Where has all the wildlife gone? - or why might it be going?
I gave up a couple of years ago writing letters and speaking to people in the Conservators' department of the City of London. I got a headache. I've never been much of an activist, just quietly suggesting that things might be done differently, better - or shouldn't have been done at all. You get a headache if you shout; you get a headache if you whisper. It's all to do with banging your head against a brick wall, I suppose.
Luckily, along came websites, and the ability to publish thoughts that one or two people might pick up on (at least in the case of Wanstead Wildlife - which doesn't try to sell things, just acts as a record-base and a facility for people to see what's living and happening around them). From the the website I was able to occasionally mention a few things that disturbed me (that's me, not necessarily others, who - it seems - tend to see things differently, or not at all).
What am I waffling on about? Sometimes I wonder, but this time I shall cover a number of aspects, all of which are having their impact right now on our wildlife and the ecology of the area.
Where has all the dead wood gone? The City of London Corporation, in its wisdom and fear of litigation, has embarked on a policy of lopping off the branches and or tops of any trees on Wanstead Flats, the Park and hereabouts which it perceives might fall on somebody's head. Now anybody who watches television programmes, reads wildlife magazines or perhaps has been to school knows that dead wood - standing as well as laying about looking messy - is an extremely important habitat for a host of wildlife, from the fungi that may have caused the death in the first place to the insects that live in and on it, to the birds that feed on the insects and nest in the holes and the people that may just like to know that there are such things about to share our world. A couple of years ago on Wanstead Flats, dog-walkers were the most likely people to be able to tell enthusiastic visiting birders where the Little Owls families were. The birders probably noticed the breeding Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, and the bat enthusiasts were probably wondering which of the trees may have held the bats roosts that the make Wanstead Flats such a great bat-watching experience. Much the same goes for Wanstead Park: I haven't seen the Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers that so many casual strollers became aware of, and indeed once was pointed out to me by the courting couple at the base of the tree from which it was calling. If only that couple had known that the tree could have fallen on them at any time! They'd have done better to have used the long grass - but then there is less of that than there used to be; it's now more convenient to cut it for the events and picnic-ers.
At least when dead wood or cut branches lies about in Chalet Wood, it can be put to use; By mid-June - as the bluebell stems were finally dying back - there were SIX wigwam structures in the wood (plus a few others in rather more obscure or overgrown areas of the Park). What fun! Let's drag logs across the bluebells, trample a bare patch for yards round the trees, and then go away having done something worthwhile!
Down by the east end of the Perch Pond, the slashing machines had already been out cutting down the wildlflowers that probably provide the most colourful and varied floral display in the whole of the Park. This is usually done at the end of August - whilst it is still glorious - and I've moaned about that. It'll probably grow up again by then, so will need to be done again, but in the meantime all the dragonflies damselflies, moths, beetles, spiders, bugs and bees will have to find somewhere else to hang out. Of course, this is all necessary. It comes under the Reservoir Act - so we are told - so cutting flowers down in June and August is an absolute priority. Where have all the insects gone?
Where have all the flowers gone? Leaving the missing Perch Pond ones behind, I went to take a picture of the Shining Cranesbill in the Exchange Lands (yes - that's Aldersbrook Exchange Lands, which used to be a sewage works.) I don't go over there so much now, because there are now two Cycleways through there. That's Cycleways in the same sense as Motorways, by the way. The second of these - the North-South Roding Valley Way link has just been created and surfaced. I haven't yet met anyone who have said how great it is - but a few have mentioned their surprise at how wide it is. Well, can't say I didn't warn you. Anyway, it's done; cyclists, horse-riders, pram pushers and walkers (even on crutches) can all use it in perfect harmony. The disturbed edges will all grow up again, and it will merge in to the surroundings eventually. It might never resemble a green-ride in the countryside again, but - ho-hum. The Shining Cranesbill was gone. It wasn't anything to do with the new Cycleway; it had been carefully un-disturbed when the East-West one was laid, but the same top-layer material that had been used on the new surface had been also used to lay a surface on tracks in a totally different part of the Exchange Lands, nearer to the Riding-School. Was this part of the plan? I don't know, but I suspect there was some material left over and it was put to good use. Luckily, there is still some Shining Cranesbill elsewhere, the remains of the Biting Stonecrop that hadn't been covered over was wonderfully yellow-ly in flower and I suspect that it too will just merge into the landscape and anything that used to live there before will be forgotten.
Walking back into the Park after not seeing the Cranesbill, I did see two potentially magnificent plants of Giant Hogweed, quite near the Dell Bridge. Now this has been increasing nearer to the Roding in the Exchange Lands, and steps have been taken to deal with it. It is a monster. Finding it in the Park is disturbing. I have reported it to the local head-keeper; I hope that these will be dealt with effectively, and soon. We have a few other invasive plants around that require action, including Floating Pennywort in some of the ponds. Around Alexandra Lake in particular is New-Zealand Pigmy-weed. How we will get rid of this I don't know, but perhaps more importantly by this lake is the amount of vegetation - including trees - that is increasingly obscuring views of the lake.
I'm actually getting fed-up writing this; there doesn't seem much point and trying to think more positively, there must be a lot of more positive things going on. Definitely there are now a lot more people out there interested in our wildlife. There are birders keeping records and also moaning about the tree-lopping, and a new nature-club for children (see here). The Conservators are organising loads of walks, exhibitions and events in and around the Park. The fact that they are getting a lot better at advertising and if anything even worse at listening and communicating is probably representative of life.
Just going to bang my head again...
Paul Ferris, 7th June 2012