News of wildlife and other issues
The Gap in the Hedge
A chance meeting on Wanstead Flats with Wren Conservation Group Newsletter Editor, Tony Morrison gave rise to an interesting question: Why is there a gap in the hedge and line of trees that accompany the length of Capel Road, opposite house numbers in their 120's?.
Much of the stretch of Capel Road which begins at the Golden Fleece pub and runs westwards until a slight bend takes you almost to Ridley Road is lined with English Oak, Quercus robur. There are of course numbers of other species present, including an occasional Ash and increasingly Holm Oak, but the English Oaks are the predominant plant species and were evidently deliberately planted as a road-side amenity tree in the early 20th Century - probably in 1907. Beyond the bend in Capel Road nearing Ridley Road, the hedge-line is not so thick, and the planted tree-species is predominantly Horse Chestnut. It is interesting to note that at that bend in the road, is the boundary between the old West Ham and East Ham Boroughs
But in that East Ham stretch, where the hedge-line of oaks and hawthorn make views of Wanstead Flats scarce in the summer, a major gap is evident about half-way along.
Looking more closely, there is no evidence that there were ever trees there. That is to say, there are no stumps or obvious changes in the ground surface to say they'd been removed. However, it occurred to me that there was once an estate of pre-fabs on the Flats where there are now playing field, stretching from the Borough boundary to almost the Golden Fleece. In fact, when I moved to Capel Road in the 1960s there was a chestnut-paling fence around that whole area, protecting freshly-seeded soil where the football pitches were to be. It hadn't been long since the prefabs had been removed, and postmen that I worked with were saying that only recently they'd delivered there - and what a nice place it was to go.
That estate would have required at least one access road. Was that gap possibly where it had been? Looking at a scanned O.S. map of the area I could see that the gap was exactly where it had been.
Now, it is not to say that there never was a continuation of the line of road-side oaks - they probably were there. But in constructing the access road they would have required to have been removed, roots and all, probably. Hence the gap in the hedge - and a bit of reminded history thrown up by a chance meeting.
Paul Ferris, 29th April 2017
The Wollemi Pine - a very old new tree in the Cemetery
Based on the City of London Cemetery's records, I have counted some 87 species of tree as being present, and this does not include numerous cultivars. Amongst these are some specimens of tree-species that - in evolutionary terms - are of immense age.
brain function and energy levels as well as helping to fight inflammation and a variety of other symptoms such as tinnitus and depressed mood. What may not be so commonly realised is that the medicinal Ginkgo Biloba is derived from the tree species Ginkgo biloba, often called the Maidenhair Tree. This is a remarkable tree in many ways. It is the only known surviving member of a division of the plant kingdom called the Ginkgophyta, and has been called a "living fossil", as there are fossils recognisably related to modern ginkgo dating back 270 million years. Without going into the botanical aspects of the species - which I am not qualified to do - quite simply, there is nothing else like it.Many will have heard of "Ginkgo Biloba", as it is commonly advertised as a medicine, with benefits - it is said - in
Although the Ginkgo has such a remarkable chronology, it has only been known in Western Europe for a relatively short time. A German botanist, Engelbert Kaempfer, first found it in 1690 in a Japanese temple garden. Seeds from China - where the species is native - which he brought back from his expedition were planted in the botanical garden in Utrecht. One of the first of this species to be planted in Britain still exists at Kew Gardens, and dates back to at least 1762, less than 40 years after the first specimens had been introduced into Europe.(1) Interestingly, there is a specimen in West Ham Park which is also reputed to be the oldest specimen in Britain. West Ham Park was aquired in 1762 by the Quaker physician and philanthropist Dr. John Fothergill who commissioned plant hunters to build up a collection from the Americas, the Far East, Africa and Europe, adding many rare plants to existing plantings. The site became a botanical garden that pre-empted Kew. It is possible, therefore, that the specimen at Kew and that at West Ham Park are of contemporary age.
Nowadays, Maidenhair Trees are quite common and popular for their attractive shape, interesting leaves and history, and lovely autumn colour. They have been heavily used as street trees in New York, as - perhaps surprisingly - they do very well in the extreme weather and light conditions of the canyons formed by the buildings! They are becoming popular street trees in English cities, too; I have noticed more recent plantings - for example - in the Bloomsbury area of London.
In the City of London Cemetery there is a specimen in the Garden of Rest, just north of Limes Avenue.
Another tree of ancient provenance is the Monkey Puzzle or Chilean Pine Araucaria araucana. This species was first identified by Europeans in Chile about 1780 and introduced to England in 1795 by Archibald Menzies, who was a naval surgeon and plant-explorer on board Captain Cook's ship Discovery.(2) Fossil records show that the tree was alive 200 million years ago, at a time when dinosaurs were a significant life-form! It is said that the name "Monkey Puzzle" derives from a comment made by a visitor to Pencarrow Gardens in Cornwall in about 1850, where an early specimen grew. The comment that "the tree would puzzle a monkey" relates to its stiff, sale-like leaves which may well deter monkeys (if such lived in South America!) from climbing it. More reasonably, of course, they would act as deterrents to grazing animals, too.
The cemetery's specimen is on the lawns to the east of the main gate, and may be seen easily from neighbouring Wanstead Flats.
Which brings us to the very old new tree which has been added to the cemetery's collection. But first a tale of its discovery. In 1994 a park ranger and bushwalker, David Noble, was exploring some very difficult-to-access canyons in the Wollemi National Park, some 20 miles north of Sydney. In one of these canyons he found a group of unusual trees that he did not recognise. At first, experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney identified it as being related to the Monkey Puzzle and another tree in the Family Araucariaceae - the Norfolk Island Pine. However, it was later decided that it was so different from all other members of this family that it was pronounced a completely new Genus. It was given the scientific name of Wollemia nobilis, in honour of the Wollemia National Park and David Noble who discovered it.
From the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, plants have been sent all over the world so that the species has a chance of surviving. It has survived as a species for 200 million years or so, and yet there are only 100 or so trees known in the wild! In Britain, Kernock Park Plants in Cornwall has the responsibility to continue this conservation effort.
The first Wollemi Pine I saw was in 2013 at Kew Gardens. This was the first specimen planted outdoors outside of Australia, by Sir David Attenborough in May 2005.(3) Since then I have seen them in a few other locations including the Cambridge University Botanic Gardens and in Hyde Park.
The City of London Cemetery has a nice collection of tree species, and especially as this includes the Gingko and the Monkey Puzzle, I suggested to the Superintendent, Gary Burks, last year that it would be nice if a specimen of Wollemi Pine could join them. On the 15th March this year, I was informed that the specimen had arrived, and asked if I would like to help choose a position for it to be planted! With the assistance of the landscape manager, between us we chose a nice position where it is not too remote to "keep an eye on", will be well cared for and is quite prominent, especially for visitors walking through the cemetery. Gary showed me the tree in the container in which it had arrived and I was thrilled to be able to see it and photograph it before planting out.
The following day, I was informed, it was planted in its favoured location, and I saw it a week later. By then, three female cones had appeared in addition to the male ones that had been present a week earlier.
The Wollemi Pine has proved to be a very tolerant tree, coping well with heat, cold, full sun and shade, and different soil types, so there is good reason to think that it should survive well in the cemetery as long as it does not suffer from damage. In cultivation they are expected to reach a height of some 20m, so it should - in time - be a striking tree.
Paul Ferris, 5th April 2017
As an addition to the above - though not directly related to the wildlife of Wanstead - I bought a Wollemi Pine for the gardens of Copped Hall, near Epping. It has been growing on in the home of one of Copped Hall's Trustees and volunteers, and today - 12th May 2017 - we planted it out in the grounds. On planting it was approximately 2.5 feet in height. It may be interesting to see the comparison in growth between the City of London Cemetery's Wollemi and that of the one at Copped Hall.
Paul Ferris, 12th May 2017
What and Where is Wanstead and its Wildlife?
Ten years ago - in 2007 - when I really got the Wanstead Wildlife up and running, I wrote an introduction to it which included a number of questions as to what the website was about and for, and some problems that I'd discovered in deciding what it should contain. The problems and questions were these:
• What comprises Wanstead?
• What constitutes wildlife?
• Why is the wildlife here?
• How do I present the findings?
• Where and when do I stop?
I'm not sure that I have really answered all or even any of these, and in effect the website contains what it contains, and its value is whatever I and anybody else that accesses it finds. Ten years hence, and a fair bit of work, and during that time there has been a significant increase in the numbers of people that have an interest in our local wildlife. The question about how I present the findings certainly deserved the inclusion of lists of records of species found here. I have always believed that in order for any local conservation group to help to conserve things, they need to know what and where the things are. Hence there are a good few lists, and I did hope that these would be added to by the inclusion of records sent to me by the increasing numbers of enthusiasts, and particularly passed on by the local conservation group - namely the Wren Conservation Group. These hopes in the main have proved difficult to fulfil. Others' records have been kept and presented in so many different forms that I have found increasing difficulty in keeping up with them. Some are in private records, others in group records, others on websites, blogs and social media. Therefore, I have slightly re-organised the contents so that Wanstead Wildlife's records are presented primarily with those that I have collected myself. However, I have appended records that have been presented to me, and many that I have researched from other sources. In future - if I keep the website going - fewer "others'" records are likely to be added. In fact, I suspect that fewer of my own records will be added; ability and enthusiasm seems to be lacking these days! At least the website may act as a repository which may be of interest to some.
I also included a light-hearted look at Wanstead itself - for those who don't know it and those who think they do, and I thought I might update this slightly as I reproduce it here. So:
Wanstead is an area of east London approximately 6.85 miles north-east of the City of London. This distance is taken from St Paul's Cathedral to Christ Church near Wanstead High Street, and is as a Crow (Corvus corone) flying in an incredibly straight line, might fly.
It is an east London suburb which still has something of the feel of a village about it - though only just. It is located between the River Lee (or Lea) to the west, which is the historical boundary between Middlesex and Essex, and the River Roding to the east; which is the more recent boundary between the postal districts of London and Ilford, Essex.
In 2010 the census details gave a population of 63021, although this also includes the neighbouring area of Leyton, because Wanstead is part of the Parliamentary Constituency of Leyton and Wanstead. The population of Wanstead itself - included within the Suburbs and Small Towns: Commuter Suburbs designation of the UK census data - was 11543 in 2011.
Wanstead is in Greater London, part of the London Borough of Redbridge. It is also in Essex. In fact, so deep rooted is the fact that Wanstead is in Essex (that is, east of the River Lee or Lea) that many inhabitants insist that letters sent to them via the Royal Mail postal service are addressed as "Wanstead, Essex". This is despite the fact that they are actually in Leytonstone, LONDON, E11, as far as Royal Mail's routing codes (addresses) for letters are concerned.
But Wanstead is greater than a routing code; the Red Bridge itself (or at least the bridge that replaced the Red Bridge) is to the east, crossed by the Eastern Avenue (the A12); beyond is Redbridge. This is part of Ilford (in the London Borough of Redbridge), but definitely in Essex if only because the postal addresses say so (ILFORD, Essex, IG...)
Just to the west of Wanstead is that part of Wanstead which is called Snaresbrook, and a little further west still the Borough boundary is crossed, and Waltham Forest (London Borough of) is entered. Here we are in Walthamstow (LONDON, E17), so we have left Wanstead.
But Wanstead contains within its boundaries a little known marvel - Wanstead Park. It is part of Epping Forest as is Wanstead Flats - although these may not be percieved to be in Wanstead, in so far as true (is there such a thing?) Wanstonians are concerned
Other areas - not in Wanstead - but within the remit of WWL, are Bush Wood, Leyton Flats and Gilbert's Slade - all parts of Epping Forest. Wanstead Park is separated only by a single road from Bush Wood. This in turn, is separated only by the Green Man roundabout from Leyton Flats (in fact, adjacent to Leytonstone). Leyton Flats is not flats (ie high-rise buildings) at all - but a mainly flat area of grassland - with lots of trees and shrubs! It is part the London Borough of Walthamstow, which we entered north of Snaresbrook.
Just across the Snaresbrook Road, north of Leyton Flats, the Forest of Epping continues northwards through an area known as Gilbert's Slade. It is not far from Wanstead, and adjacent to it, and the wildlife (I'll get round to that in more detail) is just as interesting, so it has been included in the "in and around Wanstead" label. But at the north end of Gilbert's Slade, Epping Forest has been gashed more severely even than at the Green Man roundabout in Leytonstone. Thus this part of Epping Forest is probably known more to drivers than to naturalists. It is Waterworks Corner. And here - at least in a northerly direction - it is convenient to limit the extent of "in and around Wanstead"
The western delineation - at leat that by Leyton Flats - is quite conveniently made by the A104 Lea Bridge Road between Whipps Cross roundabout amd Snaresbrook Road. However the Forest stretches to either side of the continuation of this road nortwards to Waterworks Corner roundabout, and the Forest and study area here comprises a variety of small roads and allotments.
And what about the southern boundary? It follows Capel Road and Forest View Road by Wanstead Flats. By "the Flats" are the enclaves of Lake House and Aldersbrook - both rather nice estates of houses adjacent to parts of Epping Forest. The Lake House estate is situated between Bush Wood and Wanstead Flats and is in Leytonstone E11 (or Wanstead, Essex) in the London Borough of Redbridge, and Aldersbrook is situated between Wanstead Park and Wanstead Flats and is in Manor Park E12 (or Wanstead, Essex) - in the London Borough of Redbridge.
The south edge of Wanstead Flats abuts on to Forest Gate in the London Borough of Newham. This is the Forest Gate that is LONDON, E7, although it is probable that a few people would prefer to be in Wanstead, Essex. The nearest railway station in Forest Gate to Wanstead Flats is Wanstead Park, so this may support their claim (though not their routing code). The Flats themselves are in Redbridge (mostly). As the post-Olympic development of Stratford with its much-hyped transport facilities progresses, a spread into neighbouring areas - perhaps particularly Forest Gate - is becoming apparent. So much so that even addresses Flats-side of Wanstead Flats, such as Capel Road, is finding newcomers having their mail addressed "Wanstead Park".
The western edge of Wanstead Flats, nearer to Forest Gate, still abuts on to Forest Gate (E7), although in the vicinity of the Jubilee Pond, the houses in Forest Gate are in the London Borough of Walthamstow. Indeed, by Sidney Road in Forest Gate, even what is considered here to be part of Wanstead Flats (LB Redbridge - remember?) is in LB Waltham Forest. Further north - across Lakehouse Road, the houses that act as a boundary to the Flats are in Leytonstone (E11). The Flats here merge into Bush Wood.
So that brief outline encompasses Wanstead itself, (the village/town), and neighbouring parts of Epping Forest which are incorporated into the study area dealt with here. But still - where to stop? Because the wildlife doesn't necessarily stop anywhere; it is no revelation to anybody that a totally wild fox may be seen wandering through any of the streets, housing estates or forest already mentioned.
Within Wanstead - for example St Mary's churchyard - or near to it (eg the City of London Cemetery or the Alders Brook) are areas of "wild" or semi-wild habitats that have a host of wildlife. They also have a host of non- "wild" life, particularly species of plants that have been deliberately introduced but nevertheless contribute enormously to the diversity of habitats, species and the ecology of the area.
'Wanstead Wildlife' strives to take account of the area primarily looking at the animals, birds and plants that may be found here, something of the history which has led to how it is today, a little of the ecology of the area, and issues that arise relating to these aspects.
Paul Ferris, 10th January 2017
Loss of Creeping Willow on Wanstead Flats
I have tried to hang back a bit on being critical of work taking place on Epping Forest – or elsewhere, for that matter - for a lone voice in the “wilderness” doesn't have the clout a conservation group or a 'friends' group should have, and kickbacks and disappointments in the past have led to a feeling of “Don't bother” in more recent times..
However, sometimes those groups miss small things that experience might show can lead to larger problems. I can cite New Zealand pigmyweed and floating pennywort as examples of small problems growing larger, and I can harp back to the loss of a nice insect-rich area of grassland in Wanstead Park which wasn't protected during and after path-laying. And today I saw another example – one which I have been afraid of and seen gradually increasing.
We have on Wanstead Flats five distinct patches of a low-growing shrub called creeping willow Salix repens. Country-wide, this isn't a rare plant, but apart from some on Leyton Flats, this is all we have locally. It is special enough to have been mentioned in some of the City of London's own publications relating to the Flats. It mightn't have the appeal of the Park's bluebells, but it may be the equivalent in “specialness”!
I know that those five patches have been carefully plotted by GPS by Epping Forest staff, so they know where they are. In the past I have mentioned locally that one patch of two near Alexandra Lake is getting brambled out. That patch is hanging on – but the bramble may well prove the winner. The other patch nearby is just coming into flower, but unfortunately is at the edge of the playing fields. And that is where my worry has been for a long time. Each time the mower goes round, a little bit more is eroded away. This time, however, a lot more has been taken away – about two feet off the whole length of the west edge of the patch, I would say. The playing fields expand, and the wildlife diminishes.
So – two out of the five patches potentially lost. We should remember too, that it isn't just the loss of one plant that we might bemoan, but of the other life that might be associated with it. Collecting records of species found in our area is increasingly showing the associations that one organism has with another. And that might include people, as well.
Just to finish, I mentioned the floating pennywort, which many realise now is threatening the health of Perch Pond. Well, this year I have seen and reported three very small rooted clumps of this highly invasive species in the Ornamental Water, far from Perch Pond. They could easily be removed now, especially as the water-level is so low. I hope they are, or these small things could lead to larger problems. (note: I was unable to find these on a much later-in-the-year visit. The water level was very low and they had been close to the bank, so it is possible someone else saw them and simply grubbed them out.)
Paul Ferris, 28th April 2016
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.
The “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