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)