Balloon tethers or fence posts?

The myth has been expanded over the last decade or so by numerous photographs and many mentions in all manner of documents, publication, talks, presentations and websites that the posts on Wanstead Flats between the “East Copse” and “Centre Copse”, north of Capel Road, are barrage balloon tethers.

I have been pointing out to a variety of people – many of whom did not want to know, presumably because that isn't quite as historically interesting as balloon tethers – that they had been fence posts.

As a child, I used to watch practice jumps from a barrage balloon on Wanstead Flats. My viewpoint was from my grandparents house in Windsor Road, Forest Gate. I'm pretty sure that the actual location where the balloon was tethered was in the rectangle formed by the posts. I believe that a lorry used to bring the balloon in, and it was probably tethered to that. There used to be big concrete tethering points up at Chigwell, and I think that you can still just about see one in Wanstead Park, if you know where to look. Concrete. Heavy. Tie a large balloon to the posts on Wanstead Flats and – I'm no engineer – but if that balloon was blown about in the wind, those posts would have been bent much more so than they are now.

wf metal post 070302One of four fence posts in 2002The “tensioning handles”, as they appear on the Flats posts, were used to tension the wires between the posts to form the fence around the perimeter of the area. I remember that wire fence. I also remember that for a time the area was used as a bit of an informal speedway track.

It was somewhat rewarding to read in the spring issue of the Friends of Epping Forest Newsletter that Mike Smith had led a walk which included a look at the posts, and that they also concluded that they were just fencing posts. Let the myth go.

Another bit, relating to East Copse and Centre Copse. It's quite fun that those terms have been used in that article. The term copse can be used for a small group of trees, because that is what they are, but the word derives from coppice, which originally meant a small wood grown for periodic cutting. These groups of trees were planted towards the end of the 19th century as a response to efforts by the Epping Forest Committee to break up what was perceived as a monotonous area of grassland. They consist of quite a variety of tree species. These include Birch, Beech, Lime, English Oak, Red Oak and Locust Tree. The last of these – also known as Robinia – is now spreading by suckers onto the grassland. It makes a grand tree, but when it is cut down or suffers badly it throws out suckers with vicious double-thorns. Quite understandably, the foot-track that passes just south of the trees has moved southwards a couple of times in recent years, with the southwards spread of the thorn-thicket.

So what is fun about “East Copse” and “Centre Copse”, which aren't truly copses? Well, I named them thus, for convenience, when I drew a map of the Flats for recording purposes back in the late 70's. Not very inventive or romantic names, but they seem to be in use!

Paul Ferris, 2 February 2016

A bird report from 1919, plus a Wonderful Visit from H.G. Wells

Trying to discover something more of the history of the land now known as the Exchange Lands - or Aldersbrook Exchange Lands, which is slightly more descriptive - I came across the following passage from the Medical Officer of Health's Report of 1919 relating to Wanstead Sewage Works:

All the work on the farm is carried on practically without noise, and as the Council have thoughtfully forbidden the use of guns the place has become a bird sanctuary. I have seen on the farm in my time the following less common birds : the Kingfisher, the teal and mallard ducks, the snipe, the heron, many varieties of finches, sand martins, pied and yellow wagtails, and partridges. One of the older men on the farm has told me that the former farm manager captured a "golden heron." This may have been a specimen of the bittern.

Some fifteen years earlier H.G. Wells had written a fantasy novel - although that term would not have been in use then - called The Wonderful Visit. I won't go into the plot, suffice to say that it contains satirical elements and describes and to some extent mocks some of the Victorian values of the time. This passage from the novel may have been just as prophetic as some of Wells' science-fiction novels:

H.G. Wells on collecting specimens, from The Wonderful Visit published in 1895 -

If it were not for collectors England would be full, so to speak, of rare birds and wonderful butterflies, strange flowers and a thousand interesting things. But happily the collector prevents all that, either killing with his own hands or, by buying extravagantly, procuring people of the lower classes to kill such eccentricities as appear. It makes work for people, even though Acts of Parliament interfere. In this way, for instance, he is killing off the Chough in Cornwall, the Bath White butterfly, the Queen of Spain Fritillary; and can plume himself upon the extermination of the Great Auk, and a hundred other rare birds and plants and insects. All that is the work of the collector and his glory alone. In the name of Science. And this is right and as it should be; eccentricity, in fact, is immorality—think over it again if you do not think so now—just as eccentricity in one's way of thinking is madness (I defy you to find another definition that will fit all the cases of either); and if a species is rare it follows that it is not Fitted to Survive. The collector is after all merely like the foot soldier in the days of heavy armour—he leaves the combatants alone and cuts the throats of those who are overthrown. So one may go through England from end to end in the summer time and see only eight or ten commonplace wild flowers, and the commoner butterflies, and a dozen or so common birds, and never be offended by any breach of the monotony, any splash of strange blossom or flutter of unknown wing. All the rest have been "collected" years ago.

The Chough - happily - has returned to Cornwall, its presence there for many years being only on the Cornish Coat of Arms. They nested there until 1952 and its final demise was hastened by it becoming more and more of a prize for egg-collectors and other trophy hunters. It wasn't until 2001 that four returned to take up residence and there has been a gradual increase since then, with lots of volunteers keeping a look-out for eggers and the like.

The Bath White Butterfly is an extremely rare migrant and appears always to have been so. Similarly, the Queen of Spain Fritillary is known now as an extremely rare migrant to Britain, though it may never have been much more than that even in its heyday when it was seen in every year from 1818 until 1885. Mind you, if every one seen was caught...

The Great Auk had a most peculiar end in Britain. Three sailors from St. Kilda spotted the bird on a nearby rock stack, saw that it was evidently different from the other sea-birds they were used to, and caught it. They kept it alive for four days, but on the fourth day a storm blew up and the superstitious sailors feared that it was caused by the bird. They called it " A maelstrom-causing witch" and stoned it to death! It has never come back.

In the main, we don't treat our witches like that any more, at least not in Britain. And there has also been a change in values regarding collecting of specimens - at least just for the sake of collecting. We can now keep our collections in the form of digital photographs. I've always liked the idea "Take only photos, leave only footprints", and many of us are at least attempting to do something like that now. I try to do this whenever possible, and particularly regarding animals - however "lowly" they may be (or appear to be). As for collecting, there is a strong argument that it is necessary at times to take specimens, particularly to determine species or for other scientific studies. However, I prefer to stick to the photos and try to leave the animals undisturbed - or at least not too alarmed. It is probably a lot easier to edit a photo as part of a collection than dismantle an animal to determine species or prepare a biological specimen anyway.

It's nice to know that even in this busy, populated and relatively polluted part of England, we can still find more than the "eight or ten commonplace wild flowers, and the commoner butterflies, and a dozen or so common bird" that Wells mentioned. I suspect that it is the quantity of flowers, insects and birds that we are missing. That is no longer due to collecting, but the way we are treating our land and our environment as a whole.

Paul Ferris, 31 January 2016





January Spring

The beginning of the new year of 2016, and January continued the trend of what may well prove to be one of the mildest winters in memory. There were frosts, however, plus a day when the sun – and the air – felt so warm that a dog-walker on Wanstead Flats suggested to me that it felt like summer.

There is a big trend nowadays – especially perhaps amongst the bird-watching enthusiasts – of seeing as many species as possible in a given place (or “patch”) or in a time – whether a day a month or a year. There seems to be a competitive element in this, too, but also has given rise to the phenomenon of the “bio-blitz”.

In our local area, there is a year-long scheme called the Wanstead 1000, which aim is to record a thousand species in the Wanstead area in 2016. That shouldn't prove too difficult, given the database and knowledge of the whereabouts of many species that has been built up over the years.

Cherry wp 160119 06756artThe Wren Wildlife and Conservation Group made a start on this on the fourth day of the year by organising a flower-finding walk. A few hardy souls chose to look for plants actually in flower, and chose a few of the more likely habitats to explore. One of these was around Jubilee Pond on Wanstead Flats and another the Green Man underpass system, by the roundabout of the same name.

The Jubilee Pond area was a good choice, as it provides a variety of habitats and has also recently been disturbed, so a collection of plants have taken advantage. Nearby is Dames Road, and roadsides are often good places to look for plants, and the Green Man roundabout is an exceptionally productive area, as it was seeded with all manner of nice flowers during its construction. The results weren't disappointing: about 40 species were found to be in flower. That's certainly a good number to find during an English winter, although when I looked at the list there wasn't much that I hadn't seen flowering during winters before. The ones that I hadn't were Chicory, Field Scabious and Musk Mallow by the Green Man roundabout, and Alexanders, by Dames Road. Here is the list, kindly provided by Tim Harris:

Alexanders, Common Ragwort, Yarrow, Gorse, Smooth Sow-thistle, Dandelion, Common Field Speedwell, Guernsey Fleabane, Canadian Fleabane, Chickweed, Annual Mercury, Wild Cabbage, Green Alkanet, White Dead-nettle, Red Dead-nettle, Hedge Mustard, Hoary Mustard, Scentless Mayweed, Broom, Holly, Bramble, Wood Avens, Sun Spurge, Nipplewort, Common Vetch, Small-flowered Cranesbill, Hedgerow Cranesbill, Chicory, Groundsel, Musk Mallow, Common Mallow, Cow Parsley, Daisy, Hornbeam, Periwinkle sp.

A couple of weeks later, on 19th, Rose Stephens and I walked along the wayleave track between the gardens of the houses in Woodland Avenue in Aldersbrook, and Reservoir Wood in Wanstead Park. This has always been a favourite of mine in early spring, to see some of the first flowers plus associated insects such as hoverflies and bees. There weren't too many insects – some flies, one or two hoverflies, no bees, but there were flowers. Approaching from Park Road, we were greeted by the flowers of a Wild Cherry. Further down the wayleave, Greater Periwinkle, Spring Snowflake and Honesty – all garden outcasts, these. Then White Dead-nettle, its flowers frosted with ice, for it was in the shade and the night had been cold. Snowberry was in evidence, but from its white berries rather than flowers, and tucked into the woodland edge numerous Herb Robert plants with flowers – and just about Herb Bennett, too. Then there was a couple of plants clustered together that were mostly leaves. I was just about to remark that I wasn't sure if they were Pendulous Sedge or perhaps... when I saw the berries and they were...Stinking Iris. Not in flower – just berries again – but these were only the third Stinking Iris I know of in the Park. Now, are these garden outcasts? I have seen an increase in this species near Whipps Cross Hospital, where I believe they have spread from ornamental plantings in the hospital grounds to the woodland edges along James Lane.

Lesser Celandine wf 160125 06797fpMore or less lastly for the flowers that day, I deliberately looked for a particular Hawthorn that grows a fair way in from Woodlands Avenue Road-side. Sure enough, it was easily found because it already had fresh leaves on, and also had flowers. Why this one plant should always flower significantly before other local hawthorns I do not know. It looks to be the Common Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna. I said more or less the last flowers for the day, for walking home along Wanstead Park Avenue were some of my favourite Ivy-leaved Toadflax, on a garden wall, as well as a non-flowering plant – a liverwort Marchantia polymorpha. These do not have flowers and hence seeds, but in this specimen the leaves were supporting the gemma cups that contain the spores. On 25th January, a cursory look at mosses in the City of London Cemetery showed Grey Cushion Moss and Capillary Thread-moss to be well-endowed with their fruiting capsules.

Some Daffodils are already in flower, in gardens and on Wanstead Flats roadside edge for example - but these are not wild ones. Non of the flowers mentioned here, to my mind, are really spring flowers, just plants that have happened to flower very early. However a flowering Lesser Celandine on Wanstead Flats on 24th January is truely a spring flower, and next day's glorious display of the native Early Crocus in the City of London Cemetery - introduced or not, but certainly naturalised - was another. Spring is just a flower away – or already here, come snow or what may.

Does any of this, perhaps, put a climate-change perspective on something I wrote back in 1978, or is it just weather?


January Spring


Dreary early morning rise.

Lifeless pre-dawn trudge through rain-soaked suburban streets.

Saturated concrete slabs reflect mock-moon street lights;

And occasional pollarded plane-trees – still dripping –

Imitate the night’s incessant drizzle.

Somewhere behind the cloud-curtain the sun rises;

Unseen until noon, hanging low over the house-tops.

A soft south-west wind succeeds the rain-clouds;

And a clear sky cleverly depicts a still-distant spring.

Between the last and the next cloud-belt,

A single, leafless flowering cherry displays a few flowers,

And a pigeon coos and fan-tails to its mate.

For a few moments - fooled with mirages of summer –

Life returns.

And the streets are trod with a lighter tread.

Paul Ferris. 25th January 2016

Additions to species list (2016)

for 2014 additions, click HERE

for 2015 additions, click HERE

for 2017 additions, click HERE

for 2018 additions, click HERE

This is a list of species newly entered (or shortly to be entered) onto the website. Clicking on the species name should take you to a photograph if one is available.

* in some cases the entry was made some time after the species was found. This may be due to a new identification or a previous mis-identification. The original find-date is is indicated within brackets.

Species Common Name Type of Organism Date of find or entry* Found by:
Eupteryx (florida ?) a leafhopper Bug 18/06/2016 Paul Ferris
Lygocoris pabulinus Common Green Capsid Bug 18/06/2016 Paul Ferris
Heriades truncorum Large-headed Resin Bee Bee 24/04/2016 (20/07/2015) Rose Stephens
Hoplitis (Osmia) spinulosa Spined Mason Bee Bee 24/04/2016 (11/07/2015) Rose Stephens
Nomada lathburiana Lathbury's Nomad Bee Bee 20/04/2016 Rose Stephens
Andrena dorsata Short-fringed Mining Bee Bee 20/04/2016 Rose Stephens
Valerianella locusta Common Corn Salad Flowering Plant 18/04/2016 Roger Snook
Andrena (wilkella ?) Wilke's Mining Bee Bee 14/04/2016 Rose Stephens
Osmia bicornis Red Mason Bee Bee 13/04/2016 (11/04/2007) Paul Ferris
Nomada fucata Painted Nomad Bee Bee 13/04/2016 Rose Stephens
Nomada marshamella Marsham's Mining Bee Bee 13/04/2016 Rose Stephens
Lasioglossum lativentre Furry-claspered Furrow Bee Bee 12/04/2016 Rose Stephens 
Nomada goodeniana Gooden's Nomad Bee Bee 12/04/2016 Rose Stephens
Piezodorus lituratus Gorse Shield Bug Bug 12/04/2016 Rose Stephens
Halictus tumulorum Bronze Furrow Bee Bee 11/04/2016 Rose Stephens
Lasioglossum albipes Bloomed Furrow Bee Bee 11/04/2016 Rose Stephens
Geomyza tripunctata ? a picture-wing fly Fly 09/04/2016 Rose Stephens
Andrena (chrysosceles ?) Hawthorn Mining Bee Bee 08/04/2016 Rose Stephens
Nomada fabriciana Fabricius' Mining Bee Bee 08/04/2014 Rose Stephens
Andrena labiata Red-girdled Mining Bee Bee 08/04/2016 Rose Stephens
Nomada flavoguttata Little Nomad Bee Bee 05/04/2016 Rose Stephens
Lygus (pratensis) ? a mirid bug Bug 02/04/2016 Paul Ferris
Phyllobius pyri Common Leaf Weevil Beetle 02/04/2016 Rose Stephens
Andrena nigroaenea Buffish Mining Bee Bee 02/04/2016 Rose Stephens
Andrena clarkella Clark's Mining Bee Bee 03/04/2011; 31/03/2016 Paul Ferris; Tim Harris
Discomyza incurva ? a fly Fly 31/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Aglaostigma fulvipes ? a sawfly Fly 25/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Lasioglossum morio Green Furrow Bee Bee 25/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Andrena nigroaenea Buffish Mining Bee Bee 25/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Platycheirus albimanus a hoverfly Fly 25/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Zoropsis spinimana ? a spider Spider 25/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Podops inuncta Turtle Shieldbug Bug 22/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Zora spinimana ? a spider Spider 22/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Trichosirocalus troglodytes a weevil Beetle 22/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Peritrechus geniculatus a ground bug Bug 22/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Lasioglossum calceatum Common Furrow Bee Bee 22/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Lasioglossum malachurum ? Sharp-collared Furrow Bee Bee 22/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Andrena (bicolor ?) Gwynne's Mining Bee Bee 22/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Andrena nitida Grey-patched Mining Bee Bee 19/04/2006; 22/03/2016 Paul Ferris; Rose Stephens
Andrena minutula ? Common Mini-miner Bee 22/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Tachyporus hyponorum a rove beetle Beetle 12/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Stenocranus minutus a leafhopper Bug 12/03/2016 Rose Stephens 
Eremocoris fenestratus a ground bug Bug 12/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Cinara piceae an aphid Bug 12/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Suillia variegata a fly Fly 11/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Caloptilia stigmatella White-triangle Slender Moth 11/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Andrena flavipes Yellow-legged Mining Bee Bee 11/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Blaniulus guttulatus Spotted Snake Millipede Myriapod 03/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Pemphredon inornata a wasp Wasp 03/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Monacha cantiana a snail Mollusc 03/03/2016 Rose Stephens
Leocarpus fragilis Eggshell Slime Mould Slime Mould 27/02/2016 Rose Stephens
Schizophyllum commune Split Gill fungus Fungus 27/02/2016 Rose Stephens 
Trochulus hispidus Hairy Snail Mollusc 18/02/2016 Rose Stephens/Paul Ferris
Acericerus heydenii a leafhopper Bug 18/02/2016 Paul Ferris/Rose Stephens
Phaonia (pallida) Orange Muscid Fly Fly 11/02/2016 (18/03/2015) Paul Ferris
Pterocomma populeum Poplar Bark Aphid Aphid 10/02/2016 Rose Stephens
Ideocerus sp. a leafhopper Bug 10/02/2016 Rose Stephens
Dorytomus (dejeani ?) a weevil Beetle 10/02/2016 Rose Stephens
Tetragnatha (obtusa ?)
a spider Spider 09/02/2016 Rose Stephens
Trentopohlia (abietina ?) an alga Alga 07/02/2016 Paul Ferris/Rose Stephens
Drosophila suzukii Spotted-wing Drosophila Fly 07/02/2016 Kathy Hartnett/Rose Stephens
Empoasca decipiens a leafhopper Bug 03/02/2016 Rose Stephens
Zygina nivea a leafhopper Bug 30/01/2016 Rose Stephens
Dorytomus (dejeani ?) a weevil Beetle 30/01/2016 Rose Stephens
Luffia (ferchaultella?) Virgin Smoke Moth 30/01/2016 Rose Stephens
Lonchoptera (lutea or bifurcata) a fly Fly 28/01/2016 Rose Stephens
Xanthogramma citrofasciatum a hoverfly Fly 26/01/2016 (24/05/2014) Paul Ferris
Angelica archangelica Garden Angelica Flowering Plant 26/01/2016 (16/05/2009) Paul Ferris
Polydesmus angustus Flat-backed Millipede Myriapod 25/01/2016 Rose Stephens
Euscelis incisus a leafhopper Bug 25/01/2016 Rose Stephens
Eupteryx decemnotata Ligurian Leafhopper Bug 25/01/2016 Rose Stephens
Tomocerus longicornis a springtail Collembola 25/01/2016 Rose Stephens
Pterocomma pilosum Hairy Willow Bark Aphid Bug 24/01/2016 Rose Stephens
Dicyrtomina saundersi a springtail Collembola 24/01/2016 Rose Stephens
Clausilia bidentata Two Toothed Door Snail Mollusc 24/01/2016 Rose Stephens
Longitarsus dorsalis a flea beetle Beetle 10/01/2016 Rose Stephens
Longitarsus sp. (flavicornis) Ragwort Flea Beetle Beetle 05/01/2016 Rose Stephens
Puccinia smyrnii a gall (on alexanders) Gall 04/01/2016 Rose Stephens
Mangora acalypha Cricket-bat Orb Weaver Spider 04/01/2016 Rose Stephens



Reptiles in the Exchange Lands

by Tim Harris

During 2015, a group of Wren Group members, with support from the City of London Corporation, set out to find which reptile species were present in the Exchange Lands (Old Sewage Works) between the Empress Avenue allotments and the River Roding. At the beginning of September, some 40 roofing felt refugia were laid in the area. The felts were about 60 x 60 cm in size. Most (30) were placed on open grassland or at the margin of grass and hawthorn or brambles in the western section of the Exchange Lands, with the other 10 in the lower part of the area, closer to the River Roding. Some of the latter were in some very long grass though others were sited on shorter grass close to the cycle way running to the bridge over the river.

The rationale of using dark-coloured felts that absorb the sun’s heat is a tried-and-tested method. Once warmed by sunshine the felts become attractive to reptiles needing to increase their body temperature, since they are ectotherms (cold blooded). However, this method assumes that there is someone on hand to check the felts as they get warm – rarely the case with only a small team of volunteers doing the checking. Occasionally reptiles may be found under a refuge early in the morning, having spent the night there, or at dusk. It is worth noting for the future that the felts in the longer grass rarely became warm because of the shading effect of the grass, and this was reflected in there being no observations in that area.

The felts were checked from 4 September to 30 October. During September they were checked, on average every other day when conditions were mostly dry. There were some wet spells during the month when it wasn’t felt to be productive to check. In October the refugia were checked, on average two or three times per week. If more volunteers had been available, the checking could have been more regular.


Despite anecdotal evidence of Slowworms from people working the adjacent allotments, none were found. Neither were any Common Lizards seen. However, a good number of Grass Snakes, both juveniles and older animals, were noted between 4 September and 15 October. Grass Snakes were seen under six different refugia, with three juveniles under a single felt on 6 September being the most found on any one date. Breaking the observations down week by week, the following pattern emerges:

Sept week 1: 4 juvenilesGrass snake OSW GJ 3776Young adult Grass Snake in the Exchange Lands, 15 October. Photo: Gill James

Sept week 2: 7 juveniles

Sept week 3: 1 young adult

Sept week 4: 1 young adult

Oct week 1: none

Oct week 2: none

Oct week 3: 1 young adult

Oct week 4: none


Grass Snakes are apparently thriving in the Exchange Lands and, since juveniles were found under four felts (in two clusters of two, which were some distance apart), it is safe to assume that they bred in the area. It is hoped to have more refugia set out in the area in spring 2016, with the aim of getting more information on the status of Grass Snakes and – who knows – find a Slowworm or two.

Thanks to all those who helped with the checking, especially Gill James, and also to Barry Chapman, Nick Croft, Kathy Hartnett, James Heal, Thibaud Madelin, Sharon Payne, Rose Stevens, Alison Tapply, and Bob Vaughan.

Tim Harris, November 2015