Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Draining of the Filter Beds at Seething Wells

Ankle deep
Many noticed the draining of the water in the filter beds, even though it took place the week before Christmas. I have no hotline to the offshore company who own the site and can only hazard a guess as to why this is happening now.The water level had risen to the top of the filter beds posing a management issue and leaving it any later could fall foul of the bird breeding season. If proposed Environment Agency charges for abstraction and disharge go ahead from April 2018 it could be very expensive to discharge the water  see https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/new-charging-proposals-fromapril2018/

Little egret

There used to be a charge for a discharge permit until deregulation followed Agency staff cuts. Abstraction for small amounts of water became free but this has not helped the environment and our local rivers such as the Crane, Hogsmill and Beverley suffer constantly from low flows. So the Agency have to reconsider but the admin causes a financial headache and any new charges must reflect the true cost of officer time (especially as much of it is spent sitting in traffic as they negotiate larger and larger jurisdictions). 

The Agency  also propose increases to permits to carry out habitat improvement work such as angling clubs and rivers trusts have been doing for years. A permit to place woody debris into the river channel currently costs £50 but would increase to £764 - more than the work would actually cost to carry out. Similar massive increases are proposed for permits for fish passes and off-channel fry refuges.

Fishing heron
The Angling Trust has lodged a formal objection to the scale of the proposed increases http://www.anglingtrust.net but it would be most helpful if as many people as possible replied individually to the consultation; although I tried to answer a small part of the questionnaire but then found it impossible to submit.
Consultation ends 26.1.18

There were winners and losers after the draining. The winners were the little egret (above) and several lapwings, which enjoy poking around in  mud for invertebrates. Good numbers of fishing heron, cormorant and even a little grebe was seen struggling with a small roach. The losers were of course the stranded fish.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Wassail, Olives, Tolworth Treasure and the Apple Store

Me at Pensford
Recounting a 'short poem'

The annual wassail was held at Pensford Fields in North Sheen this afternoon. Pensford is a haven for wild flowers, birds and insects rescued from developers in the 1990's. It is a site of importance for nature conservation  and a designated area of tranquility. It also inspires art, children’s play and education. 

During proceedings the wassail master read his short poem against the cracking fire and a ukele band played sing- along - songs and we did circle dancing.

Crowning the new wassail queen
We clapped as Bella was crowned the new wassail queen and a noisy procession began. 

Fancy dress is encouraged and also any sort of instrument or implement which makes a good noise will help us scare the evil spirits away from the fruit trees in the orchard. This is a key part of the old english Wassail custom which dates back to pre-Norman times.

Toast and the ghost

Toast in the dressed apple tree

Cider was presented to a dressed apple tree in the  orchard. 

Toast was left in the tree to appease the spirits and give thanks for the fruit. 

Olives along High Park rd.
Heritage apple walks of Kingston

There were plenty of cooked apples in the food and drink - including
mulled cider - but the only fruit seen on trees in the local area were OLIVES growing on trees planted along High Park Road en route to Kew Gardens station.

per J. Lock

I am told that 70 people turned out to a Streatham Wassail. They look so beautiful dancing around the tree. The wassail cup was produced from an old trees that were removed a couple of years back. The cider was produced form Apple Day donations

For those interested in  Kingston's orchards- the leaflet mapping local the heritage apple walks - should be available in most libraries, the heritage museum as well as  the local history room. Lucy and I will be leading walks around Tolworth and the Hogsmill river from January 20th.

Of course there will be some news about the Tolworth apple store - see centre of the poster - get in touch if any of these appeal.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Beverley Brook and the Thames Water Pipe Track

Peacefull brook
Marble gall ( together with ramshorn)
The Beverley Brook rises near Nonsuch Park at Stoneleigh and forms the eastern boundary to the borough from Motspur Park through New Malden to Roehampton Vale. Along the Kingston boundary it forms part of a number of sites from Back Green (Sutton) Manor Park, Malden Golf Course, Coombe Wood and Wimbledon Common. (ref side-tabs Beverley Brook). Today we set off on the west or sunny side of the riparian vegetation, fringing the sports fields owned by Kingston council. 

Ramshorn gall
Ramana or branching fungi
 Here a wealth of galls were noted on oak: marble, ramshorn, cherry, currant and knopper galls which
is a bowl shaped protrusion. This is caused by a tiny gall wasp, Andricus quercuscalicis. It produces ridged outgrowths on the acorns of our native pedunculate oak; forming in August, becoming woody and brown. A second generation then develops in the catkins of Turkey Oak.

Norway maple
Hart's tongue and male fern
 Along the banks of the brook - wherever the tree cover opens -  are found both male and hart's tongue ferns. In the woodland - particularly around Fishpond's Wood - broad buckler fern is located. Norway maple  was a surprising but colourful invader in the woodland.

Environment Agency gauging station
 After leaving the woodlands of Merton, to continue along the brook,  it is necessary to negotiate the A3 via a subway followed by weaving through a residential area and along Cambridge Avenue to New Malden.  Here the brook  can  be picked up again near the Thames Water Pipe Track at Alric Avenue.

Arrow marks bridge over Alric Ave
This Site of Nature Conservation Importance is about to undergo radical changes to accommodate a cycle route as part of the council's  Go-Cycle scheme (see previous posts 21.3.15). The Kingston Handbook written by the London Ecology Unit (1992) includes the pipe track in with the Malden Golf Course (and Coombe Brook) as well as a section of the Beverley Brook, which curls like an 'S' shape in the south-east corner of the GC before crossing the pipe track and railway and into Beverley Park, heading south.

The handbook states that the Thames Water Pipe Track runs north of the railway lines - giving the appearance of a green lane- only it carries 5 water pipes from Seething Wells. It describes lush grassland, enlivened with flowers such as: ladies smock; meadow vetchling; birds foot trefoil; and meadow vetchling. Halfway along the track where the pipes leak have arisen wetlands, where yellow flag iris, soft and hard rushes and phragmites reed provide habitat for dragonflies and amphibians.

Pipe Track seen from Alric Avenue
Fast forward to 2016 when Thames Water undertook major repairs to the pipework under the trackway. Leaking pipework was removed leaving a deck of sleepers, which will be the canvas upon which the Council scheme - in partnership with the Sustrans - will be revealed in the current  planning application 17/15227 or Pipe Track to construct a 1.2 km cycling and walking path along the railway line. This will include installation of a 2m-3m impenetrable fence and associated lighting, and landscaping.

Whilst there is sympathy with the lack of appropriate surveys due to the difficulties in site access- the fauna and flora are widely known due the badgers, deer and foxes, reptiles and amphibians that appear in residents gardens - the Sustrans promise at the consultation stage ( see post 25.3.15) that 'this would be designed as a wildlife haven' will not materialise in this application as it is being designed solely for the use of people. Fencing to exclude the communication of animals between gardens and lighting to exclude nocturnal wildlife including the brown long-eared bat recorded in the Graves 2015 survey.

The council could be in breach of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, which requires it to identify those Section 40 species and conserve biodiversity in this scheme. Instead the Site of Nature Conservation Importance will be lost as it is urbanised with 3m high fences and lighting as well as non-native species of prickly plants.

This is not habitat improvement and when a certain level of urbanisation is reached,  so can the 'tipping point' for many animals and birds. For even the commonest bat species this is now determined as being 60% of built surface area and includes the anthropogenic effect of lighting.

Monday, 11 December 2017

The Tree Charter

Oldest tree in Epsom and Ewell
The Independent Panel Review on Forestry, published in 2011, suggested that there was a need for a tree charter that reflected the modern day role of trees in our lives, and safeguarded access to the trees for future generations.

On 6 November 2017, on the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest, the new Charter for Trees, Woods and People was launched at Lincoln Castle – home to one of the two remaining copies of the 1217 Charter of the Forest. It now rests in the Lincolnshire Archives. The Charter has 10 broad threads or principles. They are:

  1. Thriving habitats for diverse species
  2. Planting for the future
  3. Celebrating the cultural impact of trees
  4. A thriving forestry sector that delivers for the UK
  5. Better protection for important trees or woods
  6. Understanding and using the natural health benefits of trees
  7. Access to trees for everyone
  8. Addressing threats to woods and trees through good management
  9. Strengthening landscapes with woods and trees
My professional body the CIEEM (Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management)
has signed up to the charter. You can sign your own name or make sure your organisation signs up at https://treecharter.uk/

Trees outside of woodlands are important for landscape connectivity. There are many examples of species not crossing gaps between trees where certain thresholds are reached. Early research by Phil Richardson suggests some bat species would not cross gaps of  >10m. A recent paper on open access from science direct: Tree loss impacts on ecological connectivity: developing models for assessment by R.C. Henry (Ecological Informatics 2017 42:90-99 asserted that removing 60% of roadside trees decreased the number of successful dispersers by 17%.

Bill Downey from Butterfly Conservation
Searching for Brown hairstreak eggs
Many of the less common  species - including some recorded on Epsom Common - travel along the Hogsmill Corridor by virtue of this connectivity. The south-facing stands of blackthorn at Tolworth Court Farm Fields are a hotspot for brown hairstreak eggs, which appear like a small sea urchin in a node of the lower portion of the blackthorn.

Brown hairstreak egg
Purple hairstreak egg

 Purple hairstreak eggs, which can be located in the terminal buds of oak, also have a spiny appearance. A very good haul of eggs was found - 120 Brown Hairstreak, 12 Blue-bordered Carpet moth; and 7 Purple Hairstreak eggs.

Bill told us that the haul of 120 eggs is only equalled by a site regularly surveyed  in the Weald – which is the stronghold area for the Brown Hairstreak. The survey today clearly shows what an important site Tolworth Court Farm is for this UK BAP species.

Dormice are also dependent on landscape connectivity as well as healthy woodland compartments. It was great to know that yet another dormouse was found in November in the nearby borough of Epsom and Ewell. This time at Horton CP, which is contiguous with Kingston's Castle Hill LNR. Could we have the makings of a dormouse project in the borough?

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Manor Park - one year on

Manor park pond
Last January I posted on Manor Park recreation ground, featuring the pond,
which was then - full. I thought it would be interesting to return to see the condition of the site, particularly as the local Friends group had convened a well-attended task, planting 2,000 bluebells see https://www.environmenttrust.co.uk/blog/planting-bluebells Usually, I visit whenever I need courage to go to my dentist, which is just opposite the main entrance.

The recreation ground is on old agricultural fields, according to tithe maps, and  has remnants of ancient hedgerows. Hence its designation as a Site of Local Importance for Nature Conservation.

Although the pond was dry - hopefully it will fill up before spawning time - the woodland copse was looking splendid. Not a scrap of litter to be seen and dead hedging - or wind-rows - had been created from the arisings of  coppicing; these had been placed along the path.


stinking iris and honeysuckle

Unlike the ivy - dominated plantations, there is plenty of light getting to the woodland floor. Plants included wood dock and honeysuckle.

There is an amount of  rough grassland along the rail side land - exhibiting large yellow meadow ant mounds - a favourite of the green woodpecker. 

rough grassland
House sparrow hedges
Whilst there was no sign of the rabbits that move along rail side and forage in the early evening, there is no reason to suppose they have gone.

They assist in creating the rich mosaic of habitats, that in turn are important  for the local bird population;  a healthy sparrow colony occupy the hedgerow surrounding the bowling green.

Several song thrushes were seen as well as their visiting Scandinavian cousins - the redwings - funny that the termination of the name of occupants of that country means 'bird'.

There is a bit of an arboretum near the pavilion with semi-mature cedar, stone pine, Californian redwood and eucalyptus. Some of these could do with some TLC - maybe just to make sure bracing on the redwood is not cutting into the cambium layer.

 The site is looking in much better shape than nine months ago, although after every visit I  usually have to take my shoes off at the dentist's door due to the dog mess adorning my boots- maybe a job for the local Poosaders https://www.facebook.com/kingstonpoosaders The next check-up should certainly be pretty with all the new bulbs.

Friday, 1 December 2017

The view from Tolworth

With thanks to the Environment Trust using funding obtained from the Co-op, the broken down fence around Tolworth Court Farm Moated Manor (TCFMM) site was repaired yesterday, including a completely new section.

view to the pond
New section of fence
The poor state of the fence has meant that litter from the road could blow into sensitive areas, such as the pond, which is scheduled for a face lift in the new year. As well as  human ingress - gaps in the fence- have allowed deer egress,  sadly resulting in a recent vehicle collision.

Barn moated manor site
Tolworth Court Farm Fields

Seclusion ensures that  shyer wildlife species are more likely to be  found at TCFMM than on the main Tolworth Court Farm Fields. Yesterday there were three crows mobbing a buzzard around the perimeter of the field as well as redwings and fieldfares along the old Kingston Road.

The large intact area of  hedgerows and  field system on the opposite side of the A240, lead to the main farm being a hotspot for brown hairstreak - only recorded in this borough, slightly further along the Bonesgate corridor at Castle Hill LNR in Chessington - and on 12.12.17 Bill Downey will be leading an BH egg hunt.

Pigeons and broken roof timbers
apple store
To the east the view is not so rosy with the Tolworth apple store beginning to look very dilapidated. I have written to the council to ask if any measures will be taken before next June's growth committee to effect repairs to the building.The committe report will be available from next Tuesday on this link https://moderngov.kingston.gov.uk/

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.

In all there have been 80 recent applications to develop the borough's green belt land. 69 were granted and to date 10 have been completed.

Major applications are in the pipeline such as 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, which is enshrined in the mayors emerging London Plan 2017 https://www.london.gov.uk/new_london_plan_december_2017_web_version.pdf.