Dr Phil Smith’s Wildlife Notes
August 2008

In these notes, I often stress the international importance of our sand-dune flora.  This was illustrated on 20th August when Joan Valles Xirau, the Professor of Botany at Barcelona University, made a special visit to see the Dune Wormwood (Artemisia campestris ssp. maritima) at Crosby dunes.  The previous day he had called in at the only other British locality for this plant in South Wales.  We have four individuals, the oldest, discovered in 2004, being one of the largest specimens the Professor has seen during his studies in Western Europe.  He was also delighted to see, for the first time, the Isle of Man Cabbage (Coincya monensis ssp. monensis), a plant which is confined to north-west Britain.

This month saw around 30 volunteers taking part in a major survey of another of our Nationally Rare plants, the Dune Helleborine (Epipactis dunensis).  This orchid, often found with its close relative the Green-flowered Helleborine (E.  phyllanthes), is mainly restricted to dunes in North West England and North Wales.  It seems to have been a good year for these species, most recorders reporting unusually large numbers.  For example, Pat Lockwood and I counted 1087 Dune Helleborines and 748 Green-flowered Helleborines on the northern part of the National Trust Estate at Formby Point. Once the final reports are in, we should have a much better idea of the main habitats favoured by the plants and the kind of management needed for their future conservation.

Dune Helleborine

More good botanical news came from Marshside, where my visit with friends, on 10th August led to the discovery of both Common and Lax-flowered Sea Lavenders (Limonium vulgare and L. humile) on the salt-marsh off Hesketh Road.  Common Sea Lavender had not been seen in South Lancashire since the 19th century, while Lax-flowered is a new vice-county record.  These plants have presumably spread from the north side of the Ribble Estuary at Fairhaven, where they colonised several years ago.

Common Sea lavender

Insects have again suffered in the wet weather, with most butterflies appearing in reduced numbers.  However, there seemed to be plenty of Graylings on the outer dunes, while the colourful Peacock had a good emergence around the middle of the month.  I counted 25 on Water Mint at Cabin Hill on 13th.   Similarly, most dragonflies were in short supply, the only exception being the Ruddy Darter, one of our few nationally notable species.  On 8th August, I recorded 37, including 5 pairs, on scrapes in the Birkdale Sandhills Local Nature Reserve.

August finds many of our breeding birds departing while migrants and winter-visitors arrive from the north.   Lots of seabirds have been passing along our coast, with an extraordinary gathering of at least 2500 Manx Shearwaters being reported off Formby on 22nd.  Roosts of Sandwich Terns on Birkdale Beach reached an impressive peak of 268 on 26th, while a rare and spectacular Caspian Tern was seen off Formby Point on 4th.   The once rare Marsh Harrier seems to have had a good breeding season, groups of as many as five or six individuals, especially young birds, being seen at Hesketh Out Marsh, Martin Mere and Altcar Moss.