Howgate Wonder in Nightingale Vale

Lewis demonstrating how to plant a tree
Lewis from The London Orchard Project shows volunteers how to plant a plum tree

I joined Avant-Gardening, The London Orchard Project and other volunteers to plant a plum tree in The Place Where Plums Grow  on Thursday.  In fact we planted two plum trees, and some apple and pear trees, as part of Avant-Gardening’s  The Place Where Plums Grow project, which kicked off in the Nightingale Estate. One of the apple trees was the sweet cooking apple, Howgate Wonder, known for keeping its shape and texture when cooked. It is also known for sometimes producing very large fruit; the world record largest apple was once a Howgate Wonder weighing 3lb 11oz with a 21 inch circumference. It has since been beaten by 4lb 1oz apple grown in Japan.

The London Orchard Project was founded in January 2009 by Carina Millstone and Rowena Ganguli to promote orchards and fruit trees in London. They “are working with Londoners to plant and harvest apple, pear and plum trees all over the city, and help us all to rediscover the pleasure of eating home-grown fruit”. As well as planting new community orchards and training orchard leaders to look after them they rejuvenate and restore neglected orchards. One of these orchards is at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Monks Orchard Road Beckenham. Last week I joined a a group of volunteers to help plant some 40 or so apple trees there – including interesting and unusual varieties such as Lanes Prince Albert, Laxtons Fortune and, what bliss, Pitmaston Pineapples! There’s a detailed photographic description of the tree planting technique we used in the natural flow blog. One good thing about planting in Nightingale Vale was that the snow had melted and we didn’t have to break through 2 inches of frost-frozen soil to start digging.

Shooters Hill Orchards 1894-7
Shooters Hill Orchards 1894-7

Another of the London Orchard Project’s activities is mapping orchards, both where they are now and where they were historically. An extract of their map of orchards in London in the 1890s is shown on the right. This was taken from an analysis of Ordnance Survey maps of 1894-1897. There seem to have been even more 30 years earlier, judging from the 1866 Woolwich Ordnance Survey map. If the neat rows of tree symbols indicate an orchard, there was one just south of Nightingale Vale, another in the bend enclosed by Eglinton Road and Herbert Road and many more around Plumstead Common. The 1866 Shooters Hill map shows a large orchard in the grounds of Tower House, which could be the one shown in Brinklow Crescent on the London Orchard Project map, plus another large one just to the North of that, and yet another in the grounds of the old Bull Hotel – the present Eaglesfield Park.

I guess it’ll be a while before we see the fruits of our tree planting labour. But with a young adopter of each tree looking out for them the trees should have a good chance of survival. I’m looking forward to seeing some large Howgate Wonders in Nightingale Vale.

The last tree planted
Job done - the last tree planted

Bird Ringing at Woodlands Farm

Checking the wing feathers of a Goldfinch at Woodlands Farm
Checking the wing feathers of a Goldfinch at Woodlands Farm

It was an early start on a clear, cold, crisp, winter Sunday morning when I headed down to Woodlands Farm to see the British Trust for Ornithology’s bird ringing demonstration. The ringers had already been there for a several hours, setting up the mist nets to catch the birds and making a start on the ringing.

Bird ringing is a very skilled job, and practitioners have to undergo extensive training by an experienced ringer and be licensed. As well as being able to recognise different species of birds and decide their gender and age they need to be able to disentangle the birds from the mist nets, handle them without harming them and crimp the rings on to their legs. They also need to be able to withstand pecking assaults by ferocious Blue Tits.

The BTO volunteer and Woodlands Farm Education Officer have been regularly ringing birds at the farm for about a year, though today was the first time it had been open for viewing.

Goldfinch being weighed at Woodlands Farm
The indignity of a Goldfinch being weighed

They can ring as many as 60 or 70 birds in a morning, starting at dawn. While I was there they had a GoldfinchRed Poll, Blue Tits, Great Tits and a Blackbird to ring, or record details from an existing ring.  They also weighed them – dunked head first in a small pot on a tiny weighing machine. Sex and age were decided by looking at the plumage and the detailed colouration, size and wear of wing feathers. The lengths of the birds’ wings are also recorded. I am always amazed at how docile birds are when being handled by experienced ringers (notwithstanding attacks by Blue Tits).

The BTO have over 2,600 trained volunteer ringers in the UK and Ireland, who ring over 900,000 birds each year. This provides information to help understand bird movements and population changes, which contributes to conservation initiatives. They are keen for others to get involved, for example through their Garden Birdwatch or by reporting bird ring details.

Woodlands Farm is part of the Natural England Higher Level Countryside Stewardship Scheme which has a number of environmental aims such as reversing the decline of farmland birds, securing the recovery of UK Biodiversity Action Plan species and improving people’s enjoyment and understanding of the farmed environment. They are taking steps to improve wildlife habitats at the farm, for example by planting new hedgerows and encouraging plants that provide food for birds.

I have seen bird ringing demonstrations before at the British Bird Watching Fair and always find them fascinating. Hopefully Woodlands Farm will be able to let more people share in this activity.

Red Poll being ringed at Woodlands Farm
Red Poll being ringed at Woodlands Farm

Eaglesfield Trim Trail Cancelled

I hear that Greenwich Council have decided not to proceed with creating the Trim Trail that was proposed for Eaglesfield Park following the consultation. Nearly 90% of members of the Friends of Eaglesfield Park who voted were opposed to the outdoor gym.

Personally I think this is good news – my observation of such outdoor exercise facilities in other parks is that they don’t get serious use, and as an (occasional) gym user they seem crude compared to modern training equipment.

The friends are asking for park  improvement suggestions to be sent to them by tomorrow, 13th December 2011, for submission to the council. Some good suggestions have been made already:

  • Providing a home for the Blackheath donkeys when they have to move to make way for the Equestrian Centre, possibly in the lower field;
  • Improvements to the playground facilities;
  • Replacement of the Mulberry tree near the pond.

A home for the donkeys would be really cool – though I guess the practicalities might get in the way. They would need a shelter for when the weather is bad, and the fencing along Eaglesfield Road would need to be replaced, though it would be a good idea to improve this fencing anyway; it looks in need of some tlc. Improvement to the playground facilities would be very popular with parents – it was built in 1994 and terrifies some parents with its sheer drops.

Wildflower Meadow at Peckham Rye Park
Wildflower Meadow at Peckham Rye Park

As you might guess, I’m very much in favour of replacing the Mulberry tree, and maybe also planting some more trees, possibly fruit trees. We could have a small community orchard!

I also liked the idea in the original plan for the pond of creating new wildlife habitats, and this could be taken further by planting areas of wildflower meadow, as they have done in Peckham Rye Park. Their meadow areas include wildflowers which are becoming rare due to the effects of modern agriculture, such as Wild Basil, Lady’s Bedstraw, Creeping Red Fescue, Teasel, Evening Primrose and Corn Cockle. These areas form part of a collaboration with the RSPB London House Sparrow project to monitor bird species.

The creation of new wildlife habitats could be extended to include bird and bat boxes.

Another suggestion would be to have some kind of marker of the highest point of Shooters Hill – perhaps a small stone pillar with the height marked on top, with the distance and direction of places of interest, like the Ypres milestone in the grounds of Christ Church.

The Friends of Eaglesfield Park have a poster at the entrance to the park describing the work they have completed so far on the pond, and also announcing that the new pond will be launched with a community event in May 2012. I’ll look forward to that.

Friends of Eaglesfield Park Poster announcing Pond Launch in May 2012
Friends of Eaglesfield Park Poster about the Pond Progress

Park Pond Finally Full

The Lilly Pond, Eaglesfield Park December 2011
The Lilly Pond December 2011

I noticed yesterdayday that the work on the Lilly Pond in Eaglesfield Park has passed a significant milestone –  the pond has been filled with water. In addition, as you can see in the photograph above a pond dipping platform has been constructed, the railings have been replaced with brand new ones,  most of the paths have been re-tarmaced and planting around the edges has been completed. Well done Friends of Eaglesfield Park!

The original Friends’ leaflet about the proposed work included the following list of improvement work:

  1. Construct a pond dipping platform;
  2. Turn the lawn area adjacent to the pond into a wildlife garden, providing habitats outside as well as inside the water. (wild flower; native shrub; loggeries; deadwood; sawdust; grass cuttings; bare ground; sand);
  3. Create an outdoor study area with seating and a hard surface for local school/youth groups to contribute to plans for an improved environment in London;
  4. Improve the signage including directions and information signs;
  5. Repair the railings around the pond;
  6. Improve access, specifically from the southern entrance;
  7. Establish a management plan;

Points 1, 5 and 6 appear to be complete, though not the others. I wonder if this is still the plan, or if it has been changed to allow for the proposed outdoor gym? Maybe they’ll even replace the Mulberry tree!

Incidentally many documents seem to have disappeared in the re-design of the Greenwich Council web site, including the draft Eaglesfield Park Management Plan, which breaks some links in earlier posts. The entry on Eaglesfield Park doesn’t mention the Friends, but instead has an incorrect reference to the Friends of Plumstead Gardens. Teething problems, I guess?

Here is the sequence of photographs showing the work on the pond progressing, including the two from my earlier post.

Lilly Pond, Eaglesfield Park October 2011
The Lilly Pond October 2011
Lilly Pond, Eaglesfield Park November 2011
The Lilly Pond early November 2011
The Lilly Pond, Eaglesfield Park end November 2011
The Lilly Pond end November 2011
The Lilly Pond, Eaglesfield Park December 2011
The Lilly Pond December 2011

Equestrian Centre Leaps Final Fences

The controversial Equestrian Centre that is proposed for the area between Woodlands Farm and Thompsons Garden Centre on Shooters Hill Road has passed two potential barriers to its implementation. Both the Mayor of London and the Secretary of State have decided not to intervene in Greenwich Council’s decision to grant approval for the Centre.

The Mayor’s letter stated:

Having now considered a report on this case (reference PDU/2760/GK02 copy enclosed), I am content to allow Greenwich Council to determine the case itself, subject to any action that the Secretary of State may take, and therefore do not wish to direct refusal.

However I request that Natural England are fully consulted in relation to the discharge of condition 22 regarding the ecological mitigation and management plan.

And that from the Secretary of State’s representative:

The Secretary of State has carefully considered this case against call-in policy, as set out in the 1999 Caborn Statement. The policy makes it clear that the power to call in a case will only be used very selectively. The Government is committed to give more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues, and believes planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible.
The Secretary of State has carefully considered the impact of the proposal and the key policy issues, which this case raises. In his opinion, the proposals do not: involve a conflict with national policies on important matters; have significant effects beyond their immediate locality; give rise to substantial regional or national controversy; raise significant architectural and urban design issues; or involve the interests of national security or of Foreign Governments. Nor does he consider that there is any other sufficient reason to call the application in for his own determination.
The decision as to whether to grant planning permission will therefore remain with Greenwhich Council.

The decision does include 31 conditions, including a stipulation that there should be a minimum of 82 horse-riding hours a week access to the facilities by the local community, a prior programme of archaeological work and production of an Ecological Mitigation and Management Plan.

The report accompanying the decision reveals that 12 sites were considered as possible locations for the centre, most of them local sports grounds and playing fields, and the brief reasons why they were discounted.

It also states that the Council are seeking agreement for the Blackheath donkeys to move to a site in Woodbrook Road.

Perhaps most importantly the report mentions the “very special circumstances” that are necessary to justify development on Metropolitan Open Land. Mentions but doesn’t detail…  in the words of the Mayor’s report:

The ‘very special circumstances’ put forward to justify the harm to MOL regarding Olympic legacy, increasing participation in sport, education, community benefit, lack of alternative sites and the financial justification from connection activity on the site are now, on balance, acceptable, and the application complies with London Plan policy.

So that seems to be that. Greenwich Council is allowed to decide on the planning application that they themselves have put forward.

Plan of the area where the Centre will be as it is now taken from the planning documents
Plan of the area where the Centre will be as it is now
Plan of the area where the centre will be after the Centre is built taken from the planning documents
Plan of the area after the Centre is built

Park Pond Progresses

Lilly Pond, Eaglesfield Park October 2011
The Lilly Pond October 2011
Lilly Pond, Eaglesfield Park November 2011
The Lilly Pond November 2011

The Friends of Eaglesfield Park’s hard work in securing funding for the restoration of the Lily Pond has started showing some results as the work has now commenced. As the pictures show it is currently work-in-progress and a bit messy, more like the Bagnold’s Clay Pit than a pond. But it will be a great improvement when complete, and hopefully meet its original objectives of improving the park, promoting biodiversity and providing an educational resource for local schools.

I’m very disappointed though that the Mulberry Tree on the eastern side of the pond is no longer there. I’ll miss it: the piquancy of  the mulberries used to complement the sweetness of blackberries foraged from the lower part of the park. I wonder why it was removed?

I find it fascinating to track changes to a local area through old maps, such as old ordnance survey maps, and Shooters Hill is particularly interesting. There is a feature on the 1866, 1894 and 1914 maps where the pond is currently, and of about the right size and shape, though they are not explicitly marked as a pond. In the 1866 map the pond feature is set in the middle of what looks like an orchard behind what was then the Bull Inn. This Bull is in a different place to the current Bull, closer to Cleanthus Road, and considerably larger. I guess the area round the pond was the gardens known as “the Shrubbery” mentioned in the history section of the Park Management Plan: the 1866 map is certainly consistent with it being a laid-out garden. At that time much of the surrounding area was farmland, with few of the roads we now know: there’s a field boundary instead of Eaglesfield Road. By 1894 the Bull Inn is no longer there, but there is a Bull Hotel located where the current Bull is. Some of the old Bull Inn buildings are still there but the orchards round the pond feature are gone. There is still no Eaglesfield Road, but there is a drive-way leading along the same route to a large house called Lowood, now the Golf Clubhouse. By 1914 this drive-way had become Waldstock Road (later to become Eaglesfield Road) and the Eaglesfield Recreation Ground lay on either side of it. The pond feature is still there, and has a drinking fountain next to it.

The Friends of Eaglesfield Park first started thinking about restoring the Lily Pond shortly after they were formed in 2007; it’s a great tribute to their commitment and persistence that it is now in progress.

Lilly Pond, Eaglesfield Park October 2011
The Lilly Pond October 2011
Lilly Pond, Eaglesfield Park November 2011
The Lilly Pond November 2011

Fire Safety

”]the ex new shooters hill fire station Recently I welcomed two huge firemen into my place as part of the free home safety visit[1. You can also call to arrange a visit: ℡ 08000 28 44 28.] scheme, which is currently being carried out by London Fire Brigade – this includes the installation of smoke alarms. The visit itself was quite brief, and aside from setting up alarms, it includes an education in safety, also available on directgov which is organised under a series of headings:

  1. Smoke Alarms (tested weekly)
  2. Smoking
  3. Cooking
  4. Candles
  5. Portable Heaters
  6. Open Fires
  7. Electrical
  8. Escape Plans
  9. Before Bed Routine
”]Eltham Fire Station

I was reminded that, like lots of electrical items (batteries, toys etc), smoke alarms would contaminate landfill with lead/lithium/cadmium etc, and should be disposed of at nathan way.

The other thing that happened is that I started to ask about the selling off of the fire station, the historical preservation of the doors, and where our new station is (Eltham High Street). As a result of the closure, the call out time for this area is around 3 minutes longer. This makes home safety all the more important, especially during icy winter when the hill becomes less accessible to traffic.

Special Scientific Interest

oxleas_woodland_sssi

Oxleas Woods Parklands

Here comes part two in a series of maps, once again inspiration came from the “draft” woodland management plan submitted to Greenwich Council.

This time it’s the designation of Scientific Interest that has been mapped out, which is taken from an ordnance survey version including real boundaries, footpaths, and drains (not sure if that means woodland ditches or victorian plumbing): at natureonthemap.org.uk. Some of Jackwood and Oxleas Wood, and the whole of the Sheperdleas Wood were granted protection from 1984 – almost ten years before the government wanted to replace the woodlands with a traffic bypass – which goes to show how safe an SSSI actually is: not very (Twyford Down is also an SSSI and look what happened there) – anyway, Oxleas is probably safe, so here’s a bit of the Scientific Interest:

The whole of the notification document is decorated with an impressive sounding collection of flora and fauna names and is copied out below, with the addition of painstakingly embedded media – mainly from wikipedia for flora and uk wildlife sites for fauna – plus some bird protection links where birdsong and videos can be observed. A more recent check up stresses the importance of lying dead wood for invertebrates to use (presumably the dogs enjoy this aspect of woodland preservation too):

Oxleas, Jack and Shepherdleas Woods are one of the most extensive areas of long established woodland on the London Clay in Greater London. The woodland has a rich mixture of tree and shrub species within which several woodland types can be recognised. The woods contain a number of species with a restricted distribution in Greater London.

Most of the woodland lies on a south-east facing slope of the London Clay. In parts the former coppice system of management is evident, and this traditional management has been reinstated recently. The majority of the woodland comprises stands of hazel-sessile oak, hazel-pedunculate oak, and birch-pedunculate oak woodland. These stands tend to lie on the more acid base-poor soils and carry a ground flora of predominantly bramble and bracken, with wood sage Teucrium scorodonia. Pedunculate oak-hazel-ash and pedunculate oak-hornbeam woodland over bramble occurs mainly on the heavier richer soils, often on the lower slopes. In places the drainage is impeded and there is a small stand of alder. Plants characteristic of these wetter conditions include wild angelica Angelica sylvestris, broad buckler fern Dryopteris dilatata and pendulous sedge Carex pendula.

In parts there is a well developed woodland structure with a variety of trees and in particular, shrubs. Some of these shrubs have a restricted distribution in the London area such as guelder rose Viburnum opulus, midland thorn Crataegus laevigata and buckthorn Rhamnus cartharticus; several of the species are more usually associated with outcrops of chalk. These include wayfaring tree Viburnum lantana and dogwood Cornus sanguinea. The woods are also noteworthy for the large mature wild cherry Prunus avium, and the wild service tree Sorbus torminalis. The latter occurs in unusual abundance: no other London woodland is known to contain such a large population and size range of wild service tree.

In general the herb layer is typical of woodland on the London Clay; however there is a substantial number of plants which are associated with long established woodland. The spring flora includes bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta in abundance with wood anemone Anemone nemorosa and wood sorrel Oxalis acetosella. Along streams and ditches remote sedge Carex remota, wood sedge Carex sylvatica, yellow pimpernel Lysimachia nemorum, a number of ferns and the uncommon Forster’s woodrush Luzula forsteri are found. The lower damper slopes, particularly where there is an undisturbed litter layer, support a rich variety of fungi. Several locally uncommon species are present and more notable species such as Otidea alutacea, Russula pseudointegra, Ciboria batschiana and Podoscypha multizonata.

Past records indicate the prescence of a diverse and interesting insect fauna – particularly beetles (Coleoptera), bugs (Hemiptera), and flies (Diptera). More recent sampling records several notable species such as the beetles Oligota flavicornis, Oak Bark Beetle and the fly Dolichopus wahlbergi. In addition the Lepidoptera fauna includes a number of interesting species such as the festoon Apoda avellana, oak lutestring Cymatophorima diluta and the seraphim Lobophora halterata amongst the largest moths. The breeding bird community contains a range of woodland birds and has several species which are typically associated with the mature timber habitat: tree creeper, nuthatch, woodpecker, chiffchaff and wood warbler. Wood warbler is a notably scarce and declining breeding species in Greater London.