River Mersey Estuary

by Clare Jennings

The cows came home
A sight to behold
Cattle gently grazing
On saltmarsh shores

The Dunlin returned
Close your eyes
Listen to their chirruping song
Over golden mudbanks

The seals came back
A rare but joyful sight
Rolling playfully, bathing
In the high tide

A world away from chimneys
Gulls soar in skies of blue
Curlews man the lighthouse
Oxeyes dance about

The hope and beauty
Of a river steeped in history
A legacy of poisonous chemistry
Now flows with life

A future rich with promise
Lies within our reach
One we were unsure of
Until the cows came home

The Mersey Estuary

The widest point of the River Mersey Estuary stretches between Widnes and Runcorn. An expanse of fast-moving tidal water, the Estuary eddies underneath two transport bridges, flows past Hale Shore lighthouse, and floats the iconic Ferries past the Liverpool city skyline before joining the Irish Sea.

But, it was this proximity to a tidal current, that led to the growth of the chemical industry here in the 1700s. As a result, the River Mersey was known as one of the most contaminated rivers in Europe for many years and its surroundings had a reputation for being less than desirable.

In 1880, the town of Widnes was known as ‘the dirtiest, ugliest, and most depressing town in England’. Things hadn’t improved by 1905, when it was described as ‘a poisonous hell town’ (via what I assume to be the Edwardian version of Tripadvisor).

This neglect of the riverside environment continued well into the 1960s, and places like Spike Island and the location now known as Pickering’s Pasture were considered ‘no-go’ areas, overrun with waste and devoid of nature.

But the 1980s heralded change. The clean-up was underway.  And how I wish I could show those naysayers of yesteryear how different things are now.

Today, the shoreline consists of rich mudflats, lush green saltmarshes, and golden-hued sandbanks, creating the perfect habitat for a variety of bird species. A twitcher’s delight, the estuary is home to a range of wading birds like Dunlin, Redshank, Teal and Shelduck, who feed on its rich bounty of worms, molluscs, and crustaceans exposed by the low tide. And because the habitat is so abundant in tasty treats, it makes the perfect ‘service station’ stopping point for migrating birds too.

The Estuary also sees occasional guest appearances from whales, porpoises, and seals. And the saltmarshes are now the stomping ground for herds of longhorn cattle, who come to graze alongside the riverbed. Real sights to behold.

And despite the dominating presence of eight cooling towers, wind turbines are now scattered along the shore and into the horizon beyond, signalling the shift away from fossil fuels and towards a more sustainable future.

There is still some way to go, but by harnessing renewed pride and respect for the Estuary, we can raise awareness of the life and beauty that has emerged out of decades of suffocating pollution, helping us to protect its habitats and wildlife for generations to come.

2 thoughts on “Coast

  1. What a fantastic story about The Mersey Estuary’s change of fortune – activism clearly works! Wonderful to hear about all the wildlife that’s returned and described so graphically in your lovely centena Clare.

  2. A piece full of hope for what is possible for our polluted waterways once the will is there – our younger generation and its concerns are an inspiration to clean up all natural environments.

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