Sunday, 7 August 2016

Recent local sightings

Scything workshop TCFMM
Butterflies did not do so well in the wet early summer period, but the sunshine in the past week has bought them out. The highlight is the white-letter hairstreak seen across the Surrey boundary near Ewell Court Park; this species can be found in selected places along the Hogsmill by the keen-eyed. The change in grass-cutting regimes has assisted grassland species, although skippers have been hard to find. Tolworth Court Farm Moated Manor has been especially good for marbled whites :)

ornamental carp with chub
We have been undertaking a reptile survey at TCFMM, which so far has not priduced any reptiles, but short tailed voles, pygmy shrews and woodmice have enjoyed constructing their nests under these refuges. This ornamental carp was spotted underneath the bridge along the A240-along  with a chub with the dark tail-, which can just be seen in the photograph. At the next bridge - the one with the passing places that leads to Riverhill- we recorded Daubenton's bats during our Daubenton's waterway survey 2.8.16. This is the first time they have been recorded here during this annual survey in recent years.

Hogsmill Kingston

Along the Hogsmill there have been some interesting bird sightings, with regular kingfisher presence indicating breeding; including the town centre and Kingsmeadow. Unfortunately, of the five pairs of grey wagtails- from the town centre to cemetery- only one managed to escape the flooding, producing a brood that successfully fledged. At Middle-Mill island a pair were seen feeding a short tailed youngster. The pair at Hogsmill Lane seemed to have no purpose for the days immediately after the last heavy rainfall but soon started breeding again. Many bird species are still feeding young this August. A little egret was seen flying across Elmbridge Meadows recently. A peregrine was a good above-garden tick last week and I saw four at the newly-developed water tower in Epsom three weeks ago. Kestrels are regulars at TCFMM and Tolworth Court Farm. A reed bunting was seen at the reedbed in Jubilee Meadows and reed warblers at the pond in Alexander Recreation ground which unfortunately has a bad case of crassula.
Silver eel DoN

On a completely different river-the Dukes river in Isleworth - at the Mogden Sewage Works eel trap, they have been catching silver eels, or returning elvers. These are about c95mm long and would have been recorded in their hundreds if not thousands until a few years ago. Not such a healthy sign on the Hogsmill, with only adults eels being caught and in low numbers -only eleven so far this year-with as many animals found dead. More on fish: the common carp in one of the Home Park ponds are being replaced with Crucian, a much smaller species that will cause less impact. On the Wandle at Hackbridge, fishermen showed us pictures of the trout they had caught (rainbow as well as brown). Their favoured hiding place is a well-unkept secret!

Processing bats during trapping
On the bat front, I have had 13 casualties so far this year including  -a juvenile- from along the Hogsmill near Gately Green. This had a nasty burn along its forearm but the vet determined that this was superficial and the skin would eventually heal. This would delay flight and the flight muscles would need strengthening. One recent late night call out was to a couple who had a bat fly into their bedroom. After a hour with the bat detector- until after midnight- we determined that the initial advice of leaving the room in darkness, with the windows wide open, was the best way of it finding its way out.

The Brandts bat from Jubilee Wood found during our harp trapping session, was a revelation as there is only one record of the species being recorded in the borough.
Nathusius's pipistrelle playing dead
The trapping is licensed as part of  a national Nathusius's pipistrelle project to assess the status of this animal in this country- since it's recent arrival - often attributed to global climate change. Not only did we find a Nathuius's pip, but it was a pregnant female, indicating breeding status in the borough. One of the characteristics of the species, is that when caught they play dead. This gives us ample opportunity to take a good look at them!

We are trapping tonight after the parturition break, as we are not allowed to trap during mid-June under the conditions of our licence. Watch this space to see what we catch!

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Hogsmill Sewage Clean-up

According to blogger stats, one of the most read items of 2016 to date, has been the Hogsmill Sewage Spill (8.2.16). So it follows that it will be the most written about - preferable to  answering  the many enquiries received - individually. It is a good method of retaining a chronological 'memory' as well as informing ward councillors, who are sufficiently exercised with other sewage related issues, such as the smell.

Rag at the outfall
Operatives from Adler and Allan
The previous post, detailed the  amount of 'rag' that appears downstream of the outfall, virtually every week. But a tremendous amount of this: nappy liners, sanitary towels, condoms and wrappers, cotton wool buds and - although we are told it doesn't survive the HSW outfall - toilet paper ended up on Public Open Space (POS) during a flood 25.6.16.

Outfall post clean-up

So here's what happened last Thursday and Friday 30.6.16.....A professional team from  Adler and Allan of Tunbridge Wells, came to clean-up the outfall as well as the 'rag and sewage environment' along the Hogsmill as far as Villiers Road.

According to their website: Adler and Allan,  began trading as a Coal Merchants in London and after aquisitions of related companies, have become  national, undertaking major spill responses and hazardous waste handling for companies and agencies such asThames Water and The Environment Agency.

Toilet paper (E. Newton)
Rag at Ewell Storm Tanks (P Harwood.)

So why are these spills occurring much more frequently? Data from overflows show that the 'emergency' mechanisms for retaining sewage during times of excess rainfall, are inadequate. 

These are known as the storm tanks and they exist further upstream at Ewell Court and at the HSW. The HSW storm tanks overflowed in the river twice during May; 5.5.16 and 30.5.16. What was previously a mechanism for protecting the Hogsmill during extreme events, now serves to deluge the river with a tide of cess, killing fish and creating a hazardous environment for those of us working along and in the river; particularly those engaged on constructing the in-channel river improvements and on the River Fly monitoring projects (see side tabs). The sewage has been overtopping the storm tanks and bypassing the screening processes normally in place to prevent rag entering the stream.

Cox lane, (M.M. Oates)

Misconnection Villiers Road
In addition, to the misconnections - evidence of sediments, sewage as well as chemical run-off - appearing at every outfall along the Hogsmill, there is also evidence of  sewage  weiring over the river bank into the Hogmill creating a toxic brew measurable on our basic equipment (and our noses). 

Channel of cess into the Hogsmill
Pumping out cess
On the north-east bank of the Hogsmill on TW land- perpendicular with California Road - there is an old stream, visible on old ordinance survey maps. This has been transformed in a 'channel of cess' with  ammonia levels of 3.5% and low levels of dissolved oxygen (5%).

Thames Water have been pumping out the sewage from the channel but it keeps filling up and presumably weiring over into the river.

So why has this situation arisen and what can be done to restore the river quality? The aspirations of the council to develop more and more of our open space see 'Direction of Travel' document will not help this situation. It is also not fair to be expecting our POS's to take more and more these operational impacts (see Fishponds). Kingston’s “Direction of Travel” (on local growth and development) consultation is available for comment till 29th August at

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Hogsmill River: Spates and Sewage

Clattern Bridge
View west from Blue Bridge
Today the Hogsmill reached 1.1m at the Grange Road/Watersplash Close gauging station. This is the highest level since 2000. There is a good website to view this data relayed from gauging stations here https://flood-warning-information.service
An amount of this water is from road  or pluvial run-off; but unfortunately a component-apparent from the smell- is sewage.

Assorted gross litter hanging from trees
Rag at the Hogsmill Sewage works 
Every part of the already hard-pressed sewage infrastructure is overtopped: leaching and  leaking; pouring and pooping - a soup of raw sewage. The bankside vegetation captures that which is generally known as 'rag'. This includes the nappy liners, the wet wipes, condoms, tampons, dental floss etc.

 This is additional to the daily dosage from the many misconnections polluting every outfall along it's nine mile course. see previous posts on sewage spills and dead fish and rag removal (21.2.16,19.4.16 and 2.5.16) and related Flood risk position and catchement approach (10.3.16, 19.3.16).

Ammonia testing
Testing for e-coli
 Yesterday, in attempt to quantify elements of the impacts of sewage, we were joined by Theo from the charity London Waterkeeper

Theo worked at Thames21 for 12 years. During this time he set up the ‘Love the Lea’ campaign to make members of the public aware of the problems facing London’s second river. He established its water quality testing laboratory.

Testing strips from LaMotte
Elliot at the outfall
We took samples from eight different sites along the Hogsmill from the confluence with the Bonesgate to Middle-Mill at Hogsmill Community Garden. We found raised levels of ammonia at two sites and await the results of the e-coli test samples.

Monday, 20 June 2016

News from Tolworth Court Farm Moated Manor

Clearance of arisings
Dead hedge
The Environment Trust has been undertaking habitat management at Tolworth Court Farm Moated Manor with a number of participants from two Challenge group events. 

They have cleared large amounts of debris left last year after the willows were pollarded. The initial clearance  was undertaken by the company employed by the electricity generator, to keep the area under the pylons clear of tall vegetation.

Some of the brush has been used to make a dead hedge (above right) that will create habitat as well as secure the site,  preventing access from the road.  

Dismantling the compost toilet
Reptile survey

Fingers crossed we will soon  have our own compost toilet. This has been donated from a site in Twickenham. It was  carefully dismantled last week and hopefully we will be able to put the pieces back together again!

A reptile survey has commenced with 30 x felt squares -1 x 50cm- placed at three transects around the site. A student has volunteered to check them on a regular basis; while undertaking a parallel project at the  University sports ground.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Friends of Kingston Cemetery

 The Friends of Kingston cemetery had its second task day yesterday: litter was collected, brambles tamed and a flower walk was undertaken.

An area around the  Japanese knotweed was cleared so that it can be sprayed to prevent its spread.

The conservation areas have been extended, giving the wild flowers in the old turf a chance to thrive.

It is hoped the group will convene once monthly, so watch for a notice on the gates for the next one-all welcome.

Ashes to ash, dust to dusk mask!
Ashes to ash

Field madder, ox-eye daisy, birds foot-trefoil and meadow vetchling are attractive to pollinating insects.


Monday, 13 June 2016

Mr Biscuit, the brown long-eared bat

Photos taken by S. Sivanesan at feeding time.
Diet of mealworms
Lovely as they are, I pretty much dread getting brown long-eared bats to look after; as they do not like being captive and often fail to thrive. Mr Biscuit (named by the family that found him) was an exceptional bat, that was able to increase his weight from 6gs to 8.5gs in only ten days. He quickly learnt how to feed himself on mealworms, a diet these animals would never encounter in the wild; and then he soon learnt how not to feed, in order to get me to feed him, so he could fall asleep in the warmth of my hand!

Taking liquid
Brown long-eared bats rarely leave the canopy of woodland and so they are usually found  at  few local sites in our urban landscape, including the greenbelt and the larger parks. The only known local maternity colony was lost a few years ago due to the development of Normansfield hospital and now all local records pertain to solitary animals (rather than a colony).  This one was returned to the area near Kingston bridge, where he was found last Friday. He flew three or four loops above us to orientate himself -allowing us to hear his quiet echolocation on the bat detector- and then completely disappeared.

Beautiful or what?

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Bat woman feature!

Nice feature on  my work in the current Earth Island, includes: Citizen Science, public education as well as consultancy. Good understanding of   factors affecting bats such as light pollution and increased urbanisation.

'Light pollution is also a major concern, as it disrupts bats’ nocturnal rhythms and thus behaviors such as feeding and commuting'......

Effects of urbanization vary by species. Overall, however, the impact of urban development on bats has been harmful — and dramatic. According to Jo Ferguson, built environment officer for the Bat Conservation Trust, some of the United Kingdom’s bat populations declined by more than 90 percent over the twentieth century. This was largely due to such factors as the loss of natural roosting, commuting, and foraging habitat. (Climate change and weather variability also played a part.) '