I lived a stone's throw from Frodsham Marshes for over 30 years, yet I never thought to visit them. Today, en route to visit Dad, I decided to put that right. And I'm so glad that I did.
Trapped between an oil refinery and a massive chemical works, Frodsham Marshes are a classic example of overlooked wilderness. The sort of place celebrated by Richard Mabey in his marvellous The Unofficial Countryside, and by more recent authors including Robert Macfarlane, and Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley. Places where Nature hangs on—and, indeed, flourishes—alongside the modern, man-made world.
I could smell the petrochemicals as I left my car on the bridge over the motorway and headed along the dirt track. I didn't think the sloes at the side of the track would make particularly palatable gin. But the smell soon disappeared as I became accustomed to it, and the rough verges and farmland gave way to untidy hedgerows overflowing with elderberries.
A few late swifts flew overhead as I reached the man-made lake which appeared to have something to do with the Manchester Ship Canal. The lake contained scores of tufted ducks. At the far end, where the lake gave way to untidy grassland, there were waders. I'm pretty poor at wader identification, but managed to recognise lapwings, common sandpipers, and black-tailed godwits.
Turning back, I was admiring a buzzard standing on some rough ground in front of the chemical works, when a small, unidentified little brown job shot overhead with a peregrine falcon in hot pursuit. After less than two seconds, they disappeared behind the hedgerow. But something told me they would be back momentarily, so I fumbled my camera into readiness. And there they were again, ducking and weaving right above me. I fired away like a crazy thing. They were far too fast to focus on, so I just kept shooting.
It was quite clear, though, that the peregrine's heart wasn't really in the pursuit. He almost seemed to be teasing his pursuee. After about ten seconds, he gave up, and disappeared back over the hedgerow.
Walking back toward my car, I bumped into a man walking his greyhound. He asked me if I had seen anything. Peregrines are rather common on the marshes, it would seem. He also told me that, a couple of years back, he had spotted an osprey nearby. And a friend of his who works on the ship canal frequently sees porpoises there. Sadly, they never seem to make it back out through the lock gates.
All this wonderful wildlife in such an unpromising location. Perhaps there is still hope for the world after all.
For more on peregrines, see J.A. Baker's poetic book, The Peregrine.