News of wildlife and other issues

The new Park Road to Warren Road "cycle path"

I walked by the north side of the Heronry Pond yesterday, where a new surface to the joint cycle/pedestrian track was laid in recent months. But I didn't walk much on the new surface - I did what most other people were doing, that is walking on the grass either side. And most other people included not only walkers, but cyclists as well, because I haven't spoken to anybody that likes the rough surface.

The old one was actually not a problem at all - certainly not compared to this. I've written before (here) about the damage that was done - presumably in preparation for the surfacing work - to the grassland that I was now walking on,  and now I and others are being encouraged to add to the damage thus inhibiting any possibility of recovery of what was one of the Park's nicer habitat. It's interesting that before the new surface, people used the old track and didn't need to walk on the grass!


I am afraid that the debacle with this path has just confirmed my long-term conviction that the Conservators are not doing their job properly. In this case a lot of time and money has been spent which has resulted not only in the destruction of a good wildlife habitat, but has restricted access rather than improved it and in addition has created a visually less attractive scene than was before. If I ask myself what positive aspects the track has, I can't find any!

What does that say?

Paul Ferris, 31st May 2011

Objection to Police Mustering, Briefing and Deployment Centre turned down.


Just after the report that the Epping Forest and Commons Committee of the City of London will NOT be considering the application for a Lottery Funding (see here), we now have received the news that the House of Lords will not be considering our application against the Legislative Reform (Epping Forest) Order that will allow a police "muster station" be erected on Wanstead Flats for the 2012 Olympic.


Ms. Chris Bolton at the Private Bill Office of the House of Lords has sent correspondence which includes the following statement :  "As you will see the Committee decided not to recommend that a select committee be appointed to consider the Order.  That means that the hybrid instrument process has now come to an end.  As the Committee did not recommend a select committee be appointed the report does not need to be agreed by the House."

So - in both cases the big guns of the City of London and the House of Lords have decided that the  wishes of local people and their regard for Epping Forest be overwhelmed by outside interests. I'm not much of a political person, so I shall leave it to more vociferous others to make statements expressing at the very least - I suspect - their disappointment. In the meantime Epping Forest as a whole, Wanstead Park in particular and Wanstead Flats now and certainly in 2012 will continue to suffer, and will be under increasing threat in the future.

Paul Ferris, 24th May 2011

Early May observations

I missed May Day. The one day of the year that I feel worthy of celebrating, and I wasn't in Cornwall, but in the Lake District. I even forgot it was happening until part-way through the day, and then didn't even get celebratory fish-and-chips.

But to get on to the ecological issues – I was in the Lake District, it was continually warm and sunny, and if this was to go on there won't be a lake district. I've never been in a mountain area of Britain where the ground underfoot on the hills was so dry.

So – being there, I missed a few days here, but returned to find that not only had I missed May Day, but I'd missed the peak of the May. The blossom was almost over, peaked and finished by the end of April. Cast your clouts! Also over were the Bluebells, so those people who had asked whether 6th May would be too late must've found they were. The Lilac in Aldersbrook Exchange Lands was also past its best, although strangely, that in my garden was glorious and is only now fading (12th May). Plant of the moment in my perception is Cow Parsley – not well thought of by some – but I like to see the extent of it, the snowy covering and the smell. It's nice to walk along the edge of River Wood near the Roding with the cow parsley on either side. It's a happy plant for insects, too, with lots of flying things favouring the flowers.

To get down to details – I spent quite a bit of time not in Wanstead Park or elsewhere, but in my garden. There are still hosts of things visiting the honeysuckle - bees and hoverflies of various species, as well as blue and white butterflies and Large Red Damselflies Pyrrhosoma nymphula. In fact, my garden is infested with Large Red Damselflies, and I spent about three hours on 9th May watching one emerge from my garden pond as a larva and fly of as an adult. If the one I saw the next day was actually the same one I'd watched the day before – then it had joined its mates in their invasion of my garden. The best don't-mess-with-me individual in the garden at present is a hoverfly of the species Helophilus pendulus that sits on the edge of the pond and see off anything up to three times its size that flies near. It hasn't tried to see me off yet, but then we have an understanding. I seem to have got an understanding not only with the obvious Robin that checks out whether I'm unearthing food for it, but also some Great Tits that feed a few feet from me, a pair of Blackbirds that don't seem too bothered that I'm there – and a very young Fox that stands and watches me, decides that it doesn't want to walk past me on route to the Flats, makes to use the alternative route around the small pond, but is more wary of a chair than of me. The Great Tits bred in a corner of my roof-top; how the young got on I don't know - but there was a very interested Carrion Crow about.

Blue damselflies are beginning to make an appearance in the garden. Blue-tailed were in late April, and Azure now in early May. Lots of ladybirds - particularly the inevitable Harlequin in their various colour-forms, but particularly conspicuous in their deep black colour. 14-spot Ladybirds are also numerous; these are quite small and perhaps they are numerous because they either don't make a fulfilling meal for a Harlequin, or have a bad taste. What is missing are the 2-spot and 7-spot natives.

In Wanstead Park, the pair of Egyptian Geese had six ducklings (yes – these geese are strictly ducks), but a couple of days later, the ducklings were gone – probably eaten (see here). There were still a pair of Gadwall on the Ornamental Waters on 9th May, and a few Coots, Mallard and Canada Geese had youngsters – but only a few, and I suspect that a lot of offspring are getting eaten. I glimpsed a large Grass Snake by Heronry Pond on the same day; it was there and gone, but the brief view was of a military-green snake of considerable proportions, and I'm guessing at up to a few feet long. Across the lake, on a low nest, a Great Crested Grebe was hunkered down – whether on eggs or young I don't know. There are two pairs of Swan on the lake – those at the east end as defensive as ever and apparently the male has been awarded the name Hannibal. I don't know whether this is on account of his military might or the fact that last year he led his flock across the embankment between this lake and the Perch Pond, where there is a Swan sitting on another nest.

The west end of Heronry Pond has what looks to be another swan on the nest, but it's hard to see. This end of the lake has been a riot of activity. The frog tadpoles are sometimes so thickly assembles that they'd likely make a nice marmalade, and damselfly activity is plentiful. I tentatively identified a number of spider species that I found here – and both myself and a friend were mystified by a creature that was sitting on a reed stem looking like an emerging dragonfly. It turned out to be a trick of perception and light. It was in fact a common spider, Tetragnatha extensa. The cause of intermittent water-disturbance hereabouts was difficult to ascertain, but eventually turned out to be shoals of Minnows. I have no knowledge of fish species, but photographs are often a useful way of being able to look something up after the event.

On the Shoulder of Mutton, there is no sign that I can see of swans nesting. Perhaps the pair that usually nest here are the ones on west Heronry? If so, why have they moved? What is encouraging on the Shoulder is that there are this year two Reed Warblers in the Phragmites. Pete Saunders expressed some concern about this patch of reed, as it can be very invasive; it's nice to have – the Reed Warblers prove that – but needs to be kept in check. That last statement is quite apt for Wanstead Park – there is a lot that needs to be kept in check, but some things I note are being checked out of existence - that's another matter, though!  When I visited – like the Lake District – the stream input to the pond was dry.; I walked along it from the troll bridge (it's a very small troll – it's a very small bridge) and only when I neared the lake did I get muddy boots. Did spot a few Newts, though.

By Alexandra Lake on the Flats the wildfowl seem to be doing a bit better in bringing off young than in the Park. There a few cootlets and moorhen-lings (or is it the other way round?). Also, Canada Geese have got goslings, and one pair of Greylags had two little-uns and another pair had four even littler-uns on 11th May. There was the sound of two - I think – Reed Warblers at the SW corner, and some Common Whitethroats in the vicinity. Chiffchaffs are generally plentiful, as are Blackcaps, and Willow Warblers seem more plentiful than last year. I don't report too much on birds, 'cos there are a lot of people out there doing a lot more observations and a lot more reporting of all the strangers that turn up than I do.

As the weather is turning just a bit in the last couple of days, let's see what happens next.

Paul Ferris, 12th May 2011

Some records from early May :

Azure Damselfly Coenagrion puella by Heronry Pond in Wanstead Park on 4th May

Large Red Damselfly Phyrrosoma nymphula by Heronry Pond in Wanstead Park on 4th May

Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly Libellula depressa by Heronry Pond in Wanstead Park on 4th May (first sighting this year)

Small Copper in Wanstead Park, 4th May (first sighting this year)

Small Tortoiseshell in Wanstead Park, 4th May

Holly Blue in the garden, 4th May and daily

aphids Microlophium carnosum in the garden on 5th May (first sighting this year)

a bee, possibly Nomada flava in the garden on 5th May

Harlequin Ladybird Harmonia axyridis in the garden on 5th May

a mirid bug Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatus in the garden on 5th May (first sighting this year)

a sawfly possibly Arge cyanocrocea in the garden on 5th May (first sighting this year)

Red Wasp Vespula rufa in the garden on 5th May (first sighting this year, and first record)

a hoverfly Eristalis tenax in the garden on 6th May

Small Red-eyed Damselfly Erythromma viridulum by the Ornamental Waters in Wanstead Park on 10th May (first sighting this year)

City of London "bombshell" over Wanstead Park grant process - a press release from Wanstead Parklands Community Project

Local activists in the Wanstead Parklands Community Project have expressed "shock and frustration" at the decision by the City of London to postpone a decision on applying for a lottery grant to help restore the much-loved open space.

After months of work, and a public consultation in which hundreds of people took part, it had been widely expected that the City would apply to the Heritage Lottery Fund in the current round, which has an August deadline. A landmark Conservation Statement, with local input, was published recently. This set out high level priorities for the park, and was expected to be the basis for the bid.

However, Epping Forest Superintendent Paul Thomson last week informed the group that the application would not be going ahead at this stage.

"The report requires further work to fully brief the relevant City of London committees on the substantial projected costs of the Conservation Management Plan, and importantly the capital and onward revenue implications of any potential Heritage Lottery bid.

The City of London remains committed to finding a solution to the many issues raised in the Conservation Statement. This solution must be based on a identifying a viable and sustainable way forward for the Park, which undoubtedly will require a significant coalition of local and national partners," said Superintendent Thomson.

WPCP spokesman Ralph Potter responded -

"We feel incredibly disappointed and let down - particularly as the Conservation Statement is a fine piece of work that many local people contributed to creating. At a time when the government is promoting its concept of a "Big Society", stressing local people taking more responsibility for their communities, this announcement feels like a real kick in the teeth - especially given the huge local interest this project has generated.

The Superintendent has said there are particular concerns about the significant cost of match funding, the unknown cost of repairing the lake system and the long term management costs of the park. Of course, these are valid points. However, none of them can have come as a surprise, which makes this last-minute volte-face particularly concerning.

I'm told that the City will seek funding internally to produce a detailed Conservation Management Plan which will identify the costs. Of course, we will seek to make a constructive input to this. Unfortunately, as yet we have no information about how, or on what time-scale, this is now to happen. Our fear is that, if momentum is lost, it could take years to secure the funding let alone actually produce the plan.

Recent history is littered with the bleached bones of plans for Wanstead Park which never came to fruition. There are undoubtedly many people who will suspect that, once again, the issue of what to do with this unique historic landscape has been kicked into the long grass. The Superintendent and the consultants running the project have sought to assure us that all is far from lost. I look forward to seeing some evidence soon that they are right."


12 May 2011

Copyright © 2011 Wanstead Parklands Community Project. All Rights Reserved.

The Egyptian Goose Family

On 4th May, Wanstead Park was presented with six goslings by the pair of Egyptian Geese that have taken up residence there since last year.

Strictly, they were six ducklings, as Egyptian Geese are actually ducks - but that's a bit pedantic considering the six cute and fluffy, light-and-dark youngsters that I found sitting on a floating log near the bottom of the Glade, together with mum up close and dad keeping his eyes open.

It had been thought that they were nesting, as only one was typically to be seen in the preceding weeks, but sharp-eyed Pete Saunders reported to me that he had spotted their nest in a lopped ash on the east side of the Ornamental Waters, about 40 feet up in the hollow tree.

I was lucky to get some photographs on 4th, as by the 6th, the youngsters were not seen and have quite possibly been eaten. What took them is unknown, but there are a variety of predators in the area that could have done. These include the now-regular patrols of Lesser Black-backed Gulls - plus, apparently, some Herring Gulls - Carrion Crows which seem to be becoming adept at grabbing young water-birds, Pike - and the Mink. The last is a definite possibility as such a creature would at this time of year be having a right feast on many young water-birds in the Park. Perhaps it might be an idea to try to trap it - professionally, of course?

Paul Ferris, 6th May, 2011