Wild at Heart

The Mersey Valley, with its three Local Nature Reserves at Chorlton Water Park, Chorlton Ees and Fletcher Moss, as well as Sites of Biological Importance, is a vital wildlife corridor, says the RSPB’s Jenny Hackland

Autumn is a really exciting time at Chorlton Water Park, with some birds heading for their winter homes, while others are more visible as they travel further afield for food. As the weather gets colder, a variety of ducks will start to gather on the lake and you may be able to see large numbers of tufted ducks and coots, as well as more unusual ducks such as goldeneyes, goosanders and gadwalls. The last of the swallows and swifts will start on their migration back to Africa in September.

Flocks of finches, such as siskins and redpolls, might put in an appearance as they search for food, alongside mixed tit flocks including great tits, long-tailed tits and coal tits. Jays will become more visible, as they collect acorns and bury them to provide a stash of food for the winter months.

All year round, visitors can see statuesque herons, standing silently at the edge of the lake, waiting to spear an unsuspecting fish. Buzzards and sparrowhawks are a common sight, as they pass overhead on a sunny day. At dusk, you may spot bats, dipping and swooping as they leave their roosts to search for food. There’s so much to discover!

The Mersey Valley is a stronghold of an unassuming little woodland bird; the willow tit. Their numbers have declined by over 94% in the last 40 years – the largest decline of any UK resident breeding bird and, as such, they are on the red list of conservation concern. Maintaining suitable habitats and creating new places for them to thrive is a priority.

A new species has recently found a home in the Mersey Valley. More commonly a bird of the wider countryside and farmland, a pair of barn owls have brought up their young in a specially constructed nest box in the area.

We’ve been working in the Mersey Valley for just over four years now. Along with volunteer groups – including local businesses – and the city council, we’ve created wildlife gardens at Chorlton Water Park and Fletcher Moss, kindly sponsored by Southway Housing Trust.

We work with Friends groups too: their conservation expertise helps inform current work and future plans. These amazing groups work tirelessly to maintain and improve the habitats and visitor facilities in and around the Mersey Valley.

Every Sunday, Discovery Volunteers are on-site at Chorlton Water Park, offering the chance to explore the natural world. Discovery Backpacks, sponsored by Southway, containing bug pots, binoculars and a whole host of exciting resources – are available for hire.

More family volunteering days and wildlife discovery events are planned over the next 12 months, with highlights being a Woodland Bird Walk on 24 October at Fletcher Moss, and a Wildfowl and Wetland Bird Walk on 25 October at Chorlton Water Park. Both are 11am-1pm and part of Transport for Greater Manchester’s Autumn Walking Week.

The RSPB and Manchester City Council would like to encourage people to do something positive for wildlife, reconnect with nature and help look after the Mersey Valley by getting actively involved. Joining a local Friends group means you can influence the way these areas are looked after. We’re also looking for volunteers to help with community engagement work across the Mersey Valley, facilitating activities that connect visitors to wildlife. Why not join us?

For information about events or volunteering in the Mersey Valley, please email .">Jenny Hackland 

Picture: Barn owl by John Bridges rspb-images.com