Monday, 31 December 2007

Prints to end the year with

It's not always easy to distinguish rat footprints from water vole - I glimpsed a rat while I was taking these pictures! - but I reckon these starry prints are our voles.
No trolleys in the water at the moment, though I still haven't spoken to the manager about his plans. Then again, we've all been busy. I'll pursue the situation in the New Year.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Trolleys out again (well, they were at 10.30 this morning).

Friday, 14 December 2007

Had a really encouraging email from the new manager, Richard Mills, saying he'd pulled all the trolleys out, and was keen to talk to me about how we can resolve the situation. However, I've just gone past the store now and there are two more of the new electronic-wheel trolleys in the water. I'm really hoping Mr Mills is going to be the one to grasp that, unless coin-operated trolleys are installed, the problem's just going to go on, and on, and on.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Had an ID for the last set of Prees Branch canal prints - brown rat, so that's ok. Meanwhile, at White Lion Meadow car park, the mess continues. The first trolley is still in there, and there's now another, by the bridge, of the new locking-wheel ones that were supposed to solve the problem.
(Incidentally, since these new-design wheels no longer come with conventional brakes, people are much more likely to come back find their vehicles dented, as shoppers struggle to control heavy brakeless trolleys on a sloping car park.)

Friday, 7 December 2007

Out on Whixall Moss

Brilliant afternoon investigating ditches with Pete Bowyer, who's assistant site manager for the Fenns, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses NNR. The area's managed overall by the Countryside Council for Wales and Natural England.
It's a fantastic area for all sorts of wildlife, and though we didn't find any conclusive evidence of water voles (a possible burrow, some possible feeding) we did find stacks of rodent activity, mainly field vole. In fact, one jumped over my hand as I was examining a latrine! And these little animals provide food for so many other creatures.
The plan is to go back in the spring, when there are more field signs but before the vegetation's got too lush. Dr Joan Daniels was showing me before we set out how many ditches across the mosses have water voles in them; it's all very encouraging. If we can just keep the mink at bay.

Monday, 3 December 2007

More prints, more field voles

Some much clearer prints - I'm waiting for an ID - plus lots and lots of field vole activity. And this jolly fungus, which is called Candle-snuff, I think.
While I'm here:
Nice video clip here about our local heathland and the silver studded blue butterfly.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

The trolleys have gone from the brook at White Lion Meadow - maybe these new ones are considered too expensive to leave rotting in the water? - though the ten between Edgeley Road and Waylands Road are all still there.
Took a walk up to Yockings Gate and was surprised to see the high old bridge walls had been replaced by modern railings. They're not as picturesque, but they're way better for viewing the brook below (I used to have to take a folding stool to stand on!). If the colony's still there in the spring, I should be able to get some good sightings. Interesting to compare the state of the vegetation at this time of year with how it was in high summer. You can do this by clicking on the Yockings Gate label at the right hand side of the blog.
Going down tomorrow morning to check the Prees Branch canal rafts again, but John Mackintosh from the Shropshire Mammal recording group thinks the same as my friend from the Wild About Britain forum, that we're not dealing with mink yet. So cautiously good news all round.

Friday, 23 November 2007

The re-fit went well, then.

Took all these today and forwarded them to the Environment Agency. The top three trolleys are in the brook at White Lion Meadow, while the other nine are in the short stretch at the back of Waylands Road, which is also an established site for water voles (I took photos of voles and field signs there at the start of this year; you can see them on this blog). As far as I can tell, every single one of these trolleys is Tesco's - this despite there being four other supermarkets in Whitchurch. The difference is, of course, that the other supermarkets use the coin-release system.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Free Christmas Trees!

Go dig up your own Christmas tree for nowt!
Date: 2nd December
Event location: Fenn's, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses National Nature Reserve
Organised by: Natural England
This event is being held to celebrate International Volunteers Day.
Meeting point: Meet at Fenn’s Bank lay-by on the A495.
Age group: Adults and children of any age
Registration: Required
More details avaliable from: North Mercia Team
Tel: 01743 282000

Went last week to a talk on the local meres and mosses, and it was really heartening to hear how efficiently these internationally important wetland sites are being reclaimed and managed. Some of the creatures who now live on the peat bog at Whixall are listed in Red Data Book 1 - in other words, if they were any rarer, they'd be extinct.
I was able to pass on my summer water vole records to Dr Joan Daniels, who oversees the work there, and this morning she emailed with the news that one of her assistants has found what may be more field signs, so I'll go out and take a look.
What struck me more than anything about the talk was how lay-naturalists like me tend to assume that trees have to be preserved at all costs, but actually there are times they need taking out to preserve specific habitat, eg wetland and heathland.

Monday, 19 November 2007


It's a quiet time of year for vole-watchers, but there's still the odd bit of news to catch up on.
Only just got any kind of real response from SWT re the mink raft prints I reported on Oct 22nd, and then it's to say they don't know what the prints are and can we carry on watching. So that's what we'll do.
The trolley at White Lion Meadow has finally been removed after spending almost four weeks in the water, and I notice that Whitchurch Tesco has installed some of those expensive new trolleys with wheels that lock at a certain point, meaning they can't be taken off the car park. They can still be pushed down the bank, though! So someone's spent an awful lot of money to no effect, because if the situation continues then the store is still open to prosecution. Remember my analogy about an engineer asked to build a dam but instead putting up a summer house and insisting it would do the same job? Well this time they've effectively added a weathervane on top and net curtains.
What beats me is that if they had the money to spend on a re-fit, then why not go for the relatively cheap and effective option of coin-release trolleys? It makes no sense at all.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Good news, bad news

Nothing discernible on the upper raft this time except mouse prints, and I was speaking to a friend from the Wild About Britain forums last week who said he thought the previous larger ones might have been weasel. If that's the case, it's fantastic news.
The trolley, on the other hand, remains - it's pretty clear what message is being sent to the EA!
I include a picture of the current state of the brook: at this time of year the vegetation's starting to die off and everything starts to look a little sad. I don't expect to see any voles now till February/March time. But I'll look out for prints in the mud because there were a lot last year throughout the winter.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Went to do a litter-pick this afternoon - the trolley's STILL there. It doesn't look to me as though Tesco have any intention of removing it. Disgusting.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Sighting this evening, at about 4.45pm. There are burrows and trackways all along the bank; it's lovely to see.
The trolley isn't, though.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Well done BBC1

It was fabulous to see our water voles and the brook near Tesco featured on national prime-time tv! (Click to see the short film);oper_1=%3D%3D;val_1=vole;preferred_range_length=&;Template=map.tmpl;attrib_99=tag;oper_99=eq;val_99=derived~geolocatable

I can remember so clearly, at the first volunteer training day in April 2006, saying I was sure there were voles there, and a lot of people shaking their heads. Yet it's now recognized as the one public space round here where you can almost be guaranteed a sighting, as long as you go at the right time of day and year. So power to the voles, and to community volunteers here and across the country. It's wonderful seeing all those people working together to make a difference.

Still on The Nature of Britain, here's another clip showing Chester Zoo's captive breeding scheme:
And please, Mr Supermarket, can we sort these trolleys out?

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

The Nature of Britain, BBC1, 9pm, Wednesday Oct 31st

Just a reminder to those who can access the West Midlands tv region that the Whitchurch water voles will be featured on BBC 1 tomorrow night. They'll be part of the local projects slot, towards the end of the programme. (If they show the volunteer group, I'll be the one wearing pink-flowered wellies.)
Sighting at 5pm this evening, near the trolley which is still there and now getting very clogged up.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Meanwhile, on opposite sides of the bridge...

Well blow me, water voles eat snails.

Took a trip to the Prees Branch canal to check the rafts: more minky prints, unfortunately. Hope SW will get on the case next week.
We also found several water vole latrines, some evidence of feeding - and some interesting food choices. I didn't know till I just checked now that water voles eat snails, but there were piles and piles of empty ramshorn shells, often near cut grass and vole droppings. There were also little piles of acorn shells: do water voles eat acorns too?

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Two rubbish photos this evening: you can take your pick! There was also a very poor video of some grass moving on the bank, but I shan't inflict that on you.
Been seeing voles all week near Tesco's.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Worrying Tracks

Checked the cartridges at the Prees Branch canal today and saw what looked like mink type prints. We've reported them to the Wildlife Trust and are waiting for their thoughts.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Trolley Advice

I received this comment to one of my posts, and it's worth a post of its own, I think.

Wonderful blog.
I have been trying to get trolleys removed from the Stockport stretches of the River Mersey, Tame, and Goyt. Here the problems are considerable, they are thrown in near the town centre, but any flood, or build up of debris tends to push them further downstream. Those that I can see tend to collect just below the weirs. The Mersey runs BELOW the town centre for about 1/2 a mile, and there is undoubtedly a storeful of trolleys there waiting to be pushed out downstream of the shopping centre.
Removal of these trolleys is admittedly difficult, due to very inaccessible banks. I have attacked via my local councillor and by direct letters to Tesco, Sainsbury and ASDA, but have gained little ground so far. Any advice that you might have would be appreciated.
For most of my life these rivers, and in particular the Mersey and Tame have been polluted to a disgraceful extent, but recently the water quality has rocketed. I have now, in a six month period seen, IN STOCKPORT! dippers, kingfishers, mink, goldeneye, goosanders, etc, etc. Fish , especially chub abound, although it surprised me to see them still there after the river has been in one of its very heavy floods. There were some very interesting footprints in the mud yesterday..I don't know whether they are mink (probably), or dare I hope for it: otter. Wonderful, but I would much rather see the kingfishers perched on the tree branches, rather that the trolleys.
I did see your voles on TV...and maybe that program in itself helped with the trolley removal. ASDA in Rochdale, 20 miles from here, was fined 8000 pounds for trolleys in the river Roche, and now employs a company to remove them within a day. I hope to achieve this in Stockport. I include my email if you might be able to offer trolley removal advice.

So, firstly, thanks, and well done on all the amazing sightings (except for the mink, of course!). I was watching yesterday a video clip of an otter sighted in the middle of Edinburgh: and you hear reports all the time these days of rivers which are cleaner than they've been for decades. I think people are finally wising up to the need to look after our wildlife spaces - though there's still a lot of work to be done.
As for advice on how to get supermarkets to take responsibility for their trolleys, I can only say what's happened to me. As you'll see on this blog, I first approached my local store back in December 2006. My argument was that installing coin-release trolleys would massively reduce the problem, if not stop it altogether (we have four other supermarkets in our town, all with coin-release systems, and you never ever see any of those trolleys loose).
The managers I've spoken to have always been polite and sympathetic, but made it clear they don't have the power to make decisions about re-fits. They say they've been passing my comments on to the appropriate departments. Those departments, though, haven't seemed to want to take any action, so that's why I've turned to the Environment Agency. The EA is a huge organization, and it's important to locate the correct department, ie one that has the power to act. In my case this turned out to be the Environment Management office, who now at least have a dialogue going with the supermarket.
Having dated photographic evidence, and records of how long trolleys are allowed to stay in the water, is useful, especially if those photos clearly show the store's logo.
The bottom line is, the law is being broken. Under the Water Resources Act 1991 it is "an offence to knowingly permit polluting or solid matter to enter controlled water" and the Environment Agency can take enforcement action, such as the fine you mentioned. In the special case of White Lion Meadow, a second law is also relevant, that of the destruction/disturbance of a theatened species' habitat: , which means that the act of dragging the trolleys out is as harmful as their being allowed to sit and clog up. In other words, trolleys just should NOT be going in the water.
If you do approach the EA - and I've found them terrifically helpful - I'd recommend sending copies of any correspondence to the supermarkets involved, at a local and a central level. It's courteous, and you may find the stores wanting to take recommendations on board before things get to the stage of being fined.
Wildlife aside, in these days of increased flooding it's especially important our waterways are kept as clear as possible. We all benefit from a clean and healthy environment.
Good luck!

Friday, 19 October 2007

Monday, 15 October 2007

The trolleys are gone and I don't know whether it's the action of Tesco or the EA. Whoever sorted it, this chap below says thanks.

Sunday, 14 October 2007


This is the state of the brook at 3pm, Sunday Oct 14th. Looks like we could be shaping up for another 14-trolley winter.
What's worse is that this is all just the tip of the iceberg. If I posted every time a new trolley went in, or every day a trolley was left there - or if I showed any of the trolleys cluttering up other sections of the brook - this blog would be nothing but photos of trolleys. The number of days when even this one small stretch is clear is tiny in comparison to the number of days of the year Tesco trolleys are in the water.
And, somehow, these endangered little animals struggle on...

Friday, 12 October 2007

BBC video of our Albert looking for voles at Whitwater fishery, behind Wrexham Road

Here's tonight's vole, but there's also another trolley and the old one hasn't shifted, so it's busy clogging up with rubbish. Wonder what the BBC would say if they came back and filmed now?