More than 200 species of flora identified at beach that could be partly cleared

More than 200 species of flora have been identified at a beach where Wirral Council is looking to part clear of vegetation, according to a botanist studying it.

Josh Styles has been analysing the beach for several years carrying his first survey in February 2020. This took place several months after the local authority decided to stop using the weedkiller glyphosate on it and later paused beach management.

This found 24 species but more than three years later, Mr Styles said he has found 236 species of plant on the beach. He said there was no indication this was stopping and he expects the number to increase further.

The beach is currently at the centre of a divisive issue over its future with differing opinions on how it should be managed into the future.

Two public consultations have been carried out by Wirral Council, both of which have shown strong support for clearing at least some of it, but the area is heavily protected by both international and UK environmental law.

Some of the species of flora recorded at Hoylake beach

In an attempt to move towards getting a future beach management plan agreed and break years of deadlock, a majority of councillors voted this week to take to Natural England a plan to clear around three hectares of the beach. Natural England is a government advisory and regulatory body on the environment.

Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat councillors who voted in support said this decision was only fair to those who had called for an amenity beach to be restored and described the Green Party, who voted against, as represented by the extremes of politics.

The local authority face a challenge in getting the plans approved as Natural England has already stated it would not support them due to the amount of vegetation that it is proposed would be removed. However, it did say it was open to working with the local authority going forward.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in England has also criticised the council calling the second option “more damaging and unjustified”. It also said clearing vegetation could also lead to more sand being blown into Hoylake though Wirral Council officers said they do not expect this to be a significant increase.

In a response to the council in March, Natural England said it was open to changes on another option not supported by a recent consultation that would see less land cleared but a focus of access for the RNLI.

These proposals would include moving any protected plant species, having a code of conduct for the area, keeping as much sediment from being removed as well as more information being provided on the RNLI’s requirements in the area.

Though some have celebrated the decision as a positive step forward, Mr Styles said, “It’s a huge sad waste of money in a very privileged part of the borough when people at the moment need help,” adding, “It’s massively sad because of the globally significant wildlife that is there.”

While he said he partly understood why the council had gone ahead with the option, he added, “It will be a massive grotesque waste of public money. They have done something that is unviable.” He also raised concerns about whether cleared 10 metre strips included in the plans could make accessibility worse as sand erosion will be worse in those areas.

He said, “I think there are a lot of issues for Natural England to consider. I do not think the response that said we wouldn’t support the option would have been without a great deal of consideration,” arguing “the beach has the highest level of legal protection that any land could receive.”

Jane Turner at Hoylake beach in 2021. Credit www.fotopiaimages.com

These concerns are also echoed by Jane Turner who set up a Facebook evidence page on the issue. She is also the chair of Wirral’s Green Party which voted against the plans to clear three hectares of the beach.

She argued the council decision was “smoke and mirrors,” adding, “I think it’s disingenuous to pretend that Natural England are going to say ‘yeah you can have it all because you voted’.”

She added, “They’re stuck in a difficult place and I think they’re trying to find a way out of it where it looks like it’s not their fault.”

Previously Labour and Green councillors voted in 2022 to put to Natural England two options that would see a small area from Trinity Road to the lifeboat station cleared as well as a fully natural beach with increased access to the sand beyond with boardwalks.

Ms Turner said she believed both options were considered to be more likely to be approved by Natural England.

She thinks the three hectare proposal put forward by the local authority could make things worse if Natural England rejects the plans again, adding, “There are people celebrating that they think they’ve won and I think it’s going to make it worse. The council should have been up front about what is possible and what isn’t possible rather than pretending they can do stuff that they can’t.”

In a press release, Wirral Council said, “Members agreed that officers should now continue to work with Natural England on developing a new beach management plan that approximates as closely as possible to the ‘amenity beach’ proposal.

“The life-saving operations of the RNLI and their ability to continue to launch and operate from the Hoylake foreshore was a central consideration in the development of both proposals that were on the table.

“The ‘amenity beach’ option proposes the removal of as much of the vegetation that might be permitted by Natural England in order to restore and retain some amenity space at the beach and ensure that safe access can be maintained for the RNLI for their life-saving operations.”

Image: Botanist, Josh Styles. Credit: www.fotopiaimages.com

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