Key species: Dingy Skipper, Six-belted Clearwing
Best time to see them: Second week of May until mid-June for Dingy Skipper and mid-June to mid-July for Six-belted Clearwing.
Warning: Both species can be found along the routes identified below. Under no circumstances should visitors enter fenced off areas, the ground is uneven at best and can be unstable and is highly alkaline at levels that can cause serious chemical burns. Occasional led tours of these areas are available. More information is available from the Ranger Service based at Marbury Country Park.
These reclaimed lime beds (flashes) provide an ideal area for short level walks and excellent opportunities to see some of the unusual species that thrive on the unique conditions left by the area’s industrial past. The presence of salt has enabled many coastal plants to establish and the lime rich soils arising from the waste disposal activities of the former chemical industries provide ideal conditions for both the Dingy Skipper butterfly and Six-belted Clearwing moth; at their best sites in Cheshire and probably in the North West of England. The area is well known to birdwatchers with the shallow water bodies and rich silts proving attractive to a wide range of waders.
The paths are reasonably level and suitable for wheelchairs along most of their lengths. It is between ½ to 3 ½ miles long depending on the route selected.
Both of the key species are associated with Bird’s foot trefoil, the larval food plant, which grows in abundance on the impoverished lime rich soils. Bird’s foot trefoil, a member of the pea family, is a low growing yellow flowered plant, and is the most dominant species in some of the clearings. Even when the sun fails to shine Dingy Skipper can also be found in dull weather, roosting on grasses and other plants. However, many observers find both of these species difficult to locate and see whatever the weather.
Dingy Skipper is a small fast flying butterfly that is easily spooked; there is a temptation to chase every sighting but it is far better to concentrate on suitable habitat and wait patiently for their arrival/return.
Six-belted Clearwing can be very frustrating; as a small, superficially wasp/hoverfly like, insect it rarely stays still for long and only makes fleeting visits to preferred sites, in search of females. The moth is best found by using pheromone lures which mimic the females’ attractant. On warm sunny days both species will fly from early morning until mid-afternoon.
Directions: The safest and most convenient parking is a free car park on Marbury Lane via Old Warrington Road, off Leicester Street, Northwich. Follow the signs for the Household Waste Disposal site, and with the site’s entrance on your left hand side pass under a barrier and over a bridge, the car park is on the left hand side.
The site is very close to, and easily walked from, Northwich town centre, and is therefore accessible by public transport, both bus and rail.
Exit the car park turning left onto Marbury Lane, which is restricted to vehicular access. Continue on the road past a vehicular barrier and then taking an entrance on the right hand side onto the flash footpaths. From here footpaths lead in circuits around both Ashton’s and Neumann’s flashes. However, at least initially, the route to take is the path straight ahead, between the two flashes.
The terrain is dominated by Birch growth which is managed to maintain open clearings and it is here that both of the key species can be found. Any area where Bird’s foot trefoil dominates the ground cover, should be explored, especially on the right hand side of the path for Dingy Skipper or the left hand side for Six-belted Clearwing. Another tip for finding the moth is to look for “distressed” trefoil plants; the moth larvae feed on the roots, and adults will emerge from those areas. From here there is a choice; you can follow the (longer) way-marked trails that have been developed as part of the Saltscape project, and learn more about the area’s industrial legacy and the habitats that have been created, or return to Marbury Lane and turn right towards Marbury Country Park.
Many commoner species of butterfly, including Common Blue, Small Copper, and Brimstone etc. can be found along the walks. The area’s moth tally is particularly impressive and if visiting Marbury Country Park it’s worth asking the Ranger what has been found in the previous night’s moth traps. Specimens are often kept in the fridge until release later in the day.
- Parking: SJ663747
- General area for key species: SJ666749