News of wildlife and other issues

Some proposals for Wanstead Park

On 14th December Tricia Moxey and I met up with the Head of Operations for Epping Forest, Geoff Sinclair. We were there to discuss some topics relating to the management of the Park, particularly with respect to its ecology, but also its aesthetics and accessibility.

wp chalet wood 061115 9062artChalet WoodWe began by entering Chalet Wood, well known these days for its display of bluebells, not little of which effect is due to lots of work by the Wren Conservation Group. The bluebells are almost a victim of their own success, as more spectators are leading to increasing damage due to trampling. Young plants begin to push through the soil as early as January, and with the autumn leaf-covering obscuring tracks through the wood it is easy to tread on them unknowingly. I believe that the desire-line tracks need to be delineated in some way, so that the route can be seen when leaf-covered. Some form of low edging might also act as a psychological barrier against walking on the bluebells when in flower.

From Chalet Wood we made our way to the Glade. This open area is designed to afford a clear vista down to the Ornamental Waters. However the Glade is becoming reduced in width with the encroachment of vegetation from its boundaries. Bramble is encroaching on the south side of Glade which could be dealt with to expose more bluebells in the spring. some of the planted oaks at the top of the Glade are too close together now, and Tricia pointed out that some of them still retain their protective guards. In addition, there are a number of small self-seeded oak saplings which should be removed before they become much larger.

The intended view from the Glade along the Canal is now obscured by some of the branches of the large oak at the edge of Ornamental Water. To remove such a fine tree would probably not be an option, but I suggested that the removal of a large branch on the left of the tree would increase the view of the Canal from the Glade.

Emergent vegetation at Perch Pond, Wanstead ParkEmergent vegetation at Perch Pond, Wanstead ParkI have often felt that the walk along the Ornamental Water-side northwards from the Glade is somewhat claustrophobic and dark. Opening up the path by clearing encroaching vegetation alongside the upside of the path so it can be mown once or twice a year would enhance the feeling of openness and allow the surface of the path to dry out more quickly. On the waterside edge of the path, excessive vegetation is hindering the view of the lake itself. A selective clearance could be undertaken, particularly opposite the inlet between Lincoln and Rook Islands, leaving occasional well grown alders and willows to frame ‘windows on the wilderness’ - as Tricia put it!

Work had already been planned for work to be undertaken in the vicinity of the Grotto, but I did ask if it would be possible to keep a Mock Orange bush which grows near to the Grotto as a feature. It is the only one in the Park. The planned work was to include the area within the Grotto enclosure itself. A kingfisher has nested in the façade of the Grotto in the past and individual birds are often seen near this structure. We asked if there was any possibility of creating an artificial kingfisher breeding bank near the Grotto to encourage this bird to breed once again within the Park.

Moving to the Perch Pond, one of my biggest concerns over the last few years has been what I perceive to be inappropriate management of the herb vegetation that grows along the east bank of this water. Geoff informed us that this work was essential to comply with the Reservoir Act, which constrains water-body owners to maintain the banks of bodies of water which are deemed “reservoirs” so that no breaching should occur. I have heard this “Reservoir Act” quoted many times in relation to this issue, and I am afraid that I wouldn't let go of the argument. Why is it not possible for the herbaceous vegetation to be retained during high summer, with a cut in spring and autumn, rather than being cut in July or August when the flowers are at their best? This is one of the best locations in the Park where emergent vegetation is present; this attracts insects and provides important stems up which emergent damsel and dragonflies can crawl. It is also attractive to humans! We discussed the possibility of removing willows along the north edge of Perch Pond to create an additional margin which could develop more such important emergent vegetation. At the other end of Perch Pond – nearer the tea hut – we pointed out the importance of removing the highly invasive pond-plant Floating Pennywort.

Wanstead Park, the PlainAnt hills on the PlainWe then walked across the Plain, emphasising the biological importance of the ant-hills and how they create mini climates and environments of their own. I got the impression that there is some move towards flattening some of these in favour of more picnic and play areas, but I hoped that our arguments about the relative importance of such issues may have swayed against that. There are – after all – some quite reasonable (and increasing, anyway) areas where picnic and play is already taking place. It would, though, be desirable to remove emergent broom, small oaks and other small trees from the Plain to stop it from becoming wooded. As for the picnic areas, scrub could be cleared from the vicinity of some large oaks to open up a larger picnic area close to the Temple.

Lastly – although we didn't walk it – I pointed out the overgrowth of vegetation along the path between the edge of Heronry Pond and Northumberland Avenue. Clearing this would help the path to dry out and make it more attractive to users of the Park as well as people walking it as an alternative to the nearby pavement.

Paul Ferris, 4th February 2014 (based on a report written by Tricia following the meeting)

A tipping case

An interesting little story was related to me by a friend ...

He was talking to one of the City of London Corporation employees yesterday. The forest-employee told him that a few months ago he was sitting in a Forest car park (the only car there) when a large 'van' with mesh sides drew up and the driver started tipping rubbish/garden waste onto the Forest. 
 
Our man went up to him and told him it was illegal. The response...'It's only domestic waste'.  Anyway, he put back what he had jettisoned and drove off. The witness had taken the car registration number, informed the local Forest Keeper and a case was started. It was, apparently, then taken over by the local authority. It went to Court and the man was let off with a caution!
 
The best bit is that the offender turmed out to be a university lecturer..in threatened species!
 
My own take on this is that three times I've reported fly-tipping that I have seen taking place - twice to the CoL and once to the local council. In all cases I've given statements, even provided photographic evidence in one instance - and in no cases were there any prosecutions. In one instance - the one that included "action" photographs of the offender and his vehicle - I came home from Canada earlier than I needed to attend a court case that was intended, and the proceedings never took place!
 
Paul Ferris, 4th February 2014

Another new butterfly, and two beetles...

Only in May did we find the first new butterfly species for the area, in the form of the Green Hairstreak colony spotted by Tim Harris on Wanstead Flats (see here).

Ringlet wp 130720 3768artWanstead's first Ringlet ButterflyWalking with Kathy Hartnett in Wanstead Park on 20th July, she asked if Ringlet butterflies had ever been seen in the Park, and I replied that I didn't know of any. She had recently seen her first ones ever elsewhere, and was quite excited by that. Just east of the Shoulder of Mutton Pond heading towards Perch Pond, a smallish dark butterfly - or possibly a moth - flew up as I brushed some Willowherb. I mentioned it, but hadn't had a chance to identify it. Kathy saw it land, looked through her binoculars and said "Paul, I think it's a Ringlet!" It was - the first that I've seen or heard of in the area. It took a bit of effort to capture a worthwhile photograph, but the pleasure that it gave Kathy in being the first to identify the species here was a pleasure in itself.

beetle Curculio glandium gdn mt 130720 3716artThe Acorn WeevilMy moth-trap catches creatures other than moths occasionally, and a long-nosed beetle caught my attention on a couple of occasions - a weevil which was most probably the Acorn Weevil Curculio glandium. I say probably because it is difficult to tell this one apart from a similar species C. nucum. A close-up look at its antennae helps, and I'm pretty sure it is glandium.

A few days later I caught a beetle in my overnight moth-trap, which I tried to get a "handle" on by means of a Google search. I'd failed to find anything quite like it in my collection of books, knowing only that it was of a group commonly called "Longhorns".

beetle Mesosa nebulosa gdn mt 130725 3945artThe White-clouded Longhorn BeetleThe multitude of images that turned up mostly related to an Asian longhorn beetle that is finding its way into Europe and is a very serious threat to timber. It didn't look quite like the images of these, but then didn't look quite like the images of anything else, either. As the Asian Longhorn Beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis) is such a serious threat, the Forestry Commission website urges people to report any possible sightings. I thought it prudent to do so, together with a photograph and a request that even if it turned out not to be the Asian species, they might like to let me know what it was.

I'd let the creature go after photographing it, so couldn't supply - as was requested - a sample. Very quickly my e-mail was replied to with an urgent message to let them have a telephone number and that my information had been sent on to experts to identify the beetle. Soon after came another e-mail, thanking me for reporting it and informing - with obvious relief - that in fact it was just a harmless native species Mesosa nebulosa, the White-clouded Longhorn Beetle, found in broad-leaved and pasture woodland and mainly associated with oak.

Paul Ferris, 29th July 2013

Invertebrate report for first half of 2013

On 13 February - only a week or so from snow in the garden which wasn't to be the last – there was sunshine as well as a bit of warmth in the sun. On a stem of rhododendron just inside the entrance to the City of London Cemetery was my first ladybird of the year – a Pine Ladybird Exochomus 4 pustulatus, and there were more enjoying the sunshine, plus torpid ones sheltering in the dried up flower-husks, where they probably overwinter. Crocuses and Winter Aconiteswere flowering, and just one flower of Lesser Celandine, and on the white flowers of Viburnum, three species of hoverfly were found. Most of these were Drone Fly Eristalis tenax, and there were lesser numbers of the Marmalade Hoverfly, Episyrphus balteatus. The third species was a single individual and probably Melicaeva auricollis. On an adjacent Mahonia, its yellow flowers were attracting mainly Honey Bees, Apis mellifera.

No butterflies were seen, whereas last year Red Admirals were seen on Wanstead Flats on 26th February; it has been reported that butterfly numbers were considerably down last year, and this will doubtless be reflected on numbers this year. On the heathers – many of which were flowering – quite a lot of insect activity was taking place, with the flowers large numbers of Honey Bees as well as the large and familiar Buff-tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus terrestris.

Disappointingly, by the next day the weather had again turned colder, and this trend was to continue well into April and even May, with a few days of relative warmth followed by mostly unseasonal cold. I'd intended to put out a moth trap early this year, but on the few occasions that I did the catch was nil until 10th April, when there 3 Common Quakers nestling in the egg-boxes the following morning. In the whole of April I had 6 species and 28 specimens of moth in the trap. However, the trap occasionally does contain other things, and one such on 11th April was a wasp of an Ophion species.

Pond Skaters were to be seen on my small garden pond from about this time, too, and Eristalis tenax hoverflies were quite frequently seen on the slightly warmer days. The 13th April was one such, and in the City of London Cemetery – around the heather beds – together with the bumblebees and a few spiders, was my first Bee-fly Bombylius major of the year. Bee-flies will not fly in temperatures less than 17ºC., and considering the extended winter and long drawn-out spring, I saw more and in more places than I've ever seen before. The last – though not in the Wanstead area – was on 6th June. There was a Comma butterfly in the garden on 15th April, and mining bees (Andrena species) were appearing on Wanstead Flats by the 29th as well as the common Buff-tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris.and Red-tailed Bumblebee Bombus lapidarius. A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly was also spotted on Wanstead Flats.

By the 1st May, Tim Harris – who had been putting out a moth trap in Belgrave Road at the other end of Wanstead Flats to myself - had accumulated a total of only 16 moth species during this year, and I only 6. However one or two new species for the area were cropping up in early May, including the micro-moth Pyrausta despicata and a Red-green Carpet.

On the butterfly front, Holly Blue butterflies began to appear in my garden and elsewhere on 2nd May and on 3rd there were Orange Tips, Speckled Wood and Peacock in Wanstead Park, plus Green-veined Whites, Large Whites and Small Whites in Aldersbrook Exchange Lands.

My first damselfly of the year was – as usual – a Large Red, in my garden on the 6th May, after which I had a look at Wanstead Park. An invertebrates of particular interest was a Slender Ground-hopper Tetrix subulata at the east end of Heronry Pond. I have only ever seen one before, and that too was by Heronry Pond, although in 2009. Also in the pond was the larva of a Tipula species Cranefly. I'd been catching sight of a Great Diving Beetle in my garden pond for some time, but it had surfaced only briefly then dived and swam rapidly out of sight into the depths. On 7th May I managed to photograph it at the surface and identify it as a female Dytiscus marginalis.

On 7th May Tim had a Broom Tip Chesias rufata, which was a new species for the area. This was worthy of a bit of research, and Tim could find no reference to any records in our area since at least 1989 on the Essex Field Club database. Indeed, in Essex it only seems to have been recorded in a handful of squares since that time. Wanstead Flats does have plenty of broom, so we may have a population. Another new species in the Belgrave Road trap was a Yellow-barred Brindle moth on 20th May.

By the latter part of May a variety of hoverflies were now visiting my garden including Helophilus pendulus and particularly Eristalis tenax.

On 27th May Tim Harris discovered a Green Hairstreak colony on Wanstead Flats - the first report of these butterflies in our area save for a possible one I saw some years ago by the Grotto. It is a widespread species, but found in very localised communities due to habitat loss so it is quite something that we have a population here. Small Copper butterflies were also beginning to emerge.

More species of damselflies were beginning to emerge as the weather became warmer at the very end of May. Most that were seen on 31st May were in the teneral stage, which is just after they have emerged from the pupal stage and either or both Azure and Common Blue. There were also Large Red, some Blue-tailed and some Red-eyed damselflies. By the Heronry Pond, leaves of Flag Iris had numbers of the Long-jawed Orb-weaver Spiders Tetragnatha extensa on them, and an adult and a few very small Slender Ground-hoppers were seen in the same location as the adult seen on 6th May. This would seem to indicate that we have a healthy population.

Also on 31st May, the Soldier Beetle Cantharis rustica was seen in the Exchange Lands and Flea Beetles - Altica species - were appearing on the leaves of water-side plants in Wanstead Park. Large White butterflies were seen, and there were many Craneflies around in the grassland.

(See also Early Invertebrates 2012 for comparison with last year)

Paul Ferris

Update on Slender Groundhoppers in Wanstead Park

In 2009 I came across my first ever sighting of a Slender GroundhopperTetrix subulata, in Wanstead Park. As this species was not previously known to the area - or indeed to Epping Forest - I wrote an article about it here.

Tetrix subulata Wanstead ParkTetrix subulata in Wanstead ParkOn 6th May 2013 I was walking close to the water-side by the east end of Heronry Pond when I disturbed a "grasshopper" which jumped into the pond. So early in the season, I assumed it was actually a groundhopper as these tend to be around much earlier than other orthoptera.

Through my binoculars I could see that it was in fact a groundhopper and that it seemed to be floating comfortably in the water. As I watched - not being able to reach it for a 'rescue' - it jumped out of the water onto the land. This species - the Slender GroundhopperTetrix subulata - favours damper places, and it certainly seemed to have no problem being in the water or getting out of it! On 31st May, in the same spot, as well as an adult I saw that there were two or three smaller individuals. We do seem to have a colony of this interesting and unusual - or at least rarely reported - species for Epping Forest right here in Wanstead Park.

 

Paul Ferris, 7th June 2013