An adventurous group of 21 (or was it 22?) AWEG members recently headed to West Kirby on the Wirral for a two mile trek across the sands and rocks to Hilbre, in the middle of the Dee estuary, to sample the wildlife delights of the islands. Our AWEG numbers were supplemented by ARS and History Society members as we are a very inclusive and welcoming group.
The outward and return trip must be completed between tides otherwise you may get very wet or even, in extremis, stranded overnight. There is a recommended route around the three islands which is deemed safe and avoids the deeper pools of seawater and sinking sands. AWEG members relish a little jeopardy on their field trips!
We were met at West Kirby beach by Dave Gregson, Chairman of Friends of Hilbre and some of his team who were on the island for a working party day. The Friends are a volunteer group working with Wirral Council to maintain and preserve the islands through conservation and restoration work. Interesting fun fact -- The patron of Friends of Hilbre is Ann Cleeves (author of Vera, Shetland etc.) who lived on Hilbre for four years in 1977 when her husband was the island warden.
The route passes by the island of Little Eye then on to Middle Eye and across a stretch of slightly scary slippy rocks (care needed) and on to Hilbre itself. No AWEG members were harmed in the process but one or two were a little shaky on their legs at the end of the rocky section (including the writer of this article)
Once on Hilbre we were treated to watching a colony of seals through a scope set up by one of the volunteers. The seals were hauling themselves out onto a sandbank -- very entertaining to watch as no subtlety is employed by the seals in getting out of the water.
As we walked toward the lifeboat station at the end of Hilbre we were treated to a spectacular performance by Kevin the Kestrel hovering directly in front of the group then dropping sharply to seek out a tasty vole. It was all very David Attenborough.
There was a great deal of binocular related activity as our ornithological experts scanned for Aves species. They were successful in spotting many different birds including Red Breasted Merganser, Little Egret, Curlew, dozens of Oystercatcher, Red Shank, Common Sandpiper, Brent Geese, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Guillemot and Rock Pippet to name but a few (phew!)
The botanists were also combing the islands intensively and, although this is not the best time of year for plants, were able to find Rock Sea Lavender, Sea Purslane, Bucks Horn Plantain, Ribwort Plantain, Mermaids Purse, Thrift, Yarrow, Cat's Ear, Common Ragwort, Procumbent Pearlwort and Bladderwrack (you couldn't make it up) along with several other less amusingly named species. We made a note to return in the spring when the islands are carpeted by flowers, especially Sea Pinks.
Our final stop after a brief picnic lunch were at two of the iconic buildings on Hilbre, the Telegraph Station and the Buoymasters workshop where Dave and his team gave informative talks about the history of the island through the centuries it has been occupied first by Dinosaurs then Homo Sapiens. In the museum are the Buoymasters tools in exactly the position they were in when he left the post in 1876. Also on display are a dinosaur footprint embedded in the sandstone (is it real we wondered?) and a paraffin operated fridge from 1929 which only recently stopped working.
It was then time to head off the island and back to West Kirby before the tide came lapping around our ankles. A fascinating day spent on a beautiful island which is steeped in history and boasts an abundant diversity of wildlife.
We were very grateful to have the support of Friends of Hilbre with their knowledge and experience of the islands. If you are interested in visiting Hilbre after reading this article just take a look at the website link below:
Relieved to report that all 21 (or 22?) members of the group returned safe and sound to dry land and were back in Audlem in time for a debrief at The Shroppie!