Our Patch, with SJ Jarman

By on Monday, July 1, 2013

Prescot Online warmly welcomes SJ Jarman for the first of a regular column-cum-nature-diary about the beauties of “our patch.”

I sometimes can’t believe how lucky we are around Prescot to have so many green places to access for free. We have many picturesque (and some fairly unkempt) parks and open areas all around us.


As someone who has always enjoyed nature, I find it amazing that some of our most heavily built-up areas share a border with some of our wildest places. I love the accessibility that gives us to the natural world, and I love nothing more than to watch my children learn about our patch.

This week I’ve been walking at Whiston Woods (Cumber Lane, Whiston, pictured).

As the very late spring submits to the balmier days of summer, the grasses are in full bloom. Not the best time for allergy sufferers, but a wild adventure for my son, as he and our dog run wild through the grass which towers over the pair of them. I’m reminded of a horror film, where the protagonist is running from an unseen monster and only the violent shaking of the stems gives an indication of what is lurking within.

View Larger Map

The good news for nature lovers is that all this grass gives fantastic cover for our wildlife, and toddlers and dogs set them up for us to see! Much of the time as I am saddled with pram, lead, drinks, snacks, coats and hats which have been discarded in favour of exploring unencumbered, I have no binoculars, so a tempting glimpse of a rodent moving in the distance, cannot be identified; a quick-flying brown bird remains just a brown bird.

There are, however, many times when I’m given an unmistakable flash of plumage or a call from the undergrowth which leads to a wonderful wildlife encounter. At Whiston Woods alone, I have identified 63 species of bird, and six species of mammal, and I’m trying to upskill myself to be able to identify more of our insect, tree and plant species.

The start of the week was great. As we walked alongside the hedgerow, I saw what I have filed in my brain as a ‘mini jay,’ a fantastically brightly coloured bullfinch. If people say to me that birds in this country are dull, I always show them a picture of one of these guys. They are so secretive; yet when you happen across them they seem to brazenly flit about as if to say, “Oh well, you’ve spotted me now – I’d might as well show off.”

I didn’t get much chance to watch as my charges had charged off, but it was a delight to behold, and I would have liked to stay a while to see if there was another playing out, too.

Wednesday morning was warm and overcast, with both sun and showers threatening equally to make an appearance. Within a minute or two of arriving I was watching a male kestrel quartering the area, and very quickly he had picked a spot to hover over.

As he got lower and lower to the ground, never removing his eyes from his quarry, I got a really good view of his rusty back and grey wing tips, a very attractive looking bird, and a lean mean killing machine to boot.

On his first attempt, he grabbed something small and furry and took it to a nearby lamppost. This surprised me; I am familiar with this bird, and I am fairly sure he is supporting a nest somewhere, and have seen him hunting a lot recently. He always flies in the same direction with his prey, but today he must have been hungry, and stayed for several minutes eating his morsel, with a very keen eye on us. It’s something I’ve never witnessed before, and I felt very privileged to see it “on our doorstep,” especially as I have recently learned that kestrels (which were a very common bird in my youth) have seen a rapid decline over the past decade.

Whiston_Woods_moth_caterpillars_cocoonOver the past couple of weeks I’ve seen a young hawthorn tree become more and more bound up in a webbing of silk. Walking in boots over the weekend, I braved the long grass and had a peek.

Whiston_Woods_silk_web_mothsThe fine strands are not the labour of spiders but of hawthorn moth caterpillars, and there are absolutely hundreds of them (pictured). I don’t know why this particular hawthorn should be favoured in this way, as the surrounding trees appear unaffected, so I can only assume that just as we humans enjoy our baby vegetables, this tender sapling is haute cuisine for these juvenile moths.

My son was amazed to see all the chrysalises “just like in [his] book,” and I had to distract him away before podgy fingers filled pockets with them!

These warm days are a perfect opportunity to get out and see what is in our backyard. The reason these wild spaces exist is to allow our children to have these experiences, for as mundane as a walk may be to the jaded amongst us, the whole world and infinite escapades are just waiting for our youngsters to discover.

Whilst I’m excited that my children are allowed a voyage of discovery into the urban wilderness, it’s also an essential part of their education. If we don’t inspire the naturalists and conservationists of the future, there will be no one to care about these habitats, a tragedy not only for the species who rely on them for survival, but for future generations of our own species.


SJ, also known as Sarah and Sarah-Jane, held her dream job as a breastfeeding peer support worker until becoming a full-time mum of three. She still volunteers at Whiston Hospital.

In her spare time, SJ loves to read, and play cello with the Knowsley Youth Orchestra. She confesses to being a secret singer ever since hubby Trev bought her SingStar.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *