News of wildlife and other issues
Looking at Slime Moulds
Whilst working in Chalet Wood, Wanstead Park, on 6th March 2014, Gill James showed me some lovely little organisms she had found on some rotten wood. I was intrigued; they looked like balls of black metal on a stand. I suspected a slime mould, but had never seen the likes. When I say “little”, I mean tiny. The “balls” were less than a millimetre across. A photograph and a discussion with local naturalist/biologist Roger Snook eventually ran them down to - probably - Metatrichia floriformis which is a slime mould. The following day, most of the balls had gone and instead was a mass – albeit a small mass - of orangey dehiscence.
The Mycetozoa or slime moulds are an intriguing group of organisms which have been classified as fungi, as protozoa and more recently as an entirely separate class of living thing.
Gulielma Lister, a local naturalist, wrote a classic work on the Essex Mycetozoa*. In this she listed 18 species from Epping Forest as a whole, fourteen of which were noted as specifically occurring in Wanstead Park.
She was the daughter of Arthur Lister (1830-1908) and the niece of the famous Quaker surgeon Joseph Lord Lister (1827-1912). She and her father were both amateur naturalists as well as accomplished artists. They lived in Leytonstone and so visited the southern end of Epping Forest and in particular Wanstead Park on many occasions.
For some more information about Gulielma Lister, click here
Paul Ferris, 13 March 2014
* (The Mycetozoa. Lister, G. 1918. (Essex Field Club Special Memoirs vi. Essex Field Club; Stratford, Essex.)
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.
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
Flooding in Wanstead Park and nearby
During the early part of February 2014, a long series of storms brought severe weather to many parts of Britain, particularly affecting western areas of the UK, as well as the South Coast. Severe flooding occurred, notably on the Somerset Levels, and later along the Thames in Buckinghamshire and Surrey.
Locally, we were not quite so badly affected by the winds, nor by the coastal waves and surges, but heavy rainfall led to Wanstead Flats becoming waterlogged, with some large areas of shallow water lying for long periods. This gave rise to some good roosting areas for gulls and even swimming areas for geese. By the 1st of February, the River Roding in Wanstead Park had backed up the channel which should allow overflow from the Ornamental Waters and had overflowed its banks so that almost all of the riverside wood between here and the Canal was underwater, and much of the Bund was a lake. North of the Canal, the riverside path by River Wood was flooded almost all of the way to the Pump House.
Across the river, Wanstead Park Recreation Ground was entirely a lake, and the trackway to Wanstead Park Road was impassable.
This isn't the worst flooding into Wanstead Park that I have seen. In late October 2000 the flooding was so severe that the lower part of Wanstead Golf Course' extension between Warren Road and the river was a lake, or rather, it was part of the Roding. Water was actually gushing through the fence separating the golf course from the Park and flowing across the track into the Ornamental Waters. The lake itself had become part of the river!
From the Aldersbrook Exchange Lands at the same time, the view across Ilford Golf Course was particularly dramatic. Apart from just a narrow strip that was the very top of the flood-bank on the Ilford side, the whole of the golf course had been inundated by the river, forming one vast lake almost from the west bank of the river.
Of course, these areas are actually part of the river's flood plain, and the natural course of things is that the river should be able to access these areas so that the water is both dissipated somewhat and proceeds towards the Thames at a slower pace. I haven't heard of people's homes being flooded this time, but in 2000 there was considerable damage done in a number of areas around Woodford and Redbridge. It has recently become much clearer to us that channelising rivers to put them where we want them to go, and building on flood plains, doesn't in the long run do us any favours. We need to have riverside areas which – if flooded – does not have such disastrous effects as would be if they were buildings, or indeed part of our transport system. The playing fields, parks, nature reserves, allotments, golf courses which do typically form our local river-side environment are all examples of uses which may recover reasonably easily and cheaply, even though the temporary loss and changes that may occur because of flooding might feel like an inconvenience, to say the least.
From a wildlife point of view, it might be that an occasional flushing-through of some of the “wilder” areas might be a good thing. We could even make use of some of these low lying areas to increase the number of scrapes, or shallow pools, which – even on a temporary basis – could be a valuable wildlife resource.
When the Ornamental Waters was built, the lake was formed by using the original curving course of the river as its basis, so that from the pump house as far as the Park's ornamental canal, the lake's shape on its east bank is more or less the shape of the river's original course. To achieve this the river was then diverted along a man-made channel, which forms its present course between the pump house and the Canal. Usually it is possible to walk adjacent to the river both within the Park and along the opposite bank. From the park-side walk, the view of the river is very much inhibited by trees and other vegetation, whereby on the Ilford bank it is deliberately kept clearer to allow the flow of water when the river is high. Here we have playing fields nearer to the Redbridge roundabout, then a bramble-thicket that used to be allotments as far as Whiskers island – the wooded area which is actually part of Wanstead Park. Wouldn't it be nice if some of this channelised river-course could be given some curves and the present flood-banks could be set much further back towards the A406 link-road? Then, if there were high waters at least the old allotment areas could act as an overflow? This then could be an area where shallow-water scrapes could be created. Apparently, though, the land is being held for the possible re-creation of allotments, so this dream would seem to be unrealistic.
These sort of things are possible, though. Mayesbrook Park in Dagenham has been given a new look by the un-culverting of the Mayes Brook, resulting in a much kinder riverside environment with the brook now following a more natural course through water-side vegetation. This was one of the first such schemes in the country.
The Roding is a lovely river, and even recovers quite well after spillage and other incidents. It could be given the opportunity to be even nicer; if effort were to be put into returning some of its length to its natural form it could become less threatening to the local human population in times of flood and more enticing to its natural partners at any time.
Paul Ferris, 12th February 2014
Some recent activities in Wanstead Park - both human and natural...
Following Tricia Moxey and my meeting on December 14th with the Forest's Operations Manager (see here), it may be worth reporting on some work that has since been undertaken.
In Chalet Wood some work has been done by members of the Wren Conservation Group and also some work organised by City of London staff, again using volunteers. As well as the annual event of removing some of the bramble, some cut logs were deliberately left in the wood by Epping Forest work teams in order to use as the suggested path-edgings. These were a variety of sizes, and not cut to any length. They were man-handled into appropriate positions by just a few Wren Group members in order to direct visitors to the wood along delineated path-lines. It can't be said that they look very neat and tidy, but this is something of an experiment to see if they are effective in lessening trampling damage to the already-emerging bluebells. If they seem to work, they could perhaps become more permanent and done in a more aesthetically pleasing way.
Even prior to our meeting, work had been planned to clear some of the vegetation in and around the Grotto. This was a large task, involving felling of some trees particularly by the Ornamental Water-side, and some sensitive removal of saplings inside the Grotto itself. As such, this was carried out by City of London staff. The result is that now the Grotto is much more visible, particularly from the edge of the Ornamental Waters. It may be noted that the strip of vegetation that included the lone Mock Orange had not – when I visited it – been disturbed.
On the Perch Pond, the large patch of Floating Pennywort that has threatened and is spreading throughout the lake has been removed, again by Corporation staff. It is intended that the Wren Group should return later to clear up any left-over patches, as these can spread rapidly.
Nature has had quite an impact on the Park, too. A few trees toppled during some of the high winds over the winter, notably a large Beech at the east end of the Plain.
Perhaps even more dramatically – and not surprisingly – the excess rainfall this winter led to considerable flooding of the Roding into the Park Much of the wood along the River Roding was under water, and it was necessary to divert alongside the southern arm of the Ornamental Water to complete a circuit of the lake. Across the river, Wanstead Park Recreation Ground became a lake. This wasn't the worst flooding that I've seen in the Park. At the end of October in 2000 the Ornamental Water itself became part of the river. The river occasionally decides to reclaim its own!
It does seem that some of the suggestions that Tricia and I made at our meeting with the Forest Operations Manager may have been taken up, and that is most encouraging. For so long I seem to have been moaning about the state of the Park. I can mention one aspect that was of serious concern to me in relation to this, just to finish. When I went to see the flooding I had to walk along two sections of path that were for too long serious obstacles to me – and I'm sure a deterrent to others. These were sections where the consistency of the path made them into a gooey and extremely slippery mire. Both of these sections have been repaired, and – even after all the rain – are nowhere near as unpleasant (and even dangerous) as they had been.
It's good to see improvements.
Paul Ferris, 10th February 2014
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.
We 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.
I 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.
We 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)
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