My Wild City: North Manchester Nature Network

How lucky are we? Parks, lakes, woodland and open fields all right on our doorstep. Some are well known, busy with visitors whilst others are quiet little pockets of nature.

They’re all part of a special project that Russell Hedley of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust has been working on since April.

“Funded by Cadent Foundation, it will engage members of the public to volunteer and help protect nature at existing Sites of Biological Importance between Bailey’s Wood and Moston Brook. Community groups and schools will also be involved.”

Meet Russ Hedley, nature encyclopedia on legs, and utterly charming

In addition to Bailey’s Wood and Moston Brook the other ‘sites’ are Boggart Hole Clough, Broadhurst Clough and The Fairway Nature Reserve.

Russ has been working with a group of volunteers who meet up each week and has also organised nature themed events throughout the summer. It’s a year-long project…

“…connecting people to wildlife, tackling isolation and loneliness and increasing nature’s diversity”.

Here are some examples of what’s been going on…

Balsam Bashing: Balsam is not an ugly plant by any means, the problem is, it’s invasive and prolific. That means it doesn’t really belong here, has no insect predators to control it so it spreads like mad. It prevents other plants from flourishing and the environment as a whole suffers. There’s a ‘window’ for getting rid of it so any time prior to the seed pods appearing is fine. After that, attempts to destroy it are more likely to aid its spread.

The root system is small for such a large plant so you just pull up and pile up (out of sight preferrably) and let it rot down.

Bashing the balsam in Boggart Hole Clough

Rhododendron is also an invasive species. It’s trickier to remove so it’s cut back and the branches woven into low hedges rather than left in a pile. The hedges provide the perfect habitat for small mammals and insects.

Sapling removal: At a time when tree planting is actively encouraged you may wonder why sapling removal is important. It depends on where the saplings are. We created a clearing near the pond on Broadhurst Clough to prevent them overtaking it and giving smaller plants access to light.

Wild flower planting:  Hundreds of wild flowers have been planted across all the sites to increase diversity and encourage insects to spread from one site to another. Planting a few in your own garden would help too.

Bat Walks: Russ led several of these towards the end of summer. I went on one and it was AMAZING. Bats are fascinating creatures and most of the time you wouldn’t know they were there. The UK has 18 species, which is a lot! They’re excellent pollinators and can eat around 3,000 insects a night. Their numbers have been in decline though so the more we learn about how they thrive the better we can help them.

Fungi walks: Led by Fungi expert Dave Winnard. What can I say? The man is a legend. We were truly entertained and even managed to find some mushrooms in the unusually dry tracts of the Fairway Nature Reserve. This is Manchester: It rains, except when you want it to. I haven’t stopped spotting mushrooms ever since though and, I quote, “they are one of the primary pillars of the food web…playing a critical role keeping forests and fields healthy”. Some have rather dubious properties – or so I understand!

In addition to these, Russ has also led Wildlife and Wellbeing Sessions at the NEPHRA centre, bug hunts, nature walks, litter picks, dinosaur trails, bioblitz events and he’s got plans for more activities over the coming months.

The project ends next spring so there are still lots of opportunities to get involved. Keep an eye out on Social media.

If you fancy volunteering contact Russ at mywildcity@lancswt.org.uk for details. You learn something new every time, meet fantastic people with a shared interest and give nature a helping hand.

Making small changes to your garden can help nature too. Think ‘insect friendly’ when you’re buying plants or have a veg patch. Leave a bit of lawn ‘unmown’ for a while, have a corner with a few old logs in or make a small pond – an old washing up bowl will do. The diversity will provide lots of wonderful habitats for natures little beasties.

Or, take a walk around our local countryside and just enjoy the green space.

Here are some links to keep an eye on: Moston Brook Friends Group and Forever Harpuhey and Moston on Facebook, The Lancashire Wildlife Trust, Memories of Boggart Hole Clough on Facebook.

David Winnard’s Discover the Wild website is definitely worth a look at and the iNaturalist uk app is brilliant for recording the wildlife you see.

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North West Theatre Arts Company – Phantom Memories

The new season at North West Theatre Arts Company, Lightbowne Rd, Moston is under way and what a great start!

Phantom Memories is set in a disused theatre that four youngsters find their way into. Dusty props, odd items of costume and pieces of faded scenery present a creepy, haunted atmosphere. They’re caught red handed by the ageing caretaker, Bud Berger, superbly played by the young Harry Gardner. They run off leaving one young lady behind.

Finding herself alone she curiously starts to sort through the dusty objects. Each one she touches conjures us up ghostly images taking her, and the audience, back in time as they perform their memories from past musicals.

NWTAC’s theatre school term started just 4 weeks ago and the cast represents the full range of students including the newest members and the most experienced. A month is not a lot of rehearsal time so it was ‘in at the deep end’ for the newbies. They did so well. Early nerves soon dissipated and everyone grew in confidence as the show unfolded.

The musical numbers showcased a variety of West End productions, big box office films and the best of Hollywood hits such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease, The Sound of Music, The King and I, Evita, South Pacific, The Wizard of Oz, Half a Sixpence and more. Something to suit everyone.

The full company kicked off with The Phantom of the Opera, closing the show two hours later with Born to Hand Jive and You’ll Never Walk Alone. In between we had solos, duets, comedy pieces and one or two cheeky numbers too.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow is one of my all-time favourites. It’s just ‘up there’ and Amelia Zatorska sang it so sweetly that I and the rest of the audience melted. Gareth Maudsley’s rendition of Flash! Bang! Wallop! was brilliantly energetic and I’m convinced he’s related to Tommy Steele. If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It by Maria Collins was soooo tongue in cheek it made us blush. James Llewellyn Burke nailed all of his numbers including Gethsemene and Madame Guillotine with real passion, matched by Solomon Asante-Owusu and Lois Ormerod’s ‘crime of passion’ with We Both Reached For the Gun.

All these numbers would have fallen flat without the brilliant staging and direction of the production team. It’s easy to overlook the skills involved. Some of dance routines were complex yet executed with precision and that’s a tricky challenge for such a large cast, so, well done to Choreographer Katie Gough. A total of 39 musical numbers must have left Bethany Singh, Musical Director, feeling very proud and rightly so.

This was the first of a season of 8 shows that NWTAC will perform over the coming months and the script was inspired: A lovely trip down memory lane. What can beat a live performance, close to home and it doesn’t break the bank to go and watch?

If you have never been to NWTAC’s theatre and don’t know what to expect this is a view of the interior with the show’s Director, Prab Singh in the foreground…

NWTAC are truly a talented group of people but don’t take my word for it. Go and see for yourself. Winter Wonderland, a variety concert to get you in the mood for Christmas, comes up next from the 18th to 20th November. See you there.

Details of all forthcoming shows, how to join the mailing list and book tickets etc., can be found on NWTAC’s website here, along with details of the North West Stage School.

You can also follow them on Facebook, just click here.

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Street life: All the Fun of the Fair

For centuries, fairs were welcomed as a break from the drudgery and monotony of everyday life. In the fifties, touring fairs were pretty small scale. Road locomotives were still being used to shift heavy equipment as well as providing electricity for lights and that unique fairground sound.

A whisper that the Showman’s wagons had been spotted would send a ripple of anticipation running through any district.

By hook or by crook, every kid was determined to visit the fair. To raise money, some ran errands and others cajoled adults into parting with bottles which had a few coppers back when returned to the shop.

Back then, waste ground, parks or playing fields were where fairs set up. In Moston, one of the regular fair sites was some land on Lily Lane, which I think belonged to the brick works.  It was near my school and I recall some of the small hand-operated roundabouts opening in the afternoon. I presume they made a few bob from the mothers of young children being collected from school.

The biggest of the evening rides were the waltzer and the dodgems. One year I seem to recall a (relatively) Big Wheel. I was (and still am) afraid of heights, so that one wasn’t for me. My favourite was the ride introduced in 1891 which was originally called the ‘English gallopers’.

In the 1920s, a BBC advisory committee on the standardisation of English suggested the name ‘gyratory circus’ for what is commonly called a roundabout. I’m certain it would have taken more than the BBC to persuade my grandad to adopt that mouthful for what he called ‘dobbiwakes’. And thanks to him, the ‘gallopers’ are still known as ‘dobby horses’ in our family.

Half of most fairgrounds were given over to booths and stalls offering prizes. Dads and older lads gravitated towards the ones where they could demonstrate their prowess with darts thrown at playing cards, rifle shooting or chucking miniature mopheads at a pile of tin cans.

Coconut shies were popular with everyone, but the target nuts appeared to be cemented in place. As the prize was generally an ancient, dried-out coconut, those long odds against winning were sometimes a blessing.

We kids preferred games of pure chance such as roll the penny, hoop-la or getting a ping pong ball to drop into the narrow neck of a round fish bowl.

The dolls offered as prizes seemed to be peculiar to fairgrounds. For years I longed for a bride doll. When my dad unexpectedly turned my dream into reality, I changed my mind and opted for one dressed in maroon crinoline and bonnet. To this day, I can’t explain my contrariness.

Before decimalisation made them redundant, most of the country’s copper coins must have passed through the innards of a fairground slot machine numerous times. Those old machines acted like a magnet for our precious spending money, and all we got was a few seconds watching a little silver ball whizzing around before it vanished again.

New Moston was a little unusual in having a golf course side by side with a railway line and an abandoned coal pit. The golf club held an annual open day which included a small fair with swing boats, chairaplanes and roundabouts, plus a variety of booths eager to part us from our money.

Some of the more novel stalls were run by the club members themselves. One I recall was a row of enamel buckets lying on their sides with the rims propped up at a slight angle. Standing a considerable distance away, you threw one of your three golf balls at the buckets. The idea was to make it stay inside without bouncing straight out again. I think the prize was sweets, which I could have bought at the corner shop for the threepenny bit I risked for the 3 goes with the golf balls.

Our back windows overlooked Nuthurst Park. The fair came every year, and watching it being set up was an entertainment in itself. Sadly, once the activity ceased, daylight made the silent rides and booths appear disappointingly tawdry.

But when darkness fell, the scene was completely transformed. Somehow, a circle of coloured light bulbs and the insistent throbbing of that unique music, managed to create the illusion that the best place in the world to be was amongst that milling crowd.

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