HOYLAKE BEACH

Wirral Council is consulting on how Hoylake Beach can be managed in the future. They want to understand what is important to people about the area, now and in the future, so that a plan can be developed.

Please have your say in the survey:

https://haveyoursay.wirral.gov.uk/hoylake-beach-information/survey_tools/hoylake-beach

The public consultation ends on Wednesday 10th August.

You can find out more about the process of creating a management plan and read through documents relating to Hoylake Beach here:
https://haveyoursay.wirral.gov.uk/hoylake-beach-information

This article is written by Cheshire Wildlife Trust and its local group Wirral Wildlife, using the guidance issued to Wirral Borough Council by Natural England, and with further advice on geomorphology, sediment accretion and estuarine habitats from coastal experts who know Wirral. Coastal change is natural; we are fortunate that here it is providing new habitat to help tackle the climate, environmental and wellbeing emergencies we face.

 

During the last ice age, Wirral was under a thick layer of ice. This gouged out the Dee Estuary and pressed down our part of the earth's crust. Since the ice melted about 10,000 years ago, the Dee Estuary has been slowly filling up with nutrient-rich sand and mud, known as sediment. The sediment comes mostly from the sea, by longshore drift along the North Wales coast. It is this accumulated sediment that makes the Wirral shores internationally important for nature conservation. It is full of worms, snails, crabs and other invertebrates. On these feed the thousands of birds which winter here, which would not be able to survive without this rich food.

 

The seabeds of the Dee and Mersey estuaries also store lots of carbon that has been absorbed over thousands of years, sealed underwater. If disturbed, this carbon is released, making our climate warmer and our seas more acidic. Readers will know about the effects of the climate emergency and current efforts to tackle this: we are part of nature, not separate from it. Salt marsh is one of the best habitats at taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, on a par with peatlands and woodlands, while vegetated sand dunes fix appreciable amounts. Bare sand fixes little carbon. (See Natural England report cited at end).

 

Sea levels have fluctuated widely since the last ice age and are currently rising as a result of increasing sea temperatures. Our piece of crust has been slowly coming up again since the weight of ice was removed, so the net sea level rise at Liverpool is currently about 5mm a year - which does not sound much until it is added up over a century and more. Currently sand accretion at Hoylake is faster than sea level rise, and the geomorphological report done by Royal Haskoning (published February 2022) expects this to continue for the next 50 years. Our coasts are dynamic places, always changing. For the last century many of our coasts have been "frozen" in place by coastal defences. Can and should this be continued?

 

To help answer this, the national government has put in place a Shoreline Management Plan (SMP), about which there were local public meetings in 2012. Rev. Paul Rooney, Head of Geography and Environmental Science at Liverpool Hope University tells us that there has been a "tectonic change" in knowledge of coastal processes in the last 20 years - but we still cannot accurately predict the future from the past.

 

So what about Hoylake? The SMP decision for North Wirral, made by national experts, is to "hold the line" i.e. maintain the existing hard defences for at least 50 years from when the plan was made. After that defences may be removed at Leasowe Bay and natural sand dunes encouraged to take over. Before the 19th century, there were sand dunes all the way from West Kirby to New Brighton. The SMP principle is to work with nature - but Liverpool Bay is not entirely natural, being affected by the canalisation of the Dee and Mersey and the dredging of the Liverpool Port approaches for shipping. (See Facebook page Hoylake beach – the Evidence). At Hoylake, the energy of the water and sediment supply are key. The Hoyle Lake, a former deep anchorage just offshore, is now full of sediment, so the sand brought by the sea is all coming towards Wirral. Hilbre and the East Hoyle Bank break some of the energy of the waves, tides and currents. The result is sand and a little mud is being deposited on Hoylake shore, raising its level to the point where the sea rarely reaches the promenade, and conditions are excellent for specialist plants. The colonisation by coastal plants is the result. Sand dunes are wonderful habitats for a suite of fascinating plants which we need to respect and which provide us with service by holding the sand together, so less blows inland onto the promenade. An on-going study of Hoylake shore by an expert professional botanist (Joshua Styles) has so far (by summer 2022) recorded 180 plant species, including twenty-four rare and unusual ones of national or regional significance. Most of the species are now those characteristic of sand dune rather than salt marsh. Natural England opinion (see guidance) is that at Hoylake the balance would be more towards sand dune than salt marsh, and certainly this is what the developing vegetation indicates.  This new sand dune habitat, known as embryo dune, is itself rare in the UK, where most coasts are eroding, and is very valuable in wildlife terms.  It has considerable protection under the legislation that governs internationally important wildlife sites (formerly EU Habitats Directive, now transposed into UK law through the Environment Act 2021). Spartina (Cord-grass) occupies much less than 5% of the vegetated area. Almost all the plant species present are native to the UK. This excellent collection has arrived naturally, because the shore provides the correct environment for their needs. This special and natural environment we now have on our shore is why every time the vegetation has been sprayed or scraped off, it returns.

In 2000, a report by Dr Alan Jemmett (then Dee Estuary Conservation Officer, now head of Merseyside Environmental Advisory Service) looked at the Hoylake foreshore and did a report to Wirral BC, which judged the continued removal of vegetation to be "unsustainable" on ecological and financial grounds. Just the current amount of sand arriving is equivalent to at least 11 large lorries daily. With money needed for other matters, surely we should embrace the natural opportunity that has developed on our coast.

At Parkgate, well up the Dee where there is less movement of waves, mostly mud was deposited, leading to permanent salt marsh. In contrast, Red Rocks Nature Reserve, round the corner from Hoylake shore, has been allowed to develop fairly naturally for the last twenty years. Here a complex of new salt marsh, reed-marsh and sand-dune line have formed and are still increasing. In these new habitats natterjack toads sing, rare moths breed and much other wildlife is flourishing. A survey this year by Wirral Amphibian and Reptile Group found that common and even natterjack toads are starting to move into the western end of the new Hoylake habitat. Rats and cord-grass are not major problems at Red Rocks. West Kirby beach by the Sailing Centre is kept clear of plants by mechanical methods.

 

The best comparison to Hoylake, because it likewise faces Liverpool Bay, is in Sefton, all the way from Birkdale to Marshside, where coastal sediment has formed wildlife-rich new habitats. We encourage you to walk along the Sefton shore and enjoy the wildlife. New vegetated habitats on Wirral’s northern shore will give more access to nature for people, access we know is good for mental and physical health. The wading birds and wildfowl will still be there, though it will be further to walk from the promenade to see them. There will be many more flowers, insects and birds on the new habitats near the promenade, at their best in spring and summer when more people visit.

North Wirral foreshore is internationally important for wintering birds, with many thousands there every year. How would development of salt marsh and sand dune affect them? A joint statement by the RSPB, BTO and CAWOS says:

“The ongoing changes at Hoylake will be beneficial to birds, offering more protected high-tide roosting sites and alternative feeding areas for waders, as well as a new environment for ground feeding finches, wagtails, and pipits. In contrast, reinstating an artificial beach will be detrimental to birds.” The wintering birds have limited areas to go to roost at high tide because of urban development round the Dee. Disturbance to roosting birds is one reason for recent declines in some of our wintering bird species, according to Natural England. We can help the roosting birds by keeping ourselves, our dogs and our horses from disturbing the birds at high tide in autumn and winter.

 

The previous agreement between Natural England and Wirral Borough Council on the beach management has finished. In 2019 Wirral Borough Council declared an Environmental and Climate Emergency, as have many other local and national bodies. In the last few years, new evidence on the effects of the weed-killer formerly used on the beach (glyphosate) has emerged. It has been shown to reduce invertebrate populations, including those in the beach sediments. These invertebrates are the food supply for the wintering birds. The guidance of the Government’s ecological advisor, Natural England, is now in favour of letting nature take its course (see their guidance to Wirral Borough Council). They do allow the possibility of creating a limited amenity beach, as at West Kirby, using mechanical means. There is certainly a need to sort the drainage from the promenade onto the beach, especially to find whose wrong connections are the source of the sewage-contaminated drainage. Draining roads, with all their dirt, onto a beach should not be acceptable in the 21st century!

 

Money is tight - is our money best used making the climate and environmental emergencies worse? Or could it be used to manage the natural sediments e.g. keeping easy access for RNLI.

 

Look ahead 50-100 years. Sea level will continue to rise. Dunes and saltmarsh would protect the sea wall. What would our grandchildren want us to do?

 

For all these reasons, we should allow nature to take its course on Hoylake shore. We are very lucky to have more coastal wildlife able to thrive in our peninsula. New coastal habitat is a rarity in the UK and we should celebrate it.

Our mission, as Cheshire Wildlife Trust, is to bring wildlife back. We want to see more and better-connected wild spaces and the pressures on the environment reduced, and we work to improve the resilience of nature and restore broken ecosystems. We also believe that people’s wellbeing and the economy relies on a healthy, natural environment. Coastal processes are changing the beach at Hoylake and increasing the diversity of wildlife found there. There needs to be more understanding of the coastal change, habitat development and the value that this brings, and we are in favour of further studies to help achieve this. Hoylake beach is designated for nature conservation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. As such, any management of the beach requires the written agreement of Natural England.  

 

Wirral Wildlife committee

Cheshire Wildlife Trust

 

Shoreline Management Plan - www.mycoastline.org.uk

Wirral Coastal Strategy - https://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents/s50014530/Appendix.pdf

 

Facebook group 'Hoylake Beach – the Evidence' - https://www.facebook.com/groups/353912892854904/

 

Royal Haskoning report and much other data - https://haveyoursay.wirral.gov.uk/hoylake-beach-information

Alan Jemmett's report -
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/report_for_wbc_on_wind_blown_san

 

Natural England Research Report NERR094 'Carbon Storage and Sequestration By Habitat: A Review of the Evidence' (second edition) -

http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/5419124441481216