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.
We 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...!!!”
With 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’."
I 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.
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
Photos by Paul Ferris and Tony Morrison