Round the Back
Frodsham Score salt marsh is an area of something quite rare and at risk from many factors not least the tides that rise and fall twice daily. The Irish Sea enters the River Mersey at New Brighton/Bootle a distance of approximately 16 miles (as the crow flies) to Frodsham Score.
The salt marsh is always in a state of flux with its river edges eroded by the tides, frost, water, wind and rain and often huge clumps fall into the river. These clumps are soon broken down by wave wear and are carried as silt with the tides out into the river, creating sandbars or washing ashore elsewhere to rebuild river edges. There is an organic life to the Mersey marshes being created and eroded, being recreated – a cycle that is timeless. The only issues that could effectively cause this cycle to end would be the intervention by man, proposals like a tidal barrier would cause a shift in the hydrodynamics and thus change the replenishments of tidal water that is important to the bird and wildlife that use the river.
Since the rise of the development of the shoreline a hundred and fifty years ago we have had limited access to the river on its southern banks and this exclusion zone stretched from Moore near Warrington right up to New Brighton, Wirral. I remember watching from Runcorn Docks the tantalising mudflats that lay beyond and seeing hundreds of wintering Pintail on an area of land behind the gantry wall called ‘No Mansland’: an area of salt marsh that had been created by the shifting silt as mentioned earlier.
Some great birds were seen from my distant position perched like a cabin boy in a crow’s nest, clinging by one arm to an old barge berthed in Runcorn Docks overlooking the Mersey mudflats. I was craving to get my feet on the Mersey marshes and see the birds up close. My opportunity eventually came one very bright, sunny and extremely cold, frosty morning in 1978. The North Cheshire RSPB group had organised a field trip to Mount Manisty, an area managed by the Merseyside Naturalist Association and the group are still going strong today. I remember well my bitterly cold hands grasping a pair of Prinxlux 10 x 50 binoculars and impatiently waiting to view through the only telescope own by one of the field officers (probably Don Weedon) to view the huge numbers of handsome Pintail, Common Teal and Wigeon.
A Short-eared Owl glided by with eyes like a cat looking right through me, checking back in mid-flight to drop like a stone in the tall dried grass bordering the salt marsh for a vole and then carrying it away, throwing back a glare at me like a surly youth.
The only relief from the biting easterly wind was a broad warm water pipe that we took turns to sit on just to warm our ice-cold butts.
Reminiscing apart, that was my only experience of the birding on Frodsham Score in my teens and I’ve never been back since. One day I hope to repeat it. Today the only people allowed to go ’round the back’ and view the marshes on the southern banks are Chris the farmer, Wildfowlers and the BTO WeBS counters.
If you fancy taking the boat across the Manchester Ship Canal, from the jetty at Marsh Farm or Stanlow, you can either become Chris’s farming assistant, a wildfowler or a voluntary counter for the BTO: I know which one I prefer.
The views of Frodsham Score on Frodsham Marsh are limited to an area of 2 km west of the Canal Pools where the score banks falls away to join the flat open vista of the Mersey marshes. It is here that I’ve spent some of my favourite watches and sometimes shared them with a few birders like Tony and Frank.
Shaun Hickey inspired this article after he sent me his fine selection of photographs taken during the monthly WeBS counts at Frodsham Score. There have been some great birds seen on these counts like Broad-billed Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Great White Egret and last year two Guillemots. It is truly a wild place edged in by a lot of industry and at threat by many things…not least the tide.
WSM: image 1.
Heather Wilde image 2.
Shaun Hickey images 3-4, 7 & 9.
Stuart Maddocks image 5.
Paul Scoullar image 6.
Tony Broome image 8.
A link to the RSPB and the Mersey Barrage:
More of Paul’s superb images here: here: http://www.photo4me.com/paulscoullarwildlifeandaviation