News of wildlife and other issues
Access issues in Wanstead Park - blocked paths and poor surfaces
A walk with a first-time visitor to Wanstead Park in late February was considerably spoilt by the condition of some of the main paths in the park. We'd had snow and rain in February, so some mud was expected - and we found it.
Entering through the Northumberland Avenue gate, we turned immediately right to walk along the southern edge of the park. The path was muddy, but work done by the Wren Group last year to widen the path, cutting back some of the growth on both sides, had ensured that it was passable.
The first real obstacle was at the south-east end of the Perch Pond between the riding school and a large willow; here it was necessary to choose a slight embankment to the left, passing behind the willow on the pond-ward side.
Descending to the wide track that runs beside the Dell, a long stretch of mud is encountered. However because of the width of the track here it was possible to find some route - albeit a muddy one - to one side or the other. If you wish to get to the Dell Bridge from here, the short stretch is not pleasant!
It was by the southern arm of the Ornamental Water that the real difficulties began. It was only last year that work was undertaken to heighten the embankment on this stretch to prevent the lake from overflowing into the Roding. The surface that has been put down is like some orange porridge; it is much easier to walk by the side of the path for hundreds of metres than to walk along it. Once past this stretch, the track by the side of the canal - laid I know not when - is perfectly good and sound. However, the stretch between the canal and the river Roding - laid just last year - is of the same consistency as previously mentioned.
The fact that these two stretches of newly made track are so poorly surfaced seems to indicate a problem with either the specifications or the overseeing of work carried out by contractors. Just past Engine House Island there is a large dead tree on the east end of nearby Rook Island, well known as a perch for Cormorants (rather than Rooks!). Because this tree was perceived to be in danger of falling, the Conservators of Epping Forest - who manage Wanstead Park - felt it necessary to block the path here for safety reasons. As an alternative, a new track was created from the adjacent Woodland. To facilitate this, numerous mature and good trees were felled - including a lovely Hornbeam. To add insult to this destruction, the tree was used to block the path! On this particular day - as on many days - the new track is so rutted as to be impassable. This means that we - like many others - preferred to clamber over the felled trees blocking the lake path (and hence presumably risk being killed by the Cormorant Tree) rather than use the Woodland track.
Once you have committed yourself to a fairly long walk such as around the Ornamental Water, and you have found obstacles and you have overcome them, and then you find another - you find yourself wishing you had never started this. Perhaps then you begin to swear at the mismanagement that has allowed this to come to pass. A few years ago it was suggested that the route around the Ornamental Water would become an easy access route. In fact if anything it has become more difficult. For many people muddy conditions would be a deterrent - for older people, disabled people or those that would like to push-chair their child around the lake - it becomes an impossibility - or at least a pain!
Many tracks and small paths throughout the park have in recent years become impassable, particularly due to encroachment by bramble. It doesn't actually take much to clear these paths; a couple of hours of work by a relatively small group of people such as the Wren Group on their practical-work task days have opened up paths which very soon people have started to reuse. On the other hand a fallen tree which really requires a chainsaw to deal with will deter people so that beyond the blockage vegetation takes over so quickly that the path is lost. This needs to be dealt with by those who should manage the park on behalf of the people would use it. For so long this has not happened effectively. People are beginning to moan, and some are beginning to swear!
Paul Ferris, 22 February 2010
An Otter in the Park
A report from Marc and Elizabeth from Bush Wood regarding an exciting mammal they saw in Wanstead Park:
Marc says "My wife and I saw an otter in Wanstead Park on 1st November 2009. I've just found your website - I
didn't know where to report the sighting until now. It was in the Ornamental Water, towards the River Roding end.
We saw it just before dusk, and it was wrestling with an eel which was approximately a foot long. We watched it for
a couple of minutes, and it seemed completely oblivious to us. Eventually it got the eel under control, swam to the far
bank with its meal in its mouth, and ran up the bank into the undergrowth. Unfortunately it was one of the rare
occasions we were walking in the Park without a camera!
The animal we saw was definitely brown - I believe that mink are black - and had a body thicker than a domestic
cat. I've looked at pictures of both, and I'm 99% sure it was an otter.
My wife and I saw it, and we pointed it out to some other passers-by, who also watched.
Have there been any other sightings?"
Elizabeth continued "I thought I'd also mention that the sighting was during the day around 2pm-ish and that
because we watched it for around 4 minutes whilst it wrestled with the eel we are really quite certain it was an otter.
Its tail became visible and the shape of it was thicker at the base, long and gradually tapering to the end. Also it's
face was very different than the photos I've seen on line of mink. It had a stubby nose, not pointed.
As Marc said if only we'd taken a phone or camera with us...
It was amazing to watch!"
Other reports of Otters in Wanstead Park
In the Ottertrust Journal of 2001 a "Review of Otter Reintroductions 1983-1999" quotes Graham White of Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust: ...."otter spraint was even found in Wanstead Park" .
London Wildlife Trust's website mention that "GIGL (Greenspace Information for Greater London) records show only two other recent otter sightings in London: one at Redbridge in August 2002..."
A report on the East London Birders Forum website for December 2006: "2 Otters on the River Roding (John Sellar)"
There have been one or two recent but unconfirmed of otters in the Wanstead Park/River Roding area.
© Paul Ferris 2010
The Birds of Wanstead 2009
During 2009 an increasing number of observers were available in the area, and an increasing number of records were accumulated. These have been compiled by local naturalist Tim Harris into a publication - The Birds of Wanstead, 2009.
to download The Birds of Wanstead, 2009 (as a pdf. file) click here
A bear at Hollow Pond?
The report below is to be found on the "Mysterious Britain" website. I also doubt that we have either bigfoots (bigfeet?) or bears around here, and suspect that it was a muntjac, the small Asian deer that have escaped from captivity and are now quite common in Epping Forest. They have been seen on Leyton Flats, in Wanstead Park and once even inside the grounds of Snaresbrook Crown Court, where it had managed to squeeze through the railings.
In November 2008, Michael Kent reported seeing a strange hairy bear like creature whilst fishing one evening with his brother and father. The following article entitled ‘Is 'Bigfoot' on the loose in woods?’ by Daniel Binns concerning the sighting appeared in the Guardian on 11 November 2008.
PARK officials have denied a bigfoot-like creature is on the loose in Wanstead’s woods after a “strange and hairy” bear-like animal was spotted by a fisherman.
Trainee fitness instructor Michael Kent said he was “stunned” when he saw the “hairy, dark creature” during an evening fishing trip in the Hollow Ponds area of Epping Forest, on the border between Wanstead and Leytonstone.
Mr Kent, 18, said: “I was there with my dad and brother. I was walking over to where my brother was when I heard this rustling sound.
“I looked over and saw this strange, dark figure that resembled a bear. It was hunched over and I could see it had a really hairy back. I think it must have heard me and scampered off into the bushes after a couple of seconds.
“It was getting dark but I still managed to get a good look at it. It was about 4ft tall, so it was too small to be human, but not the right shape to be a deer, it didn’t have long legs or anything like that.
“I’ve been fishing in the area since I was five years old, and I’ve seen deer, dogs and even a cow before but never anything like this.
“It definitely looked like a bear. My dad and brother weren’t so sure they just laughed but I really do believe I saw one.”
He added: “It would be good if there were bears around here because it would mean we’d have some other wildlife round here to enjoy, as long as they didn’t go around attacking people.
“I’m going to keep my eye out for it and perhaps I’ll see it again.”
But not everyone is convinced by the sighting.
Ian Greer, a park keeper in Wanstead’s Tarzy Woods said: “I doubt he saw a bear. The biggest animals we’ve got in the woods are foxes.”
“Sometimes we get deer but there are no bears around here.”'
Invasive Pondweed in Wanstead Park
A patch of Floating Pennywort Hydrocotyle ranunculoides was noticed in the Perch Pond, Wanstead Park last year, and was reported to the Conservators of Epping Forest on 26th September 2008.
This North American pondweed has been introduced into garden ponds where it is soon found to be very invasive. Typically, some is then removed, and it then finds its way into watercourses or lakes, and proves equally prolific.
The fact that litle seems to have been done to remove it from what was then a relatively small area of the Perch Pond is a shame, because I have now seen the plant deep into the islands at the west end of the lake, from where I suspect it will be extremely difficult to remove from amongst the vegetation.
It is possible to deal with it, because the Wren Conservation Group did just that on a practical work task in April 2005, clearing a patch at the west end of Heronry Pond (see here). It has not reappeared. I have again informed the Conservators of Epping Forest of the situation, and it is hoped that they will take hasty steps to try to deal with it!
click here for a photograph taken recently of the problem plant in situ in Perch Pond.
Paul Ferris, 11th December 2009