Thursday, 2 February 2017

Orchard Day, Dorich House, Kingston Vale

Dorich House info on apple varieties
Lewis McNeil London Orchard Project
The rain subsided just in time for our enjoyable demonstration - performed by Lewis from the London Orchard Project - on how to maintain the orchard, at Kingston University's Dorich House at Kingston Vale. The original inhabitant - sculptor Dora Gordine - was keen on fruit, and the original apple and pear trees were reaching the end of their useful lifespan; although dead wood on healthy trees are a recognised asset for biodiversity, and is not cut out. 

choosing a vertical limb
Supporting the limb with a hook
The orchard was  restored and revitalised in 2011 by LOP. This included some supplementary planting of local heritage varieties such as Braddick's Nonpareil and Claygate Pearman, orginally grown by John Braddick of Thames Ditton late 1900's. Apple trees are flatter than the more upright pear trees and the wider angles take greater loads. 

When trees are not pruned regularly they can revert to biennial bearing; with a lot of fruit one year and none the next. Fruit trees are a forest edge species and require optimal light conditions. One of  our tasks was to cut out any wood growing vertically, which shades out the fruit beneath and makes picking impossible without ladders or a proprietary 'apple picker'. Larger branches can be cut out with the aid of a hook - held by a second person - to support the main branch to enable a clean saw cut.

Cutting out unwanted water shoots
Formative pruning-shaping a 5yr tree
 Most apples fruit on the second year's growth and the fatter fruit buds could be seen overwintering. The first years growth is useful for propagation purposes and is the vegetative growth, which can be cut back to increase vigour-especially on small trees at the early formative stage. Every cut made increases the amount of new growth, so we were warned against creating more work for ourselves in the future. 

Cutting the pear tree
MUPE over the wall in Richmond Park
The taller pear tree required a tall solution and a tripod ladder was employed. Irony was in the air in the form of a MUPE platform, which loomed above us, over the shared boundary wall of Richmond Park. The Tree Team were pruning the overhang from oak trees -just a little further - and they could have taken the leader out of our pear! The wood from the oak trees could not be spared, as it suffers from Oak Processionary moth, which means it cannot leave the site.

the pruned apple wood: 20% of the tree
20% of Sivi
Modified Renewal pruning has replaced the old practice of cutting back all the new growth. Don't remove all the water shoots just the diseased, weakest or those growing in the wrong direction. Keep the medium sized new growth and avoid the vigorous shoots which will result in a 'tree on a tree'.

The aim is to cut back on a rotational basis and encourage biodiversity by keeping dead and deformed wood. However, when the tree is covered in lichens the fruit buds are shaded out and may die so it is about balance.The spoil amounted to 20%, which will not stress the tree. We also cleared vegetation from around the mulberry tree, which I discovered during a survey last year. 

Cutting out the leader in formative pruning
small cankers will heal if cut out early
 Grafting is the only method of  retaining the variety and is done by taking a scion from the first years growth of a tree and 'joining' onto a roost stock which can be obtained from a nursery for about 0.80p.

We will be tackling the orchard at Alexander Recreation Ground, Surbiton this  Saturday morning,  if anyone would like to join us. With Lewis' advice we will be clearing weeds, cutting the tree cages as well as picking up litter Ring first for a rain check 07867507086

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Belted Galloway herd and Surrey Wildlife Trust.

We visited Pond Farm, Wisley and Ockham Common, close to Wisley village off the A3. This site is managed and grazed by the Surrey Wildlife Trust and their herd of Belted Galloways; who appreciated their top-up of hay after the recent snow fall.

Surrey Wildlife Trust run an exceptional service delivering a grazing programe tailored to suit most sites. They match the temperament of the cattle with the level of use. Category one, sites are those in the most urbanised areas, requiring cattle to be habituated to dog incursions. However, no herd should ever be expected to cope with illegal dogs running out of control on a nature reserve and sensible control of animals on leads may be required.

The off to Priest Hill LNR and public open space along the Banstead Road (parking in Beverley Close) to see the 22 strong herd in the snow. On the heels of the cattle was  a flock of c20 meadow pipits hopeful of tid-bits grazing would reveal. This would be a great model for Tolworth Court Farm, which once had a large Fresian herd , with dairy facilities on the moated manor site (on the west side of the A240).

Grazing is a good way of restoring and maintaining grassland sites, preventing them from scrubbing over and improving the floristic diversity. Some grazing by ponies already takes place at TCF on privately owned fields. There is also a beautiful heavy horse fly-grazing the council land, which has featured in previous posts on Tolworth Court Farm.

Belted Galloways in the snow Priest hill

Wassail: Hook to Tolworth apple walk

We held a wassail this weekend - paying homage to fruit trees along our way - as well as local figures important in Kingston's Pomology or apple story. Our walk began in Hook, close to the former home of the founder of the heritage apple 'Colonel Yate', which was raised by nurseryman W H Divers of Surbiton (c1905); we continued to look for apple references as we traversed Orchard Gardens, Apple Grove, Cox Lane towards Tolworth Court Farm. 

En-route we visited Causeway Copse (now know as Bullwhips- when did the council change its name?) where wild Malus species have been recorded according to the London records centre (Greenspace Information for Greater London or GIGL). We left votive offerings or 'gifts' - in the form of small pieces of toast - traditional, particularly in cider growing regions.

In the eastern fields at Tolworth Court Farm we found bird species associated with  orchards, such as  redwings,  often found searching for any remaining winter windfalls. The latter were plentiful at Causeway Copse (40) and along the route they were noted feeding on the berry bushes around the Chessington Industrial Estate. Bullfinches are also recorded here at Field 5847- but they can be hard work to find.

 Once through the farm we visited the Towlorth Apple Store, which continues to lose tiles from its pagoda-style roof. This Gothic structure c1856,  is in desperate need of some TLC. Brian took a group to see Kingston Permaculture Reserve, which was closeby, where a wassail is planned for later this month 28.1.17 see

In the Spring, we hope to undertake a second apple walk, as a homage to the founder of Mitchelson’s Seedling. This was raised by A. Mitchelson, a market gardener in Kingston-upon-Thames in the 19th century. Get in touch if you are interested in attending. More details will be available at the Kingston Environment Centre on March 4th, which will be hosting the 'Jam Today' exhibition, which coincides with the New Malden Farmers Market and should be a fruitful experience.

January fruit
These are photos of a recent wassail in Dibbinsdale with people thanking the trees for their fruit. In some cases the fruit remains on the tree: perhaps Annie- Elizabeth?

Monday, 2 January 2017

Vegetation clearance at Seething Wells

Bulldozing of vegetation and leaving it in opposing piles - not a great way to manage a Site of Nature Conservation Importance.

Exposing the subterranean chambers and other features of industrial archaeological importance; usually occurs when a planning application is in the pipeline. 

For the time being the filter beds are  still home  for  the heron, fox and  lapwing photographed, along with many other species seen today: redwings, robins, blackbirds, song thrush, pochard, tufties and gadwall.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Wassailing or Wasseling

New orchard Alexandra recreation ground Berrylands
Peri-urban habitats in the south of the borough are radically altered; but orchards can maintain a wonderful wildlife habitat. The longer grass between trees can be a haven for wildflowers and insects; surplus fruit is appreciated by  winter  Scandanavian thrushes (redwings and fieldfares). There are some excellent blogs on orchards and their wildlife.

See also with excellent posts from K. Leibreich on the situation in south-west London fruit growing stronghold in Chiswick and Isleworth. is an account of wassailing in an Oxfordshire village.

The tradition of wassailing (also wasselling) into two distinct categories: The house-visiting wassail and the orchard-visiting wassail. The house-visiting wassail is the practice of people going door-to-door, singing and offering a drink from the punch bowl (as at Pensford Fields). This practice has largely been displaced by carol singing. The orchard-visiting wassail refers to the ancient custom of visiting orchards -usually in cider-producing regions reciting incantation and singing to the trees to promote a good harvest for the coming year. Sometimes toast adorns the branches of orchard trees.Traditionally, the wassail is celebrated on twelth night ( either January 5 or 6). Some people still wassail on "Old Twelvey Night", January 17, as it would have been before the introduction of the Gregorian Calender in 1752.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Green Lane Stream, tributary of the Hogsmill

source of the stream
This is the spring of one of the Hogsmill tributaries aka Green Lanes stream. It rises near West Hill in Epsom on the southern tip of Court Park. Despite some initial gurgling - no water was apparent throughout the park.

Court Park
Longmead Road
The route is along a stand of spectacular oak trees, many >300 years old. Great spotted woodpeckers were enjoying the grubs activated by the warmth of the winter sun. The stream is again lost along Pound Lane and the Primary School until it reaches Longmead Road where it emerges via several outfalls, a mixture of stormwater, road run-off and some misconnected pipework.

A strong ammonia odour becomes apparent once reaching the Thames Water storm tanks opposite Blenheim School, where the pong penetrates the winter air for the remainder of the  Longmead Road stretch. The rag-coated grillage attests to  recent sewage overflow  into the stream- despite the low rainfall- and is indicative of the lack of capacity in the system. 

After crossing the Chessington Road B220 - Green Lanes stream -although full of plastic bottles- is more pleasant and two little egrets were spotted in the channel (four if counting their reflections). The stream finally joins the Hogsmill at Chambermead meadow, and Hogsmill open space.


Unnamed tributary of the Hogsmill river

This little wildlife corridor, marked here by the black arrow, rises close-to (and feeds) the lakes at Horton CP Golf Course. It flows towards the Hogsmill at Scott's Farm Close where it can be viewed at three places; this is after snaking through  back gardens into the playing fields at Epsom and Ewell High School. Here it is heavily engineered with double and triple weirs.

Evidence of the stream's existence above ground is marked by the straighter - than - natural  line of trees  along  rear boundaries of properties along  Gadesden  Road. As Scott's Farm Close meets Gadesden Road there is a public right of way across school playing fields to Ruxley Lane where the stream can just about be seen (below left).
There are additional views at Chessington Close as the stream emerges from under the busy B284 road, traversing a more natural course through gardens - initially along their boundaries - but thereafter via a cherished seat in the centre of a tiny reserve. A slight kink is suggestive of a meander in it's more south -westerly stretch, perhaps indicative of softer banking and less concrete.

Does anyone know it's local name- Horton Stream?