West Kirby, 18th December 2022

It has been a very cold week, with freezing conditions around the clock. Today, warm air is said to be coming northwards, driving sleet and rain before it. It had started to hail as I set out this morning. We had tentatively planned to go to Hoylake and walk around the north-west corner of Wirral at Red Rocks, ending up at West Kirby, but that seemed foolhardy in those conditions. We decided to go to Gilroy Pool instead, so set off from Hoylake up New Hall Lane. To our surprise, there is an new attraction along there, Whitegate Animal Sanctuary.

There were no animals to be seen, just empty huts and kennels. They seem to specialise in ex-farm animals, and there are posters strung along the fences, giving the names and histories of some of their charges. Pumba and Portia the pigs are ex-pets that grew too large, Bob and Ben the sheep were the surplus third lambs of triplets, while Bobby the goat was an unwanted male kid from a dairy farm. They must all have been taken inside in this severe weather, and the only thing to see in the empty paddock was this group of Toadstools.

As we walked along, the path got icier, and we finally gave up when the slippery surface left no bare patches to pick a way through.

There is also a path alongside Hoylake station car park which runs past the golf course to West Kirby, but that looked treacherous too, so we took the next train to West Kirby, arriving just after 12. In the station yard, three miserable pigeons huddled against the wall. Not quite Three French Hens or even Two Turtle Doves.

After a pit stop in Morrisons we found it had it started to rain. We were looking for a lunch spot, but there is no shelter in Sandlea Park so we walked along to Victoria Gardens which has little wooden gazebos. Quite a few birds had decided it was a good place, too. There was a Blackbird in and out of the shrubbery, two Redwings on the lawn, two Pied Wagtails on the path, a Crow, and was that a Wren diving for cover?  On the way there we had spotted what looked like some people heading out to Hilbre. Hardier than us!

All along the South Parade there were Mermaid’s Purses in the road.  There must have been a recent very high tide to have washed them up onto the road. The short-stay car park has a sign saying “Parking at your own risk, liable to tidal flooding”. The new flood defences are definitely needed. The Marine Lake was showing white caps on the waves, but there was still one brave soul windsurfing. There was a single Redshank and about a dozen Black-headed Gulls on the pontoons near the watersports centre. One Gull had its black head coming in, which I claim as my first sign of spring.

No more Sunday walks until 22nd January, and here’s Merseyrail’s spectacular Christmas greeting sign.

Public transport details: West Kirby train from Central 10.35, arriving Hoylake 11.03. Returned from West Kirby at 2.31, arriving Liverpool Central 3.10.

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Parkgate, 11th December 2022

It was a bright sunny day, but just above freezing, with hardly any breeze. This made for misty conditions on the marsh and over the pools towards the Flintshire shore, with some snow showing on the Clwydian mountains.

High tide was due about 1pm, so the pools were quite full of water, but there were very few birds on them, just a few Mallards and Gulls. A Dunnock was flitting through the vegetation by the sea wall and we saw a Little Egret at a distance. A Heron flew in, low over the houses, heading towards the marsh. A smaller bird flew over our heads, southwards along The Parade.  It was about the size of a Kestrel, and it flew level, straight and purposeful, like a falcon would. But it seemed to be all greyish-greenish-fawn, and John thought its tail was too long for a Kestrel, and was put in mind of a Ring-necked parakeet. But it was only a glimpse, so maybe it was a Kestrel after all. More exciting was a report from some people coming back from the Old Baths area, who said there was a Kingfisher at the far end. So we headed that way. There were interesting plants growing in the tangle beyond the sea wall, including two large clumps of Sea Beet and spikes of Burdock seed heads.

Before we could settle down for lunch in the grassy area beyond the car park we first had to brush the melting ice off the picnic table and benches! All the molehills amongst the grass had frosty tops like Christmas puddings.

A bold and hungry Robin hopped on the sea wall by our feet, and of course we gave it crumbs from our sandwiches.

There was another Little Egret there.

On an island in a pool there was a long-legged bird. A Curlew? No, it had a straight bill so it was a Godwit. It flew off just as I took its picture so you can clearly see that it’s a Black-tailed Godwit.

There was a small Oak bush there, and it reminded me that on our bus journey across the Wirral that morning, especially near Thornton Hough, the mature Oaks in the hedgerows had held onto their golden leaves and were glowing in the bright low sun.

The only flower of the day was Gorse, which is always in season.

Then John found the Kingfisher, poised on a branch overlooking a little stream, about 25 yards away. Hooray!

We headed back for the 1.30 bus, and no, we didn’t have ice creams. Brrr!  We noted that one of the detached houses near the Old Baths had a giant teddy on the balcony.

Public transport details: Bus 487 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.29, arriving Parkgate Mostyn Square at 11.25. Returned on the 487 from Mostyn Square at 1.30, arriving Liverpool 2.25.

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Eastham Woods, 4th December 2022

It was a cold and murky day with a penetrating north-east wind and odd spots of rain, but it was calm and sheltered in the woods. The last time we were here was almost a year ago, on 12th December 2021, in the wake of storms Arwen and Barra. Many trees had come down. They have tidied them up a bit, but many logs and stumps have been left to rot, the brash has been collected into woodpiles and there are now large glades which will be open to the sun (and new growth) in the years to come.

Down by the shores of the Mersey, outside the Eastham Ferry Hotel, we found out how sheltered the woods had been. It was cold! There were just two Mallards in the water, and a few Redshanks flew in with their piping calls. We were almost end-on to the runway at Liverpool John Lennon Airport and visibility was so poor that they had put all their landing lights on.

The Visitors’ Centre was still not open. It seems to have been closed for at least a year. We were looking forward to being inside and looking out at the birds in their garden. We wondered if the birds were still being fed, and so we went around the back, peered through the fence and hedge and were disappointed to see everything looking neglected, and the feeders hanging empty. What a shame. There were fallen leaves of a Tulip Tree on the ground back there, but we couldn’t find the tree itself. We had seen the leaves on the display board in the Visitors’ Centre in previous visits but had never found the tree. Perhaps it is in the ranger’s neglected garden or the adjacent Café garden.

The big stone steps there are a relic of the old Victorian Pleasure Garden. There is an interesting sign up about it, and a blue plaque to the high-wire superstar of the day, Blondin, who performed here in his heyday.

We walked north almost as far as Riverwood Road then doubled back along the northern path. This is supposed to be a bluebell wood, so we should come again in spring to see that. The woods are all Beech here, and have a darker, more coppery look, especially with the low midwinter light.

Public transport details: All Wirral buses were moved to Queen Square because today’s Santa Dash was to run down Sir Thomas Street.  Bus 1 at 9.58 towards Chester. During the journey this bus changed its route identity to an X1, but it arrived in any case at 10.35 at New Chester Road / opp Woodyear Road. Returned from New Chester Road / Allport Road on the number 1 bus at 1.30, arriving Liverpool 2.05.

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West Kirby, 27th November 2022

We expected that going to West Kirby would be like a trip to the seaside, but we found lots of  digging along South Parade, both north and south of the Dee Lane slipway. The whole walk along the promenade was blocked off by barriers, as part of the flood protection works. The nearest we came to it was a small part of the Marine Lake by the watersports centre. On the pontoon, amongst the Black-headed Gulls, was a single Turnstone, but then about forty more flew in and they began to pick along the seaweedy edge.

We almost missed the LittleEgret, which was fishing right by the sea wall. There was nobody walking along the lake side, so there were no gawkers hanging over the railing to look at it and it could hunt undisturbed.

We walked inland to Ashton Park and its small ornamental lake. It’s a good place for those sorts of urban birds, with Canada Geese, Mallards, a Moorhen, a few Coots, lots of Black-headed Gulls and also lots of Herring Gulls, brown-feathered juveniles, grey and white adults but also some in-betweeners, sub-adults with a mix of brown and white feathers (middle bird below). It takes them several years to become old enough to breed.

At one end of the lake is a lovely Atlas Cedar of the “Blue” variety.

On the opposite side of the bowling green I think there is a Cedar of Lebanon on the edge of the shrubbery. There aren’t many in Merseyside, as many of the old park specimens have grown old and died. It’s the flat-topped tree with the level branches.

To be sure, I needed to see the cones, as the ones from Cedars of Lebanon are said to be pointed. However, they don’t fall from the trees like pine cones do, so it’s hard to see the tops of them. The ones above me on the trees seemed to have pointed tops, not dimpled tops (as Atlas Cedars have). The needles were all the same length and short. (Deodar Cedars have some long needles in the bunches).

We lunched in the so-called Secret Garden, although it is well-signposted. Half a dozen grey squirrels were around our feet, cheekily hoping for crumbs. We returned along the lake, admiring the old and straggly Weeping Willow on the island, sheltering the duck nesting boxes.

To our surprise, there was a Heron roosting high in the tree, with its head tucked under its wing.

An even greater surprise was to see a Little Egret up there. I’ve never seen one in a tree in a park before. It might have been the same one as we saw earlier in the day, but there could be two of them in West Kirby at the moment. Not so many years ago it would have caused a big twitch! (= A gathering of hardcore birdwatchers, some of whom have travelled halfway across the county, all hoping for a big new tick on their species lists.)

We went back into the town centre via the last bit of the Wirral Way, which was looking beautifully golden and autumnal.

Dead stems bore black seeds, apparently from some sort of umbellifer. We guessed they were from the seaside plant Alexanders, and I have since confirmed it. Foragers’ guides say they are edible, not straight off the plant, but when ground or chopped they are peppery and can be used as a spice. Some foragers put them in bread.

There was lots of new foliage of Alexanders nearer the ground, and amongst them lots of Harlequin ladybirds moving sluggishly, but not hibernating yet. Below that were occasional flashes of red-orange berries from Stinking Iris.

The confusion of nature by this mild autumn continues. Bramble was in bud and flower.

In the tiny Sandlea Park, we didn’t find lots of seeds under the Walnut trees. Unlike Oak and Black Walnut, they don’t seem to have had a good year. But the edible vegetables in one of the flower beds were flourishing, with Swiss Chard looking particularly fine, and one very late flower on a strawberry plant. The roses in the other bed were still budding and flowering profusely.

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.05, arriving West Kirby at 10.35.  Returned from West Kirby Station at 2.01, arriving Central at 2.38.

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Botanic Gardens, Churchtown, 20th November 2022

On the way through Churchtown we stopped in the small Civic Garden (also known as North Meols Garden). We found this winter-flowering Viburnum x bodnantense blooming already, which is quite early. The tree variety originated in Bodnant Gardens in 1935 as a cross made by their head gardener.

The Botanic Gardens were having their Christmas Fair, and the place was packed! A local choir were singing carols by the entrance, and there were various stalls, some goats on display to raise funds for the Woodlands Animal Sanctuary, donkey rides, and the Fernery was taken over for Santa’s grotto. Meanwhile, one of Santa’s lady stand-ins was helping children to write a letter to Father Christmas. More pictures on their Facebook page, including the lovely grotto in the fernery which we didn’t see.

We found seats for our lunch by the bowling green, and managed to eat most of our sandwiches before the mist and rain roiled in and we had to take shelter under an awning. The bowling club continued their game through it all.

There is a beautiful Maple tree there, possibly some kind of Japanese Maple, with glowing autumn foliage.

The tree next to it was bearing huge pears, many of which had fallen. They were hard as nails (we couldn’t squash them with our boots) although the birds seem to have managed to get into some of them.

On the lake were Mallards, a Coot or two, and a Mute Swan family with four big cygnets.

Then we had another torrential downpour, and we all had to shelter under the awnings. As soon as it eased off we headed for the bus. The Salvation Army Band played us out. We had terrible weather last time we were here (28 Nov 2021) so I am now banned from suggesting it again at this time of year!

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.23, arriving Southport 11.13. Then bus 44 from Hoghton Street at 11.21, arriving at Marshside Road / Cambridge Road at 11.33. Returned on bus 49 from Botanic Road / Botanic Gardens at 1.36, arriving Southport Monument at 1.50, then on the train at 1.55, due Liverpool 2.45.

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Sefton Park, 6th November 2022

Sefton Park is lovely in the autumn. It has been awarded the Green Flag quality standard again for the 2022/23 season, the trees are colouring up (if not quite to New England standards), and the sun was shining. What’s not to love. The usual crowds of birds were on the mooch for handouts at the south end of the lake. Hundreds of Black-headed Gulls, several juvenile Herring Gulls and one Common Gull; Coots, Moorhens and Mallards; the ubiquitous Feral Pigeons and a few Canada Geese. Near the island were a few male Tufted Duck, two Mute Swans and just one Little Grebe. The Model Boat Club were putting their vessels though their paces.

Floating by the launch step was this model duck. We thought about suggesting it was a Green-headed Wigeon (I just made up that name, there’s no such thing) to set the twitchers a-flutter, but it doesn’t quite look like a living bird.

Further along was a single male Gadwall, this one a genuine semi-rarity, and one we’ve never seen here before. It looked a bit lost. Had it come from the currently-closed WWT Martin Mere?

The avenue of old Cherry trees was looking wonderful.

The champion Black Walnut tree opposite the bandstand was bare of leaves, but seems to have fruited very well this year. There were very many round green fruits on the ground and on the path beneath it. We looked at two very pale trees nearby, across the field. They had an airy open shape and yellow pointy leaves which were almost white underneath. A few of the fallen ones had turned red. I have seen these leaves often but not identified them, so I looked it up at home. I think it’s Silver Maple Acer saccharinum.

There is usually some sort of demo or political action near the Eros statue, and today it was the anti-vaxxers, trying to convince the passers-by that we are all being lied to.

Inside the Oasis café was an exhibition of bird photographs.  We had expected there to be more than eight of them, but that’s all there were on show. There are over 70 of them apparently, and they will be changed every month. Each had a little slogan attached. For instance, the Mandarin Duck said “Show your true colours”, and they had the feel of new-agey motivational posters. The pictures are by Tana Corps “swan whisperer, photographer, film maker, writer and poet” and the blurb goes on to say Tana “senses the mood and personality of individual birds … it’s as if the birds have come to have their photo taken, not the other way around.” You’d think nobody had ever photographed a bird before!

Over the big field, one of the old sandstone houses with tall chimneys looked a bit like a fairy-tale castle, surrounded by misty autumnal trees. You wouldn’t guess it was only about three miles from the city centre.

Along the path past the old aviary we looked for any sign of the Kingfishers, which lived here not long ago, but there was no sign, just Magpies, Crows and Blackbirds. Two of the trees had small labels attached, just typed on small white cards, laminated and stuck on with map pin. They were numbered 17 and 18, but we didn’t see any more of them. They weren’t robust, and could easily have been taken or vandalised. One labelled tree was a Hornbeam and the other was a Dawn Redwood.  Dawn Redwoods are conifers which turn colour and lose their leaves in the autumn, and the ones in the park had just turned to rusty red and were looking gorgeous.

We had been hearing Parakeets squawking all day, but didn’t se them. Along the path near the Fairy Glen we saw a Treecreeper and heard a Nuthatch. In the quiet glade around the south side of the Palm House, where bird feeders have been put up, we waited quietly, but no birds came. So we headed back, but went around the south end of the lake to the side where we started. I had seen a tree on the bank earlier in the day and wondered if it had been a young Swamp Cypress. They are another deciduous conifer (the only other is Larch) and I wanted to compare its leaves with those of the Dawn Redwood.  Yes, I think it is a Swamp Cypress, as the leaves were all arranged “opposite”, whereas the Dawn Redwood is “alternate”, and this is one of the ways of telling them apart. When you have a chance to directly compare them, you can see that the tree shapes are quite different, and also that the SC’s colour change is later, and subtly beautiful. I love Swamp Cypresses.

Public transport details: Bus 82 from Elliot Street at 10.02, arriving Aigburth Road opp Ashbourne Road at 10.19. Returned on 82 from Aigburth Road / Jericho Lane at 1.45, arriving city centre at 2.15.

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Calderstones Park, 30th October 2022

This was a chance to look at some of the rare trees I was shown on the Friends’ walk on 27th May this year, as well as some old favourites.  Near the Text Garden we checked out the Aspen, although there wasn’t much to see after most of the leaves had fallen. The breeze was also blowing down the Tulip Tree leaves onto the clipped tops of the letter-shaped hedges made of Box and Yew. The words spell out the names of flowers, but they are hard to read from ground level. They show up better on Google Maps Satellite View, where you can see the names Love-in-a-Mist and Lords-and-Ladies at one end, and reading in the opposite direction with some letters missing, Forget-me-not and Lily-of-the-Valley.

We could hear Ring-necked Parakeets, but caught sight of only one.  By the time we got to the Rose Garden, it had started to rain quite heavily, so we sheltered under a spreading Beech tree.

One of the young trees on that lawn was a fiery red. Was it a Cherry? The bark didn’t look right although the leaves were simple enough. One for another time.

We also hoped to definitely identify the Pecan Nut sapling. Was it one of the weedy ones, or was it this flourishing one with the sucker coming from the base? No idea, but we hope it is the good’un.

A small shrub or bush that we previously though was some kind of Pieris turned out to be a Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo. The round red fruits are about 1.5 cm across and are edible but unpalatable.

They are easily confused with the round red fruits of the Chinese or Strawberry Dogwood Cornus kousa, but the dogwood fruits have a dark-spotted skin, are all singletons and grow on very long stalks.

The Golden Rain tree had lost all its leaves in the last couple of weeks, but there were still some seed cases high up. We were more interested in another exotic-looking shrub with strange blue berries surrounded by fuchsia-coloured bracts. I looked it up at home, and it appears to be Harlequin Glorybower Clerodendrum trichotomum.

We headed through the rain for the shelter of the Manor House, spotting a large-leaved young tree in an unassuming corner. We will have to look at it again, but it might be a Butternut.  I was also collecting wet fallen Beech leaves with odd green patches. Last week Autumnwatch did a piece about leaf miners leaving green sections in brown leaves.

On closer inspection at the lunch table, we could see that one of them definitely had a wee beastie in it, which was likely to be a larva of a moth called Stigmella and probably Stigmella tityrella. The moth is called the Small Beech Pigmy, common and widespread, apparently. The sun came out, so I was able to hold the leaf to the light for a good look. The egg seems to have been laid at the bottom of the green area and the grub then ate its way upwards, leaving frass behind it. It wriggled a bit at the point, then broke through to another leaf segment.

I went on Richie the Ranger’s Calderstones walk last Tuesday. On the radio at the weekend he had mentioned he would be leading people to a ”Sausage Tree”. However, on the day, he said he had found on his recce that it was gone, and it had probably died since he was last there. I think I remember seeing it with him a couple of years ago, in the Old English Garden. If the tree he had in mind was Kigelia africana, it’s an African tree, and so rare that it isn’t on the Tree Register’s list, suggesting there are none at all in the British Isles. I’m sorry I didn’t take more notice last time Richie mentioned it!  However, he did take us to a lovely shrub in the Old English Garden, the Beauty Berry, Calicarpa bodinieri, which bears amazing tiny purple berries in the autumn. Naturally we snaffled some to try and grow at home.

The Japanese Garden is fantastic at this time of year, even in the rain, especially with the Maples putting on their best autumn performance.

Towards the Allerton Oak two trees were spreading carpets of lovely leaves. In the foreground are the red and gold leaves of the Sweet Gum Liquidambar styraciflus, while further back are the yellow leaves of some sort of Lime.

A yellow Persian Ironwood was peeping out from behind a dark Holly.

The famous Allerton Oak is said to be 1000 years old. It was the 2019 English Tree of the Year and it was awarded a grant from the People’s Postcode Lottery to pay for the new supports under the old spreading branches.

We took a quick look at the Chinese Cow-tail Pine Cephalotaxus fortunei and the Spur-leaf Tetracentron sinense, neither at their most photogenic at this time of year, then made our way back to the south side of the park for the bus.      

Public transport details: Bus 86A from Elliott Street at 10.15, arriving Menlove Avenue / Ballantrae Road at 10.55. Returned on the 86 bus from Mather Avenue / Storedale Road at 2.10, arriving Liverpool 2.40.

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Croxteth Country Park, 23rd October 2022

It was raining gently this morning, with thunderstorms forecast for later. We headed for Croxteth Park with some trepidation, imagining ourselves getting soaked on the way back. But it cleared up by lunchtime and the sun even came out occasionally.

In the damp fields on either side of the long walk to the Hall were a few scattered Magpies, Crows, Common Gulls and Lesser Black-backed gulls. The herd of Highland cattle were sheltering on the edge of their woods and clustering around a great mound of hay.

One of the old Park lodges, Croxteth Lodge, was nestling prettily into the side of the path, enhanced by the shrubs trimmed into a cluster of low mounds.

We wandered through the woodland path, where we had found lots of small birds feeding on Larch seeds during previous visits, but it was all quiet today. A passer-by said he often sees a flock of about two dozen Ring-necked Parakeets on the far side of the Hall, but we didn’t see any ourselves. An occasional Robin called from a hedge, and our best bird was a Mistle Thrush churring quietly in the shrubbery. On the bank of the algae-covered lake called the Statue Pond (no statue now!) was a Norway Maple in bright yellow leaf, showing beautifully against a dark conifer behind it.

A magnificent Beech tree graces the lawn west of the Hall.

Also on this lawn is a rare hybrid Oak, a Lucombe Oak Quercus x hispanica ‘Lucombeana’. It is a cross between a Turkey Oak and a Cork Oak. The acorn cups were “hairy” like Turkey Oak, but were a bright pale green. The acorns had white bases and greenish tips.

A Turkey Oak nearby had no acorns at all but an English or Pedunculate Oak had so many fallen acorns that it was impossible to walk beneath the tree without standing on several at each step.

A Pin Oak had just some undeveloped squibs, but their leaves are very pretty.

On the other side of a hedge there was a Narrow leaved Ash Fraxinus angustifolia ‘Raywood’ with its spectacular gold and purple autumn foliage.

We returned on the other side of the Highland cattle’s pasture. The bull was attended by lots of Magpies, and he was standing quite still for them with his head lowered. The Magpies must be getting something, so do the cattle have ticks or fleas? Is this a husbandry or animal welfare issue?

Public transport details: Bus 12 from Queen Square at 9.55 arriving Mill Lane / West Derby Village at 10.17.  Returned on bus 13 from Mill Lane / Town Row at 1.59, arriving Liverpool 2.28.

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Flaybrick Memorial Gardens, 22nd October 2022

Swamp Cypress and Tibetan Cherry in section CE12

This was a Saturday walk organised by the Friends of Flaybrick called “Flaybrick Autumn Tints” and led by Flaybrick and Bidston Ranger Neil Mutch and the Friends’ founder and secretary John Moffatt.  Flaybrick Memorial Gardens is the best-preserved of designer Edward Kemp’s landscapes and is Grade II* listed by English Heritage. Many of the 650 trees in the garden are Kemp’s original plantings from the 1860s. The old cemetery became overgrown and vandalised in the 1990s, but has since been restored and opened up as a safe place to walk. The canopies were raised to provide longer lines of sight throughout, and much Ivy was removed from the taller trees, to help preserve them from the “sail-effect” during high winds. Despite this, Storm Arwen of November 2021 took out 11 mature trees of Kemp’s planting. The Arwen winds came from the north, an unusual direction, and took down trees inured to the normal south-west gales.  The Friends are now planning shelterbelts of Sweet Chestnut. The walking tour highlighted the Coast Redwood Sequoia sempervirens in section NC6A south of chapel, planted on 1997. It is now 40 feet tall and may grow to 90 or 100 feet eventually.  Our attention was also drawn to a young Red Oak, planted in memory of Steve Titley, the former ranger of Flaybrick

Neil Mutch and John Moffatt under Steve Titley’s Red Oak

On the corner near the Ranger’s Office is a Père David’s Maple Acer davidii, one of the snake-bark maples, which was laden with marvellously copious seeds.

Spectacular autumn colour was provided by the Sweet Gum Liquidambar styraciflua in section CE15.

At the far north end of the cemetery is the last section to be restored, the gated RC7. It contains previously-neglected communal RC graves which were badly overgrown with bramble, trees shrubs. It has now all been cleared and was recently re-dedicated by two local Catholic priests. The grave areas are edged with stones and logs, four wildflower plots have been established, and there is an emphasis on nature, with a pond, bird boxes and habitat piles. It is usually kept locked but will be open on Open Days or by request.

This end also contains a supposed Cedar of Lebanon, which for many years was badly hemmed in but has now been given some room. I managed to get a look at the cones, and they have dimples in the top, whereas Lebanon cones are pointed. The shoot tips droop and the needles are uneven lengths and quite long. I don’t think it is a Cedar of Lebanon at all, and is more likely to be a Deodar cedar.

There is some new planting at this end, too, including a young Judas Tree and a young Mulberry.

The young Mulberry

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