News of wildlife and other issues
Red Kites over Wanstead?
Arriving at the Warren Road entrance to Wanstead Park on 19th March in preparation for a photographic shoot relating to the state of the Grotto, I was thrilled to watch a Red Kite flying over. Travelling generally east-west, it was being harried by a crow; presumably this was one of the local population that wasn't happy about seeing another new resident so soon after the Parakeets.
It's not the first kite to have been seen locally, one was seen flying over Northumberland Avenue in September last year, and I suspect that we may see more as time goes by. * (see note below)
That sounds a bit like the title of a song, and thinking about the name, I was reminded of the words to a song by that folksy 60's singer Donovan. In a version of the traditional song "Pretty Peggy-O", Donovan sings the lines; "See the red kite in the sky, pretty Peggy- O; See the red kite in the sky, pretty Peggy- O; See the red kite in the sky, as I watch the summer die..." etc. I did wonder at the time whether he was referring to the bird Milvus milvus or a toy on a string, but whether he was referring to a bird or a toy doesn't really matter, because the thing-on-a-string was named after the bird anyway. It was probably a good idea to use the English name in the song, rather than the scientific one, though.
A couple of weeks ago I stayed for a few days near the Bucks/Berks border, and it was a daily source of enjoyment seeing a kite hanging in the sky, or two playing together, or a group over a town. They are so common in that part of the Chilterns and nearby areas that it would seem likely that they'd spread further afield - and the area around Copped Hall in the north of the Forest looks to me a likely spot (not that I can see things from a Kite's point of view, of course). It has woods and rolling hills and farmland - and plenty of carrion-suitable roads from the Epping one to motorways.
And if they did take up residence around there, then it is not to far-fetched to imagine them patrolling down here as well.
Here's my not-very-good long-distance view of the Kite and its persecutor.
* This happened - on March 24th there was one over Valentines Park,and on March 26th, again one over Wanstead Flats.
Public Consultation on Sports Facilities at Wanstead Flats
There was a public and user consultation at Harrow Road changing rooms on Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th February 2010, organised by the Corporation of London.
This is part of the e-mail sent out by the Football Development Officer for the Corporation's Epping Forest Division:
"At the end of February, we are consulting with all involved with Wanstead Flats as to how you feel our efforts should be directed in coming years and with future investments.
Following our recent investments at Harrow Road and with plans to actively seek funding for future investments across our site, this is a great time to provide your feedback. This is also your opportunity to share your thoughts on the operation of the sports facilities at Wanstead Flats as we look to offer the most effective service.
We would like feedback from all sections of the Wanstead Flats community; dog walkers, joggers, cyclists, horse riders, footballers, spectators, local residents and schools!
Please help us to circulate this as widely as possible so that everybody gets their say".
This was an opportunity for people to voice their concerns about football and other sports activities on the Flats, especially as at a meeting organisedlast year by the Friends of Wanstead Flats there was some mention of the possibility of expanding the number of pitches. Wanstead Flats is an extremely valuable wildlife habitat, with a diverse resident population that includes some quite rare species in this area. It is also being increasingly realised that it is an important stop-over point for migrant birds as well as those visiting for the winter or summer. The playing fields themselves offer feeding and grazing potential for such birds as Meadow Pipits and Skylarks and particularly for gulls and geese in winter - so their value must not be underestimated. Incredibly, the wonderful colony of Skylarks seem to exist quite happily despite the disturbance that might be perceived to come from such activities as model-aircraft flying, noisy football games or simply dogs and walkers.
That said, the value of lowland heath-type habitat, with rough grassland, is immense, so we shoud think carefully about losing any of this. In fact, perhaps we should think about increasing it and enhancing it - as is being attempted by the scraping of some areas west of Centre Road.
Although the e-mail mentioned above mentioned "all involved with Wanstead Flats", the questionnaire offered at the consultation was perhaps limited in its scope, aimed much more at sports-users than other groups. It was clear, however, that numbers of people who had attended had expressed their concern with other issues - often connected with the sports activities - such as on-street parking.
The consultation was obviously at an early stage where they are sounding out ideas but included four options, one of which was to build a new sports changing rooms right in the middle of the Flats next to Centre Road, while another was to build a new facility next to Alexandra Lake. The other two related to either improving and maintaining the existing facilities by Capel Road and Aldersbrook Road, or renewing these perhaps along the lines of Harrow Road.
A Wetlands Reserve for Redbridge?
Those that follow the 'Redbridge Birdwatching' blog, or have read the 2009 yearbook published there, will be aware that one of the top birding sites in the the London Borough of Redbridge is the gravel works site on Painters Road, Fairlop. In spite of the heavy workings that go on there, this really is a wonderful local wildlife site. Bird watchers will probably be most aware of it, but it is almost certainly a haven for other forms of wildlife as well, both plant and animal.
For example, we know that it is the home to several Brown Hare which breed on site. It has also had all of these bird species noted in just the last year:
- Home of the winter Lapwing flock (up to 550 birds this winter, and the only flock in the borough)
- Home of the winter Golden Plover flock (up to 148 birds this winter, and the only flock in the borough)
- The Borough's largest population of wintering Snipe (usually well over 20 present, and occasional Jack Snipe)
- The only location in the borough where there are Green Sandpiper (up to 8, with usually at least 2 on site for 10 months of the year)
- Good numbers of wintering wildfowl, (including the only place in the borough where Shelduck are regular)
- Good for raptors, (Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Little Owl, Hobby are all regular; Marsh Harrier, Merlin, Peregrine, Barn Owl and Buzzard all seen in the last 12 months)
- The only major site in the borough for migrating waders (last season we saw Whimbrel, Black Tailed Godwit, three Ringed Plover, several Greenshank, seven Redshank, many Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Dunlin and many Green Sandpiper passing through)
- The only place in the borough where waders breed: last year there were two pairs of Little Ringed Plover and three pairs of Lapwing
- One of two major sites in the borough for migrating passerines (the othe being Wanstead Flats). During 2009 up to 50 Wheatear, 50 Whinchat, 50 Yellow Wagtail, several White Wagtail, 2 Rock Pipit, a Water Pipit and - not a passerine - a Spotted Crake.
- The only place in the borough where Sedge Warbler breed, and one of only 2 or 3 sites where Reed Warbler breed.
We could go on and on, and mention the wintering Stonechat, wintering Woodcock, Water Rail and a lot - more but you get the picture... Also, due to the limited accessibility of this site at the moment (evenings and weekends only), many of the birds present are probably missed!
The gravel extraction in the current site is coming to an end in 2010, and they will be moving to a new site by St. Peters Church, Aldborough Hatch. Part of the original agreement was that this area would be designated as a Nature Reserve upon completion of the infilling of the site (which has been designated "Area D"). The company that extracts the gravel - LAFARGE - have struggled to find enough landfill, and it is our belief that we should encourage the council to cease infilling as the birds listed above (as well as other wildlife forms), have found there home there in its existing wetland habitat state.
Our plans include the following possibilities:
- A small car park.
- Bird hides, walkway and panels to 'hide' behind.
- Planting a good-sized reedbed to attract Water Rail, wintering Bittern, Bearded Tit, and Cetti's Warbler, and to increase the breeding success in the borough of Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings that are now all only present in single figures.
- To create a wetland habitat based on the existing layout of the works, that will benefit wildfowl and wading birds.
- To improve Seven Kings Water (the stream that runs alongside the site), to include nesting areas for Kingfishers.
- To create a nesting site for Sand Martins (they often prospect, but do not nest anywhere in the borough at present).
- To plant more wet woodland adjacent to Hargreaves Wet Woodland to increase the excellent habitat there.
- To protect the habitat that the Hares favour, and the wet meadow - which is excellent on the site.
- To re-introduce Grey Partridge, and encourage Yellowhammer, Tree Sparrow, Corn Bunting to return.
The Redbridge Conservation Team are behind the project; potentially the site could become as important as Barnes or Rainham! In principle the Council are in agreement that the land will be a nature reserve. but its intention is still to fill in the gravel pits and restore it essentially to a field. This would mean the lossof much of the wonderful variety of wildlife that is already there.
What was required was to persuade everybody that the development of a REAL nature reserve - one that the creatures would find to their liking - was worth it. It would be used by bird-watchers, by naturalists and for the enjoyment of the public in general - just as Barnes and Rainham are. Although it is agreed that Area D on Painters Road will be designated as a Nature Reserve, the council and the gravel extractors LAFARGE are still contract-bound to first fill in all the gravel pits, thus removing all the above wildlife, leaving it as a nature reserve by name only, after utterly destroying the habitat and removing all of the wildlife.
Whether resident in the London Borough of Redbridge or not, people have been encouraged to email a letter to the following people:
Three local councillors have also been included in the e-mails: local copuncillors (
Although own words would be better, the following text was provided as a basis on which to work, or simply to copy and paste:
Dear Mr Anderson, Ms Vincent and Mr Castro
I recently heard of the proposals being made to designate Area D in Fairlop, where there is currently gravel extraction works taking place, as a Local Nature Reserve. I am very pleased to hear that the council is considering such a wonderful opportunity, as so much suitable habitat for wildlife is lost. Already Redbridge Borough has lost many breeding species for which it was once a stronghold, and many others are just hanging on. The area proposed is probably the most important wildlife habitat in the borough, being home to Brown Hares, breeding Lapwing and Little Ringed Plover, and being the top site in the borough for 100s or 1000s of migrating birds.
It would really be a tragic loss for this habitat to be lost. If these proposals are not manifest, then potentially we could lose 10% of the species found in, or regularly passing through the borough. It is vital that these pits are not filled in, and that the existing wetland habitat be retained and improved. Filling in this land would only bring a small revenue, but would reap a HUGE loss to the wildlife, most of which would leave.
As a local wildlife enthusiast I am very excited about the prospect of regularly visiting this site when it is completed, and strongly urge you to do everything within your power to influence the decision makers not to make a tragic mistake, but to create a site of national importance, and of which the borough would be very proud.
This is what the site looked like a month or two ago - this is what the birds were finding so attractive. To keep a habitat like this, to improve it by appropriate plantings of reeds and other plants, to erect hides and walkways so as to enhance it for human visitors - this could be a wonderful place. However, infilling has already started; we need to do all we can to try to stop it being made into just another piece of land with a copse or so and a pathway through it, which has the sign "Nature Reserve" at the access point!
This request was made by Chris Gannaway, advisor to the Conservation Team in Redbridge Council, via Redbridge Birdwatching blogspot and Wanstead Wildlife.
The Missing Darkness
An August evening, using the bat detectors to listen for the first bats of the evening; two Pipistrelles at the north end of the Ornamental Water.
Along the boards, walking towards the Cedar Tree, Pipistrelles were much in evidence, with just a hint of an occasional Daubenton's. By the time it was dark, and just before the Cedar tree I glimpsed a light flashing across the sky - the first shooting star I'd seen for years.
Ahead, a large group - probably family and friends - were fishing. It was a fun activity - and probably a late into-the-night one; they had gas lamps, a picnic basket and probably a stove as well. It was obvious to us how they were enjoying their evening; perhaps less obvious to them how we were enjoying ours. However we did hear one of the youngsters say "They're looking for bats".
As we passed them and said good evening, one of the men and a couple of children came up and started chatting. We confirmed what we were doing and the man - obviously an east Londoner - told us about the wonderful things he experienced whilst night fishing - from animals to stars. He told us how sometimes he saw artificial satellites traversing the sky.
We said goodnight and walked on. As we move slightly uphill towards the Plain - looking for more shooting stars - a satellite crossed the sky, fading into nothingness as it moved across Redbridge. A few yards further on - another shooting star!
It was only as we moved from the surrounding trees to the openness of the Plain that we could really see the sky. It was strange; this was an August night - not the black depths of winter ; we were looking towards the glow of London and It was light enough to quite easily see the silhouettes of trees and houses and the ground beneath us, but the sky was full of stars! We stood and tried to make out some of the constellations, but were soon attracted to a particularly bright star in the direction of Little Ilford. It was so bright that my thoughts were that it was not a star at all but the landing lights of a plane. It didn't appear to be moving, but then when a plane is moving directly towards you this can sometimes be the perception. This one didn't move though, so I reconsidered and thought perhaps that it was the searchlight of a hovering helicopter. Then Tim got his binoculars out and said "It's a planet". Well, Venus is bright, so is Jupiter, Mars can be on occasions and Sirius is a bright star, but this looks brighter than I have seen any of them. I borrowed the binoculars, looked at the light and immediately saw three moons. It was Jupiter - looking really large and bright - a wonderful sight. Glancing back the way we'd come, the Moon had just risen above the trees towards Ilford. The optical illusion that many of us are familiar with when the Moon is low like this is that it was huge. It was also orange, presenting a particularly unusual sight. It was also only three quarters full so that looking through binoculars it didn't glare and we were able to see the shadowed relief of the craters on its missing edge.
The shooting stars, it turned out, were the Perseids - an annual occurrence which I usually miss due to the sky being overcast. This evening was different; looking for bats we had seen so many things in the night sky. I wonder if that's why bat-walks are so popular? Perhaps they are just an excuse to be out in the dark? We are missing and dismissing the dark; we're forgetting what a starry sky look like. We're getting out of touch with nature and with reality. The nature most of us are familiar with is that presented to us in television programmes. The programs are wonderful, but they're only a tiny piece of what's out there - outside our homes - and we're not living the experience. The night sky is there too, but then so are our street lights. It's only on rare and special occasions like that August night that many of us are able to appreciate and remember them. Perhaps we should turn off some of the lights and get out there and see the stars.
Paul Ferris, 24th February 2010
What's in a name? - Florrie's Hill
The origin of place names is a complex subject; things aren't always what they seem. Without going into details, names should never be taken at their face value.
Look at any map of Wanstead Park which shows any detail and you'll see names such as 'Chalet Wood', 'Heronry Pond' and 'Rook Island'. Chalet Wood may seem a bit obscure unless you know that there used to be an ornamental refreshment building called "The Chalet" adjacent to the wood.
But what about Heronry Pond? It is known that in the early part of last century there was a heronry in Wanstead Park. However, it is thought that this was probably on the Lincoln Island. And where did Lincoln Island get its name? Next to Lincoln Island is Rook Island and perhaps we can assume that the rooks once used it. Whether we should assume the rooks used it is another matter!
But we do have an instance in Wanstead Park where the origin of a now-used placed name is known. This is Florrie's Hill, which descends from a small gate off Warren Road down to the Ornamental Water. Now we don't know who Florrie was, and it is just supposition that she was a local resident who used that gate as an access to Wanstead Park, but it was Pete Saunders that knew it by that name. With that in mind, when I required some names to indicate the whereabouts of some of the Park's flora, I thought "Well, if that's Florrie's Gate then the track must be Florrie's Hill".
So that's what I drew onto my recording map and a year or two later was surprised to see the name Florrie's Hill being used in a City of London publication.
Not yet on the maps, perhaps (except mine) is Aldersbrook Wood. This is the small area of woodland adjacent to the park's southern boundary - near Perch Pond (perches? - probably). It is an area which I have for long felt threatened by development, probably housing. So I thought that if I gave it a name it might also give it status. So there's another one: "Aldersbrook Wood". And let us hope it remains that and doesn't just become an extension to "Bunker Villas". I shall leave it to the reader to work that one out.
(for more information on Aldersbrook Wood, click here)
Paul Ferris, 21 February 2010