News of wildlife and other issues

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

The Annual Rodings Rally

This doesn't really come into the remit of Wanstead Wildlife in any way whatsoever, but as I've been involved with this event for a few years now - and as it is a major reason that I might miss out on local practical work and my local wildlife hunting for quite a few weekends during the summer and into the Autumn, I feel moved to write something!

Rodings Rally logoThe weekend of 19th/20th November 2011 saw about 300 people running or struggling about in the depths of Epping Forest, taking part in the 53rd annual Rodings Rally. In addition, scattered around a 12 mile course, were nine tents with two people in each (and one lonely one) as well as a tea-tent run by three people and a group manning High Beech Village Hall.

The rally is an overnight orienteering-type event, with competitors in groups of two to four attempting to visit either five or ten checkpoints in the shortest possible time. The checkpoints of course are the tents, which are usually unlit and hidden within the Forest. Competitors are provided with a 1:20,000 map specially prepared for the event and a clues sheet. The clues relate to the whereabouts of the checkpoints, given as a grid reference.

This event has been organised each year by the Epping Forest Outdoor Group (EFOG), a group which is affiliated to the YHA but nowadays does a wide variety of both outdoor and indoor activities and events. The Group's headquarters is at the ROVSCO scout hut at Snaresbrook, where we meet on Thursday evenings. Activities include walking and cycling, days out, weekends away and holidays in Britain and abroad. We are also quite keen on visiting eating establishments, quizzes and games, or simply socialising!

Rodings RallyMy involvement with EFOG goes back to the one time that the (late!) Epping Forest Festival was held on Wanstead Flats and I was helping out at a Wren Conservation Group display stall. At the end of the day I got a chance to look at some of the neighbouring displays and discovered EFOG. As this happened to be just a couple of months before the Rodings Rally, having joined the Group I found myself the next weekend with a compass and surveyor's tape getting scratched by bramble and holly, stung by nettles and scraped by branches in trackless parts of Epping Forest far to the north of Wanstead. On the night of the rally itself I resisted the temptation of spending the night in a checkpoint and instead was sleepless in the village hall, from 2pm on Saturday until 9am on Sunday. I've done similar each year since.

To try to bring just a bit of wildlife into this, during the night those of us in the hall (the headquarters and finishing point for the rally) need to visit the tea-tent from time to time as well as put the checkpoints out in the evening and collect them in the morning. This sometimes involves sightings of deer, and this year my experience was a mature stag crossing the road ahead of the car near the church at High Beach. But there is more to the night than wildlife. This year, although the temperatures during the night were relatively mild (about 5C) the stars were brilliant. In the morning, just at daybreak, mists were forming and re-forming throughout the forest, with lovely streamers of sunlight coming through the trees.

I should emphasise that this event has taken place in Epping Forest for years now, with the full permission of the Conservators of Epping Forest and with notice given to the police that it will occur. We put warning notices up alongside roads warning motorists that "hikers" may be present, and we have not had any major incidents involving either competitors, motorists or - indeed - the deer.

For a report on the 2011 Rodings Rally click here

Paul Ferris, 30 November 2011

Flowers and flutterbys in November  

We are told that November 2011 is expected be at least the second warmest November in more than 350 years of records.

Many people will have noticed plants in their garden with unseasonal flowers, and the same is true out and about around the Wanstead area. There are also at the moment quite a lot of ladybirds – particularly the Harlequin Ladybird - wasps and even bees to be seen whenever there is some sun and warmth.

Common DarterCommon DarterDuring a walk in Wanstead Park and the adjacent Aldersbrook Exchange Lands (the old Sewage Works site) on the 13th and having seen one Red Admiral butterfly fly past me in Aldersbrook, another (although I suppose possibly the same one!) landed on my hand in the Exchange Lands. Tim Harris reported that he had also seen a Small Tortoiseshell at much the same time nearby, and we both watched Common Darter dragonflies – newly emerged – by the Ornamental Waters and by Perch Pond. There were a few hoverflies about, too – including the drone-fly Eristalis tenax which may in fact be found throughout the year.

As for the plants, there were a number of species still with flowers including mallow_sw_111113_00160artMallowCock's-foot (grass), Black Nightshade, Canadian Fleabane, Mallow, Yarrow, Hedge Mustard, Sunflower, Scentless Mayweed, Pineapple Mayweed, Spear Thistle, White Dead-nettle and Common Vetch. I suspect I could have found more without much difficulty.

A  few days earlier, on 9th, a look at Wanstead Flats showed Charlock, Red Dead-nettle and Gorse in addition to some of those found on 13th, and on 6th November near the Green Man roundabout there was Musk Mallow, Tufted Vetch and Chicory as well.

Of course some of these are well known for having a long season for flowers – Gorse particularly, and Yarrow can tend to hang on to its flowers too – but it is both interesting to be able to find so many species in flower and also a bit disconcerting that seasonal expectations may not be fulfilled in the future!

Paul Ferris, 16th November 2011

Compensation for the Police use of Wanstead Flats during the Olympics

The following request has been made by the Corporation of the City of London:

From the Corporation of the City of London: Police use of Wanstead Flats for 2012 Games

As compensation for the Police using part of Wanstead Flats as a Briefing and Deployment Centre for 90 days spanning the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 the City of London will be receiving £170,000. The Police will be returning the land to its original condition on top of the £170,000 compensation money which will be spent locally improving an area of Wanstead Flats.

We would like Forest users to vote for the project they would like to see the money spent on. If you would like more information on these projects including how to vote, download the Wanstead Flats Police Muster Site Consultation (PDF, 538kb). Alternatively vote in person, a display of the projects and chance to vote will be at the following locations during October:

  • Capel Road Football Changing Rooms: Sunday 2 October 12noon - 3pm
  • Aldersbrook Library: date to be confirmed

If you would like further information please go to the Police use of Wanstead Flats page

This consultation ends on 31 October 2011. If you would like to be kept in touch regarding the development of it, please email  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



As you will see, this is an opportunity to vote on how the (meagre) £170,000 compensation will be spent, with four options being proposed. These - briefly - are:

  1. Alexandra Lake - improve the habitat
  2. Bush Wood - enhance the tree avenues
  3. Capel Road - renovate the changing rooms
  4. Jubilee Pond - reline the damaged pond and find new sources of water

All of these are of course very worthwhile requirements, but to my mind it is Alexandra Lake that is the most deserving. In Bush Wood. one of the tree avenues - Evelyns Avenue was replanted some years ago, with replacement lime trees, and the avenue itself was cleared of invasive vegetation. After any such work on the Forest, it is important that the newly-planted trees are cared for and the invasive vegetation kept under control - perhaps this should form part of the normal management costs?

The Changing Rooms in Capel Road provide a facility for users of the Flats that actually pay for this service, in the form of bookings for the use of the football pitches and the like. Should not the costs of any required renovation come from this income?

The problems with leakage from Jubilee Pond - the damage that is referred to in the consultation document - has been evident almost since the newly rebuilt pond was opened in 2003. This would seem to indicate a problem with the construction, and to my mind any costs involved in fixing this should have come from the constructors - not from the Police compensation money.

Alexandra Lake forms one of the most aesthetically pleasing aspects of Wanstead Flats. The view of the lake from Aldersbrook Road in passing or from the Flats themselves in walking or riding, is a pleasure. However, that view is fast being lost. From the row of shops in Aldersbrook Road, it is becoming difficult to even see the lake across the road, and the same is happening because of the growth of willows and birch along the southern edge. The edges of the two islands are so thick with willow that it almost seems that there is just one island at times. The vegetation growth near Aldersbrook Road has come about because of a change that was made to the edge of the lake by the City of London Corporation some years ago. Where there had been a pebble "beach" since the creation of the lake in the early years of the 20th century, a bank was built. This disturbance encouraged the vegetation growth and blocked the outflow from a surface-water drain on Aldersbrook Road. Similarly, a "dumping" of dredgings from the lake on the islands years before encouraged the islands' vegetation to become more luxuriant. These problems were caused by inappropriate work by those who should have managed the lake in a better way.

It is vitally important that these problems are addressed before the pleasure of the lake is further lost.


Paul Ferris, 4th October 2011

Moth Trapping in Wanstead Park

The local Wren Conservation Group held a moth-trapping evening in Wanstead Park on 24th September. It was attended by ten Wren Group members, including myself, and four people with a range of moth-trapping identification skills who brought five moth-traps along.

Tim Harris organised this, with the co-operation of the City of London Corporation, as the event was held in and adjacent to the Temple at Wanstead Park. Forest Keeper Brian Gotts was kind enough to open up the Temple for us to plug in the lamps that attract the moths and to give provisions for those present to try to identify the catch around a table in the Temple.

There are a range of ways that moths can be attracted, and the most well-known of these is by light. Even an electric light and an open window can provide a good supply, as may be well known! However, moths are more attracted to certain wavelengths of light, and the appropriate light source can have a considerable effect on the numbers and even the species attracted. Having been attracted, the traps themselves can vary greatly. The traps used on the evening were Robinson Traps and Skinner Traps, and the lamps were very bright Mercury Vapour types.

It should be emphasised that the moths are trapped live, and can be released unharmed afterwards. The lamps attract them, they make their way into a container - or even simply onto a sheet so that they can be seen - and then can be removed in individual clear plastic containers to be examined and identified. To make things more homely for them whilst they are in the traps, egg-boxes are laid out which they can cling to and hide out in the crevasses.


One of our first catches was not a moth but a Hornet. Other creatures are of course attracted to the lights, and these included a Frog-hopper and some Caddis Flies. The Hornet was quite a large one - and one of many that have been around Wanstead Park in recent months. Although they are often feared, this member of the wasp family is actually one of the less aggressive wasps and its sting is said to be not much different from that of the common wasp. Nevertheless...

Very few moths were caught, however, between setting up the traps at about 7.30 and finishing at about 10pm. As with all wildlife, it's not always easy to predict what will happen. The night was relatively clear - with Jupiter and quite a few stars shining - bats were flying, but we noticed the first "huffs" from our breaths of the season. Maybe it could have been just a bit warmer to have produced more of a moth-catch, but it didn't actually feel particularly cold.

Lunar UnderwingLunar UnderwingA good collection of moth-identification guides were available, brought by the experts and provided by some of the local naturalists, and some moths were available early on, brought from Epping. The guide that I like to use is the "Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland" by Waring, Townsend and Lewington. This has illustrations of all the resident and migrant macro-moths (the larger ones as opposed to the usually tiny "micros"), showing the moths in typical pose and at life-size. This helps a lot in visually identifying species, and reference to the text then can help clarify the identification.

With a bit of help at times from those who were more knowledgeable, all of the macro moths were identified including those that were caught locally. The latter were Lunar Underwing, Willow Beauty, Pale Mottled Willow, Brindled Green and Square-spot Rustic. Two "micros" were taken away for expert identification, and it is hoped that we may find out what these were to supplement local records.

Willow BeautyWillow BeautySome years ago I set out a moth trap in my garden by Wanstead Flats. This was a "Heath" type trap, with an Actinic (fluorescent) lamp of much less intensity than the mercury vapour ones. (It's more friendly to the neighbours!). In the course of the two seasons that I set the trap nightly, some175 species were identified. For a review of this exercise, click here

Thanks to Tim Harris for organising this, to the Conservators of Epping Forest for allowing us to use the Temple and Wanstead Park, to Brian Gotts for opening and closing the Temple for us, and to Anthony and Pat Harbott, Grahame Smith, and Martin who gave us their time and expertise.

Paul Ferris, 25th September 2011