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Wildlife from the Mersey Ferries
Mersey Ferry Cruises (Liverpool)
Member Name: markos9
Mersey Ferry Cruises (Liverpool)
Advantages: Comfortable viewing of the Mersey's wildlife.
Disadvantages: Only three per year!
Despite the opening of two tunnels in the 20th century, today's ferries are still providing the same service and in my opinion, a visit to Liverpool would not be complete without a trip on one of these iconic vessels.
What many people do not know is that the Mersey Ferries offer far more than just convenient passage across the river. As befits their historical importance, the ferries are used for many differing events throughout the year.
The Mersey Ferry Wildlife Discovery Cruises are one such type of event. Three cruises are undertaken each year, usually two in August, one in September. The ticket price is a reasonable £10 for adults and £5 for children. For this, the passengers get a three hour cruise. Tickets must be bought in advance either at the ferry terminal or online at www.merseyferries.co.uk/shop/index.aspx.
The cruise is designed to allow visitors to encounter the wonderful wildlife that now lives in the Mersey estuary. Once considered the most polluted river in Europe (urban myth whilst I was growing up was that if you fell into the Mersey, you would not drown, you'd die of poisoning!), a multibillion pound programme has ensured that the river is cleaner than at any time in the past 100 years.
In fact, the Mersey estuary is one of the top ten estuaries in Britain for wildlife and is home to many species of fish, breeding birds, and grey seals. Harbour porpoises and bottle-nosed dolphins sometimes visit this once toxic waterway.
Much of this wildlife is not easy to see from the shore, so the wildlife cruise is a superb opportunity to get close to nature, in really comfortable surroundings.
The modern ferries are well equipped vessels; warm and cosy inside seating, a snack bar serving sandwiches, hot drinks and alcohol, together with two decks of outside benches. Whatever the weather, it's possible to get a good view of the river whilst eating or drinking in comfort.
The cruises are jointly run by the RSPB, and Liverpool Museums and a commentary is given during the event, with 'spotters' finding the wildlife and directing people to where they can be seen.
The ferry departs from the Pier Head, stopping at Seacombe and Woodside terminals before heading towards the estuary mouth. The commentary by RSPB staff is helpful and interesting and as the ferry sails, the peregrine falcons nesting in Hamilton Square and the kittiwake colony on the dock wall will be highlighted.
Once out into the estuary mouth, the ferry stops and 'chumming' starts. This involves throwing a mess of fish parts out of the back of the boat to attract seabirds. Usually present are gulls, terns, and arctic skuas. The chum brings the birds extremely close to the boat and passengers get superb views of a cloud of feeding seabirds from only a few feet away (with excellent opportunities for photography).
Once the birds have been fed, the cruise carries on to the Crosby shore. Here, it's likely that grey seals will be encountered, hunting the shallows for fish. With luck, close views of these massive mammals will be gained as the curious seals study the passengers as intently as they themselves are studied!
At Crosby, Antony Gormley's 100 statues (called 'Another Place'), rising out of the waves onto the beach can be viewed from an unusual perspective (from the sea rather than the land). These have been in place for several years now and are man-sized iron sculptures that feel as if they've been there forever.
The return to the three seaports offers more opportunities to see the wildlife and something unusual often turns up. In past cruises, really rare birds, and even ospreys have been seen.
The August cruises (i.e. during the summer holidays) are very child friendly. Staff from Liverpool Museums are on hand with activities and exhibits to entertain the children. Whilst moving, a net is dredged into the water and the water life examined under a microscope for everyone to see. These activities add an extra element and all the children on the cruises I've been on have enjoyed them immensely.
All too soon, the cruise will be over and it will be time to depart from the ferry. I've been on three of these cruises and enjoyed every one immensely. If you like wildlife, boats, the sea, or want to get a fantastic view of the most famous skyline in the world, the Mersey Ferry Wildlife Cruise could be for you.
If not, Mersey Ferries offer many other types of cruises. One that's happening soon is a cruise around the Queen Mary II which is visiting Liverpool on 20th October 2009. Other regular cruises include a tour of the Manchester Ship Canal, Liverpool fireworks, and party nights. Check the website for details (www.merseyferries.co.uk/).
Summary: An excellent way to view this important estuary.