Kate Martin reflects on spring changes at Formby

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Spring is here. But doesn’t that sound strange? It feels like we’ve not had any winter. Like a lot of places Formby has been mild, wet and windy, so signs of spring have been creeping slowly in since the start of January 2014.

Early signs of spring

The red squirrels were certainly feeling the call of spring earlier than usual. Their courtship behaviour – madly chasing each other around the tree trunks - has been a regular sight since early January. The birds have been in full voice since the start of the year and checking out nesting spots for over a month now. It certainly feels like we’ve jumped straight from autumn to spring.

Blown away

One of our first tasks this spring is marram grass planting on the dunes. Marram grass binds sand together and stops the dunes blowing away. Unfortunately it can’t cope with trampling by people and we have lost whole swathes of grass on dunes near our car park. The sand dunes are now being blown away and flattened, which is a big problem; not only are we are losing important habitats but also very valuable natural sea defences. And all the sand gets blown into our car park and paths, covering them up.

To counteract this damage we have been successfully carrying out dune restoration for a number of years now. Work starts immediately after Christmas when we ask for donations of Christmas trees to 'plant' as fences in the dunes to catch the sand. This year we received about 2,500 trees, and hundreds of volunteers from the local community kindly helped us plant them. Marram is then planted into the areas between the Christmas tree fences.

Since the beginning of December a 13-metre-wide chunk has been removed from the front of dunes, thanks to the December storms and very high tides of early February. That’s equivalent to three years’ worth of erosion in two months. On the plus side sand from our beach is being taken north to Ainsdale and Birkdale where it is helping to form new saltmarsh and sand dune habitats.

Spring wildlife

Talking of sand dune habitats, we look forward to the return of my favourite dune dwellers in the forthcoming months – the natterjack toad. The boys come out of hibernation first, from April onwards (although it might be earlier this year if it continues to stay mild) and at night they make their way to the breeding pools where they call for the ladies. The calls are so loud I can hear them from my front door, quite a distance from the nearest pool. It also wins them their local nickname - the 'Birkdale nightingale'.

Other sand dune specialists making an appearance include the vernal mining bee. This solitary bee comes out for a couple of weeks around the Vernal Equinox to feed, breed and then go back into hibernation. Sounds like a great life.

The dune flowers will also be putting on a fabulous display towards the end of this spring with orchids, dune helleborine, sea centaury and many others lighting up the grasslands.

Changes in the landscape are accompanied by a change in visitor numbers over coming months. The rangers are already gearing up for the new season and no doubt it will be upon us before we know it.

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