Red Rocks

Red Rocks is situated 9 km west of Birkenhead immediately west of Hoylake and adjacent to the Dee Estuary. This site contains a typical example of a sand dune system and includes a brackish dune slack and reedbed.

Although these dunes are much less extensive than those on the Sefton coast the presence of an extensive brackish slack and reedbed, a habitat type not well developed in the Sefton coast dunes, and a highly diverse flora and fauna, which includes a number of local and national rarities, still makes this an important site for nature conservation in Merseyside.

The sand dune exhibits the classical succession from partially vegetated embryo dunes or the foreshore through yellow or mobile dunes to grey or fixed dunes, which are the furthest away from the sea and support a complete vegetation cover.

The embryo dunes are colonized by Sand Couch (Agropyron junceiforme), Lyme-grass (Elymus arenarius) and Sea Couch (Agropyron pungens), with Prickly Saltwort (Salsola kali), Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum), Danish Scurveygrass (Cochlearia danica) and Sea Rocket (Cakile maritima) also occasionally found.

These fore dunes grade into brackish dune slack and reedbed in the northern part of the site and yellow dunes in the south.

The reedbed is dominated by Common Reed with Bulrush, Sea Aster and Sea Club-rush also commonly occurring. The reedbed has standing water as does the slack to the north.

This slack supports an emergent flora dominated by Sea Club-rush with Sea Aster, Yellow Iris and Hemlock Water Dropwort (Oenanthe crocata). The drier margins of the slack support good numbers of Early Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza incarnata) and Northern Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza purpurella). In the dune slack to the south of the reedbed the ground conditions become drier and the brackish influence decreases. Creeping Bent, Red Fescue, Sea Club-rush, Sand Sedge (Carex arenaria), Glaucous Sedge (Carex flacca), Common Sedge (Carex nigra) and Sea Rush are the species most characteristic of this slack community.

Long Bracted Sedge (Carex extensa), Lesser Centaury (Centaurium pulchellum), Variegated Horsetail (Equisetum variegatun), Distant Sedge (Carex distans) and Saltmarsh Flat-sedge (Blysmus rufus) , species with a localised distribution in north-west England, are also present.

The Yellow Dunes are dominated by Marram Grass with Sea Holly, Lyme-grass, Sand Couch, Dewberry (Rubus caesius), Sand Sedge and Common Ragwort also important components of the sward. Less common species include Sticky Stork's-bill (Erodium glutinosum) and Portland Spurge (Euphorbia portandica). These gradually grade into grey dunes which are characterised by an abundance of Red Fescue with Sand Sedge, Dewberry, Marram Grass, Common Bent, Lady's Bedstraw and Common bird's-foot Trefoil.

These grey dunes are rich in lime-loving plants such as Kidney Vetch, Fairy Flax, Early Forget-me-not (Myosotis ramosissima), Burnet Rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia), Knotted Clover (Trifolium striatum), Early Hair-grass (Aira praecox), and Quaking-grass. The rarest plant to have been discovered on this site is Mackay's Horsetail (Equisetum x trachydon), for which Red Rocks is the only English locality. Mackay's Horsetail is found growing on both the yellow and grey dunes.

Red Rocks is an important site for its records of migrant birds with high numbers of Redwing, Fieldfare, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Siskin, Brambling, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Sedge Warbler, Snow Bunting and Willow Warbler. Altogether over 200 species of birds have been recorded with up to 170 species sighted in one year.

The wet slacks are important breeding sites for Frogs, Common Toads and Natterjack Toads. The last species is now very rare and protected under schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Other Information:

1. This site is adjacent to the Dee Estuary SSSI.

2. Part of the site is managed as a nature reserve by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust

3. There has been no change in the boundary since the original notification.

English Nature Citation details:

County: Merseyside
Site Name: Red Rocks
District: Wirral
Status: Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) notified under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
Local Planning Authority: Wirral Council
National Grid Reference: SJ 207878
Ordnance Survey Sheet 1:50,000: 108
Date Notified (Under 1949 Act): 1979
Date Notified (Under 1981 Act): 1983
Area: 11.38 (ha) 28.11 (ac)