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Linnet Trapping in Cheshire by Andy Harmer

Red Lane, Frodsham- Photographer unknown – photo presumed out of copyright

The above photograph was taken around the late 1800’s and shows cottages on Red Lane, Frodsham. The image is also published in Paul Hurley’s ‘Frodsham and Helsby Through Time’ where he suggests that the bird cages hung on the external walls are Linnet cages. The term Linnet was quite generic at this time and referred not only to the European Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) but other passerines such as the Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) which was known as the Red Linnet, and the Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris) which was known as the Green Linnet, all with a sweet song and easily trapped by using a decoy bird in a trap or more likely birdlime, a thick adhesive substance prepared using a variety of methods including boiled up bark, mistletoe berries and even linseed, ironically the food that the Linnet takes its name from. The Linnet derives the latter part of its binomial name – cannabina – from its fondness for the seeds of Hemp, and its English name from its liking for Linseed, the seeds of Flax (Linum usitatissimum). Flax and Hemp were favoured plants for the textile industry as their strong and flexible fibres suited requirements for fabric. The linen trade was so pervasive that it would have touched many people’s lives in Cheshire. Not just production, harvesting, and transportation but its washing at water features that still bear the association in their names; Lin-mere and Flax-mere.

Frodsham and its hinterland would have been perfect for these passerines in the late 1800’s and the report that ‘the linnets’ were trapped on Frodsham Marsh fits with the habitat that would have been there at that time. The construction of the Manchester Ship Canal in the latter half of the 19th century would have required a development footprint a lot wider than the actual cutting and the disturbed earth and new spoil distribution would soon be covered in ruderal vegetation. A lot of excavated spoil would have been transported out to earmarked places such as Mount Manisty, a large mound of earth on a narrow stretch between the canal and the Mersey northwest of Ellesmere Port. Both this and the adjacent Manisty Cutting were named after the engineer in charge.

The colonising plants, or ruderals, making up this pioneer community would have persisted for many years after completion of the canal and provided an abundance of food for the ‘linnets’. Mayweed, Chickweed, and Dandelion all have seeds that make up part of the diet of these birds, but Teasel and Thistle are particularly favoured by the Red Linnet (Goldfinch). These ruderal habitats would no doubt flank the canal for its entire length. Geoffrey Egerton-Warburton, a Rector from Warburton near Lymm mentions in his natural history notes from the late 1800’s that “despite County Council orders, Red Linnets (Goldfinches) are being caught on the rough ground next to the Manchester Ship Canal and earning the trappers several shillings per week”.


Common Cudweed in Cheshire by Rachel Hacking

Whilst out and about either surveying professionally or for fun I often come across plants that are described as ‘common’ in their vernacular name but are often not so common in Cheshire. In 2010, Andy Harmer and I spent a sunny day walking over Stretton Airfield, now mostly disused. Stretton Airfield was at its busiest during World War II. It has been closed since 1958, although light aircraft do use it occasionally, and its three runways are visible to this day.

Common Cudweed. Photo: Andy Harmer

Abandoned synanthropic (man-made) habitats are a real passion of mine, particularly old mines/quarries or railway lines. The concrete slabs which made up the runways and perimeter roads at the airfeld are slowly becoming encroached with vegetation, particularly where cracks have appeared. It didn’t take me long to find an interesting plant; Filago vulgaris or Common Cudweed. This small plant (see photo) is covered with white woolly hairs and has strap-shaped leaves which tend to lie parallel to the stem. The flowers are fairly inconspicuous in a globular flower head at the top of the stem and are yellow coloured.

Common Cudweed is a member of the Asteraceae (the daisy family). Species from this family are extremely successful at colonising areas of bare ground due to the prolific amounts of seed they produce and, on average, their high germination rate (for example, one plant of Common Ragwort Senecio jacobaea can produce between 50,000 and 60,000 seeds with a germination rate of 80%. (Salisbury, 1961)). Many seeds of species of the Asteraceae can remain viable in the substrate for many years. Moreover, some of the most successful non-native plants in the UK are from the Asteraceae, such as Canadian Fleabane Conyza canadensis.

Few records exist for Filago vulgaris in Vice County 58. Prior to my sighting, the last record I could find was from 2002 at Moore Nature Reserve. A dozen records exist from the 1990s in the rECOrd database. Looking at the NBN Gateway, data gleaned from a BSBI dataset shows that F. vulgaris was recorded from up to 9 hectads in Cheshire, interestingly none from central Cheshire and some of this data is from the 1930’s. There are no existing records for the hectad which Stretton Airfield lies within.

So Common Cudweed is not so common in these parts. Please feel free to send me any information of more unusual plants you see on your travels.


Cheshire’s Aquatic Habitats by Andy Harmer

Cheshire is blessed with aquatic habitats. From the fast flowing oxygen rich hill streams of the east Cheshire hills to the slow meandering rivers weaving their way into the Irish Sea via the Mersey and the Dee estuaries. From the meres and mosses to the quarries and reservoirs, Cheshire is soaked.

Brook in South Cheshire

Many artists and writers have been influenced by Cheshire’s watery charms; J. Cuming Walters perhaps describes it best in his ‘Romantic Cheshire’ describing the view of the meres and flashes from the Alderley Edge sandstone outcrop as being the magic mirror across the plain.  Perhaps John Milton too, known for his family ties to Cheshire drew his inspiration from the local landscape when he penned his evocative verse ‘L’Allegro’ (the happy person);

 “Meadows trim with Daisies pied,

Shallow Brooks, and Rivers wide”

Cheshire’s and Britain’s first canal, the Bridgewater, linking Worsley to Manchester, before being extended to Runcorn at a later date, launched the canal building frenzy across Britain. Cheshire retains many of these navigational features to this day but the author has found the invertebrate interest relatively poor when sampling canals such as the St Helens, the Trent and Mersey, the Shropshire Union and the Bridgewater. The turbidity created by motorised pleasure craft results in many miles of murky, often macrophyte-free stretches of water which impacts unfavourably on the aquatic invertebrate fauna. Sampling these features results in usually little more than filter-feeding bivalve molluscs and the odd crustacean such as Asellus aquaticus but sometimes the much rarer Corophium curvispinum, a shrimp that I have only ever encountered in canals. Where these canal stretches have vegetation, even a thin ribbon of Reed Sweet-grass Glyceria maxima, the diversity will increase, starting with perhaps the Reed Beetle Donacia semicuprea, an insect with a strong affinity with this plant. Sometimes a few more beetles such as Laccophilus hyalinas, seemingly a canal specialist in Cheshire, and maybe a couple of ubiquitous taxa such as the medium sized diving beetleAgabus bipustulatus and scavenger beetle Hydrobius fuscipes may be present.







Fortunately, many other water bodies occur as a direct result of the canals; the sludge beds at Woolston and Frodsham, and the feeder reservoirs Sutton (Macclesfield Canal) and Appleton (Bridgewater Canal). In 1732, after many aborted attempts to make the River Weaver navigable, it was finally completed, and then improved by Telford a hundred years later. This resulted in many spin-off water features; Lagoons built to take dredgings to this day remain unfilled, plus a series of linear pools created when canalised sections of the River Weaver made meandering sections of the old river between Winsford and Frodsham redundant.

Woolston Eyes

By far the best candidate for the watery ‘jewel in the crown’ is the circa 25,000 lowland marl pits that pock mark the Cheshire plain. Marl has long been recognised for its ability to increase crop yield, and its extraction creates a depression in the clay that soon fills with water, Cheshire perhaps had this practise as long ago as the 11th century, though only revealing themselves in place names by the 13th and 14th century; Marlesfield at Tabley (1318), le Marledcroft at Siddington (ca 1301), Marliol (Marly Hole) at Twemlow and Marland at Aston (1272). multiple ponds or elongate ponds in a field suggest repeat applications.

Lesser Silver Water Beetle Breeding pond – Marl Pit at Wettenhall

Salinity can produce some interesting finds but for most counties this is restricted to their coastal features, if indeed they have a coast. Cheshire not only has a coast but has a resource that has influenced the landscape and industry for generations; salt. Brine springs have resulted through their flow through areas of salt and subsidence flashes occur in the county following the removal of salt by mining or natural erosion. A pollution incident with brine at Plumley is likely to cause some water features there to be brackish for many years.

Dredging lagoon Frodsham Marsh (No. 6 tank)


Mandarin Ducks in Cheshire by Bill Bellamy

As you look out across Cheshire’s largest and deepest mere, a strange sight that might greet your eyes is of a splendid male Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata) or maybe even several pairs and, occasionally, ducklings in tow. Rostherne Mere is now home to a self-sustaining population of Mandarins which is clearly still on the increase.

The first bird seen on Rostherne Mere was in 1969. Ones or twos were recorded annually for around 20 years but since the late 1990’s, sightings and numbers have been on the increase, with a record maximum of 44 birds seen in November 2011.

Mandarin Records

The Mandarin Duck is a native of north-east Asia and Japan and was introduced to British collections during the early twentieth century. The birds in Cheshire originally came from a collection, but the species now breeds throughout the County with core populations in the reservoirs near Macclesfield Forest, Radnor Mere and Rostherne Mere.

The male Mandarin is simply stunning with its distinctive golden-orange sails and a patchwork of colours and stripes including the purple-green crested head. However, the female should not be overlooked and is clothed in beautiful subtle mottled shades of grey.

Mandarin Ducks are tree-perching ducks using holes in trees and nest boxes (often put up with other species in mind) to breed in. They choose sites not far from water and have a preference for densely wooded areas. It is amazing how the tiny ducklings manage to clamber up the inside of a nest cavity inside a tree which may be over a metre in depth and then leap to the ground outside.

The species seems to have found a vacant ecological niche in the fringing tree vegetation around several of Cheshire’s water bodies and this colourful bird looks like it is here to stay.

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