The Friends of Hilbre Newsletter
Issue 46 - Online version
April 2014

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

Inside this issue:
Grants & Spending
History & Heritage Fair.
2014 Tasks.
Honeycomb Reefs.
Marine Conservation Zones
Important Link
Amendments to Tasks
Safety Notice.
Archived Newsletters


 Birds-foot Trefoil and Thrift on Hilbre Island, the Point of Ayr in the distance


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:

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This AGM will mark the 13th year of the Friends of Hilbre. I would urge you to attend if you are able. It is an opportunity to see and hear what is going on in the group, to meet like minded people and even to bring your ideas and suggestions. Even awkward questions are welcome but answers are not necessarily guaranteed.

Although the number has dropped a little, we have maintained a level of membership which is regarded by other local groups as quite high; it is currently around 150 members.

I look forward to seeing you there - the URC Hall in West Kirby is on the corner of Meols Drive and Bridge Road. On-street parking is available but remember the early birds get the closest places.
                                                                                                                      Allen Burton

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Annual subs are due in May. Please e-mail our Membership Secretary, Barbara regarding renewal of membership  Alternatively, you can re-join at the AGM or the Mobile Information Unit.
Membership fees: £10.00 family membership: £6.00 single membership: £4.00 concessions

Grants and Spending

In December last year FofH applied for a grant from an organisation called 'Love Wirral' which works under the auspices of Wirral Council. There were two aims specified in the application. One was to provide an electric drill for work on the Island, such as fencing (not the 'en garde' type), repairs to doors and so on. The other was to renew our displays in the Mobile Information Unit. In January we heard that the bid had been successful and we now have £415 to spend on these two projects.

A second grant of £150 was donated by Liverpool Council for Voluntary Services (LCVS) on behalf of the Selwyn-Lloyd Charitable Trust. This is the second time this organisation has awarded FoH grant money.

Our contribution to the Council's financial commitment to Hilbre is to pay for the replacement of two very old and worn doors at the entrance to the Buoymaster's Workshop. The total cost will be around £2,500. This will be quite a shock to our finances but the committee took the view that we ought to be putting our money to good use. There is nothing to be gained from building up the bank balance.

Allen Burton 

n.b. we also give our thanks to the Birders who stayed in the buildings on Hilbre recently for their generous donation of £320 to FoH.  

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Wirral History and Heritage Fair 

The Mayor of Wirral, Cllr. Dave Mitchell chatted with Val when he visited The Friends of Hilbre stall at the Wirral History and Heritage Fair on the 1st March. The Town Hall in Birkenhead had come alive with individuals and organisations involved in all aspects of Wirral's heritage and local history.
The Friends of Hilbre stall attracted much attention from folk positively beaming as they remembered their own visits to our beautiful island in the Dee Estuary.


Tasks on Hilbre

Mid-week tasks have had a good turnout of members so far. In February, they removed the builders rubble left over from the repairs to the single storey stone building and cleaned the inside of the building ready for the coming year. In March they cleared the central path across Middle Eye and installed marker posts, to divert visitors from walking over the Welsh side of the Island and prevent further damage to the midden on the cliffs.

Other important tasks over the coming year include:
Stone buildings:  Maintain buildings and garden areas. Paint inside and outside buildings.
                           Finance and oversee installation of new doors for the Buoy Master’s store.

Removing invasive species e.g Bracken pulling.

Repairing and maintaining sea defences: fences, gates and walls.
Tool store: Install staging for tools, tidy tools store, tool inventory.

Information: Update displays in Telegraph Office , Day Room and MIU.

Other: Litter picking, maintain central path Middle Eye etc.


Hilbre's Honeycomb Reefs

My word they are ugly! No wonder they hide in tubes. The shores of Hilbre are home to Sabellaria alveolata - strange worms that build tubes to live in from sand grains or small shell fragments. Get enough of these tubes together and they can form a whole reef, hence their common name of ‘honeycomb reef worms’. On Hilbre they are mainly an ‘intertidal’ species, living in the area between high and low tide marks. In other areas they may also form subtidal (permanently submerged) reefs. To see some for yourself, head down to the shore on the western side of Hilbre or Middle Eye where you can find what appear to be sand-coloured hummocks, in some areas so extensive they merge together to form reefs. Other prime Sabellaria areas are along the base of the cliff in Shell Bay, or in the tidal gauge channel. There are smaller hummocks dotted around the north-eastern shores of Hilbre too.

When the tide is out, they hide in their tubes from predators such as birds or crabs and to prevent desiccation. As the tide comes in feathery appendages emerge from the tubes, fanning the water to collect food particles or tube-building materials. The worms themselves are only a few centimetres long, in contrast to the vast reefs they can produce, and live for 4 to 5 years. In the right conditions, an individual worm can build a tube at a rate of 15 cm in a year. Outside the breeding season they are a similar colour to earthworms, but come late summer the males turn cream and the females turn purple. The larvae can drift in ocean currents for many months before finding somewhere suitable to settle, preferring to set up home where there is already a reef.

We are actually fortunate to have these ‘polychaetes’ (bristle worms – I know, they don’t sound too appealing). Their reefs can provide a habitat for other organisms to live in, so they actually increase local levels of biodiversity. Some research is being carried out to find ways to encourage Sabellaria to grow on man-made structures such as sea defences for this reason. Honeycomb reefs are quite rare in the UK, and are a protected habitat. Sabellaria like being warm, and are really more of a Mediterranean species. In recent decades they have been found to be extending their range further north. As a consequence they are now regarded as a climate change indicator species. I have been studying Hilbre’s reefs as part of a postgraduate project. I have been surveying the reefs, to compare their extent with that of a decade ago, and it appears that it has increased. I have also been assessing the levels of biodiversity associated with the reefs, and how this changes with the age of the reef – younger reefs are less ‘biodiverse’ than older reefs. The seals seemed to take an interest in what I was up to as I surveyed.

Despite the fierce winter storms, the reefs are mostly intact. Although the reefs can take a pounding from waves, they can be quite fragile and susceptible to damage by trampling. While I have been surveying, I have found areas of the reef that have been damaged by visitors to the islands. I would ask people to take care around the reefs. We need to protect these reefs – they are a rare habitat, interesting in their own right, and not only do they increase biodiversity but they provide a means of monitoring climate change. Useful … but ugly!    

Sarah Baylis                   

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Marine Conservation Zones

It seems that many people have recently been under the impression that Hilbre has lost protection status or, in some way been downgraded. Fear not! That is not the case. This situation may have arisen because of a report in the local press informing us that Hilbre was not to be a “Marine Conservation Zone” (MCZ); while this is true, it is not a change of status.

MCZ is a new category which is still in the process of identifying areas which need protection and then conferring this classification. Hilbre and the Dee Estuary were, in fact, considered. However the organisation which is making the decisions came to the conclusion that the area's present protective classifications are enough.

As most of you know, I'm sure, the whole of the Dee estuary, which includes the 3 Islands, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) - this is a national classification; at a local level Hilbre is a Local Nature Reserve. At the international level the Estuary enjoys the status of Ramsar Site. In 1971 there was an International Convention, which took place in Iran in the town of Ramsar. Its aim was to protect wetlands which are important for nature. The Dee estuary is one of 168 sites selected. For those who feel so inclined, a search on line for Ramsar Convention will reveal far more than I can here. (see link below for explanation of terms).

One further acknowledgement of the importance of Hilbre is conferred by the 'Cheshire Rigs Group'. This means that the Island is one of a dozen Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphical Sites

Unless there are major changes of policy at a high level, all this armour should be enough to protect our Island and the Dee.


Important Link for Further Information:
Underground Coal Gasification on the Dee Estuary

Local birder Richard Smith's article on 'Underground Coal Gasification' has now been published on his website: (March 2014 Newsletter).

The Dee Estuary is one of the most heavily protected sites in the country under National, European and Global regulations. Richard’s article lists a number of terms (listed below) that you may have heard in relation to the Hilbre Islands and the Dee Estuary; he briefly explains the legal protection, obligations and responsibilities that are associated with the following regulations

# Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
# Special Protection Area (SPA).
# Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
# Ramsar site.
# Local Nature Reserve.  


Amendment to Task Information

In the 2014 FOH Task Leaflet, the times of the tasks on the Seal Watch and Open Days are listed as ‘Times on Hilbre’. Please note that the ‘first time stated’ is the time to meet at the Slipway, West Kirby and not as stated, on Hilbre.

Please contact us at our e-mail address for further information:
or phone our Chairman, Allen Burton 0151 648 7115.                          

Back to 'Inside this issue'.

Appeal for World War 1 and World War 2
memorabilia relevant to Hilbre

If you have an article, diary, newspaper item, painting, artefact, poem, song, and so forth appertaining to the Hilbre Islands during the war years we would be interested in hearing from you. 
Please e-mail Val Burnett at

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.