Monday, 13 November 2017

More Green Belt Stuff

Last week saw the appearance of John Gringrod at the Richmond Literature Festival to discuss his latest work 'Outskirts'. It  features his upbringing on the 'last road in London' alongside the Green Belt in New Addington. John presented some Green Belt factoids:

Green Belt comprises 13% of the total land in England to stop towns merging formerly known as the Green Girdle. Octavia Hill first coined the phrase Green belt in  1882. New ribbon development started eating at the countryside after WW1. The Campaign for the Protection of rural England (CPRE) first proposed the Country Code in 1934.  (BTW they have a London branch, which is keeping a close eye on London's Outskirts).

Patrick Abercrombie designed the Green Belt ring of a width of 5 miles around London, housing was planned for the future on designated areas of white land now all used up. There is still white land on the A-Z although much of these areas are electrical installations, MOD land and other  pretty strange stuff. Major incursions into it such as the M25 - can we afford to lose it.

Gringrod asks if our rolling green fields of Green Belt will become vast rolling areas of Astro turf  and  Bodpave 40. 'Green fingers' have encroached through the green belt- usually for transport infrastructure - new housing is planned along these fingers (new areas of so-called white - land) because of previous unrealstic housing targets.

Kingston council employed consultants earlier this year to find 'white land' i.e those areas that no longer fulfilled the definition of Green Belt- mainly because planners have allowed not only 'green fingers' but green arms and legs to encroach into the green belt undermining the openess of the land. Namely, Chessington World of Adventures and Chessington nurseries known as major development sites but changing the 'openess' of the surrounding land.

The first major applications are already taking their toll and the latest is a massive electrical substation on a green field site along Fairoak Lane. The consultants have failed to identify the protected and priority species at this location including light sensitive species (glow worm and whiskered bat) which will be directly impacted by the security lighting proposed at the site.

Kingston's Core Strategy was adopted in 2012 and Policy CS3 seeks the protection and improvement of Kingston’s valued natural and green environment. The Green Belt is the subject of Policy DM5 with reference to the then current Planning Policy Guidance Note 2 ‘Green Belts’. Development in the Green Belt will only be allowed in very special circumstances. Our council, MP and Londons's Mayor have all vowed to protect the Green Belt, so lets watch this space.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Ancient, veteran and notable trees in Kingston

In my spare time, I go to a list of important trees that I keep  in my notebook, and upload their details (a short description, grid reference and a photograph) onto the website of the Woodland Trust.  I  find them whilst walking around the borough- if I have my 'wits about me'- they are usually trees of more than '3 hugs'. The WT depends on volunteers to submit information about important trees but there is someone who will come and validate the record in the 'fullness of time'.

Interestingly, someone has already uploaded  veteran and notable trees in the south of the borough, although the largest willows that grew along the Hogsmill near the A240  were felled last year and would have had girths of >4 hugs (the remaining trees are 4.66 and 4.45m). There are ancient ash trees on Tolworth Court Farm Fields,  altogether a different classification.

Ancient trees are further defined by their age as being > 400 years and our nearest most splendid examples are found on Ashtead Common. The Ancient Tree Forum  ATF is the main UK organisation concerned solely with ancient trees seeking to secure the long-term future of them through advocacy of no further avoidable loss, good management and the development of a succession of future ancient trees and thankfully there is now a London branch of this organisation.

Veteran trees are those in their second stage of life and hollowing even though they could be only 150 years old. They exhibit, decay, broken branches, flaking bark and are excellent for all wildlife including invertebrates and of course bats. Notable trees are those with veteran features and will be the next generation of veteran trees.

Most of these have a girth of 4.6m
Elizabeth and the oak
Kingston cemetery has several veteran and notable trees and hopefully most of them are now uploaded onto the WT's website. This includes a line of oaks by the orange pillars dividing the cemetery. I used to call these the chaffinch trees, although there are rarely any chaffinches in the cemetery these days.

We noted the limb tear-out's and splits; the loose and lost bark, the cinnamon coloured Ganoderma's and the knopper galls from developing andrena wasp's all features important for creating niches and food for bats. The knopper Gall is caused by a tiny gall wasp, Andricus quercuscalicis. It produces ridged outgrowths on the acorns of our native pedunculate oak; forming in August they are sticky and red, later becoming woody and brown. A second generation then develops in the catkins of Turkey Oak.The deodar's are notable trees and are popular with the coal tits and goldcrest's in the cemetery. One multi-stemmed tree had a gurth of 5m. The ash has many veteran features such as woodpecker holes and bracket fungus.

Ash with woodpecker holes

Plane tree Chapel Mill Rd
This plane tree along Chapel Mill Road has the largest girth of any trees in my district - a full 5.7m. Not good then to find the spoil of these roadworks dumped on its root plate. But good to know that this is contrary to British Standards-specifically BS5837, which gives guidance about the root protection zone of a tree. You may find this a handy reference.

If you have any notable or veteran or even ancient trees in your district lets get them loaded onto the WT website. Checkout Paul Wood and Steve Pocock which uses the GLA's tree database to inform on the street trees in  your district Unfortunately non of the borough street trees are marked only those up to the boundary.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Tolworth Apple Store: Committe meeting to discuss the petition

Front view of the Apple Store
Rear view
Last Tuesday- at a full meeting of the council - a petition containing 518 signatures, which was  gathered to determine a positive future for the Tolworth Apple Store, was formerly debated. The building was described with the assistance of photographs:

The entrance is in Gothic style and it has an overhanging pagoda-type clay tile roof. Timber stairs lead to mezzanine floors used for storing crops. Tools would have been stored below. It is set within the vestiges of the former kitchen garden of Tolworth Hall, which burnt down in 1911. 

The remains of the kitchen garden and wider estate are now a residential caravan park, owned by the council, but leased to a third party. The associated woodland is a Site of Nature Conservation Importance along with the Hogsmill river, which runs to the south of the site. It was from here that firefighters obtained their water when attempting to quell the flames at the manor house, which was not rebuilt until 1926 when it was named Riverhill House. Surrey Comet 31st July 1911.

The state of repair is not good with three courses of tiles missing from around the roof line as can be seen in the photo. When the use of the site was intensified to take an additional static home, there is damage to the  face brickwork. There is a structural crack above the gothic front entrance.

Easton,  Fruit house (Susan Cambell)

Ambleside Apple Store Alarmy stock photo
In other parts of the country apple stores, or fruit-houses are Grade 1 listed buildings such as the example of Ambleside bridge in the Lake District where the family lived below and the apples were stored above.  They are part of  a much bigger story.

Markets and Fairs: Kingston, once home to the deliciously named Black Cherry Fair, had orchards as ‘far as the eye could see’ from Swakleys farm at the Ace of Spades to Chessington Hall; and down through Tolworth to Old Malden. Once a common sight within the landscape, the traditional orchard habitat is now under serious threat and for this reason the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) now includes Traditional Orchards in its list of priority habitats. But now there are only three registered orchards in the borough now.

Kingston no longer has an apple market. The original market was assured protection by a Royal charter, in force since the days of Charles 11 in 1628. When I arrived in Kingston in the 1970’s, Kingston council was spending vast sums challenging market owners in Brent, Putney and Sutton through the courts.  The world-famous J.E Austin and Co. Jam Factory- first opened along the Hogsmill at St. James Road (1) -and then to the Bentalls Depository site in Cromwell Road. John Austin died 1923, is buried in Kingston Cemetery (plot 97). There is a John Austin Close near Elm Road in the Canbury Area of Kingston.

If the council is serious about becoming the London Borough for Culture 2020 than look no further as it is part of a much bigger story; including our very own heritage varieties of apple. We would like the council to undertake a building survey of the Apple Store to find out the extent of works required.

Sian at Dorich house with Mitchelson's seedling
Community fundraising efforts could be part of the solution to saving the apple store; it could  open as a cultural information centre, a working museum and apple donor station for revivalists from organisations such as ‘Abundance’ and the London Orchard Project, who exist to ensure the magic of apples persist. 

A leaflet has been produced with the support of local organisations and members of the public) with two apple trails leading through the Orchard Gardens, Apple Groves, and Cox Lanes of Kingston.

We have at least two heritage variety of apple in Kingston: the 'Mitchelson's seedling' and the 'Colonel Yate'. A new stock has  just arrived from Brogdale-home of the national fruit collection. They were grafted in the Spring for an Autumn planting. Sian (left) is the museum coordinater at Dorich House which is open to the public

Other boroughs have researched their own fruit heritage and previous posts have covered the  massive story of market gardening in Hounslow, Isleworth, Twickenham and Hampton. The exhibition 'Jam Today, Jam Yesterday' (The Environment Trust) is a good starting point and has been covered in previous posts. The E.T. researched local market gardeners including R.D. Blackmore, who moved for his health to Hampton Wick- the Blackmore Farm is now Squires Garden Centre. His first house was at 25 Lower Teddington Road.

Later he acquired land in Teddington and built a residence, which he named Gomer House, apparently after a favourite dog. Here he proposed to start a market garden to supply fruit to London. His western boundary adjoined land acquired by the South Western Railway Company for the construction of the line connecting Twickenham with Kingston.

25 Lower Teddington Road
He wrote Lorna Doone in 1869; a  story set in the late 17th century on Exmoor. Gomer House was demolished in 1938 and the memory of Blackmore is retained in various road names: Gomer Place, Blackmores Grove and Doone Close. There may still be  still fruit trees of Blackmore's  nursery provenance  in various local gardens.

Apple picking
Everyone has a taste
There are certainly plenty of apple trees on Ham Lands perhaps some are from it's previous use as  market gardens. On the first of this month, a large group of people- led  by Geoffrey Hyde - convened to compare the merits and gather fruit on the Lands and Towpath.

Strange shaped fruit

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Earthwatch Water Blitz

Nitrates 10 and Phosphates 0.5
Low water at Middle Mill
The second Water Blitz of the year - coordinated by EarthWatch - was undertaken during 2.10.17, at locations along the Hogsmill river similar  to those of the May Blitz. Starting with Knights Park TQ18536872, the nitrate level was high - scoring 10 in the sample tubes from the kits that are issued to us. All sites went on to score 10 for nitrates unless otherwise stated.

Hogsmill SW outfall
Just below the outfall at the Hogsmill Sewage Works TQ19156857, phosphate levels were the lowest of the survey at 0.1. Is this the result of phosphate stripping? The highest phosphate level was achieved at the Channel of Cess (CoC), the small stream entering the Hogsmill at TQ19866831.


Sewage fungus
In addition to the highest (therefore the worst of the chemical readings) there was a strong odour, milky colouration, sewage fungus and fresh rag lined the channel. This type of chronic pollution can be  reported to the Environment Agency on 0800807060 and is given a reference number in this case NIRS 01559048.

Tomato plant in a culvert
As we walked upstream towards another pollution hotspot at Green Lane Recreation Ground TQ20056788, a tomato plant was seen growing out of a culvert. Tomatoes and figs often indicate the presence of sewage as tomatoe seeds pass intact through the gut. Phosphates scored 0.2-0.5

new habitat creation
sewage at the outfall
Despite all the instream habitat improvements at the A240 Tolworth -see previous posts- the is still an unhealthy outfall and an amount of sewage fungus around its environs. True to form the scores equalled the CoC.

Currently, there are over 1800 data points collected across the Thames Catchment undertaken with volunteer effort. A new mapping application allows you to visualise, analyse and download all the data collected during the different WaterBlitz .

The map can be access through the Freshwater Links here:

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Harp Trapping Wimbledon Park

Photos Dr. D. Dawson.
Note the 'harp' strings
London Bat Group was invited to take part in the National Nathusius Project in early 2016. Four 3-bank harp traps and lures were purchased in May 2016 and licences and training events were organised.

Trapping surveys occur between May and end of October with a pause in surveys between mid-June and mid-Late July to avoid trapping heavily pregnant females or bats with suckling young. Surveys commence in late May 2016 through to early October. 

Sites near water bodies are chosen as prime foraging habitat, where bats will travel to from offsite locations to spend a substantial part of the early evening. Several sites in Kingston, Richmond and Merton have been covered accruing some interesting data.

Weighing the animal + bag

Last night, five participants attended a harp trapping session at Wimbledon Park. Two traps were positioned at the lake at locations 150m apart, as part of the National Nathusius' pipistrelle project. 

We caught four soprano pipistrelle bats, one common pipistrelle and a juvenile Daubentons's bat. The Nathusius' pipistrelle eluded us, arriving later in the evening and remaining >10m from the bank side. A lure playing a loop of the  call of this species was insufficient to tempt it's investigation.

Animals fly into the 'harp' strings and fall into the white bag where they are collected at regular intervals.

Soprano wing pattern
Soprano pipistrelle bat
 They are placed into smaller bags and identified to species.

Information on the sex, breeding condition, weight, forearm and 5th finger measurements are taken during the processing of any Nathusius’ pipistrelle captured.

As a identification validation the cell structure of the wing patterns - or veination - is checked. Hair samples can be taken for isotope analysis which should reveal more insight into where the bat has travelled from. As the project has advanced the animals are more likely to be ringed.

So far >141 Nathusius' pipistrelle bats have been caught  and 100 ringed. This August 25 Nathusius' pipistrelle were caught of which one was a recap from Surrey Bat Group (Molesey Reservoir to Kempton Park Nature Reserve - 1.7km) and another a London recap (Walthamstow to Woodberry Wetlands - 2.8km).

In addition, three bats have been controlled wearing rings that are registered in Latvia giving us valuable information about the movements of this animal.Last week a bat that was ringed in Latvia was controlled at Kempton Park.

Table: To show the number of passes per bat species  at Wimbledon Park 2.9.17 (M. Wagstaffe).

Noctule bat 16 2.5%
Leisler's bat 2 0.3%
Serotine bat 1 0.2%
Common pipistrelle bat 145 22.7%
Soprano pipistelle bat 425 66.5%
Nathusius's pipistrelle 21 3.3%
Daubenton's bat 29 4.5%
Total 639 100.0%