Amphibian and Reptile surveying training course

This course will teach you how to identify frogs, toads, newts, lizards and snakes and show you techniques you can use to survey these animals. The course is free and suitable for people of all ages and levels of experience. So why not come along and see how you can help protect London’s dragons!

Where: Basement room of the Temple, Wanstead Park, London, E11 2LT.

When: Saturday 9th April 2016 between 10:00 and 13:00.

How to book: email Tim Harris (

Price: Free


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February 26th, 2016

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Wanstead 1000: Off and running


Turkey Tail

Members of the Wren Wildlife Group are hoping to find 1000 different kinds of plants and animals in the Wanstead area during 2016. Chair Tim Harris reports on progress so far.

Before dawn on New Year’s Day, while many were sleeping off the excesses of a few hours earlier, Wanstead’s birdwatchers (well, some of them) were on a quest to see how many species they could find during the day. And what a start to the day they had! Intrepidly working through the mud and puddles of Bush Wood, Bob Vaughan had inadvertently flushed a woodcock and seen a firecrest before it was properly light. Not far away, on Wanstead Flats, Josh Selfe tweeted that he’s seen an owl fly up from a patch of broom. Sure enough, it soon reappeared, being mobbed by several crows: a short-eared owl, a local rarity. With a start like that, it was unlikely that things could get any better, and much of the day was spent finding those birds that are either resident on our manor, or which just drop in for the winter. However, just when the light was beginning to go, and people were thinking of resting aching limbs after a day in the field, Jono Lethbridge and Nick Croft found a lesser spotted woodpecker by the Basin on Overton Drive. This diminutive woodpecker hadn’t been seen in our area at all in 2015! The day’s total of 69 bird species was the best ever achieved on New Year’s Day. Two days later, Nick had a tantalisingly brief view of what is likely to have been a great snipe – an incredibly rare bird in this country – close to Alexandra Lake. Unfortunately, it didn’t give him time to photograph it as it flew off east so we will probably never know for sure.

Three days later it was the turn of the botanical team to see what they could find. The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland runs a survey at the start of each year to see how many plants are in flower. With incredibly mild weather through December continuing into January, this was likely to mean a few flowers, but nothing could have prepared us for what we discovered on the bright and sunny morning of 4th January. Yarrow was flowering in many places, yellow splashes illuminated some of the clumps of gorse and the pale blue flowers of green alkanet were appearing here and there. With some careful searching, scarcer blooms were found, including both Guernsey and Canadian fleabane near Jubilee Pond, where some flowering alexanders were attracting a number of very unseasonal hoverflies. Wood avens was in flower by the garages behind Belgrave Road and two different types of crane’s-bill were seen under the Green Man roundabout, where there was also some flowering musk-mallow. A hornbeam tree in Bush Wood was carrying a fine display of catkins. All eight members of the botany crew were amazed at the variety of flowering plants on show: no less than 37 species in total.

One can expect to find fungi throughout the year, but in early January they are usually pretty thin on the ground. Not this year, though. If plants and birds were leading the way in terms of diversity, the fungi representation was not too shabby, with a nice array of colours, including the spectacular yellow brain fungus.

So, scores on the doors as of 12 Jan: 220, made up of 103 plants, 76 birds, 24 fungi and miscellaneous others. Expect the miscellaneous ‘others’ to start making up ground in the spring.

Please post any sightings on the Wren Wildlife Group’s Facebook page, or tweet to @wrenwildlife.

Pics: Flowering Quince on Wanstead Flats; Turkey Tail fungus in Bush Wood.

Tim Harris


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January 14th, 2016

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Bioblitz target blown away

The Wren Group’s bio-blitz exceeded all expectations. From Monday 22 June a number of group members – including Kathy Hartnett, Nick Croft, Rose Stephens, Paul Ferris, James Heal and myself – were doing recce work for the weekend ahead, and recording species as we went. James neared the end of his survey of the trees of Bush Wood, finding 26 species, Kathy found and Paul confirmed the presence of Yellow Rattle in the SSSI and Rose found a scarce Black-rimmed Hunchback fly, Ogcodes pallipes. These discoveries set things up nicely for the weekend of concentrated events, starting on the evening of 26th with a bat walk in Wanstead Park, led by Keith French and Andy Froud. Four species were detected, although a Myotis species could not be identified to species level. A good proportion of the 70 people who attended the walk came across to the Temple enclosure, where five moth traps were running. Anthony Harbott, Graham Smith, Martin, Jono Lethbridge, Tom Casey, Nick Croft and myself rushed around like mad things checking each trap in turn for interesting visitors. Ironically, some of the best of the bunch weren’t even in the traps but persisted in flying close to the observers around the Temple steps. Three or four Leopard Moths took star billing, but also of note were four Red-necked Footmen, not previously recorded in our area. Single Poplar and Elephant Hawkmoths also delighted the observers, as did Tom’s Stag Beetle.

The focus of attention shifted to Wanstead Flats the following morning. Thibaud erected the City of London’s gazebo by Centre Road car park and this became our nerve centre. Just as the previous evening, the weather stayed fine, with plenty of sun and no rain. Tricia Moxey and Gill James, ably assisted by Kathy Hartnett and Iris Newbery, led walks in the morning and afternoon respectively, searching for interesting plants and invertebrates. No one was disappointed and as a bonus, our two local ground-nesting birds, Skylark and Meadow Pipit, performed territorial song-flights. Arguably the rarest find of the weekend occurred during the afternoon – a high-flying Black Kite picked up by Nick Croft over the Old Sewage Works. The bird climbed still higher while Nick was watching it, and no one else was able to pick it up. This species is notoriously difficult to get past the rarities committee, but Nick thinks he has enough on it to see it accepted. Meanwhile, back on the Flats, Diptera (fly) expert Jeremy Richardson worked hard to find dozens of these surprisingly beautiful insects, concentrating on the area around Angell Pond and the copses. Fellow entomologists Tristan Bantock, Jim Flanagan and Sarah Barnes concentrated on the Coleoptera (beetles) and Hemiptera (true bugs) and found plenty besides. Between them, the trio amassed a total of 179 species, including Psallus anaemicus, a bug associated with Turkey Oak which has only recently been detected in the UK; Antherophagus silaceus, a beetle; and Mecinus janthinus, a toadflax-feeding weevil. Also noteworthy was the discovery of a Toadflax Brocade moth larva; the adult of this species was first recorded earlier in the summer.

On Sunday it was back to the Park. You might be forgiven for thinking that no one would turn up for a 5am dawn chorus walk – but 20 attendees would prove otherwise. Nick Croft led the early birds from the tea hut around the Old Sewage Works and across to the Shoulder of Mutton pond. Not surprisingly there was no repeat of the previous day’s Black Kite, but a good selection was seen – or heard – nonetheless. One of the Shoulder’s Reed Warblers eventually went into chatter mode. Natalie and Jean opened the tea hut at 7:30 so we could have a welcome cuppa and some breakfast. Nice work, guys!

At a more sensible time, Nicola Cunningham had designed some creative activities for children and, ably assisted by Forest keeper Alison Tapply, Bev Poynter and others, the children made a beautiful floral sculpture. Tricia’s morning walk produced Flowering Rush (in flower) on the muddy margins of the Ornamental Water, and Mark Thomas’s repeat search after lunch discovered Great Yellow-cress in the very same area. David Giddings and Kathy Hartnett offered their knowledge and support on these walks. More watery activities were led by Derek McEwan, donning his wellies to lead bouts of pond-dipping in Shoulder of Mutton and the Ornamental Water. Among the highlights were the larvae of six or seven kinds of damselfly and dragonfly and an impressive Horse Leech. In late morning the weather finally let us down and rain probably dampened down the number of people taking part in the afternoon’s activities – even if it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of those taking part. At least 210 people participated over the course of the weekend; without the Sunday lunchtime rain I’m sure that figure would have surpassed 250.

As for the species totals, we’d set a target of 400 and that was blown out of the water. As I write there are still some scores to come in, but as things stand, these are the totals, arranged by the main groups:

Plants and mosses: 182 (and set to rise higher)

Invertebrates: 354/355
Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies): 107
Hemiptera (true bugs): 82
Coleoptera (beetles): 65
Diptera (flies): 43
Hymenoptera (bees and wasps): 13
Odonata (damselflies and dragonflies): 9/10 (one larva is still under consideration)
Other invertebrates: 35

Vertebrates: 89
Fish: 6
Amphibians: 3
Reptile: 1
Birds: 70
Mammals: 9

TOTAL: 625/626 species and still rising

Tim Harris, 7 July 2015


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July 8th, 2015

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Wildflower Walk

On a warm Tursday evening on 17th June 2015 the annual WREN Wildflower Walk took place in the Exchange Lands adjacent to Wanstead Park with about 30 walkers. As always when such a walk is led by someone as knowledgable as Tricia Moxley it was both interesting and informative. To a background of birdsong, Chiff Chaffs being particularly vocal, she led us from the Riding Stables on a circular route through the area pointing out and discussing the common (e.g. Bramble, Mallow, Dog Rose), the pretty (e.g. Creeping cinqfoil, Everlasting Pea) and the ominous (e.g. Hemlock, Giant Hogweed). Finishing appropriately for an old sewage works with Biting Stonecrop.


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June 20th, 2015

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Bio-Blitz Itinerary

Friday 26 June

21:00. Bat Walk. Meet outside the tea hut, Wanstead Park.

Keith French and Andy Froud, authors of “Social Calls of the Bats of Britain and Ireland”, will lead a walk in Wanstead Park in search of pipistrelles, Noctules, Daubenton’s and other bats. Bring a torch and suitable clothing for an evening walk. Duration: approx. 90 minutes

22:00. Moth-trapping. Meet outside the Temple, Wanstead Park.

Several local moth enthusiasts will have their light traps fired up to attract some of the great array of moths to be found in Wanstead Park, hopefully including a hawkmoth or two. Bring a torch and wear appropriate clothing for an evening activity. Duration: approx. 3 hours, so you can do the bat walk and then look at the moths!

Saturday 27 June

10:30. Wanstead Flats Wildflowers and Bugs. Meet at the Centre Road car park, Wanstead Flats.

Local botanist Tricia Moxey will lead a walk through the site of special scientific interest to the west of Centre Road in search of the area’s special wildflowers, insects and other invertebrates. Hopefully a grasses expert will also be on hand to point out the amazing variety of grasses in the area. Duration: approx. 90 minutes.

11:00 to 15:00. Wanstead Flats Grass-sweeping. Near Centre Road car park, Wanstead Flats.

Join Dr Tristan Bantock and his team of insect specialists as they scour the grasslands for day flying moths, beetles, flies, weevils and other invertebrates. Expect some unusual finds. Duration: several hours.

14:00. Wanstead Flats Larks and Butterflies. Meet at Centre Road car park, Wanstead Flats.

Local naturalist Gill James will lead a walk through the unmown section of Wanstead Flats in search of singing Skylarks, grassland butterflies and wildflowers. Hopefully a grasses expert will also be on hand to point out the amazing variety of grasses in the area. Duration: approx. 90 minutes.

Sunday 28 June

05:00. Dawn Chorus Bird Walk. Meet outside the tea hut in Wanstead Park.

Leading birder Nick Croft leads the crack-of-dawn walk around the park to listen to the sounds of the dawn chorus, see a new generation of young birds and maybe encounter a surprise or two. Duration: approx. 2 hours 30 minutes. The tea hut will open specially for refreshments at 07:30.

11:00 to 15:00. Children’s Art Installation, Nature Table and Quiz Trail. Outside the Temple in Wanstead Park.

Fun, and some challenges for younger nature enthusiasts. There will also be an opportunity for children and adults to enter their nature photographs for a photo gallery. Young children should be accompanied by a parent or carer.

11:30. Wildflowers and Trees of Wanstead Park. Meet outside the Temple, Wanstead Park.

Tricia Moxey will lead a walk around the park to learn about some of its special trees and wildflowers. Duration: about 90 minutes.

11:30. Pond-dipping in Shoulder of Mutton Pond. Meet outside the Temple, Wanstead Park.

The park’s lakes hold a surprising amount of aquatic life, from large fish to tiny invertebrates, including dragonfly larvae. Watch Derek McEwan as he catches an endless array of life-forms from the Shoulder of Mutton lake. Duration: about 90 minutes.

14:00. Pond-dipping in Alexandra Lake. Meet outside the Temple, Wanstead Park.

Derek shifts his pond-dipping activities from the park to Wanstead Flats. Duration: about 90 minutes.

14:00. Wanstead Park Butterfly and Wildflower Walk. Meet outside the Temple, Wanstead Park.

Mark Thomas, ably assisted by Kathy Hartnett, wander around the park in search of butterflies, flowers, dragonflies and more. Duration: about 90 minutes.


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May 25th, 2015

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Canvey Wick awayday

Canvey Island


Half a dozen Wren members visited the Buglife reserve of Canvey Wick on Sunday 17th May. This brownfield site was going to be developed as a refinery, but the development was never completed and it is now reverting to a more natural state. We were blessed with sunny, dry weather, though the fresh breeze probably suppressed some flying insect activity. Over a hundred species were noted, including 50-odd species of plants (listed below), some of which are not familiar in the Wanstead area. Mary Holden found one of the day’s highlights: several Great Crested Newts in a ditch, which we were able to watch while we were having our lunch. Large Red Damselflies and at least one Hairy Dragonfly also frequented this ditch, with Azure Damselfly being seen nearby.

Parts of the site are very sandy and it was in one such area that two Latticed Heath moths were found, with a frustrating glimpse of a passing butterfly that I suspect was a Wall in the vicinity. Several other butterfly species included Green Hairstreak. Paul identified a specimen of Canadian Fleabane growing on a sandy hill; this was a plant must of us had never noticed before. Although not in flower, the presence of good numbers of Common Spotted Orchids was also exciting.

A few Barn Swallows were seen, although it wasn’t clear whether these were birds nesting nearby, or late migrants passing through. A pair of Cuckoos remained all the time we were there; given the number of Reed Warblers (a host species) singing in the Phragmites-lined ditches, they may be tempted to stick around.

Thanks to Paul for resolving many identification conundrums, for Kathy for compiling the list and taking the photographs, and for Pam, Mary and Gill for their keen eyes and good company.

Plants noted:


  • Ash
  • Silver Birch
  • Willow species


  • Barren Brome (Bromus sterilis)
  • Cock’s-foot
  • Common Reed (Phragmites)


  • Birdsfoot Trefoil
  • Biting Stonecrop (Sedum acre)
  • Black Medic
  • Black Mustard
  • Bramble
  • Bristly Ox-tongue
  • Broad-leaved Pea / Everlasting Pea
  • Bulbous Buttercup
  • Canadian Fleabane (the groundsel-looking plant on the sandy hill)
  • Cleavers / Goosegrass
  • Common Spotted Orchid
  • Common Vetch
  • Common Field Speedwell (Veronica persica)
  • Cow Parsley
  • Creeping Buttercup
  • Creeping Thistle
  • Cut-leaved Cranesbill
  • Daisy (Bellis perennis)
  • Dandelion
  • Dog Rose
  • Elder
  • Fennel
  • Forget-me-not (possibly Field Myosotis arvensis)
  • Goat’s Rue
  • Great Mullein
  • Groundsel
  • Hairy Tare
  • Hawthorn
  • Herb Robert
  • Hogweed
  • Horsetail species (probably Common, Equisetum arvense)
  • Lesser Stitchwort
  • Mallow
  • Nettle
  • Ox-eye Daisy
  • Pink Garden Oxalis (Oxalis, possibly articulata)
  • Ragwort species (possibly Common)
  • Red Dead-nettle
  • Ribwort Plantain
  • Rosebay Willowherb
  • (Round-leaved Wintergreen?)
  • Shepherd’s Purse
  • Snow-in-summer / Dusty Miller (Cerastium tomentosum)
  • Sow-thistle species
  • Spanish Bluebell
  • Spotted Medic
  • Teasel
  • Tufted Vetch
  • Wall Rocket (Diplotaxis species)
  • Water Crowfoot species
  • Wild Carrot
  • Yarrow
  • Yellow Flag Iris

Tim Harris, 19 May 2015


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May 19th, 2015

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Scrub clearance in the Exchange Lands



A bright, sunny morning with a blustery wind saw a dozen Wren volunteers clearing bramble scrub in the Exchange Lands, between the River Roding and the City of London Cemetery. We do this activity every year to maintain the balance between grassland and scrub in the area. Both habitats are important habitats for insects and birds, but left unmanaged the whole area would become covered with brambles and we would lose the grassland wildflowers, several butterfly and moth species and birds such as Green Woodpecker. This was the last weekend practical work of the winter; birds are now starting to nest and we want to avoid disturbance.
Tim Harris, 1 March 2015



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March 1st, 2015

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Bio-blitzing Perch Pond – 5 October 2014




As of 22nd October, the species list for the 5th October bio-blitz in Wanstead Park stands at 148, excluding plants and lichens. Probably the most popular activity on the day was the pond-dipping, organised by Derek McEwan. Derek almost had to be dragged away from the east end of Perch Pond, where he set up base, such was his enthusiasm for discovering what was in the waters of that lake. Derek’s species summary makes fascinating reading. Summarising, he found:

  • 3 species of freshwater leech (subclass Hirudinea).
  • 1 species of horsehair worm (phylum Nematomorpha).
  • 12 species of molluscs, including a variety of freshwater snails and mussels.
  • 2 species of crustaceans, the most dramatic of which was a large American Signal Crayfish.
  • 1 species of true fly (order Diptera).
  • 9 species of water bugs, the most common being Greater Water-Boatman, and with four species of Lesser Water-Boatman.
  • 6 species of water beetle, including the fascinating Screech Beetle (Hygrobia hermanni), which let out an audible squeak when touched.
  • 6 dragonfly and damselfly species, including the larvae of Common Blue Damselfly and Red-eyed Damselfly; there was also a very late flying Black-tailed Skimmer.
  • 2 fish species, Perch and Roach.

Derek commented: “It’s always dangerous to make assumptions based on just one set of data, but there are some interesting general  trends. There seems to be a very good variety of freshwater molluscs in the Perch Pond, especially water snails and bivalves. Crustaceans, including shrimps, water slaters and Signal Crayfish, are also plentiful. On the other hand there were no caddis, alder or may-fly larvae, and very few Odonata larvae – even in the littoral zone at the margins of the pond. This is despite the pond-dipping always being attended by several flying adults e.g. Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters. There were also very few predatory water beetles with just one specimen of Acilius sulcatus and no Dysticus or Agabus species. I’m not sure if it’s because of the late time of year, or if the numbers of predatory fish are having an impact and the larger, more conspicuous beetles are not having the chance to reach maturity. It’s also possible that the algal blooms may be having an impact, but there’s enough clear surface water that I think it’s a little unlikely. The scarcity of Lesser Water-Boatmen (Family Corixidae) was also surprising, with just a few individuals found during the day. Although well-represented, there were also fewer Greater Water-Boatmen (Notonecta glauca) than I had expected and just a single Hesperocorixid and Water Scorpion (Nepa cineria). Again, I would have expected to find more in a lake of this size/water depth. Further studies should help – it would be especially interesting to compare the Perch Pond with the other lakes in the Park like the Shoulder of Mutton Pond, to see how water quality/invertebrate life varies across the site.”

The Wren Group is preparing plans to do more bio-blitzes in 2015. Watch this space!


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October 23rd, 2014

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Bio-blitzing the Park – 5 October 2014

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The day dawned frosty, but with hardly a cloud in the sky by 10am it was warm and sunny as people assembled in Wanstead Park for the Wren Group’s first bio-blitz. The Lakehouse moth-trap had already delivered nine species of moths, and the efforts of Bob, Dan, Debbie and Tim had produced a good selection of birds on Wanstead Flats, including a party of Skylarks that had deserted their breeding area and returned to their winter feeding quarters – on the other side of Centre Road! Other birds found on the Flats during the day included a Stonechat and Linnets, but there was no visible migration of note.

Back at The Temple, after a showing of four of the moth highlights – Black Rustic, Shuttle-shaped Dart, Pink-barred Sallow and Lunar Underwing – Derek took charge of the pond-dipping session in Perch Pond, while Gill, Cathy and Jackie led a group listing invertebrates, plants, lichens and fungi in Chalet Wood. David scoured the Park for birds, while Rose went off in search of anything of she could find. A large Signal Crayfish and several Perch ended up in pond-dippers’ nets and four species of dragonflies were seen over and around Perch and Heronry, including a very late Black-tailed Skimmer. Good numbers of Red Admiral butterflies, along with a few Large Whites and Speckled Woods – and a lovely, fresh Small Copper – were on the wing over The Plain. Cathy picked up a Buzzard soaring over The Glade and a few minutes later it drifted south over The Plain. Unusually these days, both Treecreeper and Nuthatch were recorded: Cathy heard the latter calling in Chalet Wood, while Dan saw a Treecreeper in Bush Wood.

A selection of interesting aquatic invertebrates was showcased at The Temple. These included an extraordinary squeaking water beetle, probably Acilius sulcatus, and a Great Water Boatman, Notonecta glauca. As the afternoon wore on, people were still trying to add new species but we called it a day at 3pm. With various people working on the identities of mystery bugs and lichens, we hope to have a comprehensive list in a few days’ time. My hunch is that we’ll top 150 species for the day.

Thanks to the City of London for letting us have use of a room at The Temple, and thanks to the 30 people who took part, particularly Cathy and Derek, who travelled all the way from Reading. Judging by the positive feedback, there will be more bio-blitzes to come!

Tim Harris


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October 6th, 2014

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Join our Bio-blitz on 5th October!

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Sunday 5th October
10:00 outside the tea hut in Wanstead Park (100 metres north of the Northumberland Avenue entrance)

On Sunday 5th October we will be conducting a bio-blitz in Wanstead Park. This is a fun activity, but with a serious aim, as we try to find as many species as we can – birds, insects, spiders, plants and anything else we can come across. Identification guides will be at hand and anything we get really stuck on we’ll photograph for later identification.

We hope to have a team searching in the leaf litter in Chalet Wood, another group identifying invertebrates on The Plain, and other people counting water birds on the Park’s lakes. If we have enough people we might also have a team working in the Old Sewage Works. Simultaneously, a group of birders will be logging visible migration on Wanstead Flats.

If the weather is fine the previous night a moth-trap will be run locally, and interesting moth species will be shown in The Temple. If the weather is poor we may have to change our plans.

To help us plan for the event, could anyone wishing to participate please contact Tim Harris (email: or phone/text 07505 482328).


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September 22nd, 2014

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