Hedge-cutting in Aldersbrook Exchange Lands

On 9th January I wrote an article on the website (click here) that mentioned my discovery and disappointment that cutting had taken place in Aldersbrook Exchange lands - the Old Sewage Works Site.

Hedges cut in Aldersbrook Echange LandI made some enquiries as to how this had come about and why, and my first question was to the Ecology department of Conservators of Epping Forest, who manage the site as part of the Forest. The reply that I got was that it had not been done by Epping Forest staff, so I contacted London Borough of Redbridge's Ranger Office. My reasoning was, that if it wasn't done officially by Epping Forest, perhaps L.B.R. had some idea about it, as it is within that borough.

I received a very helpful reply, stating that it wasn't L.B.Redbridge land and therefore they wouldn't have touched it, as well as a suggestion that National Grid were known to be doing some power-line work in nearby areas of the Roding Valley. It was last in 1994 that significant power-line renovation took place in the Exchange Lands, and then a number of trees were lopped, an amount of land churned up and a very inappropriate surface laid on one of the site's tracks to accommodate heavy vehicles - the last problem leaving a heritage of discomfort until not that many years ago. I was dismayed that this might happen again - although realise that the pylons and power lines do have to be maintained - but more concerned that things seemed to have taken place without the knowledge of the City of London.

However, I was contacted by the Head Forest Keeper for this area, and he accompanied me to the site to have a look at the damage. I'd only noticed the damage in January, as I hadn't been there for some time - a considerable period of snow had been one reason! We looked at the site, and it became clear that whatever work had taken place, it  had been done perhaps even in December. Aldersbrook Exchange LandsIt was with the realisation that it hadn't been as recent as I had thought that I was told by the Forest Keeper that in fact he had asked before Christmas that one of the tracks be cleared somewhat - primarily to ensure passage for the horses that use the area for a trail from Aldersbrook Riding School! Things were becoming clearer: it seems that the requested work was carried out, but that whoever did it did a lot more than that one trail. So after all that it was Epping Forest that carried out this inappropriate work.

There are so many paths and tracks that require clearing in Wanstead Park that I just wish more effort could be put into those, for pedestrians. Instead, a lack of clear instructions and understanding of what needs to be cleared and what needs to be protected seems to have led to the damage I perceive. However, there may be a positive outcome: it was suggested that perhaps we ought to map the site, with information as to where the more important habitats or special species are; this could lead to more care being taken in future.


Paul Ferris, 27th January 2011

Site Survey on 7th February

As a follow up to  this, I was invited by Andy Froud - Assistant Ecologist for Epping Forest - to meet him at the Exchange Lands on Monday 7th February to do a G.P.S. survey of some of the more special habitats within the site, and some of the special plants that exist there.

On a windy and chilly day, we walked around much of the site discussing these aspects, and I was able to point out those that I thought required some note. These included specific areas which support  a particular community of plants, such as the areas of sparse soil on the remains of trackways laid down when the site was in use. Here may be found - amongst various mosses and lichens - plants such as Whitlow Grass, Bittercress, Cranesbills and Sedums. Whilst none of these may be particularly rare, some tend to be scarce in this area and at the very least add to the diversity and interest of the area. In similar habitats Shining Cranesbill is also found, which I do not know from anywhere else in the study area. We looked too at the site where Dyer's Greenweed survived for many years until becoming overgrown. It may still be there, so we recorded its last known location, perhaps so that some clearance work may be done to expose it. In one or two areas of the old sewage works site, Bee Orchids and Pyramidal Orchids have been found and again it is important to note where they are so that their potential habitat is not inadvertently damaged, and may even be enhanced.

GPS survey in Aldersbrook Exchange LandsDuring both the hedge-cutting referred to above and the soil disturbance that took place during the boring and pipe-laying activities that have taken place here, those strips of grassland where both Dark and Great Mulleins have shown their dramatic form were severely interefered with, so these were G.P.S.'d too.

I also learnt that work was to be undertaken to re-lay the surface over which the London Cycle Network track traverses the site between the stables and Ilford. An area - or perhaps two - would be required to hold the machinery and material to be used, and this was discussed too. It may be worth noting here that it is intended to construct a surface parallel to the track for the use of horses, so this may have implications for some of the plants that I have mentioned above.

G.P.S., by the way, stands for Global Positioning System and is the satellite based system that is used nowadays to show positions on the face of the Earth to a high degree of accuracy. It is the same system that - for example - car "Sat Navs." use, but the equipment that was being used for this survey is of a higher degree of accuracy.

Paul Ferris, 9th February 2011