Each year on 2 February, World Wetlands Day is celebrated as a way to raise global awareness about the vital role of wetlands for people and the planet.
In Sefton, wetlands are incredibly important, and many people may not realise that the entire coastline acts as a wetland.
Green Sefton’s Engagement Officer, John Dempsey, explains in his own words just why Sefton should be celebrated on World Wetlands Day.
Celebrate Sefton’s wetlands
“On baking hot summer days, when the temperature soars on an arid dune system, visitors to the Sefton coast can struggle to imagine this landscape is an internationally important wetland. This is understandable – parched sands and shimmering horizons where only tough specialised heat-loving species thrive couldn’t be much further than the image of a wetland.
“There are spectacular wetlands on the Ribble estuary to the north where tens of thousands of wild birds winter and breed (info here on the RSPB Marshside reserve), the Alt estuary at Hightown draws huge numbers of birds including Curlew and Pink Footed Geese and the Mersey’s tidal flats are a haven for waders.”
Why sand dunes aren’t always dry?!
“But the dunes? The dunes are hot and dry, aren’t they? Well, yes and no.
“Come to the dune system in winter in a year like 2021 when we have enjoyed plenty of rainfall and you may be in for a surprise. And a visit (once we’re all able to travel further afield than our local area) may help you understand why World Wetlands Day is a cause for celebration on the Sefton coast.
“The 2021 World Wetlands Day campaign highlights the contribution of wetlands to the quantity and quality of freshwater on our planet. Water and wetlands are connected in an inseparable co-existence that is vital to life, our wellbeing and the health of our planet.
“In Sefton we are lucky to have this incredible habitat, when you consider 2.2billion people around the world do not have access to fresh clean water. We all have a responsibility to battle pollution of course – even pouring the wrong thing down your sink will have an impact.”
All about the ‘slacks’
“With normal rainfall levels, from November hollows between the dunes quickly flood as the water table rises to transform the landscape into a mosaic of lakes, pools and puddles known as ‘slacks’. This is a natural process vital to this priceless eco-system.
“ ‘Slacks’ are low-lying areas between the dunes so flood quickly as water levels increase. This means footpaths disappear and dunes are transformed into islands floating in an inland sea, some slacks are large, some are small, but all are very important.
“At first glance they may appear devoid of life, but beneath the surface they shelter countless thousands of insect larvae – among them dragonflies, midges, water boatmen and pond skaters. Shy birds including Water Rails and Jack Snipe move in to feed here over the winter, and Short Eared Owls can hunt overhead.”
Rare amphibians found on the dunes
“As spring approaches water from these flooded areas evaporates leaving pools that are the perfect depth for our threatened Natterjack Toads to spawn in. This special creature emerges from hibernation at the end of March when males ‘sing’ to attract a mate at the edge of flooded slacks once the sun goes down. If you’ve never heard the Birkdale Nightingale aka Bootle Organ (local names for the Natterjack) chorus then you are missing a treat – there are few sounds like it on a warm spring evening.
“These rare amphibians are joined by Common Toad, Common Frog, Smooth Newt and Great Crested Newt, all taking advantage of this unique transient habitat. In a good year the slacks retain enough water for the amphibian tadpoles to metamorphosise before the pools dry out completely, but even then, these areas hold incredible value.”
Orchids and diverse plants
“The damp sandy soils, warmed by the summer sun, provide the perfect growing conditions for a host of rare dune land plants from Grass of Parnassus to a staggering range of orchids. Over 1,200 plant species have been recorded on the Sefton coast and in turn many are crucial food sources for a variety of pollinators including butterflies, moths and bees.”
“The value of this coastline as a wetland was recognised when it was awarded Ramsar status almost 50 years ago. Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance that have been designated under the criteria of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands for containing representative, rare or unique wetland types or for their importance in conserving biological diversity. The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance was adopted in Ramsar, Iran in February 1971 (hence the name) and came into force in December 1975. It provides the only international mechanism for protecting these sites of global importance and is thus of key conservation significance.”
Protect, respect, enjoy
“So next time you come for a walk (once government guidelines allow!) on the coast, remember to bring your wellies, and please keep dogs out of these flooded areas that are so important for wildlife – disturbing the slacks can have profoundly damaging effects on some of the country’s rarest flora and fauna.”
John Dempsey – Engagement Officer, Green Sefton
Green Sefton’s work
Green Sefton manages the coast, dune system and nature reserves from Waterloo to the Alt estuary and from Ainsdale to Marshside, maintaining and improving habitats using a number of techniques including scrub control and conservation grazing.
Green Sefton is also responsible for educating Sefton’s communities about the environmental importance of the coast, removing litter, managing coastal parking and enforcing byelaws to keep this internationally significant landscape, and the species that rely on it, safe and protected.
Additionally, the team has oversight for parks and greenspaces, flooding and coastal erosion, risk management and grounds maintenance.
Council responds to announcement on South Africa COVID-19 variant
Responding to the announcement that testing for the new South African variant of Covid-19 will be starting in the Borough, Sefton Council Leader Cllr Ian Maher said: “I am pleased to see the Government acting promptly to implement this programme to test for the presence and possible spread of this new variant with the aim of bringing it under control quickly.
“I am also confident that our local communities will, as they have throughout the pandemic, follow the guidance on testing, self-isolation and the wider lockdown measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus and help protect those who are vulnerable to it.”
Sefton’s Director of Public Health, Margaret Jones said: “Although it seems this new variant can still be combated through vaccination, it could be more transmissible, which means it could spread more quickly.
“That’s why it is important we carry out this additional testing to try and identify it and to limit the number of us who might be exposed to it.
“We will be setting up dedicated test sites for the new variant and once they are in place, I would encourage everyone aged over 16 in the areas targeted to get tested as soon as possible, even though they don’t have symptoms. This will help us find any cases of the new variant and help stamp it out.
“There is no reason for most of us to change our behaviour as a result of this news as long as we are already following the national regulations.
“This means staying at home except for essential purposes such as shopping for essential supplies, going to work if we can’t do so from home and providing care. It also means maintaining at least 2-metres’ distancing, wearing a mask or face covering while out and about and washing our hand frequently.”
Sefton Council and its partners are still working out exactly how the additional tests are going to take place in the light of today’s announcement but comprehensive testing has been in place across the Borough since April. This has been through a combination of pop-up mobile test units at various sites and permanent walk-through testing sites for people with coronavirus symptoms, and three SMART test centres for people with no symptoms.
To help you take a swab, the NHS has made step-by step guidance videos:
Mrs Jones added: “People across Sefton have taken full advantage of the range of testing available and I am confident those within the area covered by the new variant tests will respond positively to the Minister’s request to get tested. ”
“However, for anyone concerned we will be working with our partners to provide advice and support online and on the ground so that we can work together and continue to make progress towards a return to a more normal life for all of us.”
Positive tests will be sequenced to identify any further spread of the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa, enabling a better understanding of the variant and identifying if there are any more cases of this particular strand of the virus in the area.
In total, Public Health England has identified 105 cases of the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa since 22 December. All cases and their contacts have been contacted and told to self-isolate. Other postcode areas where enhanced testing will be taking place are in London , the West Midlands , the East of England and the South East.
Announcing the testing, Health and Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “It is vital that we do all we can to stop transmission of this variant and I strongly urge everyone in these areas to get tested, whether you have symptoms or not. The best way to stop the spread of the virus – including new variants – is to stay at home and follow the restrictions in place. Until more people are vaccinated this is the only way we will control the spread of the virus.
“The UK is a global leader in Covid-19 genomics, and because of this, we have been able to identify new strains of the virus and take decisive action. We continue to closely monitor new variants, here and around the world, and in addition to our already extensive testing service, we are making surge testing capacity available to affected areas.”
Dr Susan Hopkins, Strategic Response Director to Public Health England and Chief Medical Advisor for NHS Test and Trace said: “As part of our proactive sequencing work, we know that the new variant of Covid-19, first detected in South Africa, has been identified in a number of areas across England. A small proportion of these cases have no link to international travel suggesting that there are some cases in the community.
“In response to this, we are ramping up testing in targeted areas, so we can gather more information and effectively monitor any further community transmission.”
As well as mobile test units, the four local walk-through test centres for people with symptoms are at Bootle Town Hall, Crosby Library Car Park, Netherton Activity Centre and Southport Town Hall. SMART test centres for people with no symptoms who have to go out for work or caring purposes are at Aintree Racecourse, Bootle Leisure Centre and Splash World in Southport.
Dr Andrew Furber, Regional Director at Public Health England North West, said: “The UK has one of the best genomic systems in the world which has allowed us to detect the variant originating in South Africa here in Sefton. I urge everyone offered a test to take it up to help us to monitor the virus in our communities and to help suppress and control the spread of this variant.
“The most important thing is that people continue to follow the guidance that is in place – limit your number of contacts, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, keep your distance and cover your face. If you test positive by any method, you must isolate to stop the spread of the virus.”
Sefton Council’s Clean Air Crew project to benefit from Liverpool City Region Community Environment Fund
Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram has named the successful projects that will be funded through the £500k Community Environment Fund, launched last year.
The 58 successful projects are set to contribute to the city region’s target of being net carbon zero by 2040, improve people’s surroundings across the Liverpool City Region, while also bringing health benefits, encouraging long-term behavioural change and promoting community engagement and participation in environmental education programmes.
The projects include Sefton Council’s Clean Air Crew which has been developed by teachers to engage with children and families on air quality and encouraging behaviour change; ReStore St Helens, a project upcycling furniture in a deprived area reducing items ending up in landfill while supporting residents; and carbon literacy training to local community groups, supporting them to turn their commitments into local climate action.
Other projects include creating community gardens, wild flowering meadows, composting projects, understanding our carbon footprint, reducing food waste, boosting bee populations and encouraging cycling.
Stephanie Jukes, Sefton Council, who leads on the Clean Air Crew project, said: “We’ve been working on the Clean Air Crew within Sefton for some time now, as an educational tool that children and their families can use to learn about air quality and changes they can make as individuals and families. Funding from the Community Environment Fund means we can now expand the Clean Air Crew to the whole of the Liverpool City Region and we can’t wait to get started.”
Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said: “Since I was elected Mayor, tackling the climate crisis has been one of my top priorities and I was proud that we were the first Combined Authority in the country to declare a Climate Emergency in recognition of the scale of the challenge we face.
“But it’s not something that we can tackle alone and that’s why I launched the Community Environment Fund: to empower local communities to take action to improve their local environment. Together, lots of small actions can help us make a big contribution to making our region cleaner, greener and more sustainable.
“There were some fantastic projects put forward and I’m excited to see the impact they have over the coming months and years.”
The successful Community Environment Fund projects support the following themes:
Climate change and resilience
Air quality and transport
Accessible green spaces, habitats and biodiversity
Waste and resources
Health and wellbeing
Carbon and environment literacy
Food and agriculture
Gideon Ben-Tovim, Chair of the Liverpool City Region Climate Partnership, established to act as an advisory body to the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, and of Nature Connected, said: “Our local action here can make a real difference to a global problem. We have seen over lockdown how much people care about their local environment, and how important it is to their lives.
“Applications to the Community Environment Fund have been breath-taking in their range and scope. As a city region we will be able to build on that enthusiasm and take action through these projects.”
Cllr Gill Wood, Deputy Portfolio Holder for Low Carbon and Renewable Energy, said: “It is very exciting to be at the point where we can put the money from the Community Environment Fund to work. These community projects can make a real and immediate difference to people’s lives. This activity on the ground all goes towards dealing with the challenge of climate emergency. I look forward to it having an impact on the wellbeing of the people who live here in our city region.”
Self-isolation is when we do not leave our home because we have or might have coronavirus (COVID-19). It helps stop us spreading the virus to other people.
We are all legally required to self-isolate for 10 days if we test positive got coronavirus or are told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace. We could be fined up to £10,000 if we do not self-isolate.
There are now 10 tips on how to self-isolate for 10 days on our website
Subjects covered include:
planning your food and shopping deliveries
medical contacts and advice;
first aid kit and pharmacy deliveries,
caring for others
looking after your physical and mental wellbeing
stopping the spread of the virus at home and cleaning plans for if someone tests positive