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,  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

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.

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, and you can volunteer to help with bat surveys on the Bat Conservation Trust web site.

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.

For this year’s dates see

 Welling and District Model Engineering Society public running

Welling and District Model Engineering Society public running

Castlewood footpath open again

Castlewood footpath looking towards Eltham Common
Castlewood footpath looking towards Eltham Common

The footpath next to the former Cottage Hospital on Shooters Hill has re-opened, nearly two years after it was closed “permanently” by the MoD. Clive Barbour, who has been campaigning for the footpath to be reopened e-mailed:

On 21 September 2013 you kindly posted some pictures and details of my attempts to get the Royal Borough of Greenwich to reopen the footpath between Shooters Hill Road and Academy Place.
Since then I have been emailing the relevant official on a bi-monthly basis.
The official told me in September this year that he would be getting legal advice on my contention that the path should be reopened in the basis that it had been used for 30 years by myself and others.
Although I have yet to hear back from him I am delighted to see that the path has been reopened and cleared of growing vegetation and perhaps more significantly, the two “this is not a right of way” signs that had gone up in Academy Place have been taken down.
I am still pressing the council to have the footpath and the adjoining lane from Academy Place to Bagshot Court adopted under the Highways Act to prevent their future closure.
But the reopening of the footpath means that it is possible to walk again from Shooters Hill to Red Lion Lane via Bagshot Court and Prince Imperial Way as  marked in red below.

Map showing route from Shooters Hill to Red Lion Lane
Route from Shooters Hill to Red Lion Lane

I hope this means the path is now open permanently. It had been open for a while last year, but was then re-closed. I suspect that was because the barriers had been broken down by vandals. The route from Shooters Hill down to the bottom of Red Lion Lane is a pleasant path through open fields, passing by what may have once been a sports field – the 1914 OS map shows a pavilion at the South end of the field. The old map also shows a miniature rifle range and formal rows of trees, both features are still evident though the only reminder of the rifle range is an embankment.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Hill, the problem of the route of the Green Chain Walk near Woodlands Farm still hasn’t reached a conclusion. While the Woodland Farm Trust, Ramblers and Green Chain officers have all agreed that Woodland’s proposal for re-routing the path to go along the edge of the farm is acceptable, the owners of the land between the farm and the corner of Keats and Dryden Roads are now blocking progress. At the last Woodlands Farm AGM it was mentioned that this route is a permissive path and that the owners Bellway have refused permission for the Green Chain Walk to cross their land. In the meantime the Walk is still diverted along residential roads round to Oxleas Wood.

Update 23rd January 2015. Steve e-mailed to let me know that new signs have been erected on the Castlewood footpath, presumably by the MoD. There’s a picture of one of them below.

One of the new signs on the Castlewood footpath
One of the new signs on the Castlewood footpath