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Habitat Management at Red Rocks

Red Rocks Nature Reserve November 2016 Update

We have been working to update the Red Rocks Management Plan following extensive consultation with partner organisations and local naturalists. Management activities have been refined and substantial surveying and monitoring put in place. The aim is to conserve the habitats and species for which the site is designated for, namely sand dunes, reedbed and natterjack toads, and to do this in a way which is as sensitive as possible to the requirements of other wildlife and site visitors.

Winter 2016/17 habitat management has now begun and will initially focus on:

Reedbed cutting
Reedbed cutting is undertaken to prolong the life of the reedbed, increase structural diversity, and to prevent its loss to encroaching trees. Small trees are also being coppiced and allowed to regrow.

Sand dune grassland cutting
Areas of grassland are being mown and the cuttings removed. This management is aimed at retaining the dunes as grassland, preventing trees and scrub encroaching any further and increasing the number of dune flowering plant species. Scrub in these areas will be coppiced and allowed to regrow.

Removal of invasive non-native species
In a number of areas garden escapees have begun to dominate native sand dune plant species. Invasive non-native species will be removed and further management will be aimed at helping the dune plant species recolonise these areas.

If you would like further information about our work on Red Rocks Nature Reserve please contact CWT offices on 01948 820 728 or email info@cheshirewt.org.uk.

Overview and background

Red Rocks is an 11 hectare Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI - more info) adjacent to the Dee estuary. It is designated for its rare habitats including reedbeds, sand dune systems (including brackish dune slacks) and a highly diverse flora and fauna including a number of local and national rarities such as the natterjack toad. The site is home to a naturally developing dune system, rare on the Wirral peninsula.

Cheshire Wildlife Trust as the appointed manager, is legally responsible for ensuring the site is in ‘favourable condition’ – as determined by Natural England (formerly English Nature). The site is currently considered to be in ‘unfavourable’ condition. To bring the site into ‘favourable’ condition, Natural England have prescribed management measures which we are currently undertaking.

What is being done at Red Rocks?

The management work at Red Rocks, as agreed with and funded by, Natural England (the government’s official conservation body), is intended to enhance the features for which the SSSI is designated. This includes the sand dunes and their associated flora, and the amphibians, notably natterjack toads, in the open brackish slacks (small pools within the dune system). The site remains the only known location for natterjack toads in Cheshire & Wirral. The aim is to increase the overall area of dune habitat.

As managers of the SSSI, the Trust has an obligation to maintain the site in ‘favourable condition’, which is presently not the case, due to encroachment of non-characteristic and invasive species. The habitat works taking place are integral to achieving ‘favourable condition’ for the site. If the Trust, as managers of the site, fails to meet these obligations we may be penalised and legal action taken.

Why are you removing trees, scrub and ivy?

The sand dune system at Red Rocks would not naturally include species such as ivy. These species, along with the scrub that is present, change the dynamics of the system by influencing aspects such as soil chemistry, sand accretion, water retention and the general site ecology.

What about migrant birds?

The site is noted for its passage migrant birds and ‘rarities’. The presence of these species is likely to be due to the location of the site; protruding into the Dee estuary and surrounded by water on three sides - making it the first mainland landfall for migrating birds, or the final departure point. These passage migrant species typically do not breed at Red Rocks, but remain for short periods of time (often a few hours) before moving to more suitable breeding habitat or to continue on their migration.

The reedbed area is being managed by a standard rotational cut technique (to maintain reedbed health) with works taking place during the winter outside the bird nesting season.