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What else Seaforth is good for

Breeding adult Little Gull Larus minutus in flight

Bye-bye, Little one: how great are Seaforth’s chances of survival? (Original by Photo Nature – http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/#)

Seaforth Nature Reserve isn’t owned by the Wildlife Trust who manage it. In fact, it’s not owned by anyone with a wildlife interest or mandate at all: it’s owned by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. This can cause problems.

The building of a large warehouse on the reserve – if I remember rightly, on the very scrub which hosted at least one vagrant North American sparrow, plus various other passerines of note, in the few years prior – struck many as a travesty, but at least there was still most of the reserve left. Besides, it even added to the vast incongruity of Seaforth’s existence, which shouts out at you from virtually every side. Restricted access due to counter-terrorism measures? Maybe that’s not all bad, particularly for its floral and faunal inhabitants.

In 2011, the MDHC’s parent company Peel Ports announced plans for a £500m deep-water dock development. If sanctioned, it was to double the Port of Liverpool’s container handling capacity – and obliterate the nature reserve. While the plans have since morphed a bit, work has been underway for a while. Never mind the illustrious history of great finds (more species-rich per unit area than the Scillies, Steve Youngonce pointed out – impressive, even if you could claim the same for your garden birdbath); never mind populations and European designations; never mind the country’s top site for Little Gulls. You could make it up, but why bother? They do it for you for real.

Introducing the following piece in such gloomy circumstances may make it seem like an in memoriam. It was by no means intended as such: I started it to give background to a nostalgic, pre-warehouse perspective of selected teen incidents taped together after I exhilarated myself writing the Roseate Tern articles. However, the story of Seaforth’s threatened existence highlights all too well the threat faced by far too much of our wildlife, both globally and in little old Britain. All I can do on reading the latest news from home is to grit my teeth and scream “let’s celebrate and enjoy the reserve while it’s still there!” To me, what’s below illustrates some of the best things that still exist (albeit in ever-reducing form) at Seaforth. Well, they did last time I checked…

  1. Sunny evenings. While this may be the preserve of anywhere not permanently covered by clouds or man-made structures, I think Seaforth does it rather well. A distant Avocet grazing low-tide marsh in May (back in the days before Avocets started turning up in everyone’s duck-ponds). The golden glow of the disappearing sun outlining a plucky Little Ringed Plover on a miniature wetland of a pool, an identikit wader known as a Ruff, a small coot that you’ve turned into this morning’s Temminck’s Stint. Pink mackerel sky. The massive orb, in fiery red you rarely see elsewhere, setting over a disused watchpoint.
  1. The translucent wing-tips of Arctic Terns way, way overhead.

    Today's post is all about seabirds. Again. (Arctic Tern - Andreas Trepte - http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/#)

    Today’s post is all about seabirds. Again. (Andreas Trepte – http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/#)

  1. Mad dashes.

a.) They tell you a Blackpoll Warbler has come over from America. Pedal frantically to reserve. Warbler feeds, calls and seemingly thinks about singing, looking spiffy in black, white and buff.

b.) Up the coast at Marshside, you hear of a Marsh Sandpiper at Seaforth. Take next train to Waterloo, pedal frantically. Said sandpiper seen from afar.

  1. Mistle thrushes on the rich, wet turf.
  1. You forming part of a group of three standing around a bush. A bush, in fact, with a bird in it. A bush with a bird suspected to be a Blyth’s Reed Warbler in it. When bird flies, repeat process at next bush. It is eventually decided it’s just a bush with a Reed Warbler in it. Bushes left in peace.
  1. Massive starling flocks. Never Spotless, but filmed at least once by Bill Oddie’s camera crew – a right occasion.

    Murmuration of starlings over Brighton

                                   A bit like this                                   (Andreas-photography, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/#)

  1. Being spooked by dive-bombing terns. If ever you want a red rag for terns, bike helmets seem to do a good job.

    Arctic tern dive-bombs photographer

    No pain, no gain for photographer Michał Sacharewicz

  1. Dragonflies you’ve never heard of – but that come in handy when you start watching dragonflies.
  1. The bricks and bushes turning up a Firecrest and a Black Redstart. Did I tell you the Port built a warehouse over it?

Yes, one can mitigate – but one can never truly replace.


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Gale Force Tern – part I

Seaforth Nature Reserve. Let me paint you a picture (and erase that pun from your minds. A tern is a kind of seabird, if anyone’s not quite sure.).

Seaforth Nature Reserve occupies a most incongruous setting. It lies on the north side of the Royal Liverpool Freeport – within the Freeport – against a backdrop of HGVs, tall thick wire fences and constantly-bleeping cranes. The Port is often grey, and always dusty.

As a teenage bird enthusiast, I would head in on a bicycle, past the security checkpoint that once knocked me back for lack of a hi-vis jacket, and on a good quarter mile. One passes the police station and goes past rabbits grazing business-park lawns, then passes bits of dead lorry, massive kerbstones and exquisitely unfriendly concrete-and-gravel car parks. After a bend one reaches a long, straight road toward distant wind turbines, but to reach the reserve one aborts into a small car park on the right. To the right again, a plasterboard office, blinds usually drawn, quarters the mysterious reserve staff; a feeding station nestles in the shelter of a damp stand of carr on the left. The boundary ditch disappears westwards along the road, providing a place for rare orchids to flower, while its bank affords a parking space for occasional diggers and steam-rollers. (Neither the steam-rollers nor the orchids seem to mind this illogical arrangement.) I once saw tree sparrows at the feeding station – miles from the nearest farmland – bringing a miniature sample of healthily robust character to a deep silence fringed by a distant mechanical hum.

To get to the main hide, a hundred or so yards of uneven brick path twisted across rich, wet turf strewn with rubble and ambient thorny scrub. (On a bike, the going was fun enough for me to recommend it to some BMXers once, but on reflection they would have faced near-certain injury from sharp bricks had they ever tried to get very airbound.) ‘Hide A’ was a great thick creosoted timber box with a heavy door. Inside were stout trestled workbenches for seating, with viewing slits beneath warped window-flaps of board. The hide also had a big sightings whiteboard, a ring-bound logbook, some plug-sockets, a rusty donations box, a few notices sharing the walls with drawing-pin graffiti, and a clientele – but nothing else.

There were other hides, shells of timber or metal, the realm of cobwebs innumerable and burnt-out oil drums. These, though, were seldom visited. For me, Hide A was magical: the smell of pitch, the hurt of home in a Merseyside breast.


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