Body snatchers and dead men's fingers lurk in the Forest this Halloween...

24 October 2016
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Dead Mens Fingers by Lutz Koch
As Halloween approaches, our woodlands fill with strange, other worldly lifeforms. Neither plant nor animal, some appear almost supernatural. Tom Ferguson tells the tale of some of the scary fungi you may encounter in the woods of the Mersey Forest...

Fungi don't possess chlorophyll so unlike green plants they can't produce their own food. Instead they secrete enzymes which liquify their food source and in the process cause rot and decay. In woodlands they feed mainly on leaves and wood but that is not all. And some of what is going on is really unpleasant!


The body snatcher



It's not easy to find but occasionally you can come across a small orange club fungus with a pitted surface up to 5cm high (above). If you were to carefully dig down under the fungus you would find it is attached to the pupa or larva of a butterfly or moth.


The insect has been attacked by the fungus which mummifies it, keeping it alive long enough to feed on its body. Once the fungus has built up sufficient energy it bursts out of the insect's body to produce the club which will generate more spores. The Scarlet Caterpillar Fungus is like something out of science fiction except it's for real and living somewhere near you!


Dead men's fingers 



Around the base of old and rotting tree stumps you may come across groups of black and contorted small stumpy fungi (above and top). These are Dead Man's Fingers. It's as if rotting hands are trying to escape from the soil where they have been buried.


Weeping Widows



Perhaps nearby you'll find a collection of mournful Weeping Widows (above). These are toadstools with dark brown gills. Black watery droplets collect on the gills like tears. 


Jelly, butter or brains?




Dead wood and twigs are usually good hunting grounds for fungi. Some of these are jelly like with lots of folds and contortions bursting out of the wood. A bright yellow one is the Yellow Brain Fungus and a darker black species is Black Witches Butter (both above).


Ghostly lights

Sometimes people report strange pale green-blue glowing lights in the woods. A cold, supernatural fire - thought to be ghosts or faeries, and often called 'foxfire'. In reality it's down to a phenomenon where some fungi glow in the dark.


The most frequent reports of glowing wood relate to honey fungus. It seems that the fungal light results when a chemical rich in phosphorus combines with oxygen in the presence of an enzyme. 


The kingdom of the fungi contains all sorts of fascinating things. Take a wander through your local woodland and check them out - if you dare... 


Images: Thanks to Lutz Koch, Vik Nanda, gailhampshire, David Evans

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New plan for greener Northwich includes street trees, green walls and rain gardens

05 October 2016
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Pocket Park
Planting new trees and installing green walls could help attract investment, increase spending in shops and bring more visitors to the town, according to a new report. It also calls for raising the profile of Northwich woodlands through a better link to the town centre and celebratory events.

The Green Infrastructure Plan, created by The Mersey Forest on behalf of the Northwich Business Improvement District (BID), identifies locations around the town that could benefit from being greener. These include planting street trees along Chester Way, creating a 'boulevard effect' and installing green, living walls and roofs on buildings. The report makes the case that increasing 'green infrastructure' around the town centre can increase tourism, economic growth and land values while also reducing flooding and boosting health and wellbeing.


Research shows that the type of improvements outlined in the report can boost tourism and retail sales. One US study* found that consumers are willing to spend more (or pay a premium) on products, visit more frequently, or travel farther to shop in areas with attractive landscaping, good tree cover, or green streets.


One project proposed by the report – the pocket park opposite the Bull Ring in the town centre – has already been completed. The attractively landscaped space features crafted timber benches and planters and was created by Groundwork with funding secured by the BID and Chester West and Cheshire Council.


New 'rain gardens' (sustainable drainage systems) would use specially designed landscapes planted with trees to help improve water flow and reduce risk of flooding at key locations.


Northwich BID Manager, Jane Hough, is fully behind the plan and believes it would add a new dimension to the town.


"All of the elements outlined in the plan sound brilliant and would really transform the look and feel of Northwich for the better.

"As outlined by the Mersey Forest, increasing green infrastructure here in Northwich could potentially have so many positive impacts such as economic growth and an increase in tourism which would benefit the town's businesses and retailers."


Paul Nolan, Director, The Mersey Forest commented:

"A greener town centre really can help to give Northwich an edge over other retail destinations, as well as having other environmental benefits such as reducing flood risk. Green infrastructure is a vital element of every town and Northwich BID are to be congratulated for making it a priority."


The report also calls for new green routes to railway stations and to Northwich woodlands, and an information campaign that would promote the links between the town centre, local businesses and Northwich's green assets to help attract visitors.


Northwich BID will now aim to work with partners including Groundwork, The Mersey Forest and Chester West & Cheshire Council to secure funding for priority elements of the Plan.

* Wolf, K.L. 2013. The Urban Forest. Communities & Banking 24 (2): 25–27.

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Victoria Park woodland spruced up thanks to local company

27 September 2016
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P7270015 - Copy
Visitors to Victoria Park in Widnes can now enjoy a stroll round a revamped woodland trail, thanks to funding from local chemicals manufacturer INOVYN.

Local community group Victoria Park Environment Team (VPET) have been working with Halton Borough Council to manage the wooded areas of the park. This new funding has enabled the group to give the woodland glades a makeover, installing new features for visitors – both of the human and animal variety.


New seating and information panels have been installed along the woodland trail, and wildflowers and bulbs planted to bring colour to beneath the tree canopy. Bird and squirrel feeding stations and a bug hotel aim to attract more biodiversity within the site.


The work has been possible thanks to a £3600 from INOVYN, given as part of the Landfill Communities Fund in partnership with The Mersey Forest.


Janet Ward from INOVYN, commented


"VPET's enthusiastic volunteers have done a great job of making these improvements to Victoria Park. We hope more local residents explore and enjoy these woodlands on their doorsteps."

Hard working volunteers from VPET have been improving the woodland since 2000, including planting new trees, installing wooden sculptures, laying a bark path and creating features such as a bat hibernaculum.


Steph Davies, VPET said


"We have a regular group of dedicated volunteers who give up their time to help with many different projects around the park, the woodland area is a great wildlife haven - now made better through feeding stations which we will keep well stocked."


The funding has also allowed the group to buy their own grounds maintenance equipment to help keep the woodland healthy and accessible.

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It's time to play out

23 August 2016
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Children taking part in Forest School
Creating a movement for natural play and learning in urban Liverpool and beyond.

On two windy days in February something unusual happened at St Vincent De Paul Catholic Primary School in the centre of Liverpool. Almost overnight, 200 trees appeared in the school grounds. The inner city school had got its own piece of forest.


The school, tucked between the bars of the Ropewalks and the hipster creative businesses of the Baltic Triangle is about as urban as it gets. So it's a pretty big deal when a crowd of parents, children and staff give up their time to plant a woodland, bringing nature into the school environment.

The marathon planting sessions were just one small part of a project by The Mersey Forest, funded by Smurfit Kappa Foundation and the Ernest Cook Trust which is aiming to embed a culture of natural play and learning in Merseyside schools. It's in response to studies like that done by the National Trust in 2014 which found that most children play outside for less than an hour a day, and the public health implications of inactive children turning into obese sedentary adults. With experts now claiming 'sitting is the new smoking', restoring active play outdoors is becoming urgent.


Read the full article on

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Health chiefs dig in to show their support!

19 August 2016
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Health chiefs dig in to show their support
On Thursday, 18th August, senior leaders at the NHS Foundation Trusts and the Council showed their support for the Health for Life programme at the Countess of Chester Country Park by joining in one of the popular weekly Nature4Health sessions.


The park now offers weekly health walks and conservation activities to everyone, from residents, hospital staff to patients and visitors, encouraging us all to get fit and healthy in the great outdoors, with sessions taking place on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and lunchtimes.


Alistair Cook, Health for Life Project Officer, said

"The Countess of Chester Country Park has a fantastic setting that provides a haven of green space for everybody. Our regular sessions are on Tuesdays and Thursdays but I'll happily look at other dates and times to suit demand. So don't sit about - get in touch and come and enjoy nature for yourself."


Spending time in nature and doing activities, such as conservation activities are not only fun and great ways to socialise, they are also really beneficial for physical and mental health, as more and more research is proving.


Alan Carter, Director of Portfolio Management at the Land Trust said


"This is a great demonstration of a positive partnership working together to help improve people's health and wellbeing."


• Green Gym activities take place every Tuesday and Thursday 10.30am – 12.30pm
• Health walks take place every Tuesday and Thursday at 1.30pm
• All groups meet at the Countess of Chester Country Park car park off Countess Way.


For more information see here.


The project is part-funded by Nature4Health – a three-year project funded by The Big Lottery's 'Reaching Communities' programme that aims to redress health inequalities and is co-ordinated by The Mersey Forest. The aim is to support 12 new people each week through their chosen 12-week beginners' activity programme and throughout the programme, participants will be monitored with results feeding into a study to hopefully demonstrate how being more active and spending time outdoors can help people's health and wellbeing, such as contributing towards stress reduction, mental illnesses, lower back pain, cardiovascular illnesses and obesity among others.

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