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Wren Wildlife and Conservation Group statement on proposals for major music events on Wanstead Flats


Proposal for events – Wanstead Flats

Some of you may have heard that in summer 2019 there is a proposal for large scale music events on the Flats. Wren Group committee felt it should respond formally in writing to the City of London (Epping Forest) and this follows.

You might also like to read the committee report drafted by City of London officers (be warned this is quite a long document before you consider printing). It contains some coloured maps which make some of the options under consideration clearer.

Although our area of concern extends beyond Epping Forest, the Wren Wildlife and Conservation Group has always seen one of its responsibilities as lobbying on behalf of, and highlighting threats to, the natural environment of the Forest, including its flora and fauna. We are mindful of one of the provisions of the Epping Forest Act (1878), that “The Conservators shall at all times as far as possible preserve the natural aspect of the Forest…”

In recent years, one of the focuses of our work has been to survey, publicise and lobby for protection of ground-nesting Skylarks and Meadow Pipits on Wanstead Flats. According to the most recent London Bird Report, published by the London Natural History Society, in 2016 there were four Meadow Pipit territories on the Flats. With the exception of Rainham Marshes, this is the highest total anywhere in London. In the same year, there were three Skylark territories, the only multiple-territory site this close to the centre of London. Skylark is a Red Data list bird because of the dramatic decline in its numbers nationally. Partly because of the work of local volunteers, but also due to the positive attitude of the Epping Forest ecological team, and their sympathetic grassland management, this number increased to five territories in summer 2018.

The value of the Flats does not lie only in its ground-nesting birds. For example, in recent years, Green Hairstreak and Brown Argus butterflies have colonized, and in 2018 had a successful season. More than 80 species of spiders have been recorded in the last few years.

The Wren Group appreciates that Wanstead Flats is not a nature reserve. It is an area of mixed usage, available for footballers, model aircraft enthusiasts, dog-walkers, those who simply enjoy being in an open space, and naturalists alike. But any damage to the ‘natural aspect’ of the Flats will diminish the experience for every user. Not everyone may recognize the Skylark’s summer song, but most will appreciate it.

While the existing footfall on Wanstead Flats is large, it is not generally concentrated. The area’s natural heritage seems to be able to cope, just about. However, the Wren Group feels that the combination of the construction and de-rigging of a large arena and the large numbers of people attending one or more music events will be seriously detrimental to this ‘natural aspect’. Although the footprint of the arena itself is not on land of special wildlife value, it is close to such areas and it seems clear that the construction process, and very large numbers of people making their way to and from the site will not impact on the more wildlife-rich areas – especially as this is the middle of the breeding season for ground-nesting birds. The Skylark nesting area by Alexandra Lake is adjacent to the arena site, and large numbers of people making their way to and from Forest Gate on foot will be passing directly through the core breeding area for Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. Additionally, there is a very real fire risk in these very areas of the Flats during the summer, as witnessed this year, and this is likely to be exacerbated with large numbers of additional people on the site.

The Wren Group is also only too aware of the experience of the Police Muster Station in 2012. Before its installation, warnings were given about the threat to the Skylark population in that area. In a letter to our then chairman, the Superintendent responded “I remain unconvinced that the temporary loss of such a small area of poor grassland will have a significant impact on the nesting pairs of Skylarks on the SSSI area”. In fact, although Skylarks were breeding in that area prior to the installation, there has not been a single breeding record since.

Members of our group have invested a great deal of time and energy into highlighting the wildlife riches of Wanstead Flats. This proposal threatens long-term damage to the site, in particular running the risk of eradicating the iconic Skylark population. Just as at Chingford Plain, if the Skylarks stop breeding – given the national decline of the species – they are unlikely to return.

In summary, given the fragile state of the ecosystems on Wanstead Flats, especially after the worst grassland fire in London’s history earlier this year, we cannot envisage a scenario in which such a large scale event would have anything other than a severely damaging impact on the local wildlife. For these reasons, the Wren Group strongly opposes the plans to hold events of this kind on Wanstead Flats.

One final point is the absence of consultation. The opportunity for interested parties to seek clarification after the proposal has been signed-off in no way represents consultation. Local residents must have the opportunity to participate in a proper consultation before any contracts are signed.

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September 28th, 2018

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Woodberry Wetlands: lessons for Wanstead Park?


Woodberry Wetlands
On Thursday 5 October a group organised by Epping Forest Operations Manager Geoff Sinclair visited the Woodberry Wetlands reserve in Stoke Newington. As well as Geoff, the party included chief ecologist Dr Jeremy Dagley, conservation arborist Richard Edmonds and other Epping Forest representatives. Several members of the Friends of Wanstead Parklands and Wren Group also attended.

Although Woodberry Wetlands is a very different site to Wanstead Park, the purpose of the visit was to discuss how elements of the landscape planning for nature might be relevant there.

Geoff Sinclair said beforehand –

“Broadly speaking, issues that are of interest are:

Enhancing the biodiversity value of lakes – especially how to improve the pretty hard lake margins on a couple of our lakes.
Managing invasive weeds: Floating Pennywort, Crassula etc.
Managing Blue Green algae.

More strategically, we have four lakes linked to the River Roding that to date we have tended to think about in terms of heritage rather than biodiversity. We are looking for steers on the sort of strategic biodiversity priorities that we might consider at Wanstead Park”.

Woodberry Wetlands
The group was met by David Mooney of the London Wildlife Trust, who outlined a number of ideas that could be relevant in Wanstead Park, particularly how reedbeds had been created, benefitting birds, fish, dragonflies and amphibians.
Woodberry Wetlands
Also of interest, given that the “Parkland Plan” for Wanstead Park is nearing completion, were David’s comments about the Woodberry Wetlands site’s “business model” including the role of grant-aid and other forms of fundraising.
Woodberry Wetlands
David said that a key factor was the on-site café, which was managed in-house. It contributed no less than £95,000 per year, of which nearly half came from sales, but the majority from events.
Woodberry Wetlands
David emphasised the role of volunteers in maintaining Woodberry Wetlands. As well as people who carried out day-to-day practical work, these included a number of high-profile ambassadors, such as actress Alison Steadman and historian Tom Holland.

Gill James, a member of both the Friends and the Wren Group said afterwards that the visit had been “really useful” and “given us all plenty of food for thought”.

Staff from Epping Forest and members of the Wren Group and Friends of Wanstead Parklands are now going to mull over some of the practical lessons from Woodberry Wetlands. One medium-term outcome may be the establishment of a reedbed at the western end of the Heronry Pond.
Woodberry Wetlands
Woodberry Wetlands was opened by Sir David Attenborough in 2016, having previously been known as Stoke Newington East Reservoir. The wetlands are the result of a proposal by the London Wildlife Trust to enhance the reservoir for wildlife and open it up so people can access a high quality, natural space in a densely built-up environment.

Copied, with permission, from Friends of Wanstead Parklands.

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October 7th, 2017

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Nature Club – November 2016 – A Rainy Day



Today it rained ALL morning. We made a giant spider’s web with Charlotte in the middle. Then we made leaf art : we rubbed the undersides of dried leaves ( the veins show more on the undersides) to make beautiful leaf skeleton pictures. Then we played Big Bingo. Menuo was a very good caller and Ruduo won the game.

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December 12th, 2016

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London’s third-ever Blyth’s Reed Warbler on Wanstead Flats


Nick Croft, a WREN member, discovered London’s third-ever Blyth’s Reed Warbler on Wanstead Flats almost exactly two years ago. The paper he wrote detailing the amazing find is in the London Bird Report.
For further details:
London Bird Report: Blyths Reed Warbler by Nick-Croft

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May 24th, 2016

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Redbridge Group of the London Wildlife Trust Survey


Please take part in the survey described below – it will only take a few minutes and is vital if we are to maintain and improve our open spaces in the Borough for nature.

Please get as many people as possible to participate and press all the nature buttons including greenlinks that they can it is a very simple survey and will only take 10 minutes at most.

The link will take you to the Redbridge Local plan 2015-2030 page,(which may be of interest) the open space consultation survey link is about buried halfway down the page which links to SurveyMonkey.

Many Thanks

Chris Gannaway for the Redbridge Group of the London Wildlife Trust

The London Wildlife Trust is company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales 1600379 and registered charity number 283895. Registered Office: Dean Bradley House, 52 Horseferry Road, London, SW1P 2AF

Open Space Assessment Online Consultation Survey Questionnaire

Redbridge Council is updating its information on how open spaces are used in the borough. This information will supplement existing evidence including the Open Space Study and Playing Pitches Strategy.
The update involves the completion of a short online consultation survey questionnaire, which will provide the Council with a better understanding of how the borough’s open spaces are used, which parks are used most frequently, users’ satisfaction with current provision, the modes of travel used and distances travelled to open spaces.
To participate in the survey, please go to:
Open Space Assessment Online Consultation Survey Questionnaire

The online questionnaire can be accessed between 4th April and 1st May 2016.
If you have any queries please do not hesitate to contact the Planning Policy Team on 020 8708 2748.

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April 6th, 2016

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Report your Hedgehogs!


Hedgehog
In the 1950s it was estimated that there were more than 30 million Hedgehogs in the UK, but that figure has fallen dramatically. No one is quite sure why the decline has taken place but the continued intensification of agriculture is undoubtedly a big factor, and the fragmentation of habitats in urban and suburban areas is also likely to be an issue. Badgers have also been blamed – they seem to get blamed for most things, but as we don’t have any in East London I can’t see them being a problem around here! The sad truth is, though, that numbers have fallen by about 30 percent in the UK since 2002 and there are likely to be fewer than 1 million left. I went several years without seeing a Hedgehog in our little patch of East London but this year there has been a seeming increase. This year individuals have been seen at the City of London & Manor Park Cemeteries, in the Old Sewage Works, unfortunately squashed on Aldersbrook Road (near Brading Crescent) and in several back gardens in Windsor & Belgrave Road on the Lakehouse Estate, also in Lorne Road, Forest Gate. In order to get a better idea of how this charismatic spiky mammal is faring locally we are asking people to send their sightings to Barry Chapman, who will coordinate records and send them to http://bighedgehogmap.org. We will map the sightings and update you occasionally via the Wren Group Facebook page. Wouldn’t it be great if we could chart a turnaround in their fortunes. Please provide details of where and when you saw your Hedgehog and also if alive or dead (all records help) to Barry Chapman via email: bazchaps@icloud.com or on Twitter: @wansteadwomble.

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August 10th, 2015

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Spring Whinchats in Wanstead


Whinchat

Whinchat

After seeing this pristine-plumaged Whinchat on an unmown strip between blocks of football pitches on Wanstead Flats on Saturday morning (18 April) – and after Nick Croft’s great photos of the bird (which appear with this article) – I was inspired to look back over our spring records.

To put things in context, this gorgeous bird winters in sub-Saharan Africa and breeds in uncultivated, often damp, areas in north-west, northern and eastern Europe – though sadly no longer in London, where the last confirmed breeding was at Rainham in 1989. Pairs have certainly summered in that area since then, but for Wanstead its status is of a passage migrant in autumn and to a lesser extent in spring. Returning birds are regularly seen in some numbers in late August and September, when Wanstead Flats is one of the best London sites (with a peak count of 13 in 2009). Notably also, autumn birds tend to stick around for a few days.

Spring migration is much more of a rush and passage dates are more tightly concentrated. When trawling back through old bird reports I was surprised to find years when no spring birds had been seen at all, though we are hampered by a very incomplete set of local records. In the years 1976-81, during which there were published records, the only migrant noted in spring was a male on 8 May 1977. The recent picture is healthier, though whether that represents more individuals stopping off here on their way north – or simply much better observer coverage – is impossible to say.

One thing is clear: the male Whinchat found at the western end of the Flats by Dan Hennessey on 16 April is the earliest record we’ve had in the recent sequence of reports, dating back to 2009. Indeed, it could be the earliest record ever. It is also an exception to the rule of thumb that passage locally is pretty much confined to the last week of April and the first week of May. Assuming Dan’s individual and the bird found at the eastern end of the Flats two days later were the same (and they may well not have been), there have been five April birds and eight in May, with the latest being a male near the broom on the Flats on 11 May 2012 and a female in the same area on the same date in 2014. There have been seven males, three females and three unspecified. The best recent springs were 2012 and 2014, with at least three birds each, though there’s still plenty of time for that total to be matched this year! And the best places to look are on and around the broom south of Long Wood, in the SSSI and in the scrubby grassland opposite the Golden Fleece. And here’s to plenty more!

Tim Harris, 22/4/2015

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April 23rd, 2015

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Spring migration finally gets going


Common Whitethroat

Swallow

Grasshopper Warbler


After the early promise of Wheatears in mid-March, followed by a handful of Sand Martins and Swallows, and the establishment of territories by Chiffchaffs and then Blackcaps, not much visible bird migration was witnessed in the first few days of April. All that changed on 5th when two Red Kites and six Common Buzzards passed over our area, two more Wheatears appeared on Wanstead Flats and Meadow Pipits continued to trickle north. The trickle became a flood the following day, when 240+ were counted as they flew north. In fact, during the first week of the month alone, more than 420 Meadow Pipits were logged by the Wanstead Birders crew. The 5th also marked the start of a brief Linnet passage, with at least 45 noted moving north. The first Willow Warbler was singing on that date, to be joined by a sprinkling of others in the following week, but doubtless very few will stick around.

Fog on 9th forced single Golden Plover and Green Sandpiper to ground on the Flats, and the first Ring Ouzel of spring was found the following day. However, it was still pretty quiet until 13th when the spring’s biggest day count of Swallows (at least 10, not actually very many!) and another Wheatear were good, a Sedge Warbler at Alex was better and at least three Ring Ouzels (including two bright males, sharing their time between the SSSI and Long Wood) were the pick of the crop. The ‘mountain blackbirds’ delighted plenty of visitors by staying well into the evening.

The following morning Bob found the season’s first Common Whitethroat in the brooms. A short while later, Barry discovered a Red-legged Partridge in the same vicinity, and while I was doing some breeding bird survey work in the Old Sewage Works I heard the unmistakable sound of a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, the first spring record for our area. Later in the morning, three Tree Pipits were seen there and Dan found a male Common Redstart near Davis Lane School in the afternoon. Add to that list a sprinkling of Swallows and you have the recipe for a very good day. Let’s hope there’s plenty more to come.

Tim Harris, 14/4/2015

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April 14th, 2015

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A tale of two waterbirds


Gadwall

Moorhen

Counters

 

Counting waterbirds on a monthly basis can be a bit of a slog at times. For a start, it takes several hours to get around all the lakes in Wanstead Park, let alone those on Wanstead Flats. The weather may be cold and wet, the paths muddy and sometimes not very much has changed since the previous month. Counting gulls on Wanstead Flats is particularly frustrating, regularly producing the classic situation where – close to the end of logging a large loafing roost of Common Gulls, 583, 584, 585 … a dog charges through the middle and disperses the lot. Right, where was I? 1, 2, 3, 4 …

Despite this, the numbers produced provide useful information for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), helping them to evaluate which species are faring well and which are in trouble. Locally, we have a team of tireless counters, so during the winter months not only Wanstead Park and Wanstead Flats but Eagle Pond (Snaresbrook) and Hollow Pond (Whipps Cross) are covered. We also now have an almost complete record for the months of autumn, winter and early spring stretching back to January 2009. That makes it possible to look at trends and, maybe, draw some conclusions. Combined counts for Wanstead Park, Wanstead Flats and Eagle Pond can be compared now over seven WeBS counts. Systematic counting has only recently restarted at Hollow Pond, so a comparison cannot be made including that site. Browsing through the figures, trends for two birds jumped out at me: those for Gadwall and for Moorhen. Figures for the recent WeBS count produced record January numbers for both species.

The ‘Gadwall army’

The main concentration of Gadwall in our area is on Alexandra Lake and the lakes of Wanstead Park, all waters where there is plentiful weed for these ducks to eat. Numbers at Eagle Pond rarely exceed single figures. The rate of increase was slow and irregular in the first years of the sequence: 40 in January 2009, 24 in January 2010, 101 in January 2011 and 88 in January 2012. During these years, the peak counts were respectively 111, 86, 137 – and this is where things really start to lift off – 200+ in December 2012. Since then, the rise of the ‘Gadwall army’ (as former Wren newsletter editor Steve Swaby has dubbed it) has been seemingly inexorable, with 363 in December 2013 and 459 in December 2014. The 422 counted in January 2015 was the highest-ever January count, and the biggest count on a WeBS day.

Gadwall was a pretty rare bird in London not that long ago. According to Andrew Self (The Birds of London, 2014), the average wintering population in London was only about 100 in 1970. Wanstead Bird Reports from the late 70s and early 80s mark it out as a local rarity. However, by the end of the century the London winter population was around 2,500, and Self describes an average of 600 in the Lea Valley in recent years. The peak count (at the time of publication of his book) he lists was 453 at Cheshunt GP in December 1989. A larger share of London’s birds is now wintering in Wanstead, but there is no obvious reason why. Clearly there is a plentiful supply of weed on which the birds can feed, and maybe the growth of weed in our lakes has made it easier for these attractive dabbling ducks to feed by upending. Whether other factors are involved – such as an increase in the continental populations from where most of our birds originate, or problems with the food supply at locations where they previously wintered – is not clear. One thing is certain, we should enjoy the phenomenon while it lasts because like pretty much everything in nature, numbers go down as well as up. Cutting of the weed in The Basin later this year may well impact on the numbers that lake can support next winter.

Moorhen success

Another success story, though much less dramatic, concerns Moorhens. Again, January WeBS figures for the years 2009-2015 show a consistent increase: 20, 21, 35, 44, 2013 figure lost by a careless recorder!, 66 and 80. And maximum counts for those years were as follows: 47, 56, 35, 65, figure unavailable, and 78 in 2014. Judging by the number of juvenile Moorhens seen on our lakes in recent autumns, I believe this increase can be put down to local breeding success. The species nests in emergent vegetation, where they are better protected than Coots’ nests, which are exposed stick islands, easy pickings for Lesser Black-backed Gulls. With the highest-ever January WeBS count for the species this year, I reckon we could be in for another bumper breeding season.

Tim Harris 19/1/2015

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January 20th, 2015

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Rainham Marshes visit 11 January 2015


WREN Awayday Rainham Marshes
One of the most evocative sights of a chilly winter’s day is that of hundreds of Lapwings climbing into a bright blue sky, their underwings glinting brightly in the sun as they turn. This was something we witnessed several times on the Wren Group awayday to Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve on Sunday 11 January. The morning began with a beautiful Redwing perched up nicely near the visitor centre and the afternoon ended watching a roost of 25 Redshank on one of the stone barges near the Tilda Rice Factory (a lyric from a Morrissey song?). I love the juxtaposition of industrial and green landscapes, and this stretch of the Thames, with the former grazing marshes of Rainham and Aveley on one bank and the smoking stacks of Belvedere and Erith on the south shore have this mix in bucketloads.

It was a day for watching ducks in their most brilliant plumages: Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Shoveler and Mallard. A day for walking the boardwalks with the occasional rather subdued burst of Cetti’s Warbler song as accompaniment. And a day for looking in vain for Bearded Tit and Water Rail … Respite from the bitter wind came in the large new hide at the west end of the reserve, where two Stonechats performed well for the group. Before some of the group broke ranks and walked along the Thames path in search of pipits, a female Marsh Harrier rose to quarter the marsh to the west and a Kestrel passed overhead. The Thameside walk produced scant rewards – very poor views of one Rock Pipit – but it was a pleasant-enough diversion. Then it was back to the visitor centre for hot drinks before a final stop at the stone barges. The combined ‘day-list’ was 56 species, but it’s not about numbers; it’s about sharing time with like-minded people and enjoying nature in the heart of an industrial landscape.

Thanks to Dave, David, Don, Eleanor, Gill, Hannah, Kathy, Linda, Nayna, Peter, Rosie for making the day so enjoyable.

Tim Harris 11/1/2015

Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Pheasant, Little Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, European Golden Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Redshank, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Feral Rock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock, Robin, European Stonechat, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Cetti’s Warbler, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Reed Bunting.

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January 11th, 2015

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