News of wildlife and other issues

A View from Wanstead Flats

"Obsidian is currently preparing for a masterplan for the regeneration of Forest Gate town centre"

That's the introduction to a proposal for a major regeneration scheme in Forest Gate. It goes on to say that this will refelect the issues and opportunities facing the local community, and that there is much about Forest Gate that reflects its historic past and the quality of the Victorian architecture. It mentions that Obsidian's motto is 'To work with the best of the existing'.

What has all this got to do with Wanstead Wildlife, then? I need to be careful that I don't go blogging off on too many tangents, but I live in Forest Gate, don't really think too much of it - apart from the part where I live - and do appreciate that the area in question, which is adjacent to the station, needs a good overhaul. But here is the crunch. The area in question consists of the likes of shop frontages, community facilities, some villa-like houses - a bit of a mix. But it is a mix that doesn't include anything quite on the scale of:


i) one residential tower of 26 storeys

ii) three 3-8 story buildings

iii) perimeter buildings between 4-8 storeys

iv) Three taller buildings of approximately 7-12 storeys


A comparison of the scale of present buildings in Woodgrange Road, compared to those proposed!


It does include a new public open-space "with access to non-residents", provision for approximately 850 residential units and private parking "limited and controlled by management of the new residential blocks and a controlled parking zone"; oh - and there will also be cycle parking, of course.

Wildlife again? Well, I'm sure the open space will deal with that; apart from the gardens front and back of the existing villas, nothing much will change there. Indeed a releatively new development exists near to Wanstead Park Station and is, to my mind, similar disproportionate dimensions in so far as "reflecting the past and working with the best of the existing" which was erected hard against the Eagle and Child pub and opposite what is a sympathetically-styled health centre. This - the residential development opposite the health centre - has a roof garden, apparently, because you can see the regimentaly-styled tree planting leaning across the roof's "garden" clearly - from Wanstead Flats!

Wanstead Flats

The Shard, Orbit Tower, Capel Point and Westminster Bank Tower.

The proposed 26 Storey Block, plus the others, will be appear between the Shard and Capel Point. Capel Point is 10 storeys!


And so back to Wanstead Flats. Wanstead Flats is - some people eventually find - quite a gem, really. It's easy to see the attraction in the diversity of landscapes in Wanstead Park, but driving by the flat, open expanse of grassland that is Wanstead Flats doesn't necessarily immediately suggest the tremendous feel of openess that can be experienced if walking across it. Great cloud and skyscapes, views of the distant Highgate Hills, the Crystal Palace Hills and Shooters Hill. These are somewhat spoilt by the impossing twin towers at the Leytonstone end, the lesser impact of the 'Belgrave Heights' tower block by Bush Wood, and now the towering 105m 35-storey Pioneer Point skyscraper in Ilford. When the 115m “ArcelorMittal Orbit”, or Orbit Tower for short, is completed, this monstrosity will also be visible as an eyesore from Wanstead Flats. In the distance the even taller buildings of the City are clearly visible and - spreading southwards - now can be seen 'The Shard'. The complex around Canary Wharf is closer still, but all of these are far enough away not to impose themselves.

The Forest Gate project is another matter entirely. It is in no way sympathetic to the historic past or the Victorian architecture of the area, nor is it sympathetic to Wanstead Flats. The very name "Forest Gate" reflects what the settlement was - the gateway to Epping Forest.

The Woodgrange Web Community Website contains views on this subject and is available here.

Paul Ferris, Equinox, 23 September 2011

NO Compulsory Purchase Order for Wanstead Flats!

It has been a while since I issued an article on the website regarding the use of part of Wanstead Flats for a Police Muster, Briefing and Deployment Centre during the 2012 Olympics. As we are all probably well aware, the muster station will be set up and used, despite considerable local opposition. (see here)

However, apparently some social networking sites have been putting out comments that the Police have issued a compulsory purchase order for land at Wanstead Flats, and this is not the case. A statement issued by Detective Chief Superintendent Alaric Bonthron of the Metropolitan Police reads as follows:

"In response to the comment posted earlier on a social networking site, the Met have not issued a compulsory purchase order for land at Wanstead Flats and have no intention to. As set out in the Met's planning application, the use of the fairground area of Wanstead Flats is for a temporary period of 90 days in the summer of 2012 and awaits the outcome of the judicial review process which is currently with the High Court. " 

Paul Ferris, 5th September 2011

Bee Wolfs in Wanstead Park

The Bee-killer wasp or Bee Wolf is a quite dramatic creatures, known locally from around Alexandra Lake and recently seen near Jubilee Pond, but one of the easiest places to see them is near the refreshment kiosk in Wanstead Park. Whilst visitors sit in the sun sipping their tea or licking their ice-creams, the Bee Wolfs may be bringing their prey back to their nests very nearby.

The Bee Wolf Philanthus triangulum is the common European member of the genus Philanthus, of which there are about 170 species. It is a solitary wasp which preys typically on honey bees. It stings them to paralyse them, then carries its prey back to its tunneled nest slung underneath its body.

Bee Wolf Philanthus triangulumThe nest hole may be up to a metre long, with numerous side tunnels branching off which end in a brood chamber, each of which contains one of the prey. On the Plain, the nests are in dusty soil with little or no vegetation, and after entering the hole the Bee Wolf closes it by pushing soil into the opening, using a digging motion with the soil being aimed backwards, much like a dog may do.

I deliberately set out to try to photograph or film these creatures at the end of July, and on a very hot 29th - when there really was a lot of ice-cream licking going on - I spotted some activity and began to film it. In this case, I didn't see the carrying of the prey into the nest-hole, but saw the "door" being opened from the inside, and the Bee Wolf emerging. Turning back to face the entrance, it appeared that it might be clearing something out from inside, although I couldn't make out anything other than soil. It proceeded to throw the soil backwards, away from the nest hole, for some minutes before re-entering the hole.

Crouching to get a video record, I was aware that some children had paused and were asking each other what I was doing, but I couldn't move as I was using the camera hand-held. However, after the wasp had re-entered its nest, I asked the three children who had stopped if they had seen it. They acknowledged that they'd been watching the wasp, and asked what it was. By the time I'd got into the explanation there was quite a little gathering of mums and children, seemingly fascinated that such goings on were happening all around them.

The video is available here.

Paul Ferris, 6th August 2011

Heaps of Toads, and Piles of Newts


Carefully removing a a small log from its position in rough grass at the top of the Glade in Wanstead Park, I was transported back to childhood days visiting the Park to find newts. In those days, still with varying water levels because of water loss in the Heronry Pond, the south edges of the pond were a muddy gloop of "grass". I don't know what the vegetation consisted of then, because I had no knowledge of wildlife - or maybe even concept of it - but it's successors can probably be found easily at the south-east corner of the Shoulder of Mutton, and other places, today.

We - it seems loads of kids - used to turn over bits of wood, leaves and litter, and pull out sometimes what seemed like hundreds of newts. We probably used to take them home and put them in a cheap fish-tank or some other container, where doubtless they suffered and died.

I tend not to get down in the mud so much now, but lifting the log exposed a nest of newts, just  like in times past. To some, it might seem these were a long way from any standing water, such as one of the lakes, but then newts like it damp - not necessarily wet all the time! I only have records of Common Newts - or Smooth Newts as the are alternatively known - Triturus vulgaris from Wanstead Park, not the more exiting Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) which tends to be found in any pond where a new development is planned. This may be something to do with the fact that the Great Crested Newt is seen as a threatened species in the country and is strictly protected by British and European law, which makes it an offence to ...

  • Kill, injure or capture them;
  • Disturb them in any way
  • Damage or destroy their habitat
  • Possess them or sell or trade them in any way.

The Common Newt is protected in a similar way in Northern Ireland, so if I'd uplifted that log there... Incidentally - but importantly - I replaced the log as gently and as carefully in its original position as I could. I hope that no animals were injured in the process.

There is another British newt, the Palmate Newt (Triturus helveticus), but it prefers acid soils and is more common on heathland in the south and west and on moorland and bogs in the north. I am not an expert on amphibians and have never closely examined our populations as to whether we may have either of the other two species.

Also in the long grass and elsewhere in Wanstead Park the last week or so have been lots of small toads. I always perceived Frogs - the Common Frog (Rana temporaria) - to be more common in the area than toads (Bufo bufo) - but not this year. On 31st June I experienced the site of piles of tiny toads at the west end of Heronry Pond - a remarkable sight which I reported on here. The toads that are at the moment so profuse in long grass on the Plain, by Heronry and Shoulder of Mutton Ponds and elsewhere, are almost certainly the results of an incredible number of tadpoles and off-spring survival rate this year.


So there are our amphibians, what of our reptiles? The reptiles that we might expect to have are the Adder Vipera berus, the Grass Snake Natrix natrix, the Common Lizard Zootoca (Lacerta) vivipara and the Slow Worm Anguis fragilis. There are few records of adders from our area, and I know of none recently. Grass Snakes, however, may be more common than we realise, for I've certainly seen them in Wanstead Park and in the City of London Cemetery. Often in the Park, that sighting has been of them swimming - for they swim well. Common Lizards are surprisingly scarce; a recent survey was carried out on Wanstead Flats and none were found. however a single individual was found by chance in a garden in the Lake House area near Bush Wood, so there may be a population in that area. Slow Worms used to be found in the old sewage works site - now Aldersbrook Exchange Lands. Although they haven't been recorded recently, it may well be that any population that we do have will be in this area or the adjacent allotments or riding school.

Paul Ferris, 2nd August



The fall of the Cormorant Tree

The Cormorant Tree was a tall dead tree at the southern end of Rook Island, on the Ornamental Waters in Wanstead Park. It was given the name because of the fondness cormorants had for perching in its high top-most branches.

Some years ago, the fact that the tree was there at all gave rise to a controversial move by the City of London Corporation in their management of the park when, in order to allay the fear that the tree might fall across the lake and perhaps cause injury to persons walking the lake-side path, the path near the tree's possible fall-line was blocked and a new alternative route cut through adjacent River Wood. The cutting of this route involved felling mature trees, which were used to block the original path. One of these trees was a healthy hornbeam - one of the finest in the park!

Apparently, this move was deemed necessary rather than deliberately fell the Cormorant Tree because doing so would have been a difficult and possibly dangerous undertaking. In practise, the original path was never fully blocked - even given the size of the felled trees that were used to attempt to do so - and people clambered over them or round them.

The Cormorant Tree has now fallen and, as anticipated, fell across the stretch of water dividing the island from the area near River Wood. It doesn't appear to have quite reached the bank where the original path was closed, but came close. Now the logs that blocked the path have been removed and the path is open again. The big obstruction at the moment is to the lake, where waterfowl are having to clamber over the Cormorant Tree!

  Cormorant Tree in Wanstead Park


In February 2010 I wrote about access issues in Wanstead Park, and mentioned the Cormorant Tree and the blocked path. (see here). As the article was about access in general, the state of a newly-laid path by the Ornamental Waters was also mentioned. On my walk around the lake which prompted the article on the fall of the tree, I walked that  path again; it leads from the southern end of the Ornamental Waters, past the west edge of the Bund, and leads to a viewpoint for the Grotto, just across the arm of the lake. The Grotto has just undergone work to stabilise the stonework and encroaching vegetation removed. The path that leads to this viewpoint is a heavily used one, but as I negotiated it on 22nd July, it was - as often is - a soup of slippery mud. Apart from the muck on my footwear, I was finding that - even with the cleats of my boots - I was loosing my footing. I wondered what form of compensation the City of London Corporation might find itself paying out if - as I feel could easily happen - broken bones or other injury resulted because of this DANGEROUS surface?

Mud in Wanstead Park, July 2011



Paul Ferris 27th July 2011