News of wildlife and other issues

Roding Valley Way in Aldersbrook Exchange Lands

I was sorry to hear - although not surprised - that the City of London Corporation appears to have submitted to pressure from the cycling campaign and the London Borough of Redbridge to allow the Roding Valley Way to pass through Aldersbrook Exchange Lands - the old sewage works site.

Early in the 2000s, together with local resident Don Kinnibrugh, I accompanied a surveyor who was working on behalf of LBR (I believe) on a visit to the Exchange Lands and nearby areas to look at possibilities for the route. We agreed that it would be a shame and unnecessary to route the proposed RVW through the site of the sewage works because of the increased disturbance to the area caused by channelling bicycles through there.

If this had been the only option, then it would be understandable, but an existing parallel route was - it seemed - a realistic alternative. This was the route known locally as "The Bridle Path" which runs alongside the City of London Cemetery fence. This would have meant that an existing and pleasant route for both pedestrians and cyclists be maintained (which it rarely is) and an alternative, primarily but not exclusively, for pedestrians remain un-surfaced in the Exchange Lands. In addition it may have been possible to open the fence by the NE corner of the cemetery, which would give access to and from that part of the Bridle Path into the area of the old sewage works known as "Redbridge Field", routing the surfaced track alongside that area's boundary hedge and thus give the track a junction with the east-west route. An opportunity for increased and alternative access and routes has been missed. It might have been argued that whoever owns Redbridge Field (and it seems to be uncertain who does!) may not have agreed, but if this were so then the route could have veered north-east at the corner to access the Exchange Lands just for the northern stretch.

As it was, the stretch of the Roding Valley Way from near Little Ilford towards Wanstead Park was created along its own orientation, destroying a nice piece of "meadow land" by the  Alders Brook in the process, and its orientation by the Exchange Lands was pre-emptedly aimed right at the old gates to the sewage works instead of by the existing Bridle Path. This - as I understood - was before the City of London had accepted that the route would pass across their land here and thus necessitating the change in surface now proposed. In addition, a year or two ago, signposts were erected between Redbridge Roundabout and Aldersbrook Exchange Lands showing the RVW route as established, when indeed it was not!

Aldersbrook Exchange Lands 

The existing track across the exchange lands


Prior to pylon-work being undertaken in 1994 this track had something of the feel of a grassy country track. When brick-rubble was laid to provide access and support for heavy vehicles, it was left in a rough state with ankle-twisting bricks protruding from the surface. Only in the last few years have these virtually disappeared to provide the sound surface that we see in the photograph taken in 2010. It also gives something of the feel of the country-like atmosphere it once had.

Now it is proposed that it be disturbed again to complement the cycle-oriented Roding Valley Way,


Now it is proposed that a surfaced track be laid from where the existing RVW track ends at the old gate and at precisely the point where Epping Forest begins across the Exchange Lands following existing routes as far as the existing east-west hard-surfaced track near the concrete bridge across the Roding.

I feel disappointed that the City of London Corporation seems to have bowed to pressure from LBR and the cycling lobby at the expense of the aesthetics, the ecology and ambience of the area and allowed these changes to be made. I think that the existing surface is perfectly satisfactory for pedestrians, horses and indeed cyclists and requires no upgrade. On the other hand, many parts of Wanstead Park are a no-go area right now for me (as a pedestrian) because of the abominable condition of the paths which - even without re-surfacing - could be made more easily, comfortably and safely passable simply by clearance and slight widening.

I am sorry to have to say that I despair of "the Corporation's" policies with regard to the use of their land by the sometimes conflicting requirements of pedestrians, cyclists, horse-riders and nature. On the other hand, I was pleased that I was contacted by the Conservators to advise me of this and to ask if I knew of any particular species that might be present in order that they might be protected. My thoughts are that sometimes it is not only the wildflowers and animals that require to be protected, but the place itself.

Paul Ferris, 5th January 2012

A Solstice Frog and a Red Admiral

Apologies for the slide-show photographs being a bit sparse this month; must be the time of year...

However, I've been asked about the relevance of the Solstice Frog, not yet about the Red Admiral - but both are a bit unseasonal. The Solstice Frog was an early-evening encounter returning from a Solstice-themed walk from the Eagle Pond to the River Lee, appropriately enough on 21st December. There is an historically anomalous strip of land called the Walthamstow Slip that runs from just by the Birch Well close to the Eagle Pond as far as the River Lee - a distance of nearly three miles. The aim of the walk was to follow this strip of land as closely as possible - considering that buildings such as Whipps Cross Hospital have now been built across it - on shortest day of the year. Starting from the Birch Well was in itself somewhat significant - or at the very least felt so - because of course springs of water - for that is what it is - are magical places which have always been important in human imagination, though we may tend to forget that these days.

Birch Well, WansteadThe Birch Well, SnaresbrookOn the 21st December, at the Winter Solstice, if you were to look along the line of the Walthamstow Slip towards Hackney Marsh and the River Lee, if it weren't for the houses (and the trees) in between, at 3.56pm on that day (clouds and weather conditions also coming into the equation) you would see the sun set. It is quite remarkable, I think, that the alignment of this strange strip of land happens to be at about 240° (ie SW), which is the same as the setting sun on just that day!

We looked at the well, thought about its significance and walked across Leyton Flats and through side-streets near the hospital to reach Leyton Green. Capworth Road is very close to the Slip and on the same alignment, and  - albeit we were a bit early for the true sunset - on that long view towards Hackney Marshes we had the pleasure of the clouds lifting to reveal the orange glow of a descending Sun. We arrived at the river just at sunset to end our Solstice walk.

Now to the frog. My way home was via Bush Road, in between the north and south portions of Bush Wood, in the dark of course. There on the pavement, facing that somewhat busy road, was a nicely light-coloured frog. If it had continued the way it was facing there is a good chance that it would have soon been an ex-solstice frog, and even sitting there in broad night-light, it was threatened by human feet. I made a rescue, and went home, content with a nice walk, a nice sunset and a frog-rescue.

The Red Admiral - like the frog - was a creature you would less expect to see during these dark-days of the year, but Jennifer Charter was pleased to see one flying around quite strongly by Reservoir Wood on another day which has significance to many at this time, Christmas Day.

However, whoever or whatever you may celebrate at this time of year, we should all perhaps celebrate the fact that outside of our doors, the wildlife goes on and it is not just Robins that are so much in evidence, but sometimes quite unexpected creatures.

Paul Ferris, 26th December 2011

The Flowers of Wanstead Area - a presentation by the Wren Conservation Group

On Monday December 12th 2011, the WREN Conservation and Wildlife Group organised an illustrated talk on "The Flowers of the Wanstead Area" at Wanstead House Community Centre.

This was an illustrated talk by two local naturalists - Tricia Moxey and myself. The talk by Tricia Moxey covered a broader picture of the south of Epping Forest, describing something of the topology, man's influence on the area, the history and the natural history

This was followed by my talk, which concentrated more on the flora of the Wanstead area and so encompassed that area which is covered by 'Wanstead Wildlife'. This looked at some of the specialities of the area, some newcomers, some that people may well be aware of such as the bluebells, and some which they may not such as the Duke of Argylle's Tea-tree! It was hoped that this brief look at our local flowers may encourage people to get out and look for what we have for themselves.

The presentation was filmed by Stuart Monro and are available on YouTube. Tricia's presentation is here :     and Paul's presentation is here:

Paul Ferris, 24th December 2011

Update on Liverworts and Mosses

Bryum capillareBryum capillare

Because of my limited knowledge of the bryophytes - the group that includes liverworts and mosses - I have been aware that this group is sadly under-represented on this website. In an effort to do just a little about this, I have re-looked at some of my own records, got some information from Roger Snook - a local naturalist - and have done a search for some older records from the study area.

Looking at my old records to a great extent involved looking at some microscope-slides that I prepared back in 1979 and 1980 when I collected and preserved some samples. With Roger's help I was able to either confirm those early identifications or - in some cases - to exclude them. As well, I gathered some new samples and attempted identification of those, and in the main was pleased that they agreed with samples from all those years ago gathered from similar locations.

In this way I was able to add a few more species to the list on the website, and add a few more still with Roger's records and knowledge of local species. The list is available here.

Lastly, I trawled through the "Flora of Essex" by Stanley T. Jermyn for any local records included there, so that these records are now also available on this website. Those records included a number of species of Sphagnum, which is well known to exist in boggy habitats. Although when walking across areas like Leyton or Wanstead Flats after heavy rainfall we may think of these areas as boggy, most of the Flats dry out very rapidly, so no true bog remains. The locations where the sphagnums were found appears to be closer to that area of Leyton Flats nearer to the Green Man and to Snaresbrook. Roger particularly bemoans the loss of those "boggy" areas which we knew on Wanstead Flats - particularly the area below the spring which used to exist south-east of the mini-roundabouts at the junction of Aldersbrook and Centre Roads, and the just-about-still-wet area to the north of the fairground site.

The spring was always a bit of a mystery (as springs tend to be - unless you go into the geology and spoil it!). It was on the slope of the bank that runs down from the rising land at the north of the Flats to the area known as the Dell on Epping Forest maps, but may be more appropriately called the Brick-fields for historical reasons. It is now playing fields. The water bubbled and sometimes flowed from the mud near the upper slope, and gave rise to a wet area at the base. It was much favoured by feeding and drinking birds, and flowed permanently even if sometimes sparsely until pipe-works were carried out along Centre Road. Whether this simply resulted in the repair of a leaking main or cut a natural water supply from the vicinity of Bush Wood, I do not know. The spring is no longer and little remains of the interesting plant habitat that existed in the wet area.

The boggy area on the fairground section of the Flats (ie west of Centre Road) still exists, although is no longer anything like as permanently wet as it used to be. It would require a geologist, I suppose, to explain exactly why that area is particularly wet, but suffice to say its drying out may well be influenced by the now-considerable growth of birches and other trees that have invaded. Perhaps some thoughts may be given to actually channelling water into these area? After all, the roads nearby (in this case probably most likely Lake House Road) must have considerable water running into surface-water drains during rainfall.

Looking more at the species that we do know of, Polytrichum commune is perhaps most associated with these wetter area as it favours damp moorlands and this is the closest that we have got! Because of its size it is an easily-observable plant and quite widespread in suitable habitats. The liverwort Marchantia polymorpha is also associated with damper areas, and used to be more frequent on the sides of the ditches that exist around the perimeter of the Flats. It is probably more common now in gardens. There are are probably two species of the liverwort Lophocolea that are present, but they can be difficult to tell apart. In the usually drier parts of the Flats the moss Brachythecium albicans is frequently found in the grassy areas, with Brachythecium rutabulum probably also present as it is a very common moss of grassy places. For some reason, though, I do not have a definite record of it here as I do for the City of London Cemetery. Outside of the grassy areas, where the soil is more open due to compaction or fires, Funaria hygrometrica is very common, forming sometimes quite large mats and when in fruit, distinctive down-turned capsules. Ceratodon purpureus is another very common moss on barer parts of the Flats and elsewhere, forming rather dull-looking carpets unless in fruit when it is conspicuosly purple. It also favours burnt-ground, which is a situation that occurs quite frequently during the summer months. Also absent from my Flats records, although it must be present as it is such a common moss, is Hypnum cupressiforme, which again is present in the cemetery. Another species of Polytrichum - P.  juniperinum -  is easily observed in numerous areas, particularly perhaps just south of Alexandra Lake where the crows delight in pulling tufts out to search for goodies beneath.

On garden walls in the streets nearby may be found another liverwort, Lunularia cruciata, as well as the mosses Bryum capillare and Tortula muralis, both upright (acrocarpus) mosses and Bryum argenteum  which has a spreading (plerocarpus) habit. Barbula convulata as well as others should also be present in these habitats, with Grimmia pulvinata particulary on rooftops.

In the wooded areas, Hypnum cupressiforme  is common, and there are probably varieties of these present which need to be determined. Mnium hornum is an acrocapus moss which is common in numbers of places throughout the area, whilst Fissidens taxifolius  is probably common but is perhaps not so noticeable.

It will be evident to anybody with a knowledge of mosses and liverworts that this account and the species listed is sparse. There may well be aspects that need to be clarified or even changed. But at least I hope this will serve as an introduction to this group of plants that - by nature of their relative size perhaps - are not so frequently taken into account when looking at plants in general.

Paul Ferris, 23rd December 2011

Maintenance work on trees on Wanstead Flats

I have received information from local naturalist Tim Harris about proposed maintenance work on some of the trees on Wanstead Flats. Concerned about freshly-painted white dots on some of the trees in copses and areas of wood, he has spoken to representatives of the City of London Corporation to discuss what is proposed for these trees. They have been selected by consultants working on behalf of the City of London as in need of either remedial work or removal because of a perceived danger of injury to people.

Tim, along with a number of other local naturalists, were anxious about the removal of dead trees from the area since they are a rich source of invertebrate food for birds and for other invertebrates. They also provide valuable nesting sites, notably for woodpeckers (including the nationally scarce Lesser Spotted), Stock Doves, Starlings and Little Owls.

Alexandra Lake, Wanstead Flats - a tree in danger of fallingA tree in danger of falling, by Alexandra Lake, Wanstead Flats

The City of London Corporation - who are the Conservators of Epping Forest - it seems is obliged to have the work carried out because of the risk of litigation if someone is injured by a falling branch.  My own feelings about this are of dismay. Of course I understand that remedial work needs to be done from time to time when there is a significant and immediate danger. This was so recently when a tree by Alexandra Lake on the Flats broke off some heavy limbs and even after remedial work was still split and leaning over the lake-side in a position where people would normally tend to walk. However, the fear of litigation I feel is something of a monster out of control, and far more dangerous than a possibility of an occasional injury. If we walk in "natural" areas, then we might expect natural occurrences. If I walk through Wanstead High Street, then I expect the way underfoot to be relatively smooth and not to have a shop-sign fall on my head. But if I walk in the Forest - whether Wanstead Flats or elsewhere -  then I have different expectations. There are different possibilities and hazards. I feel that in some respects, the Conservators may not be on top of this danger to human beings. There is - for example - a long-standing mud-slip on the main path around the Ornamental Waters which - when wet - I am really afraid to walk. The danger of sliding and falling there is real at each step, yet nothing has been done in years to remedy this. Similarly, and still using the main track around the lake as an example, there are some vehicle-ruts which are not only mud-traps but ankle-twisters. Should not these be addressed, because the risk of litigation must be somewhat similar?

Tim has summarised the main points which he learnt from his discussion with the Forest ecologists Andy Froud and Sally Gadson:

 * Only one tree is to be felled though a significant number of dead trees will be "monolithed", ie. have dead branches taken off and in some cases have their main trunks reduced in height by 50%.
* Where possible cutting will take place to leave holes that look like they could be used as nest sites; clearly, though, in a lot of cases, that will not be possible. I did point out some trees that have been used by woodpeckers recently.
* In some cases it may be possible to strap dead wood from cut trees to living trees nearby, though Andy thought this would be unlikely to work in many cases.
* Andy agreed to delay start of the work until next Tuesday to give time for special representations about specific trees to be made.
* Most of the trees to be worked on are in East Copse and West Copse. There are a few in South Copse and a few in Long Wood.
* The overwhelming majority of trees to be worked on are beech.
* Dead wood will not be left in situ because of the risk of it being used for fires.

Alexandra Lake, Wanstead FlatsAlexandra Lake. Vegetation hides the lake, low water-levels and litterThere is another issue relating to the trees on Wanstead Flats. Many of them - particularly the four or so copses and of course the road-side ones - were planted as amenities early in the 20th century. Their purpose was to enhance the aspect of the Flats, so that it looked less like a "wild heathland" and perhaps more attractive. I understand that there is a policy of allowing the copse-trees to gradually disappear, without replacing them - perhaps part of a return to a more "natural" aspect. There is also a policy to enhance some of the grassland to be more varied and attractive to nesting birds such as Skylarks, and in other areas to try to bring back some of the heathland plants - such as Heather - that is now so scarce. Now those latter are positive policies to my mind, but on the other hand the copses do give the Flats perhaps a more gentle and scenically attractive feel, and offer colour and shelter and shade to humans and animal alike. Much of the Flats is mown for sports facilities anyway, so this distracts from the heathland aspect, but has its own values. There are lots of competing requirements for the Flats and these have to be balanced by the City of London Corporation. With the amount being spent elsewhere (proposed for Jubilee Pond, for example), and my own knowledge of requirements that I feel even more important (Alexandra Lake for example) I feel that undue maintenance work at the cost of wildlife habitat is not necessarily the best option.

Paul Ferris, 3rd February 2011