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  • hilly 6:19 pm on February 10, 2015
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    February half term events at Woodlands Farm 

    February Half Term Events poster 2015

    Hannah, the Education Officer at Woodlands Farm, sent details of their February half term events for children:

    Wednesday 18th February
    A Stickman Adventure
    10am-12pm and 1pm-3pm
    Join stickman on an adventure round Woodlands Farm.  Inspired by Julia Donaldson’s book we will be heading out for an adventure as well as creating your own stickman to take home.  £3 per child.  Booking is essential, to book call 020 8319 8900.
    Thursday 19th February
    Welly Wander
    1pm-3pm
    Put on your wellies and head down to Woodlands Farm for an afternoon fun.  Explore the farm with our welly trail.  Can you find all the hidden wellies round the farm as well as a puddle or two to splash in? £1 per child
    No need to book, just drop in anytime between 1and 3pm.
    Friday 20th February
    Get Wild in the Woods
    11am – 1pm and 2pm-4pm
    Come and join us in the woods as we learn how to survive in the wild. Have a go at shelter building, wild cooking over a fire and learn what animals need to survive. £3 per child
    Age 7+  Booking essential, to book call 020 8319 8900
    For more information, see our website or contact Hannah Forshaw on education@thewoodlandsfarmtrust.org

    Woodlands Farm is located on the borders of the London boroughs of Bexley and Greenwich.  At 89 acres, it is the largest city farm in the UK.  Our priorities are education and conservation, and we are part of the Natural England Higher Level Stewardship Scheme.  Our education programme attracts visitors from pre-school to third-age groups.  The Trust aims to involve local community groups, schools, volunteers and businesses in farming and conservation, helping to bridge the current town-country divide.
    We are open 9.30am-4.30pm, Tuesday-Sunday (except Christmas Day).  There is no entry charge except for special events, though donations are always welcome.
    Nearest tube: North Greenwich
    Nearest BR: Welling
    Buses: 486 and 89
    We are a farm so sensible shoes and clothing are recommended!  We do allow dogs, but please note that these must be kept on a lead and not taken into any farm buildings.

    The pregnant ewes at the farm have now been brought in to the barns in preparation for having their lambs. There’ll be a chance to see the new lambs at the farm’s Lambing Day on Sunday 12th April.

    Sheep at Woodlands Farm

    Sheep at Woodlands Farm

    Sorrel at Woodlands Farm

    Sorrel at Woodlands Farm

     
  • hilly 11:26 am on February 1, 2015
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    Military Rule 

    One of the new signs on the Castlewood footpath

    One of the new signs on the Castlewood footpath

    Clive Barbour, who has been campaigning, successfully, to have the Castlewood footpath reopened has also been checking up on the by-laws mentioned on the new signs put up by the MoD. I’ll let Clive describe what he discovered:

    Your readers will remember that the main reason that the MOD closed the path was because the students from the Sixth Form College in Red Lion Lane were causing a nuisance and leaving rubbish. Well, it turns out that the MOD, courtesy of the Woolwich Military Lands Byelaws, already had all the necessary powers to prevent nuisance and depositing rubbish so there was absolutely no need to deprive us of our footpath for 18 months.
    The Statutory Instrument is well worth a look though and can be accessed here:

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/39285/20120727WoolwichByelaw.pdf

    First of all the SI presumes use of the lands by the public in paragraph 2 which provides that “any use of or entry upon the Military Lands by the public shall be subject always to the restrictions, prohibitions and other provisions of these Byelaws.” And most significantly of all it provides that “nothing in these bylaws shall interfere with the lawful exercise by any person of any public right of way”.  I shall be reminding the MOD and the Royal Borough of Greenwich of that in the coming months…
    But we should take notice though that there are some things that it is totally illegal to do upon the Military Lands. These include:
    – engaging in or carrying on any trade or business;
    – engaging in prostitution (surely not on Shooters Hill…!);
    – looking for casual employment, and very interestingly it specifies “whether by way of carrying soldiers’ kits or otherwise howsoever”;
    – loitering or committing a nuisance or behaving in an indecent or unseemly manner (students take note…);
    – engaging in gaming, betting or wagering.
    The curry houses and kebab shops will be very shocked to note that distributing any handbills leaflets and other literature or printed matter on the military lands is an offence. It is also forbidden to assemble any number of persons for the purpose of the public and private meeting of any kind or address such persons when assembled.  I suspect this probably precludes picnics but I am uncertain if two people walking dogs constitutes a meeting.  Readers may wish to take legal advice!
    Other prohibited activities include camping, grazing animals, growing crops, removing timber or wild flower roots, (but interestingly not wildflowers themselves) and fishing.
    We should also note carefully that any person who rides a horse or cycle or drives of horse-drawn on mechanically propelled vehicle must stop if a military policeman in uniform or a War Department Constable in uniform requests “by the holding up of his hand to do so and shall not proceed further until the policeman or constable gives him the signal to proceed”. And should we be rushing off to commit any of these offences then be warned that it is possible for a constable to take us into custody and bring us before the Magistrates’ Court where, if convicted, we would face a fine not exceeding £5 pounds.   Although a more modern footnote to the SI says this now has been updated  to £500 as the fine levels go up periodically.
    The SI also includes a map of the Military Lands which is very interesting to look at as it shows the extent of the land is owned by the Ministry of Defence after the Second World War. These include parts of Red Lion Lane that are now privately owned and what appears to be part of the new Tesco in Woolwich along with the newly built flats complex behind it. There are also lots of references to interesting places I am not sure if they continue to survive in a different guise including the Municipal Gardens, Cambridge Cottages, the Military Families’ hospital, the Shrapnel Barracks, the Nursing Sisters’ Quarters Sportsground Number Five and St John’s Passage.
    And if you wish to have a personal copy of the Byelaws, apparently they can be obtained at the price of one shilling for each copy from Government House, New Road, Woolwich.  I hope someone has told the residents of the Governor’s Place development…

    I’ve included a copy of the map of the Military Lands that Clive mentions below; it’s an interesting historical record of streets that have been erased by all the development in the intervening 56 years.

    Good Luck to Clive in his continuing efforts to protect the path for future walkers.

    Map of Areas of Military Land in "The Woolwich Military Lands Byelaws"

    Map of Areas of Military Land in “The Woolwich Military Lands Byelaws”

     
  • hilly 4:36 pm on January 23, 2015
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    Winter Wander with a bonus 

    View from Cox's Mount, Maryon Park

    View from Cox’s Mount, Maryon Park

    There are some very interesting sounding walks in Walk London’s Winter Wanders this weekend – “Secret Diaries and Public Spaces – The Legacy of Pepys and Wren and Hidden Alleyways” and “Courtyards; Printing, Priories and Prisons – St Pauls to Chancery Lane” both sound fascinating. But the one that really caught my eye was the walk led by our old friend Ian Bull: “The best landscape and views in London – Charlton to Plumstead via Shooters Hill“. This is a great walk with an added bonus: an opportunity for an exclusive guided tour of Severndroog Castle (costing  a very reasonable £2.50) and a chance to see the amazing views from the top.

    The Walk London web site describes the walk:

    This special walk, historically Walk London’s most popular, was first devised to demonstrate that you can walk through London without realising that you are in a city. It still does, but this time there’s a bonus that turns an excellent walk into an unforgettable experience that you’ll want to return to.
    The walk takes us through wonderful parkland, heathland, and dense woodland to a very special place that offers stupendous views rivalled only by the Shard. Yes, after years of tireless fund-raising and painstaking restoration Severndroog Castle can at last accept visitors. The walk will feature an exclusive guided tour of this perfectly formed historic building which has an important and intriguing past. The building also has views over London ‘to die for’ and some visitors really do gasp at their first sight of the breathtaking vista. The ‘Castle’ is usually closed at this time of year and is being opened specially for Walk London.
    We start by traversing a most pleasant complex of parks which include a principle location from the cult 1960s film ‘Blow up’. Shortly afterwards we’ll pass some comfortably large animal enclosures, one housing a small Deer Herd which has been present for over a Century. Gentle climbing via Charlton Common takes us up onto the openness of Woolwich Common with distant views of Essex farmland, it’s wildness then giving way to the dense woodland of the flanks of Shooters Hill. We climb a little more steeply now for Shooters Hill is very nearly as high as the highest part of Hampstead Heath. Suddenly, in Castle Wood, the trees part and before us is the well proportioned tower of Severndroog Castle and our private visit.
    After visiting Severndroog Castle those who have done enough in their day, just over 4 miles, may wish to retire to the nearby bus stops. Those wishing for more wonderfully dense woodland and wide vistas are welcome to continue around Shooters Hill for views over huge swathes of Kent, Surrey, Essex and the Thames Estuary. We’ll then drop down steeply to Plumstead Common for buses into central London and finish at Plumstead railway station for trains.
    PLEASE NOTE. Severndroog Castle has been saved by a small charity with limited resources and they cannot be expected to open and guide us around the building without some recompense. The usual admittance charge of £2.50 will have to apply. If ever there was a bargain this is it, for you can see seven Counties at a tenth of the price of a visit to the Shard.
    The route is steep in parts, contains many steps, and depending on weather conditions it may be muddy. We will be very high up by London standards and warm, windproof, clothing and gloves are most strongly recommended. A packed lunch is essential and, if you have them, binoculars are a must.
    There’s no need to book but feel free to ask the Walk Leader, Ian Bull, for more details. Email, ianbull@btinternet.com  Phone, 020 7223 3572.

    The weather forecast for Sunday looks good for walking and viewing, so it should be a great experience. And if it’s done by 2.00pm there’s a members’ meeting down the hill at Woodlands Farm to go to.

     

    The restored Severndroog Castle

    The restored Severndroog Castle

     
  • hilly 6:32 pm on January 22, 2015
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    Flora and Fauna 

     

    Hawksbeard at Woodlands Farm

    Hawksbeard at Woodlands Farm

    One of the highlights of 2014 for me was the opportunity to be involved in a number of citizen science surveys of the flora and fauna of the area. It was a real pleasure to be able to spend time with enthusiastic and sometimes very knowledgeable people identifying wild plants and animals in places such as Woodlands Farm‘s meadows and ponds or in an old ragstone mine in Westerham.

    Many of the surveys were those arranged by Hannah Forshaw, the Education Officer at the farm, but there was also a lot more bat surveying, contributing data to the surveys organised by the Bat Conservation Trust and the London Bat Group.

    The first surveys were in May: the Newt and Pond Life surveys at the farm. Armed with books, identification guides, nets and trays volunteers dipped the pond water and pored over what was dragged up – a good collection of larvae and nymphs and even the occasional tadpole and newt. Wellies were donned to get in the pond and examine the leaves of pond plants for newt eggs – the newts carefully wrap each egg in a leaf. Later, when it was dark the water was examined with torches to count the newts lying on the bottom.

    All the data collected in the surveys is submitted to GIGL (Greenspace Information for Greater London), formerly the London Biological Recording Project, who “collate, manage and make available detailed information on London’s wildlife, parks, nature reserves, gardens and other open spaces.”

    Pond Dipping at Woodlands Farm– Damsel Fly Larva and Phantom Midge Larvae

    Damsel Fly Larva and Phantom Midge Larvae

    The surveys at the farm continued in June with the first of the Meadow Plants surveys. The farm is accredited to DEFRA’s Higher Level Stewardship scheme, which amongst other things defines how they manage their meadows and hedgerows with the aim of supporting biodiversity. One consequence is that the meadows are rich in wild flowers and grasses, which is why a glorious sunny day in June saw groups of enthusiastic volunteers grouped around various books trying to identify the meadow plants. Umbellifers were particularly interesting: did we have a corky fruited water dropwort or a wild carrot or a fools parsley? Close examination and detailed discussion were necessary. The plants’ names seemed rooted in another time: mouse ear, sheeps sorrel, goats beard, tansy, lesser trefoil, common vetch, grass vetchling ….

    June also saw those volunteers measuring the girth and estimating the height and health of some of the farm’s trees for the Opal Tree Health Survey, followed in July by shaking some of the farm’s hedges to see what dropped out for the Opal Biodiversity Hedgerow Survey.

    Ragwort

    Ragwort

    Teasel

    Teasel

    Goats beard

    Goats beard

    When it comes to citizen science surveys, the Bat Conservation Trust’s National Bat Monitoring Programme (NBMP)  is one of the longest running, having started in  1996. The Field Survey, which monitors populations of noctule, serotine, common pipistrelle and soprano pipistrelle takes place in July. Volunteers are allocated one or more “random” 1km square to survey. They start by drawing a triangular transect on the map of the square, and then plot a route that follows the triangle as closely as possible with 12 equally spaced stopping points. On the evenings of the survey the volunteer walks the route using a heterodyne bat detector to listen for noctules and serotines on the walk between the stopping points and then stops for two minutes to survey for pipistrelles.

    My square for the last four years has been centred on grid reference TQ4081 – an area of Canning Town to the north of Custom House DLR station. It’s not an encouraging area for any wild life – mainly built up and crossed by the noisy, polluting A13. I only ever detect bats in one place – Canning Town Rec – and usually only get one pass on the detector during the two minutes monitoring. This year there was nothing at all at the start of July, but my lonely pipistrelle was back at the end of the month.

    The Woodlands Farm field surveys were far more successful, detecting many more bats – both common and soprano pipistrelles and noctules. Plus there was the added bonus of coming across two hedgehogs this year.

    The BCT run fairly regular courses for volunteers on how to use a bat detector to recognise different types of bat calls, and I went on a refresher during this year’s survey season. While there I volunteered to help with the August Waterway Survey – looking for Daubenton’s bats. I took on a 1km section of the River Cray starting at Hall Place. Daubenton’s bats’ calls sound a bit like marbles dropping onto a tiled floor on the heterodyne bat detector, but the bats must also be visually verified as their calls are similar to Natterer’s bats. We had a couple of possible detections, but no visual confirmation so had to report unidentified Daubenton’s/Natterer’s.

    There are however lots of pipistrelles at Hall Place, as I found out when helping to lead a bat walk around the gardens. It was quite magical walking just after dusk in the riverside gardens of an old Tudor house watching pipistrelles swoop between the trees, often just above head height. During September there were also well-attended bat walks in Shrewsbury Park and at Woodlands Farm, with a good number of bats seen and detected. Bats are becoming popular.

    The River Cray at Hall Place

    The River Cray at Hall Place

    In December I had a rare opportunity, courtesy of the London Bat Group, to help with a hibernation survey at Westerham Mines. The sealed-off  former building stone mines, also known as Hosey Caves, are a Site of Special Scientific Interest and are managed as a bat reserve by the Kent Wildlife Trust. They have been  regularly surveyed by members of the Kent Bat Group for many years. It’s a mucky job because some tunnels are only accessible by crawling through narrow gaps, and it’s often necessary for bat surveyors to lie on their backs to examine crevices in the roofs and walls for hibernating bats. Five species of bat are known to hibernate in the caves. The survey team in December counted a total of 54 bats – mainly Daubenton’s but also Natterer’s and some that were either whiskered or Brandt’s bats. And one Brown long-eared bat and some hibernating herald moths. I am in awe of the bat recognition skills of the experienced surveyors – the bats are often hidden in crevices and little is visible.

    It is important when surveying hibernating bats that they are not disturbed, and that any temperature rise caused by the presence of people is minimised. If the bats wake they will use their scarce energy reserves and have no way of replenishing them because their insect food is not available. So the photo of a hibernating Daubenton’s bat below was taken without flash by torchlight without getting too close to the bat.

    Hibernating Daubenton's Bat

    Hibernating Daubenton’s Bat

    How are bats doing? A composite measure of bat numbers based on data for 8 species shows an 18% increase from 1999 to 2007, but a very slight decrease since 2007. However this must be set against a 60% decline in numbers between 1977 and 1999 in England. Also bats’ legal protection is threatened. A Conservative MP’s private members bill, the Bat Habitats Regulation Bill, currently going through parliament aims to reduce the protection given to bats roosting in places of worship – a move that could prove disastrous for bat populations. The wording of the bill seems very short and vague to me:

    “Notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972, the provisions of the Habitats Regulations and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 shall not apply to bats or bat roosts located inside a building used for public worship unless it has been established that the presence of such bats or bat roosts has no significant adverse impact upon the users of the building.”

    A “building used for public worship” is a very vague and potentially all-encompassing phrase, and how could one demonstrate that the presence of bats has “no significant adverse impact”? What does adverse mean in this phrase? While bats’ presence in churches has caused some problems there are many bat friendly ways of tackling the issue which have been ignored by proponents of the bill. Needless to say the Bat Conservation Trust are campaigning against the bill: if you want to help there’s a draft letter to send to your MP on the BCT web site.

    Comma butterfly

    Comma butterfly

    Back at Woodlands Farm, surveys continued in a lepidopterous vein with the Big Butterfly Count in June and a moth survey in September. The butterfly count was another sunny summer day in the farm’s wild flower meadows. Amongst those spotted were lots of comma, meadow brown and gatekeeper butterflies: Hannah has put a full list on the farm’s Wildlife and Conservation web page.

    A moth trap, which is basically a bright light mounted above a container that was filled with egg boxes, was used to trap moths alive for the moth survey. Some of the moths captured were remarkably and unexpectedly beautiful, such as the burnished brass pictured below. They also had some amazing names: heart and dart, lunar underwing, setaceous hebrew character and pale oak beauty were some of the moths identified. After identification they had to be released carefully to make sure they didn’t immediately become bird food.

    Burnished Brass Moth

    Burnished Brass Moth

    Mammals were the focus of surveys at the farm in the autumn. Hannah hired a mammal night camera from the Mammal Society, but the results were a little disappointing – a rat, a cat, foxes and squirrels were photographed – the best pictures have been put on the Mammal Society’s web site. The hedgehog tunnel had some prints in it, but unfortunately not hedgehog. Then my first experience of checking the Longworth traps yielded only slugs – prompting the acquisition of a slug identification book for future trap checking. Slugs are surprisingly interesting!

    Things picked up with later Longworth trap sessions. On each session 16 traps were baited with seeds and, most importantly, fly pupae from an angling shop which make a smelly attractive food. They were also stuffed with some straw to keep any tiny mammals warm, then placed at various places around the farm in the late afternoon. Early the next morning they were checked: it needed to be early to ensure that little creatures with high metabolic rates didn’t run out of energy. Apart from slugs we found a lot of wood mice, which were sexed before release (a male is shown in the photograph below). A field vole and a possible bank vole were also trapped.

    Longworth trap in position

    Longworth trap in position

     Sexing a Wood Mouse


    Sexing a Wood Mouse

    The conservation volunteers at the farm also helped with preparing the dipping pond for refurbishment – clearing nettles and plants from the edges, digging out water-plants and mud and carefully removing any pond life that could be saved. This year they are doing further work on the pond, clearing brambles in Clothworkers Wood to encourage bluebells and then the 2015 survey season starts with the Big Farmland Bird Count on Monday 9th and Tuesday 10th February.

    If you want to help out with the farm’s surveys of our local flora and fauna then contact Hannah Forshaw on education@thewoodlandsfarmtrust.org, and you can volunteer to help with bat surveys on the Bat Conservation Trust web site.

     
  • hilly 2:14 pm on January 10, 2015
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    Falconwood Miniature Railway Public Running 2015 

     Welling and District Model Engineering Society public running


    Welling and District Model Engineering Society public running

    I’m glad to see that Welling and District Model Engineering Society are still at their home at the electricity station site near Falconwood railway station, despite uncertainty about the site’s future. They have just announced their programme of public running dates for 2015, as their web site says:

    We look forward to welcoming you back in 2015 for another summer of nostalgia, riding behind our steam and electric locomotives. The dates and timings have now been confirmed. The railway and clubhouse will be open from 2:00-5:00pm. Train rides will be available for children and adults(!), with the last ticket issued at 4:30pm. Refreshments are available in the clubhouse.
    Sunday April 12th 26th
    Sunday May 10th 24th
    Sunday June 7th 21st
    Sunday July 5th 19th
    Sunday August 2nd 16th 30th
    Sunday September 13th 27th
    Sunday October 11th (last running)

    Before heading down to Falconwood it’s worth checking the Welling and District Model Engineering Society web site for any updates or late cancellations.

    The popular Santa Special will run on 13th December if WDMES are still on the site. Santa Special tickets will be available at the 27th September and 11th October openings. There is a maximum of 4 tickets per person.

    Details of how to get to the WDMES site, plus a sound recording and video of the miniature railway in action can be seen in previous posts about the model railway.

     Welling and District Model Engineering Society public running


    Welling and District Model Engineering Society public running

     
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