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Wesham Marsh

Medlar Brook

Medlar Brook

It is highly likely Wesham Marsh would be ruined by the proposed development of 264 houses.

Wesham Marsh BHS is a unique wetland wildlife habitat of a type that is unusual in the Fylde and within the county of Lancashire. The land around the site and the way it is used influences the marsh. The marsh has probably existed for hundreds / thousands / tens of thousands of years. Building on the land which drains into the marsh would be likely to be the biggest single impact since the end of the ice age. This impact would be negative.This wetland habitat is dependant on a number of environmental factors;

Freshwater.

Water enters and leaves the site by a number of ways. Rain falls directly onto the site. The ditches and drains around the site take water in and out of the wetland. Water moves through the soil. Water is also lost from the site by evapotranspiration, that is through being taken up by the plant roots and transpired out of the leaves and stems of the plants.

The topography (the shape of the landscape).

Situated to the north of Mowbreck Lane and to the east of the A585, the marsh is in a bowl or hollow with land draining into it from the south, east and west sides. Medlar Brook takes water out of the marsh toward the north feeding Thistleton Brook, Wall Mill Pool (near Little Eccleston) and eventually into the River Wyre. Some of the farm land at the south end drains into Carr Brook, Dow Brook and into the River Ribble at Freckleton. Because the land is so flat, the flow of water out of Wesham Marsh is very slow. Consequently the ditches and brooks support plants and animals that are adapted to live in still water.

The soil types, climate and weather are also factors that give the marsh characteristics unique to its setting.

Other factors which affect the wetland are the use to which we (humans) put the land i.e. farming (including drainage), a shooting interest and nearby public access via a footpath through farm fields along the east side of the BHS. The site could also be vulnerable to pollution or affected by introduced species of plants and animals.

All of the above play a part in influencing what flora (plants) and fauna (animals) live in the marsh.

The proposed development could affect the fresh water going into the site, alter the topography at the south and west sides of the BHS, change the agricultural uses and increase the impact of human disturbance.

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What is a BHS ?

A Biological Heritage Site (BHS) is a place that has been recognised for its wildlife value. It may not be a very large site or it may not contain the rarest species in the country (or Europe) but it is important locally. Wesham Marsh is described as being an uncommon habitat which makes a significant contribution to local biodiversity. It is the bird populations, the range and number of plants and the mosaic of habitats that have been recognised as special features.

Who decides what / where is a BHS?

In Lancashire a partnership of Natural England , Lancashire County Council and the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside (the Lancashire Wildlife Trust) designate BHS sites. They use a set of guidelines (www.lancashire.gov.uk/environment/ecology.bhs) which helps to identify features that are of conservation interest e.g. rare species of plants or animals or a habitat that is unusual or disappearing. If the site is important at a national level it may qualify for SSSI status (a Site of Special Scientific Interest) or NNR (National Nature Reserve). At an international scale sites may be designated as SACs (Special Areas of Conservation) or SPAs (Special Protected Areas). This may be necessary because some species (e.g. types of fish or birds) move over vast distances. Some sites are wildlife conservation sites but have no designation.

There are many other different designations such as Areas of Outstanding and Natural Beauty (AONB), Local Nature Reserve (LNR), National Parks and Country Parks.

Natural England (www.naturalengland.org.uk) (formerly English Nature / Nature Conservancy Council) are a government department, part of DEFRA, and are a statutory nature conservation organisation (SNCO).

Lancashire County Council (LCC) (www.lancashire.gov.uk/environment/ecology.index.asp) are a local authority (as are Fylde Borough Council) who deal with matters that are of importance beyond borough (local) importance e.g. education, libraries, social services, police etc. LCC have a small team of specialists that are concerned with ecology, conservation and landscape.

Lancashire Wildlife Trust (www.wildlifetrust.org.uk) are a local registered charity, linked with a national network of similar organisations.

The web sites for all of the above organisations have much more information about the different protected sites.

Why have all these ‘designations’ ?

Part of the intention is to protect the different sites from development or land use operations that may damage or destroy them. Landowners are notified of the designations and may be advised of potentially damaging operations. Local authorities and other government bodies, are also aware of the sites and often have a statutory duty to protect them. By and large, the bigger and rarer the habitat is, the higher the level of protection – though that’s not always the case, there is at least one example in England of a single tree being a SSSI! Some sites have several designations e.g. a SSSI and a SAC or a BHS within an AONB.

The different designations (www.netregs.gov.uk/netregs/63005.aspx) may reflect different expected uses or aims. For example, Country Parks and LNRs have a conservation interest but also encourage public access and recreation. NNR’s and SSSI’s are mainly concerned with protecting the wildlife or geology. Most are in private ownership, possibly several owners and may have no right of public access at all. There is no public right of access onto Wesham Marsh. A public footpath passes close to the site on the east side through farm fields. The marsh and the farm fields are all in private ownership and visitors should respect the Country Code (http://www.countrysideaccess.gov.uk/things_to_know/countryside_codelink). Trespassing on the Marsh may disturb the wildlife and could be dangerous due to deep water and boggy conditions.

So do the lower tier, local sites matter then? Very much so. The combined land area of BHS’s and LNR’s is very significant and may offer the best, even only, habitat to certain types of flora and fauna in the area. The planning system is supposed to be a major tool that the council should use to protect designated sites.

Who looks after them?

In terms of day to day conservation management, often no-one. Charities like the Wildlife Trust or the RSPB have limited resources, relying on membership and donations. They may own some sites or they may manage some on behalf of the landowner (e.g. the Wildlife Trust working on land owned by a council). Local, Regional and National Government have all kinds of other interests such as education, policing, social services, which use most of the public money. Most designated areas are within farmland and rely on the farmer to carry on doing the same things that they have done for years. Farm subsidies are designed to encourage farmers to continue to use wildlife and environmentally friendly methods (e.g. Entry Level Stewardship). If a farmer wants to do more for nature, especially if their land includes a designated conservation site, they may chose to apply for Higher Level Stewardship. An even higher level of subsidy is paid to organic farms but this is partly because their production costs may be higher and yields lower.

Wesham Marsh is a BHS on privately owned land which is farmed by a tenant farmer. There is no conservation management carried out on the site and no ecological survey has been carried out for several years. The ecological survey carried out to support the Planning Application only looked at very limited range of fauna in a small part of the area around the footprint of the housing development.

Plants and Animals

Previous surveys carried out on the BHS site, carried out by the County Council / Wildlife Trust partnership when the site was approved in 1999, focused on plants and birds. The BHS Partnership also recognised the mixture of different habitats within the BHS area which would offer habitats to many species. This diversity of habitats continues beyond the BHS site boundaries into the farm field e.g. hedges and tracks, ponds, small woodlands, field margins and rough grass areas.

Fylde Bird Club (www.fyldebirdclub.org) have also surveyed the BHS site in the past.

WAG Surveys

The Wesham Action Group began surveying some of the animal life in and around the marsh in February 2009. Our surveys are being carried out for a number of reasons;

Ø Concern that the Ecological Survey (link to Gemmel report on Fylde BC site) appeared to have not covered most of the area they said they had. Their results also differed from previous surveys and from what local people knew about the area.

Ø To provide information on the distribution and abundance of amphibians for NARRS http://www.narrs.org.uk/)survey (National Amphibian and Reptile Recording System).

Ø To provide data for the BHS partnership.

Ø To provide information to the tenant farmer. This may be useful in planning farm work and grant applications.

We are currently concentrating on amphibians and water voles, which appear to be very abundant in and around the BHS site.

Amphibians

This is a primitive group of animals, hence their need to return to water to breed and develop during early life stages.

Britain is, generally, said to have six amphibian species though there are a few others which have been introduced one way or another. The six native species comprise three without tails – a frog and two species of toad and three with tails – the newts.

· Common frog (Rana temporia)

· Common toad (Bufo bufo)

· Natterjack toad (Bufo calamita)

· Smooth newt (Triturus vulgaris)

· Palmate newt (Triturus helvitica)

· Great crested newt (Triturus cristatus)

All except the Natterjack toad are found in Lancashire, with the Fylde being something of a hotspot possibly due to the number of ponds in the area. Natterjacks occur in Merseyside and Cumbria but the last Lancashire breeding site, on Cockerham Marsh was drastically changed when the sea defence walls were constructed in the early 1980’s. A reintroduction attempt has been tried.

Surveying for amphibians requires a knowledge of the different species and of appropriate techniques for catching or detecting them. Some species have varying degrees of legal protection, possibly requiring a licence to disturb, handle, capture or sell/trade them (at any stage of their life – eggs, tadpoles, efts, or adults). Licences are issued, to suitably qualified and experienced people who have a good reason to carry out a particular activity, by Natural England (http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/regulation/wildlife/species/europeanprotectedspecies.aspx). Our WAG surveys are carried out under a relevant, valid, licence with the farmers permission.

Common frog is the first amphibian to be very noticeable, with its familiar spawn appearing in ponds and ditches toward the end of February. The classic image of a croaking frog, with cheeks swelling, comes from the male croaking to attract females. A female frog will lay one clump of spawn so by counting the number of clumps of frog spawn we have an indication of the number of female frogs in the area. Fresh spawn is easier to count, as the clumps quickly become cloudy and the edges difficult to distinguish. The general assumption is that the ratio of male to female frogs is 1:1 so we are then able to estimate the frog population. Spawning frogs tend to aggregate in the same part of a water body so the spawn of many frogs may form a mat of spawn in the water.

Frogspawn

Frogspawn

The black dots within the jelly are eggs and within each clump there are several hundred, if not thousands, of eggs. After about 12 days (partly depending on temperature) the eggs will have hatched and the next stage of metamorphosis is the tadpole stage. Over the next ten to fifteen weeks the tadpole will grow bigger, develop back legs, front legs, lose its tail and change into a terrestrial animal.

In ponds and ditches in around Wesham Marsh we counted around 350 clumps of frog spawn at several different dykes and ponds in March 2009. This does not cover the full proposed survey area.

The ecological survey carried out for the housing developer found a few tadpoles. This may have been because their survey was not timed to include frogs.

The dancing? Newts have a fairly lengthy courtship sequence that involves a number of moves resulting in the male depositing sperm and the receptive female collecting it. Unlike ‘dad dancing’ studies have shown that the moves of the newts follow a regular sequence including moves such as ‘the cat-buckle’ ‘the creep and follow’ and wiggles of the tail. These courtship sequences are different for each species and are thought to indicate receptiveness to mating and when the spermatophore transfer takes place. Egg laying takes place between March and June and involves the female laying each jelly encased egg separately, usually on the leaf of a submerged plant which she then folds over to protect the egg. Newts lay fewer eggs than frogs or toads, typically between 150 to 300 per female. Favoured plants for egg laying include water forget-me-not, floating grasses and other aquatic marginal plants. The green leaves of water forget-me-not can be seen in the bottom right hand corner of photograph (above) with the big mat of frog spawn. This is where the male smooth newt, above, was caught. The brown leaves sticking out of the water (in the frog spawn clump photograph) are reedmace or bulrush (Typha latifolia) . Soft, dead leaves from the previous year, which lie in the water, are also favoured egg laying places. A single leaf can be folded over, concertina style, many times so containing several eggs.

Although we found it very easy to find lots of droppings, latrine sites and chewed grass, the dense matt of vegetation on the ground hid a lot more. Anyone carrying out a detailed study of water voles would need to take the time to pull back the thick layer of living and dead grasses overhanging the ditch sides and near to the bank to discover the extent of the feeding stations, runs, burrows and latrine areas.

The Wesham Action Group wildlife surveys are an ongoing project. There will be regular updates on our activities and survey results on this web site.

Toad Spawn String

Toad Spawn String

Common Toad arrive at their breeding ponds and the mating is often described as being more of ‘an explosive event’ than that of frogs. Whereas the mating and spawning of frogs may be drawn out over 3 or 4 weeks, using several sites, toads tend to arrive all at once with many using the same site. This is partly why so many are killed each year on roads – because there are so many in the same place or using the same migration routes. Common toads seem to prefer larger and deeper water bodies than may be used by frogs. Most of the ponds around Wesham Marsh are suitable and so are the ditches, with the main channels being over 2ft (60cm) deep and 3-5ft (90-150cm) wide. Male common toads make a higher-pitched noise than the call of frogs. The males often arrive shortly before the females and competition to spread genes is very intense, sometimes fifteen or twenty males will be wrapped around a female jostling for position.

Whilst the presence of adults in the water may be more noticeable than is the case with frogs, the spawn often goes unnoticed. Toad spawn is not formed in a clump but is laid in a long string that gets wrapped around the stems of aquatic plants under the water surface. A female averages 1500 eggs, the blacks dots being spread out along the jelly string. Toads also use communal well vegetated sites to lay, consequently it is not possible to estimate adult population from spawn counts, the strings being mixed up. Dusk and night-time head counts by torch light offer the only way of attempting to establish population size.

In mid-March we began to encounter a few toads on land and in the water. By the third week of March several hundred toads were to be found, in a pond the ecologists working for developer had dismissed as being murky and unsuitable for amphibians. The spawn-string, below right, was freshly laid in a pond in Wesham Marsh during the fourth week in March.

Water voles

The network of slow running ditches found in the landscape around Wesham Marsh appear to be home to a significant population of water voles (Arvicola terrestris). Water voles (often known locally as water rats) are the largest vole native to Britain and feed on plants found in and close to the ditches, brooks and ponds where they live. Pregnant females may supplement their usual diet with protein-rich crayfish and molluscs. Breeding takes places between May and October and a female may have between 2 and 5 litters per year, each litter comprising 5 – 8 young. Winter, protracted periods of flooding and competition from introduced mink, are major factors in restricting population numbers. Disruption to the movement of water around the Marsh and surrounding field ditches, combined with additional human disturbance and increased likliehood of pollution may restrict voles from using some of the fresh water features in the area and reduce the number of voles living in the area.

Water voles can be difficult to see, so you are more likely to find clues or signs that voles use a particular habitat. Water voles are protected by law, but for some reason the ecological consultant employed by the planning applicant, decided not to survey for them. This was despite the fact they thought they may have heard one.

To find out more about water voles (http://www.abdn.ac.uk/mammal/water_vole.shtml)

The fieldsigns which should be looked for, when surveying for water voles, are;

  • Droppings
  • Latrines
  • Feeding Stations
  • Burrows
  • Lawns
  • Nests
  • Footprints
  • Runways in vegetation

Of the eight fieldsigns above we found seven, which an experienced water vole surveyor believed to be proof of water voles activity. Examples of these field signs can be found less than 100m from the development site boundaries. In addition we had a probable sighting and two other occasions where a ‘plop’ was heard. Water voles tend to enter the water with a characteristic plop, when disturbed. This is thought to serve as an audible warning to other voles.

Below are some of the photographs we took, which have been passed on to professional ecologists at the Environment Agency, the Wildlife Trust, Natural England and Lancashire County Council.

The picture on the left shows sections of grass which have been chewed by a rodent and some droppings (faeces) made up of vegetation. The photo on the right shows a closer view of the grass with its two large incisor marks on each blade.

Newts

200309-palmate-female-by-bottle

Female Palmate Newt

The males of all three species of newt found in Britain develop a crest for the breeding season. The colours and spots on their bellies also become more pronounced. So finding a newt with a crest and brightly coloured belly does not mean you have found a Great Crested Newt. Conversely finding a newt without a crest does not mean it is not a great crested newt. Females don’t have them. Males outside of the spring and summer don’t have them. Males not of a breeding age don’t have them. And on top of all that, the crest is a loose piece of flesh which only stands up when the animal is in water. The male smooth newt, in the picture on the left, has a crest but because it is out of water, the crest has collapsed. The crests of male newts may be part of their ‘pulling gear’ to impress the females but may also help them to swim and breath during the aquatic periods of their life. The male Great Crested Newt also has a silver horizontal flash along its tail.

Male Smooth Newt

Male Smooth Newt

Some general rules for telling the crested newts from the smooth and palmate are;

  • Crested newts are usually black on the upper half of their body. Smooth and palmate are a sandy brown colour.
  • Crested newts are usually larger. Smooth and palmate have a maximum length of about 10cm. Crested newts are about 16cm. These lengths include the tail. Looking at the photograph, a smooth newt is just a bit longer than the middle finger, a crested would be the finger and half of the palm.
  • Crested newts are likely to have black spots on a yellow or reddish belly, smooth and palmate may be black spots on orange.

These are fairly rough generalisations. Being able to distinguish between smooth and palmate is rather more tricky, especially the females. It is possible that palmates are under-recorded because of this. The female palmate newt, pictured here, was caught in Wesham Marsh on the 20th March 2009 and could have easily been mistaken for a smooth newt.

If you live near to the proposed development site and have a pond in your garden, or have found newts in your garden, please let us know – we would be very keen to come and look. Please contact us via this website .

The dancing? Newts have a fairly lengthy courtship sequence that involves a number of moves resulting in the male depositing sperm and the receptive female collecting it. Unlike ‘dad dancing’ studies have shown that the moves of the newts follow a regular sequence including moves such as ‘the cat-buckle’ ‘the creep and follow’ and wiggles of the tail. These courtship sequences are different for each species and are thought to indicate receptiveness to mating and when the spermatophore transfer takes place. Egg laying takes place between March and June and involves the female laying each jelly encased egg separately, usually on the leaf of a submerged plant which she then folds over to protect the egg. Newts lay fewer eggs than frogs or toads, typically between 150 to 300 per female. Favoured plants for egg laying include water forget-me-not, floating grasses and other aquatic marginal plants. The green leaves of water forget-me-not can be seen in the bottom right hand corner of photograph (above) with the big mat of frog spawn. This is where the male smooth newt, above, was caught. The brown leaves sticking out of the water (in the frog spawn clump photograph) are reedmace or bulrush (Typha latifolia) . Soft, dead leaves from the previous year, which lie in the water, are also favoured egg laying places. A single leaf can be folded over, concertina style, many times so containing several eggs.

2 Responses to “Wesham Marsh”

  1. Journeyman says:

    So why are you spamming this site then

    Another person barred

  2. Adrian Singleton says:

    Very interesting article packed with information.
    There is always opposition to change but I can understand the importance of this site to the people of Wesham.
    I spent much of my youth fishing and walking in the area of the marsh and it is a very fasinating site indeed.
    It would be tragic for the marsh to come to any harm, as I have witnessed the demise of ponds in the area, packed with wildlife, that were filled-in presumably to make extra farm land.
    The area has already been encroached with the buildings on Carr Hill behind the old Wesham hospital, having been there for some 25 years now.
    Good luck with your mission to save the marsh.
    A.Singleton

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