WIRRAL WAY WIDENING SCHEME
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There has been some concern from members of the public about the vegetation removed as part of the Wirral Way Widening Scheme. Jo Hanik, Senior Ranger, has sent this response.
I spent a lot of time identifying the sections that could be widened and I'm really pleased with the work as I know that we'll see more diversity along the Wirral Way as a result of the widening scheme.
We've seen a massive increase in visitors to the park and we're also addressing the issues of flooding and erosion, as well as preparing for the park to be part of the England Coast Path.
At a meeting (June 2020) with Wirral’s Senior Transportation Planning Officer and Wirral’s Road Safety Manager to discuss the complaints received regarding the increase in people cycling on the Wirral Way, it was decided that the most effective and direct solution was to widen sections of the Wirral Way to make it safer and to ensure that all users had good visibility of each other. There are many access points along the Wirral Way but few are able to cater for maintenance or emergency vehicles. Widening the pedestrian/cycle route at these locations will allow maintenance and emergency vehicles to access more of the park. Widening the remaining narrow sections of the Wirral Way, improving access points and ensuring safety for visitors at a time when an increasing number of people are also using the park more as a green transport route, walking and cycling to work, or accessing transport hubs at West Kirby, Heswall and Hooton is essential.
Although not part of the scope of the Wirral Way Widening Scheme it is hoped that there will be further investment in this valuable asset and that could include installation of signage and purchase of specialist equipment to ensure good on-going management. The Wirral Way is part of the National Cycle Network. The Department for Transport Local Transport Note 1/20 provides information on ‘Cycle Infrastructure Design’ and we aim to meet the core design principals of a safe shared route and that includes path widening.
Only woody vegetation that was either growing between the path and the ditch, within the ditch or immediately next to the ditch on the embankments has been removed. We’ve always, and regularly, undertaken this type of work to ensure access to the ditches for maintenance but it’s just more noticeable when we do it in longer sections and over a longer length of the park. We were aware that clearing the longer sections would be more noticeable and perhaps cause some concerns so we delivered the attached leaflet to all adjacent homeowners and informed people of the project on social media and in the Wirral View. It also featured in West Kirby Today, Heswall News and the Wirral Globe.
We’ve previously undertaken widening along the Wirral Way (part of the National Cycle Network) and installed sustainable drainage and these areas today are safe for all users to enjoy. Wildflowers grow on the embankments that were previously heavily shaded and we’ve been better able to manage hedgerows and verges enhancing the value of the park as a wildlife corridor. The ditches will be re dug and will be able to provide better drainage as we are expecting to have more prolonged and heavy periods of rainfall due to climate change. The park is losing species diversity where woody vegetation develops through natural succession and most of our management is based on stopping the process to preserve a mosaic of habitat types. Along the Wirral Way we’ve lost species due to shading and opening up the path edges will promote wildflower growth and along the embankments we hope to see the return of Yellow Meadow Ants and a shrub layer of plant species.
The northernmost section of the park lost its Site of Biological Importance (Local Wildlife Site) status some years ago specifically because of the sycamore growth. Our aim is to see this restored with better management and selected removal of woody species alongside tree planting and reinforcing hedgerows with species suitable for foraging.
Next year is the 50th anniversary of the official opening of Wirral Country Park. It has changed and adapted over the years to meet demand and in 2020 over half a million visitors came to the Thurstaston Centre area to enjoy the park and its facilities. As a Green Flag Award winning park, and a Natural England designated Country Park, we are obliged to make it welcoming, safe and secure for all users and I do sincerely believe that we are achieving this alongside increasing biodiversity and managing for climate change.
I undertook an Environmental Impact Assessment prior to the scheme starting with personal knowledge of the site alongside previous site surveys and species records, drainage and consultation. We wouldn’t normally undertake such work over so much of the park at the same time but we only have a brief period prior to the bird nesting season when woody vegetation can be cleared.
The path surfacing will be a locally produced recycled material and we have permission to use this material from the Environment Agency. It won’t be tarmac and will be preferred by the existing lime-loving plants that grow along the old trackbed. Sustainable drainage is to manage the increase in flood risk. One of the shallow drains alongside the path will be re-dug and a permeable pipe installed. It will then be grassed over (culverted) allowing the path to be widened – up to a maximum of one metre. The pipe will be able to hold rainwater that has drained from the path and it will gradually percolate through the ground. The ditch on the other side of the path will remain open and deepened in places and, where it is wide enough, will be a freshwater habitat – although the substrate (clinker and limestone) used for the old railway line means that the open drains rarely hold water for any time. A section of open ditch in Lower Heswall does retain water, has provided a spawning site for amphibians, and this will be retained.
At one section of the path widening the pipe will have to remain open as the flood assessment undertaken showed possible run off from an adjacent Public Right of Way. We will be creating a new freshwater habitat here and installing an ‘amphibian trap’ so that these and small mammals don’t end up in the culvert.
Stakeholder engagement included providing details of the scheme to:
Wirral Footpaths and Open Spaces Preservation Society
Sustrans (National Cycle Network)
Adjacent Property Owners
The Lead Local Flood Authority (Wirral Council Flood and Risk Officers)
Wirral Council Paths Officer (authority lead for the England Coast Path)
Wirral Council Strategic Transport Infrastructure - Lead Commissioner
Wirral Council Senior Transportation Planning Officer
Local Councillors for Thurstaston and West Kirby Ward and Heswall Ward
Councillor Liz Grey Chair of Wirral’s Environment, Climate Emergency and Transport Committee