 Heather.

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 yourself. 

Allen Burton

 n.b. this is an edited extract of an article which first appeared in The Lakes Magazine

 Back to '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.
Allen Burton

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.

                      Removing invasive species

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                                                   Ragwort

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 all.  

Back to 'Inside this issue'.

Membership 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 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 interesting indeed.

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?”

Favourite Memories 

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 with us.
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 Hilbre.

Nicky FofH Editor

The Friends of Hilbre
We welcome new members to our group.
If you would like to join us please email the Membership Secretary for an Application Form at:

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. 

Please contact the Coastal Rangers at the Thurstaston Visitor Centre, Wirral Country Park.
Tel. 0151 648 4371 (10am to 4pm, seven days a week).


The Dee Estuary is one of the UK’s premier birding locations for 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.


This newsletter is available by e-mail only.
To receive an electronic copy by e-mail (Adobe Reader required) please contact:

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 page:
Planning your visit to Hilbre Island

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