Reg Charity No. 702484
The A.W. Boyd Memorial Observatory
Many of you will know that CAWOS took over the running of the Observatory from Manchester Ornithological Society. The Observatory overlooks the National Nature Reserve at Rostherne Mere, managed by Natural England, with whom the agreement to run the Observatory was made, starting in 1998.
Not all members will be familiar with Rostherne and this article seeks to tell you a little about it and to explain how you can gain access. The A.W. Boyd Observatory has commanding views across Rostherne Mere and offers really good facilities. The Observatory is a rather non-twitcher place but good birds are still turned up. The reserve is noted for its water bird populations notably in winter, but woodland species can always be seen and it is these that can be drawn closer, of course. In order to help, a feeding station brings in the local finches, tits and Nuthatch. Weekends see most visitors, and the voluntary wardens are frequently present then, but during the week (including most Wednesday mornings when wardens may be there) it is best to phone ahead. Day permits are available for £1 per person. The place is perfect and so peaceful but still needs to be appreciated by more of us. Visitors have long been welcome too, when the voluntary wardens are available on Sunday mornings from 9.00am onwards, when it is possible to join accompanied walks to parts of the National Nature Reserve, courtesy of Natural England. Again, day permits are available at £1 per person. Wellingtons essential, parking is available in the village car park opposite Egerton Hall. Please avoid monthly 'duck count' days. Casual visitors can go at times outside of these 'manned' hours, but you will need to make contact first (see below). Any societies that might be interested in seeing Rostherne are also welcome. We need help to make ends meet and hence by generating greater use - everyone can help.
Map Reference: SJ743836 (Car park opposite Egerton Hall)
Link to Rostherne Mere website.
Click link to download pdf file of Rostherne Mere map.
The following paragraphs are a short guide to the place and will delve more deeply into the history of Rostherne and then take you through each of the birdwatching seasons.
Where and what is Rostherne?
The reserve lies just north of Rostherne village between Altrincham and Knutsford. It comprises 193 acres (78.1 hectares) of lake, woodland and willow beds presented to the then Nature Conservancy by the executors of the last Lord Egerton of Tatton in 1961, together with 177 acres (71.6 hectares) of farmland around the Mere which are included by agreement with the tenant farmers. Like other meres in north Cheshire, Rostherne was formed partly by the subsidence of deep-lying salt strata; it is deep and rarely freezes over, which is why it is attractive to waterfowl. Unlike many other meres, it is undisturbed by public recreation. Because its main purpose is to provide a safe and quiet refuge for waterfowl, there is no public access; however, good views can be obtained from Rostherne churchyard and from several places along the surrounding lanes, and even better ones from the Observatory itself.
What is there to see?
Although numbers of some species have declined in recent years, winter sees the arrival of many species of duck from northern Europe, in particular Mallard, Shoveler, Pochard and Tufted Duck. In fact regular watchers can expect over a few years to see most species of duck normally found in inland waters. The Mere itself is too deep for most duck to feed there, but it is a safe roosting place. The Mere is also a major gull roost in winter. The birds gather at dusk from feeding grounds over a wide area of north Cheshire, and the flock often exceeds 4,000. The main species are Black-headed Gulls, with smaller numbers of Common Gulls, with other species occasional visitors.
The principal breeding species associated with the Mere are Mallard, Coot, Moorhen and Reed Warbler, with a few Great Crested Grebes and Canada Geese. Tufted Duck also breed, but not annually and more recent years have seen the establishment of a Cormorant breeding colony. Late summer sees the start of the build-up in waterfowl numbers, and migrants on autumn (and spring) passage call in briefly; these include Bewick's and Whooper Swans, Osprey, Shelduck, terns and occasional waders. Sea birds such as Kittiwake and even Fulmar are sometimes blown in by westerly gales. In winter, Water Rails are heard, and sometimes seen, along the water's edge, regular visiting Bittern occur and the huge visually-fascinating Starling roost has developed. The woods and fields also support numerous birds, and a total of 211 species have been recorded since the reserve was set up.
What is the A W Boyd Observatory?
A W Boyd was a Cheshire naturalist who made a lifelong study of the birds of Rostherne Mere and persuaded Lord Egerton to leave the Mere as a nature reserve. He was the first president of the Manchester Ornithological Society and after his death in 1959, that Society built the Observatory as a memorial. The Observatory was opened in 1962 and was run by the MOS for many years. CAWOS have an agreement under which they run the "Obs." for a rolling three-year period. A subcommittee, consisting of representatives from Natural England and from CAWOS, manages the Observatory's funds, which are kept separate from the main CAWOS account. Several voluntary wardens (appointed by Natural England), who have known the site for many years, will continue to patrol the reserve and keep records of its bird life and other natural history. The roof was renewed in 2009 by Natural England ensuring a long life for the building into the future.
How can I visit Rostherne?
If you wish to visit on a regular basis and are not a member of CAWOS, you need to obtain a permit by emailing Sheelagh Halsey using this link. Permits are issued for a calendar year. CAWOS members can pay with their CAWOS subscriptions after renewal notices are sent out at the end of the year.
Escorted parties can visit the Observatory at £1 a head.
Observatory Annual Permit
£10 single, £15 family, £5 children 11-16 years, if paying by cheque please always include a S.A.E.
CAWOS members paying by Standing Order payments, with their CAWOS membership, please add £1 p&p. If wishing to join as a new CAWOS member please use the CAWOS Membership Form by downloading from this link . Existing CAWOS members should use the Membership Subscription Renewal form which you will receive by post. Non CAWOS members click here to email Sheelagh Halsey for all information about the reserve and permits.
Note: Only the Observatory is managed by Cheshire and Wirral Ornithological Society and we have no direct control or involvement with the National Nature Reserve. Remember too, parking is available in the village car park opposite Egerton Hall.
Sheelagh Halsey, Rostherne permit Secretary
© All images copyright of the author 2021
Cheshire and Wirral
Registered Charity No. 702484