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On your marks, get set, go!   That’s one,    there’s another……….

Starting tomorrow,  19th July, until Sunday 10th August, you can take part in the big butterfly count. This is a nationwide survey  which helps to assess the health of our environment. It’s been taking place since 2010 and provides invaluable data on the state of our biodiversity. Because butterflies react very quickly to changes in the environment, they can act as an early warning signal.

The survey can be done anywhere – in a park, in a forest, in fields, on a walk or in your garden. All you need to do is spend 15 minutes observing butterflies and making a note of the variety and numbers seen. Even if you spot none, that is useful data. The big butterfly count website has a lovely identification chart you can download and there’s also an app.  Sounds like a brilliant activity for children during the school holidays! You can do the count more than once giving endless scope for entertainment!

A few weeks ago I spotted this little lady in the park:

Speckled wood b'fly IMG_20140612_094442

A speckled wood butterfly, if I’m not mistaken. And, judging by the distinct markings, probably a female. My trusty Reader’s Digest book tells me that these butterflies are strongly territorial and the male often defends its ‘patch’ against other males.

So there’s a strong chance that I might spot more of these when I take part in the count.

Cotton Famine Park

This was the name given to Oldham’s Alexandra Park when it was built in the 1860′s. It was the town’s first public park and built by local people to create work during the cotton famine sparked by the American Civil War. It was later renamed to commemorate the marriage of the then Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra.

The park was recently given more than £2m by the Heritage Lottery Fund to bring it back to its Victorian magnificence and it now has GradeII listed status.

Voting is now open, until July 23rd, for the nation’s favourite heritage lottery project 2014 and the Cotton Famine Park is one of seven finalists in the Heritage category. You can vote for it here.

Oldham’s parks and the work done by the parks department have been highlighted many times in recent years as a shining example of what can be achieved given exceptional leadership. Read more here.

Oldham isn’t far from us, so worth a visit I think.

A burning issue?

Something that has been the subject of occasional (some might say, frequent) thought and discussion is the picnic bench in the park.

This was installed in 2010 when the tennis quadrant was remodelled and improved. The idea was that there should be a pleasant spot to sit and eat while observing the tennis and ball playing activities nearby. And indeed, for a long time this has been a pleasant spot used by families with small children on sunny afternoons. But, in the evenings and at night, it becomes a place for groups of young people to congregate. And yes, they do eat here but some of the other activities that take place are, at best, described as anti-social and at worst, criminal.

This is the state of the table now:

picnic table burn IMG_20140708_092703

 

At some stage over the last couple of days, someone thought it a good idea to set fire to it, or, to place a barbecue on it – the damage will be hard, if not impossible, to put right. And the cost will have to be borne by the Friends of the park, if they decide that it’s something worth doing, because it’s pretty certain that the council won’t pay for it.

The big question is whether it’s worth doing anything at all.  The young people using the area don’t seem to be at all interested in keeping it in good order. The table has already been sanded several times to remove offensive ‘artwork’ but it remains a magnet for mess and damage. The litter keeps being picked up, daily, so that in the daytime the spot isn’t an eyesore. But then in the evenings, it’s the same broken record of litter, debris, rubbish, etc., etc. Even Sisyphus would have given up by now!

 

What would you do?

 

 

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has just brought out a report on the state of the UK’s  public parks. Read a concise summary of the report and findings here.

Parks have always been a priority for the Heritage Lottery Fund - over £620million having been awarded since 1996 across the UK, with the Big Lottery Fund adding a further £80million in England. This funding has been matched with time and money from councils and community groups.

Heaton Moor Park was fortunate to receive Lottery funding for the refurbishment of the tennis court quadrant. This has resulted in many more people, of all ages, coming to use the park’s facilities: the tennis court is in daily use and the picnic bench frequently attracts a variety of users, as does the ball play area.

However, the HLF report shows that the investments of recent years, in thousands of parks and green spaces, may now be at risk.

This is something that the Friends group has been concerned about for some time. To this end, more efforts have been put into raising funds for park maintenance and attracting volunteers to help on work days.

 

Regular users of the park may well have come across the odd rodent from time to time but sightings have become more frequent of late.

Bowlers were quite shocked to witness a rodent leisurely making its way across the green one sunny afternoon, totally unconcerned about interrupting an important match.

The knitters, who don’t shock easily, observed a fair bit of rodent traffic across a path one fine morning – whether this was one rat making multiple trips or a procession of several, they couldn’t decide. There was some speculation that the rat or rats were practising for a panto appearance; the keen watchers called out ‘It’s behind you!’ several times but, when the rest of the group turned around to look,  there was nothing there!!

The rats we have are probably the common brown rat, Rattus norvegicus. Although we are all aware that there are rats around, seeing them out in the open, in broad daylight, is something else and reminds us that they are a public health hazard. They carry very nasty, sometimes fatal, diseases.

ITV broadcast an interesting programme about ‘super rats’ only last week citing research from the University of Huddersfield which has found that rats in several parts of Britain have genetically evolved to withstand commonly available poisons. The research was led by Dr Dougie Clarke who has been aware of this problem for some time, describing it as a time bomb. Read about more about the making of the programme here.

Genetic testing of rats in the sample areas found that some towns had rats that were 100% resistant to over-the-counter poisons. Our part of the north-west wasn’t in the sample but we shouldn’t assume that our rodent population is any different to those tested.

Obviously, this is something for the council to deal with and the problem has already been reported.

I don’t know how the council will deal with this but, the use of poisons, as well as possibly being ineffective, can be detrimental to wildlife. Anything that eats a poisoned rat will also ingest poison.  There could be an opportunity here for a return to traditional methods of elimination such as mechanical traps or even employing musicians to entice the creatures down to the Mersey.

The main thing that we, park users and workers, can do to help is to remove what rats are eating –  food discarded in the park is an open invitation to a rat; overflowing bins, piles of rubbish, untidy bird table areas – all contribute to making life easy for the Rattus family.

We do actually have a resident rat catcher who is very good at the job and has caught a fair number of the creatures already:

Lucy rattter IMG_20140529_105324

 

This is Lucy, a Jack Russell terrier cross, who is doing her bit to eradicate the rodents. She is very keen and seems to enjoy the work but it’s obviously too much for one small dog.

Maybe the groups of young people who congregate on the bowling green could be encouraged to do a bit of rat catching? Or, a local business could sponsor a competitive event with a rat statuette for the winner – there was something similar in WWI so it’s not that far-fetched an idea!

Any other suggestions?

 

Yesterday I felt good about everything – the morning walk in the park was beneficial; the sun shone, the birds sang and I was heartened to see how well the park looked after the festival.

Today, it’s a different story. There are several piles of broken and cut branches lying all over the place.

Just a few days ago, I took this photo:

tunnel IMG_20140621_090538

The overhanging branches have created a tunnel; the large branch on the right is bending almost onto the grass but still leaving ample and unobstructed passage along the path. I have watched this tree spreading its branches over several seasons and have been waiting for the tunnel to become a place of mystery and imagination for children playing in the park.

The sight I came across this morning has really upset me. OK, in the grand scheme of things it’s no big deal; but, I had derived a lot of pleasure imagining children at play under the tunnel and seeing it cut back was quite a shock.

tunnel gone IMG_20140624_092331

Not only that, but the branches left on the grass makes me think that this is the work of vandals and that is really depressing.

There are other places in the park that have been visited by what looks like the same group – branches have been cut or broken off trees and left in piles or strewn around the park.

branch mess IMG_20140624_092432

 

branch mess 2 IMG_20140624_092720

 

If this is the work of council employees and not vandals, then the mess they have left behind is unacceptable and a very sad prospect for the future of our park.

 

What a festival!

OMG! It was a right bazzin do! The festival gets bigger and better every year and this time the weather followed suit with blue skies and glorious sunshine all day. summer festival 1 IMG_20140622_125546   summer festival 2 IMG_20140622_125928     Thank you to everyone who supported the Friends of Heaton Moor Park. The tombola did a roaring trade and ran out of prizes far too early for some gambling addicts. Next time we’ll have to double the number of prizes. There was a display of the improvements that the Friends have been involved with in recent years and several people expressed an interest in coming along on workdays. The 4HTA did a brilliant job of tidying up after the event aided and abetted by the Scouts! Or was it the other way round? All in all, a great day was had by all and we look forward to the next festival in 2015.

See what the Manchester Evening News has to say about it here

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