L.O.S. Young Birders' Club visits Lilford Park

On Monday 25th February the L.O.S. Young Birders' Club team (Tony, George, Brian and Martyn) accompanied two classes of young naturalists and their teachers from St. Thomas' C.E. Primary School to Lilford Park in Leigh as part of their school curriculum on the environment.

Atherton Wood and Bedford Wood (also known as Hough Wood) are part of the boundary plantations of Atherton Hall which had an 18th-century landscaped park. Bedford Wood was presented to Leigh by Lord Lilford in 1914 and became Lilford Park.  There is now a volunteer group dedicated to ensuring the park's future who have their own website called The Friends of Lilford Park.

An artist's impression of the guided busway
In the Park the children wanted to see for themselves the effect the proposed £76,000,000 'Guided Busway' from Leigh to Manchester is having on the environment, as well as enjoying the experience of being in some of the oldest woodland in the area.

Back at school the children will be using this first hand experience to do some descriptive and persuasive writing about whether they think the guided busway is a good thing or not.  Hopefully this trip will help them make up their own minds.

Unfortunately, the bird life in Lilford Park seems to have suffered a decline in recent years and so the LOSYBC Team came armed with identification sheets for trees, spring flowers and winter twigs, just in case there weren't so many birds about.

George's Group
Whilst we waited for the children's arrival at the main gates, we did see a Nuthatch high up in the trees as well as a Robin, some Magpies and a Crow. Although we couldn't see them, we could soon hear the enthusiastic chatter of the children from deep within the woods and so we made our way towards them, to meet at the top of the main pathway in the park.  After handing out bird checklists and splitting the classes into four groups each with a teacher and an L.O.S. member, we set off to explore the woods.

Martyn and Brian's Group
George set off with his group first and spent a lot of time identifying the vegetation types as well as spotting the odd bird or two.  Martyn stopped his and Brian's groups and asked all the children to be as quiet as possible.  He explained that listening to the birds and hearing their calls and songs is as important as being able to see them.  Whilst they were quiet a Blue Tit, Chaffinch and a Robin were heard, as well as the cawing of two Carrion Crows flying overhead.

Tony Talks to Everyone
We next stopped at the route of an old railway line which used to run through the park.

Tony explained that  many railway lines were closed in the 1960's following the Beeching Reports and that the proposed guided busway follows the route of some former railway lines from Leigh to Manchester via Tyldesley, Ellenbrook and Salford.

The Route of the Old Railway Line
Here the children saw evidence of some of the many trees which have already been chopped down along stretch of the 13 mile route.  He told the children that this was being done early in the year to avoid the breeding season when many birds would be nesting here, so as to cause as little disturbance as possible. And it seems that ecological surveys have already been carried out with some great crested newts relocated to a purpose-built pond somewhere along the route.

A Worker on the Guided Busway
Whilst we were near the proposed route we met a worker along the route who said that the trees being chopped down were being shredded into 'mulch' to put on gardens, and so they weren't being entirely wasted.

The busway is supposed to cut journey times by 45 minutes, with at least eight direct services on most of the route at peak times on weekdays.

Hugging a tree
We then went deeper into some of the older parts of Lilford Woods where the children used the sheets to identify the vegetation.

They found many beech (mast) nuts and acorns, some sycamore seeds, a pine cone or two and the remains of a few conkers.  Some of the trees here are very old as can be told by their size and one group of children joined hands to encircle a tree and give it a hug!

Looking for Woodpecker holes
Martyn pointed out the many woodpecker holes, particularly in the softer bark of Silver Birch trees and he explained that the smaller holes were where the woodpecker was digging for insects whereas the larger holes were for nesting and rearing young.

He also said that the rotting tree stumps and branches were an important food source for insects, which in turn are an important food source for birds.

Identifying a Leaf
From the leaf litter, Brian's group identified birch, beech, oak, conifers, horse chestnut and sycamore as some of the important trees species here and the evergreen rhododendrons, holly and ivy as the dominant shrub species here.

The spring flowers weren't out (we didn't see any Snowdrops here today) yet but we did find some wild garlic leaves and a few fungi growing on the bark of dead trees.

Tony is given a Sycamore Seed
The children were very methodical in the process of identification, giving reasons for ruling out the species their specimens couldn't be, before choosing their best answer. They were constantly finding things of interest and were very keen to find out what they were.

Towards the end of the trip Tony also explained about the flood prevention mechanisms which have been put in place here to avoid flooding in the Lilford and Bedford areas of Leigh.  A large flood storage basin has been created with a gate at one end which can be closed to hold back the floodwaters.  With the gate closed, the water fills the basin and floods the meadows along one side of Atherton Wood, protecting the local houses.

To finish off the children had some time on the swings and slides in the playground area of the park.  This was a really nice way to end what had been a very pleasant and successful morning for all of us. A big thanks must go to Mrs Currie, Mrs Chambers and all the support staff who made this such an enjoyable experience.

Martyn Jones

1 comment:

David Shallcross Chairman Leigh Ornithological Society said...

Dear LOS team, teachers and children of
St. Thomas' C.E. Primary School. Martyn's report of the joint experience is very encouraging. I thank you for working together and your interest in wildlife and the environment. I am pleased the partnership was positive and I look forward to seeing the results of your joint experience together shortly. Sincerely David

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