James Walsh (@MancunianBirder)

“We need to alert people, especially the decision makers, to the true scale of the biodiversity emergency in Greater Manchester.

2021, the first year of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, should be the year that we start to understand and act on what we need to do to improve the environment.”

James Walsh, Greater Manchester Birding City Region (GMBCR) Project

At COP26 there is a greater emphasis on nature and the biodiversity emergency. It is time that Greater Manchester recognised this shift. We can’t even begin to understand what a world-leading Green City Region should look like until we recognise BOTH the climate emergency AND the biodiversity emergency, and the amount of extra resources and investment we require to start to address both emergencies.

The recently published Greater Manchester Bird Report 2012 provides compelling evidence for Greater Manchester to declare a biodiversity emergency, in the new United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030.

The Turtle Dove is already an extinct species in Greater Manchester, and there are many species on the brink.

Now that Greater Manchester has the ambition to be a world-leading Green City Region, we need to inform people about the biodiversity emergency at every opportunity.


I have highlighted from the Bird Report twenty five bird species of high level conservation concern, quotes from the report in italics and personal comments are in speech marks.

The species are Northern Pochard, Grey Partridge, Hen Harrier, Northern Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover, Eurasian Curlew, Cuckoo, Short-eared Owl, Swift, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Kestrel, Willow Tit, Skylark, Wood Warbler, Starling, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Whinchat, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Tree Pipit, Twite, Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting. Note that this isn’t a full list of the birds with declining populations.

1. NORTHERN POCHARD (Aythya ferina)

Climate change is thought to be the primary cause for the 55% decline in UK Wetlands and Estuary Bird Surveys between 1986/87 and 2011/12 (Holt et al 2013), with many now wintering closer to their breeding grounds. In early winter, the most apparent decline occurred at Chorlton Water Park where counts were down 63% compared to 2011.

“I recall a time in the 1990s when thousands of Northern Pochard were present on Chorlton Water Park in the winter, and as recently as 2007 I recorded two breeding pairs on small urban lakes in Altrincham, south Trafford. Now, any sighting is very noteworthy, and sightings of flocks of more than ten is a real cause for celebration.”

Drake Northern Pochard, Pomona, Salford Docklands

Northern Pochards, Chorlton Water Park

Northern Pochards on Salford Docklands

2. GREY PARTRIDGE (Perdix perdix)

“Grey Partridge actually had a reasonable year in 2012, however, the long-term trends for this species at a national and local level suggest population decline. My personal observation of this species is I have had just one sighting of this species in Greater Manchester in two years of ecological surveys cycling thousands of miles around the city region. And I have looked at a lot of fields.”

3. HEN HARRIER (Circus cyaneus)

Notwithstanding the bleak news regarding the Hen Harriers lack of breeding success in neighbouring Lancashire, and elsewhere in England, reported sightings were slightly up on the year 2011 and followed the usual pattern of one or two spring appearances with an autumn peak in October.

“It is telling that I have never seen a Hen Harrier in Greater Manchester, in 30+ years of birding. The magnificent Hen Harrier is the subject of a high-profile national campaign and Greater Manchester, with potentially quality breeding sites and wintering sites for this species, can play its’ part in the recovery of this amazing raptor. If we really look after the Hen Harriers’ habitats, we look after the Red Grouse too.”

4. NORTHERN LAPWING (Vanellus vanellus)

It is sobering to look back at the 2002 County Report and note that 6 sites had flocks of 500+ birds. Just 41% of our county’s Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) squares recorded Lapwings, compared with 39% last year – an insignificant increase after 3 years of decline. The national population index, derived from BBS counts, showed a continuation of the species’ relentless misfortunes and the North-West breeding population has now fallen 35% since the start of BBS in 1995.

“My main personal observations of this species are from Salford Quays, where I estimate the breeding population to be c20 pairs in the 1990s. In 2021 that was down to just one breeding pair, on the Manchester Ship Canal, just to the west of The Lowry, the venue for the Greater Manchester Green Summit 2021.

Dave Steel’s data on Northern Lapwings on the Salford mosses would give great insight into the species population changes.

Interestingly, this species can survive in industrial areas if given a chance, with adaptations such as green roofs. The Higginshaw Lane Industrial Estate in Royton seems to be one of the top autumn/winter sites for this species.”

5. LITTLE RINGED PLOVER (Charadrius dubius)

Breeding confirmed at nine sites fledging a total of ten young, probable at a further five sites and possible at a further eleven sites. These figures represent a second successive year of decline. There was however an increase in breeding at urban brownfield sites in Manchester with three pairs managing to fledge a total of eight young.

“This is another species that I have watched disappear from Salford Quays as a breeding species. I recall watching a pair of Little Ringed Plovers with three chicks on Middlewood Locks with Derek Richardson, GMEU Principal Ecologist, in 2011 and this site has now been developed. Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover, Skylark and Black Redstart are all birds that can benefit from appropriate use of brownfield sites and green roofs.”

6. EURASIAN CURLEW (Numenius arquata)

Levels of confirmed breeding declined for the second successive year.

“It is highly distressing to hear of this species’ national decline. Anyone who has ever heard this species’ highly emotive call knows how special this bird is.”

7. CUCKOO (Cuculus canorus)

The significant decline recorded on the BBS nationally was also felt in the county; with only two squares (3%) occupied representing a 50% decline from 2011.

“The familiar call of Spring and Summer is becoming a much rarer sound these days. 2021 was a year where I didn’t manage to record any Cuckoos in Greater Manchester at all, while in 2020 the only Cuckoo that I recorded was on the border with Lancashire.”

8. SHORT-EARED OWL (Asio flammeus)

Once again, breeding was not confirmed in the county, although an attempt was probably made on the Horwich Moors, but thought to have been disturbed by construction work.

“Although there were good numbers of Short-Eared Owls in Greater Manchester in the early part of the year, due to an influx, no breeding confirmed. My first memories of this species in Greater Manchester were in the urban Mersey Valley in the 1980s. Numbers that would be considered phenomenal these days were present at sites such as Chorlton Ees and Turn Moss.”

9. SWIFT (Apus apus)

Lack of coverage and effort in this post-atlas survey year saw an extremely poor breeding return… one can only hope that the situation is not as serious as it appears for this amber list species.

“We can’t just move swiftly on from the conversation about the biodiversity emergency. Reasons for the decline in Swift populations are likely to be complex, as with many of the summer migrant birds that face all sorts of challenges on their migrations to and from Africa, however, what we need to do with all the summer migrant birds is celebrate them when they do arrive in the Spring and give them a home for the Summer months.”

10. LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER (Dendrocopos minor)

The species maintains its tenuous foothold in the county but there were only 15 records from six sites during 2012.

“In March 2012, a drumming male on Dunham Massey, a traditional site. Is this species still present in this area ?”

11. KESTREL (Falco tinnunculus)

The loss of breeding sites, as well as hunting areas, may also be contributing to this species decline and the demolition of a mill in Oldham deprived one pair of its traditional nest site.

“At the Vernon Works Mill, High Barn Street, Royton, the pair of Kestrels looked to have just managed to fledge young prior to the old mill building being knocked down in 2021. This might be the case with other Oldham mills being demolished.”

12. WILLOW TIT (Poecile montanus)

This species continues to give cause for concern. 314 records, compared with 318 in 2011 and 358 in 2010. The west of the county remains an area of national importance for Willow Tits. The Rare Breeding Birds Panel has monitored the Willow Tit nationally since 2010. Greater Manchester Bird Recording Group sent an analysis of the county’s annual records to rbbp for inclusion in their database and publication in their report.

“In Greater Manchester we are in the business of saving the Willow Tit. It is up to us – and also Yorkshire – to save this bird from extinction.

Residents recently blessed the Willow Tit in Wigan the highest score in the “Perfect Ten Birds of Greater Manchester” public consultation survey as part of the virtual, online Manchester Festival of Nature 2021.

The Wigan Flashes – recently on Springwatch – potentially being designated an NNR – National Nature Reserve – can be positive for the Willow Tit, the official superstar bird of Greater Manchester.”

13. SKYLARK (Alauda arvensis)

“I have monitored Skylarks on Salford Docklands and have personally witnessed the population decline. In the 1990s they were plentiful, especially on North Wharf, the site of Media City. Pomona Docks then became the only site on the docklands where Skylarks held territory and attempted to breed. However, records have become scarcer. This species needs a Greater Manchester Action Plan where land-owners such as Peel can attempt to provide nesting habitat and green roofs for this amazing songster. The Skylark is the subject of “The Lark Ascending”, a quintessentially British piece of classical music and a favourite in the Classic FM Hall of Fame, that recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. The Skylark is a real indicator of the health of our green and pleasant lands.”

14. WOOD WARBLER (Phylloscopus sibilatrix)

This red-listed species has been the subject of several studies to try and understand the cause of its steep decline in recent decades in the UK. Whilst perhaps never more than a scarce bird in our lightly wooded county, let’s all hope that this really beautiful bird and distinctive songster can somehow confound our expectations and re-establish itself in our area real soon, even if just on a small scale.

“The recent singing Wood Warbler in Spring 2018 in Brookdale Park, just 3 miles to the north-east of Manchester city centre, was an amazing record and gave Manchester’s urban birders a real countryside experience as this species is more usually associated with areas such as the Peak District and mid-Wales.”

Wood Warbler, Brookdale Park, Manchester

15. STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris)

Breeding numbers in the country as a whole are falling and this fact is reflected in BBS returns with 57 squares providing sightings, and whilst the number of squares is the same as recorded in 2011, the percentage was lower, 80% compared to 86%.

“At the Green Summit 2021, a person from one of the stalls, when she discovered that I’m an ecologist, asked “where have all the birds gone from my garden?”, and this isn’t an unusual question. People who regularly watch their garden birds are sometimes scratching their heads, thinking “why am I seeing less Starlings and House Sparrows ?” Even our garden birds require conservation resources for monitoring purposes.”

16. SPOTTED FLYCATCHER (Muscicapa striata)

Breeding was only confirmed at one location in the county in 2012.

“A very scarce summer migrant. A bird I recall being much easier to see in my youth.”

17. PIED FLYCATCHER (Ficedula hypoleuca)

2012 was a very poor year for this species in the county, with no confirmed breeding and no records of any migrants during the late summer or autumn months for the first time in nine years.

“A very scarce summer migrant. This species is more associated with the Peak District and mid-Wales, but there is potential habitat for more Pied Flycatchers at higher altitude sites such as Healey Dell, Rochdale.”

18. REDSTART (Phoenicurus ochruros)

Of eight singing males, only two successfully attracted a mate but both did go on to breed successfully ; a good result for a species that continues to cling precariously onto its breeding status in the county.

“A scarce summer migrant. As with Pied Flycatcher, a bird that shares similar habitat, there is more potential habitat for this stunning species that could be utilised if the population manages to rise.”

19. WHINCHAT (Saxicola rubetra)

2012 saw one of the most significant breeding successes of recent years after a pair were confirmed to have bred in the east of the county.

“A scarce summer migrant. The Whinchat is, personally, my favourite bird in the UK. I think most birders would agree that the sight of a Whinchat, on migration at sites such as the mosslands, or on upland breeding habitat, is one that would make any birders’ day. What could Greater Manchester’s ecologists learn from the Whinchat project at Geltsdale, Cumbria ?”

Male Whinchat, Little Woolden Moss Lancashire Wildlife Trust nature reserve

Juvenile Whinchat, Pomona Docks, Salford Docklands

20. HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus)

This species is in decline nationally. In Greater Manchester its distribution remains fairly stable although total numbers may be less than previously.

“It is a pity that even the humble House Sparrow is a part of the Greater Manchester biodiversity emergency. However, this does give us a big opportunity to really start to look at the ecology of this popular garden bird in more detail.”

21. TREE SPARROW (Passer montanus)

There was a huge and disappointing drop in reports for this species of considerable conservation concern.

“If the House Sparrow is doing badly, it’s countryside cousin Tree Sparrow is faring even worse. In Asia Tree Sparrows can be seen in urban areas behaving like House Sparrows! However, in the UK the Tree Sparrow is generally only found in rural areas and it is one of a number of farmland birds whose populations are declining in the UK countryside.”

22. TREE PIPIT (Anthus trivialis)

It has now been three years since the species bred in the county and one can only remain optimistic for a return of this red list species as ideal breeding habitat still remains in the county.

“Despite 30+ years of birding in Greater Manchester, I have never been fortunate enough to witness this species doing its classic “parachute” display flight on breeding territory. I’m sure Dave Steel could tell us of days when species such as Tree Pipit, Whinchat, Stonechat, Yellow Wagtail, Turtle Dove, Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting all bred on the mosses in decent numbers.”

23. TWITE (Carduelis flavirostris)

Sadly, the number of records received for this species has now dropped to a level where it is no longer a necessity to summarise them, as they can all be mentioned individually. A total of 11 records, 7 of which were visible migration sightings on the Horwich Moors.

“A bird of the moors. I recently cycled up to Blackstone Edge, Rochdale, on a bit of a pilgrimage to pay homage to this subtle, pretty upland finch, the first time that I have managed to see this species in Greater Manchester. It was distressing to see this site knee-deep in “lockdown” litter. Luckily the Twite were in a compound area with a feeding station.”

24. YELLOWHAMMER (Emberiza citrinella)

It’s no wonder that the Yellowhammer might be wishing for a little bit of bread and no cheese when it’s got cereals for breakfast, cereals for lunch and cereals for tea! ok, so that’s a bit of artistic license in describing its dietary requirements. However, its fondness for grain is well-known and with modern farming practises being so ultra efficient in reducing the spillage available for winter stubble, whilst at the same time limiting weed growth and reducing invertebrate levels too, it perhaps explains why the yellowhammer has a restricted range and also declining numbers in our relatively built-up county.

“Once again, I would refer to Dave Steel’s amazing notes on the birds of the mosses to gain a fuller picture of this species population decline. This species would have been present on the mosslands in far greater numbers 50 years ago. It is another of the key farmland species that can encourage us towards a Greater Manchester Agricultural Plan, singing “A little bit of bread and no cheese…”

25. CORN BUNTING (Emberiza calandra)

Despite being red-listed and an original entrant in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan listing, its long-term decline has continued, albeit at a reduced rate more recently. Local extinctions across large sections of its former range in the UK have occurred. Are we about to see the same thing here ?

“It would seem that for the first year ever there are no singing or breeding Corn Buntings on the Salford mosses in 2021. This would be an absolute tragedy if it is proven to be the case. The “jangling keys” song of this farmland bird is one of the quintessential sounds of the mosses. This situation should jolt us all to action regarding the conservation of the mosslands and farmlands of Greater Manchester.”

Air Pollution Monitoring

Last December (2019) we placed a number of ‘diffusion tubes’ around Slattocks to monitor Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2).
These tubes only give an average reading over the time they are in place.

A diffusion Tube (arrowed) in place locally

See the results of this project by clicking here

We did this in conjunction with the British Lung Foundation (BLF). They are keen to raise awareness about the affects of air pollution on us all.

Now we’ve installed a more sophisticated air quality monitor – the Zephyr by Earthsense .

Gerard Skelly said:

“Living on a busy main road I think it’s so important that I’ve got access to the Green Belt for fresh air and exercise

” I want the Government to make tougher laws to reduce the levels of pollution”

“I’m very happy to ‘do my bit’ to help monitor air quality in the area”

Gordon Tilstone, Chair of TSJNF and Slattocks resident Gerard Skelly withthe Zephyr monitor installed behind them

Further information on the BLF’s work can be found here: British Lung Foundation

Simister Island – Upgrade

Highways England have started a consultation on a major redesign of the M66/62/60 Simister Island junction.

Click Here to go to the Consultation page

The text below is copied directly from the Highways England website:

Why we need this scheme

In March 2020, the Government’s second Road Investment Strategy included a commitment for Highways England to improve Simister Island Interchange between the M62, M60 and M66.

Simister Island Interchange is one of the busiest motorway junctions in the north-west used by around 90,000 vehicles each day. The junction struggles with such high volumes of traffic above what it was designed for, and as a result suffers from congestion and poor journey time reliability.

The project will improve junction 18 of the M60 and facilitate smoother flows of traffic along the connecting motorways, contributing to more reliable and safer journeys into and around Greater Manchester.


The main aims of the scheme are:

  • Improve the journey experience for users of this section of network by:
    • reducing peak congestion and faster average speeds
    • reducing journey times
    • delivering more reliable journey times
  • Provide an option which is safe for all road users
  • Minimise the impact of the project on the surrounding environment including within Noise Important Areas and Air Quality Management Areas
  • Facilitate future economic growth across the Greater Manchester area and support delivery of proposed development sites close to the M60 and M66

Rochdale Rail Corridor Strategy

Rochdale Council have published (May 2020) the “Rochdale Rail Corridor Strategy” (RRCS).

The RRCS includes a proposal for a new rail station at Slattocks along with developments around current stations along the Calder Valley line at Castleton, Rochdale, Smithy Bridge and Littleborough.

It also mentions linking the East Lancs Railway (ELR) to the mainline at Castleton.
The ELR is the heritage ‘steam’ line that currently runs from Heywood to Rawtenstall.

Click this link to see the Rochdale_Corridor_Strategy.pdf

The document shows 400 and 800 metre perimeters around the rail stations but fails to explain what these mean.

The Rail Strategy doesn’t mention the GMSF
or the Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) Strategy 2040

When lockdown conditions are eased we’ll meet with our local Councillors & MPs about the Rail Strategy and other issues affecting the area to try to convince them that development via a Brownfield First policy is the best way to properly protect the Green Belt.

What do you think?

Leave your comment in the box below

Air Quality Monitoring

You may remember we put up Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) monitoring tubes around the area in November last year (2019).
NO2 is one of the air-borne pollutants in vehicle emissions and is known to cause health problems

Exposure to high pollution episodes can cause immediate harm to everyone by:
– Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
– Wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and breathing difficulties
– Worsening of existing lung and heart problems, such as asthma.
As the heart, lungs and blood cells pump oxygen to every part of the body, they also come into contact and carry along toxic pollutants like NO2 and other noxious air-borne particulates.
The body must therefore work harder to supply oxygen and overcome the effects of these chemicals, causing the above symptoms.

This is where the tubes were located

And the results we got were:

1 40.85
2 37.76
3 25.75
4 32.58
5 33.56

According current regulations the exposure limit to NO2 is 40 ug/m3 (micrograms per metre cubed).

So one result is over the recommended limit

Not surprisingly, the monitor tube at St Johns School gave the lowest result, given that it’s furthest away from traffic on the main road.

Whilst the results are somewhat surprising we will soon be able to get a more accurate result using a more sophisticated air quality monitor, pictured below, which ‘tests’ for a wider range of substances.
The British Lung Foundation (BLF) who are supplying the new monitor are also keen to do further work with us around the health & clean air issues.

. Image:

Further information on air quality and Nitrogen Dioxide monitoring can be found at these links:
Air Quality Expert Group: Nitrogen Dioxide in the United Kingdom – Summary
Air Quality and You

The Lockdown & GMSF low down

Hello to everyone hope you’re all fit & well and staying safe.

We’re continuing to develop our TSJ neighbourhood plan for the area and have applied for grant funding so we can engage a planning consultant to help pull the plan together.

We will soon be out and about again putting up signs and banners to remind people how precious the green belt is to all of us.
Please let us know if you’d like one of the signs on your property. Just email

We are doing all this in preparation
for the next GMSF consultation
which will probably be in Autumn this year.

However, GM Mayor Andy Burnham has said that due to COVID-19 the plan will now be amended.
This is what he’s said in a recent press conference (3rd June 2020) about the GMSF plan:

“It’s being reviewed…. The economy is going to face a challenging period and that will have an implication for the GMSF, particularly its five year delivery plan. Equally, there may be more opportunity for houses to be built in areas where the high street could be hit by the downturn…”

On the face of it, this looks like good news in terms of protecting Green Belt from development, but it’s far from clear that it actually means that.

Experts give their verdict on the rewritten GMSF

At the recent Breathing Space conference in Manchester, organised by the Save Greater Manchester’s Greenbelt (SGMGB) group, no one was left in any doubt that the GMSF rewrite does not go anywhere far enough in taking into account many people’s concerns, particularly about the Greenbelt.

Andy Burnham and the ten local Councils comprising the Greater Manchester Combined Authorities (GMCA) are not meeting residents’ expectations – in protecting Greenbelt; having a ‘Brownfield First’ policy; and in truly taking on-board people’s concerns about the future on their communities.

Despite the glossy brochure rhetoric, they don’t seem to be listening to what people have said in response to the first nor second consultation.

So the Greenbelt Groups across Manchester have tried to emphasise where Andy and his team, and the system they’re working with, have gone wrong and can really make a positive difference.

The Breathing Space conference saw presentations on: Clean air; Public participation in planning; Planning and land speculators; and What makes a viable neighbourhood.

Whilst all the experts gave excellent presentations, we were particularly impressed by Dr Quintin Bradley’s presentation ‘Planning and land speculators’. Dr Bradley powerfully highlighted how the current planning system is stacked against ordinary people and the local councils in favour of the developers:

‘a planning regime intended to increase the supply of housing has actually doubled the length of time taken to build houses, created a new market in land speculation, incentivised housebuilders not to build, and forced local authorities to allocate more than twice as much land as actually needed for housing’.

Some of the headlines from the presentations are:

  • Bring forward the day when we can all breathe clean air with healthy lungs
    (Sue Huyton – British Lung Foundation)
  • 152 roads in GM are above legal air pollution levels and motorways are not included in this.
  • 1200 early deaths have been attributed to poor air quality in GM.
  • Poor air quality costs GMCA £1 billion per annum due to health issues.
  • Air pollution increases by 112% next to a construction site for houses.
  • Public participation in planning: smoke, mirrors and charades? (Dr Paul O’Hare – MMU)
  • How planners approach public participation, and how they are getting it wrong
  • Help! The town planning system has been captured by land speculators: the five year land supply and the Housing Delivery Test (Dr Quintin Bradley – Leeds Beckett University)
  • What was once known as land banking has now been renamed as a ‘housing supply pipeline’.
  • A whole new middle industry has now emerged called site promotion which gets a landowner outline planning on greenbelt. The promoter takes a % fee for land sale with planning permission. Many never turn into new homes.
  • Agricultural land worth £25K per hectare will typically increase in value to £5.6M per hectare once residential planning permission is granted.
  • Housebuilders deliberately restrict build-out rates in order to starve the market of new houses so that land prices inflate and new house prices remain high.
  • Over 1 million homes given detailed planning permission over the 11 year period to 2017 were never actually built.
  • Housing developers are now taking twice as long to produce completions to market: from 2 years to 4.
  • 90 % of planning applications for housing get approved, and this includes appeals.
  • Most appeals are now won by housing developers disproving that a local council hasn’t got a 5 year supply of land which is manipulated to suit in some cases.
  • Vital and Viable Neighbourhoods
    (Dr Steve Millington & Professor Cathy Parker – Institute of Place Management)
  • Local markets are often an essential component of successful town centres, encouraging local enterprise.
  • People like pedestrianisation and car-free zones.
  • Town centres need to be mixed use (not just retail) with an evening economy.
  • Harpurhey is seen as a model of successful co-location of key public amenities with retail and community-led partnerships.

Both the Thornham St John’s Neighbourhood Forum and SOS-Save Our Slattocks Greenbelt Group will take what we’ve learned from the conference and continue to campaign to save the Greenbelt and oppose inappropriate development

Landowners & Developers plans for the local Greenbelt

Many Landowners and Developers sent in comments to the second GMSF Consultation [Jan-March 2019]

Those relating directly to the Thornham St John’s Neighbourhood Area and others located close to our community are listed below.

It should be stressed that these are just proposals, and
no planning applications relating to them have been lodged at the time of writing.

Below are links to each of these proposals: