skylarks

  • Bees and Honey

    Bees and Honey

    A couple of days ago, on 13th June 2018, I walked across Wanstead Flats after meeting with Tony Morrison, the Wren Conservation Group’s newsletter editor. We hadn’t been discussing newsletters or editing, nor anything to do with wildlife or conservation, but rather the sad closure of our local bus-stop, courtesy of Newham Council. It is not only wildlife that can suffer cuts.

    wf alex filming 180614 generalcWe wondered what was going on down by Alexandra Lake, and I went to the few people there, who had chucked a bicycle into the lake and were erecting some structures which seemed to relate to an abandoned children's playground. I asked them what they were doing, and “Filming” was their answer, but for what film they wouldn’t say. They assured me that they had a license from the Conservators of Epping Forest, so that must be alright.

    Strolling back home on a track across the rough grassland just south of the sand-hills that give the lake its alternative, if local, name – i.e. the Sandhills Pond – I was enraptured (if that isn’t too spiritual a term) by all the forms of grasses, the yellow flowers growing amongst them, the other-coloured ones too, and the sound of a skylark ascending not so high into the heavens (if that isn’t too poetic and spiritual a description) that I could stand and watch as well as listen. It was just one of those nice days and gentle experiences.

    The following day the whole area was “swamped” with vehicles and personnel. The rest of the film crew had joined in. Tony said to me that “there were more vehicles in the area than on the M25...!!!”

    wf alex filming 180614 crewcWith disgust and sadness I sent a brief email to Tim Harris, Chairman of the Wren Group. It said little more than “Skylarks yesterday, film crew today.”

    Unexpectedly, and shortly after, I received a phone call from Martin Newnham, Head Keeper for Epping Forest, just checking on my observation and confirming that they had been given permission to film there. I explained that that was rather unfortunate, as the skylark I’d seen the day before might not be too happy. I certainly wasn’t too happy, and I’m not even a skylark.

    Then followed a rash of emails, primarily sent to Tim, who copied them on to me. More and more people seemed to be getting involved. I responded to one from Geoff Sinclair – Head of Operations – in which he stated that the film crew “are in an area…. well away from the ‘Skylark nesting area’."

    wf alex filming 180614 seesawcI felt I ought to respond to this and explained that although well away from the main nesting area, this relatively small patch has for years provided a nesting area for one pair. Also, that it wasn’t just the skylarks that might be disturbed, but because of the nature of the soils there (sand and gravels) there were other aspects at risk, including plants and mining bees.

    Both Tim and I were saddened, disappointed and concerned that after years of providing information about habitats and wildlife to the Conservators of Epping Forest, this seemed to have been disregarded in favour of income. Bees and Honey.

    Well, it is easy to turn ones disappointment into a rant. Perhaps that’s why for a good few years now I have (almost) stopped banging my head against a solid Forest wall. That hurts.

    The last email I received, also addressed to Tim, was a very understanding one from Geoff Sinclair. I was really pleased to receive that, because in effect it was an admission and apology for getting things wrong in licensing that film shot, and a "thank you" for bringing the matter to his attention. In addition, Geoff suggested that, following this incident, it might be in order to investigate how things might be done better in the future, particularly – perhaps – taking local knowledge into account.

    wf alex filming 180614 plinthc By Friday the massed personnel, vehicles, broken swing, abandoned bike and filming frame were all gone. There were a couple of holes (too big to have been made by mining bees) where a see-saw once stood, some flattened grass and some cigarette butts. Of course, those may have been left by any visitor. But also left behind was a very apt artefact. It was a plinth – looking like stone but actually, I think, wood – which had a plaque on it. This read (word for word, spelling for spelling) This nature preserve was made possible by the generous donation of THE GLENGROVE HOUSE MEMORIAL TRUST. Well, fancy donating a jammy Glengrove House Memorial Trust to the Forest! And it has spread out some grass, too. Hold on: there are the mining-bees, and then there is fly-tipping...

    And what of the Skylarks? I didn’t hear them on a visit the day after, but that doesn’t mean that they are not there. However, during 2009 and 2010 Thames Water Authority installed an underground pipe-line intended to carry water from a bore-hole in the Old Sewage Works (Aldersbrook Exchange Lands) to the Redbridge Water Treatment works near Redbridge roundabout. This involved using a large machine named the Longborer to create a horizontal bore to carry the pipe, under the south arm of the Ornamental Water and across the Plain. Now, up until then there had annually been a pair of larks nesting on the Plain. Apart from here there isn’t much else of a suitable habitat in Wanstead Park for Skylarks, so just one pair had enough room for a territory. After the disturbance caused by that boring, the Skylarks have never returned to the Park. It takes only one disturbance to finish things off.

    And the title of the film? Tim suggested it might be called “The Lark Descending”?

     Paul Ferris MBNA, 15th June 2018

     

     WFlatsFilming 002c

    WFlatsFilming 003c

    WFlatsFilming 001c

    Photos by Paul Ferris and Tony Morrison

  • Protecting the Skylarks

    Protecting the Skylarks on Wanstead Flats

    Having completed the Wren Group's "Migrant Bird Watch" on Sunday (see here), and experienced the Skylarks and Meadow Pipits preparing for their nesting season, I was disappointed to see that the notices that were put up last year relating to ground nesting birds had not been replaced.

    Skylark PosterProtecting the Skylarks in 2009...

    These notices were put up on the Aldersbrook area of Wanstead Flats, at dog-walking access points to the rough grassland, and read:

    "This area of extensive grassland is an important habitat for ground-nesting birds which are easily disturbed. We would appreciate if you could keep your dog on a lead as you pass through this area to minimise the disturbance. Thank you for your co-operation."

    It is always difficult to ascertain how much effect these sort of notices have, but even if just one dog-owner stops and thinks and puts their dog onto a lead, that might have saved one Skylark's nest. Certainly you can see dogs happily rummaging about in the rough grass - evidently searching for something! So - I was pleasantly surprised whilst doing the first of a series of butterfly transects the following Saturday to see that the notices - albeit temporary ones - were back in place. I understand that more permanent ones are on order.

    We should soon be seeing notices at the access points to Chalet Wood in Wanstead Park which ask people to treat the Bluebells with care. Chalet Wood is yearly becoming more popular with people coming to see the show, and indeed the Wren Group's annual Bluebell Walk has now been supplanted by walks organised by others - including the City of London. This just emphasises how conservation work over the years has made something better - for the Group has been working on Chalet Wood for this reason for years

    What we must ensure is that when we have something that is good and valuable, we use appropriate means to inform and educate people of this so they can enjoy them too. Simple notices may help in this - so long as they are removed whilst not required or replenished when old and tatty.

    (for more on the Skylarks of Wanstead Flats, watch the video here)

    Paul Ferris, 29th March 2010

  • Protecting the Skylarks in 2014

    Protecting the Skylarks in 2014

    For the last couple of years the Wren Conservation Group have been working in conjunction with the City of London Corporation trying to protect the Skylark population of Wanstead Flats. Almost certainly it was members of the Wren Group that brought fully to the attention of the Conservators of Epping Forest that not only did we have a significant breeding population of Skylarks but that the numbers appeared to be decreasing.

    Protecting the Skylark on Wanstead Flats - poster

    Those trends had become clear because of surveys carried out by members of the Wren Group under the auspices of Tim Harris over several years. Each year there has been a decline in numbers of potential breeding birds. It remains unclear exactly why this decrease is happening, but an important factor may be the levels of disturbance that the birds must be subject to.

    One form of disturbance that might be addressed could be in bringing to the attention of dog-owners that their dog running through the rough grassland could disturb ground-nesting birds such as the Skylark and Meadow Pipits.

    Notices have been put up on posts around the edge of nesting-areas in past years asking that dogs could be kept from running loose in these areas during the breeding season - that is between the beginning of March and August.

    This year, Tim Harris and Forest Keeper Thibaud Madelin are doing three Saturday morning walks aimed at finding out about our local Skylarks and how we might protect them. These are on1st, 15th and 29th March, meeting at Centre Road Car Park at 10am and aiming to finish at 11.30am.

    The Wren Group in conjunction with the City of London have produced a leaflet, shown below and downloadable here (in pdf. format)

    Check also the Wren Group's website, here

    There is another article relating to the Skylarks here

    Paul Ferris, 21st February 2014

  • The Wanstead Flats Fire

     The Wanstead Flats Fire

    Those of us living anywhere in the vicinity of Wanstead Flats, and even much further afield, will probably be aware that there was a major grass-fire on the Flats beginning at about 4pm on Sunday 15th July, 2018. This was severe enough to be mentioned on various news programmes, radio and television, in the London area and elsewhere. It was stated that 225 personnel and 40 vehicles were in attendance to deal with it. This was the largest grass fire ever recorded in the London area and - with 40 vehicles in attendance - one of only three fires in London in 2018 to have as much resources used in dealing with it.

    wf fire 180715 183247871wwartViewed from near Alexandra Lake, looking west, the fire at 6.30 pm, blazing behind the Coronation Plantation.I had said just the day before to friends that I was surprised there hadn't been fires earlier. After all, it's an annual event. I have often thought at this time of year – and particularly at weekends – that there ought to be patrols out on the Flats (and in Wanstead Park) warning people against their barbecues, and keeping an eye out for problems in general. That could include litter warnings, too – because even on the news there was the usual explanation that discarded bottles could have caused it. They never mention that matches could have caused it. (cynic that I am). Of course, the City of London (i.e. the Conservators of Epping Forest) resources are just not available, but just look at the cost because they are not. All those fried grasshoppers and cooked snails! And the monetary cost of all that fire-fighting equipment and manpower, the police helicopter flying round and round (and all the pollution from that). There is a health cost, too. I slept (not much) with all my windows closed because of the smoke, and people with lung and breathing problems may well have suffered.

    wf fire pails 180716 50610wwartThe day after the fire, and a firefighter carries pails. Not all of the fire-fighting was done with high-pressure hoses!Realising that major damage would have been done to such vegetation as grasses, broom, gorse and the relatively small but increasing area of heather, I was afraid that some of the trees in the copses may have also have been damaged severely, but they seem to have survived okay. The worst tree-damage appeared to be along the west side of Centre Road, presumably where the fire "jumped" the road. I think Long Wood is pretty much okay, but there may be some superficial damage along the southern edge. The Coronation (1953) Plantation also survived. Again, there may be some damage along its northern edge, because the firefighters were still damping or trampling down smouldering patches immediately adjacent, that is to say between the plantation and Aldersbrook Farm Wood (the petrol station trees). That grass is as far east as the fire reached. The football pitches stopped it jumping to the grassland south of Alexandra Lake and beyond.

    It looks to me – as has been suggested – that the fire may have begun somewhere between Blake Hall Road and the Fairground site, I estimate somewhere opposite the Belgrave Road wayleave. That means much of the SSSI is just blackened remnants of vegetation, with lots of dead grasshoppers to be seen. Surprisingly, the hedgerow and grass parallel with the track alongside Blake Hall Road has survived. The Heather has not.
    wf fire black 180716 50587wwart Scorched earth where Gorse used to be.

    The major area east of Centre Road – has been affected just around perimeter of the model aircraft area, but much more so to the east of that, and nearly to Long Wood and across to the Coronation Plantation. As I said, all the copses seem okay. This is part of the Skylark’s main breeding area. Meadow Pipits, too. There were some Skylarks singing. Not all of their nesting territory has been damaged, so they still have a chance next year, though I did encounter one on a track that – even apart from its awareness of me – seemed distraught. And on the day of the fire I heard a Skylark and a Meadow Pipit near Alexandra Lake whilst the fire was blazing further west on Sunday. These may have been displaced individuals. The Skylarks here are a very important population in the London area, and have been decreasing in recent years. The hope is, of course, that there will be enough nesting sites for them next Spring.

    All in all, though, fire is a natural phenomena – however it began (probably through some form of human agency) - and although distressing and concerning regarding environment and wildlife, things will recover. It might even do it good – especially if opportunity was undertaken to clear some of the long-remaining litter now exposed. The effect, however, might be profound – especially if it destroys the Skylark and Meadow Pipits's continued habitation

    I had a message that Alexandra Lake had been used as a water-supply. It was already low, and I was later told that the fire-service was pumping water into the lake on Monday afternoon, to replenish it somewhat. With regard water, the fire has exposed the ditch that runs parallel to the west side of Centre Road. Blocked pipes/conduits are visible, which presumably should have been taking rain-water off the road. That ditch used to have water in, and was great for mosses etc. It has been abandoned, and hence adds to the drying out of the Flats. I have complained about this for years. Now could be an opportunity to re-dig it, re-establish the drains and get a bit of water back. Doubtless, that opportunity won't be taken.

     

    Paul Ferris, 16th July 2018  (For an update on the regrowth following the fire, Click Here)

    wf fire engine 180716 50585wwartLooking NW towards Long Wood. The plants in the foreground are Fireweed.

    wf fire fighters 180716 50589wwartThe day after the fire, firefighters were still damping and stamping down smouldering patches

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    wf fire engine gorse 180716 50586wwartBurnt ground where there had been some nice Gorse patches. Long Wood stretches across the backgound

    wf fire roadside 180716 50612wwartThe blackened edge of Centre Road, looking North. The ditch can be seen