A day trip to Gunnersbury Park

Inspired by Melanie’s wonderful talk to members about the various Rothschild gardens, Sharon & I accompanied her on a trip to see the restoration project at Gunnersbury Park. We had our volunteer project at Charlton House & Gardens firmly in mind throughout the day, and were pleased to find parallels – albeit on a much grander scale there! Gunnersbury was bought by Ealing & Acton council in 1925 (Charlton was bought by Greenwich Council in the 1920s) and used as a public park in much the same way that Charlton Park has been.  

In 2018 the “Large Mansion” was restored using Heritage Lottery and other funding and opened as a Museum housing the borough archive. Major parts of the park were included in the funding, the Orangery, lake and orchards for example. The Friends of Gunnersbury Park were instrumental in the restoration effort, and volunteers clearly play a large part in the day-to-day running.

Continue reading A day trip to Gunnersbury Park

A tour of Avery Hill

On Thursday I joined a tour of Avery Hill Park with the Mottingham Horticultural Society, who had extended an invitation to CABAHS members. It was a beautiful, crisp, sunny afternoon and the park looked gorgeous. Our guide John, from the Friends of Avery Hill Park, told us about the history and prehistory of the park before leading us around the extensive area.

Some members may be familiar with the Winter Garden, a glasshouse currently undergoing renovation work (therefore closed) and about to pass from the hands of the University of Greenwich back to the local council. I look forward to seeing it after renovation is complete!

Recently cut meadow area and former hedgerow (with dozens of cross country runners!) Avery Hill Park
Recently cut meadow area and former hedgerow (with dozens of cross country runners!)

There are two main areas of the park, historically and now. The more manicured, grassed parkland associated with Avery Hill Mansion (which is currently being converted into a school), and former farmland, with field boundaries and drainage ditches. The Friends are working to make the latter areas more wildlife-friendly by negotiating a meadow-style mowing regime (ie: cutting only twice a year, removing the mowings once seed has dropped, and sowing wildflower seeds) with some mown paths. Even after just a year, it’s possible to see that the range of plant species is extensive. The increase in butterfly numbers and activity in summer 2021 was notable. It is hoped that a general increase in biodiversity will also encourage an increase in bat numbers, which have declined in recent years.

Looking toward Great Stony Acre – field boundary trees and drainage ditch
Looking toward Great Stony Acre – field boundary trees and drainage ditch

The former field boundaries are still visible, and what would have been hedgerow has grown into rows of trees and scrub, which is excellent for wildlife. A new mixed hedgerow has been planted where one had disappeared, and the drainage ditches have been cleared by volunteers. Another historical feature which lives on through the Friends is the old field names, such as Henley’s Meadow, Little Stony Acre, Grey’s Field and Great Stony Acre. The latter is being planted with native tree species – oak, hornbeam, birch, hawthorn and field maple. Around 1500 trees have been planted over a five year period, and there are plans for a natural drainage pond in the centre as the area is at the bottom of a slope, is mostly heavy clay and becomes very boggy in winter.

Young trees in Great Stony Acre
Young trees in Great Stony Acre

It was a very enjoyable afternoon and I appreciated the chance to visit the Park with a knowledgeable guide.

Looking across Avery Hill Park, late afternoon October 2021
Looking across Avery Hill Park, late afternoon October 2021

Ali

May 2021 – Joe Beale on the Changing management of Blackheath, Greenwich & Charlton

Our May talk on Zoom was presented by local naturalist Joe Beale. He discussed the changing management of the local area, including Charlton Park, Greenwich and Blackheath and the impact this is having on local plants as well as lichens and animals.

He discussed the approach to take to habitat management – that there were lots of things worth fighting for. He discussed the need to carry out research and ecological surveys, the need for a conservation action plan and to take conservation action appropriate to the conservation site. Also the necessity to work in collaboration with local residents, communities, landowners, specialists and the local council. He commended the support given by Greenwich Parks and Open Spaces and its willingness to assist.

Joe began by showing a photograph  of the Vanbrugh Pits in 1983 when vegetation there was scarce, but rich in bio-diversity, and now, when it is  dense with brambles and Holm Oak which are killing off the flora and fauna. He  pointed to the need for  pursuing in management a middle path there, including getting rid of the Holm Oak, Cherry and Turkey Oak (as well as the dogs mess!).

Key diverse wild life plants in this area he suggested  were species that needed low nutrient soil e.g. blackthorn plantain and  lichens such as Cetraria aculeata and Chaldonia furcata. He said 29 types of butterfly had been found on the Greenwich Park side of Blackheath in 2010 which was about half of the UK total and 173 species of bees and wasps.

Also found in acid grassland and sandy soil are sheeps sorrel (Rumex acetosella), birds foot (Ornithopus perpusillus), spurry (Spergularia rubra ) and lichen (Cetraria aculeata).

Blackheath and the Greenwich Park side of it is well known for plants and clovers which thrive on soil of of low nutrient value.   Such as hare’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense),  knotted clover (Trifolium striatum), woolly clover (Trifolium tomentosum,)  and clustered clover ( Trifolium glomeratum).

Wildlife included gorse( Ulex europaeus) for the whinchat birds,  ragwort visited by 43 bees and wasps, the  burnet and  cinnabar moths and  small copper butterflies.

Joe said sympathetic mowing was crucial in particular the need to remove the hay to promote biodiversity as it was nutrient rich.  Always have wildness at heart.  Leave the edges of sites, leave verges and banks and mow in rotation.  Expose earth and  deadwood. Consider the food, plants, shelter, nesting and breeding needs of key wildlife.

He described the increase in biodiversity in verges in Blackheath since it has had relaxed mowing as well as Charlton’s Maryon Park. He also referred  to the Wildlife Meadow which is being constructed in Charlton  Park. The policy there of not sowing wild flowers, just digging the area over and seeing  what grows. He  pointed out the value of cemeteries in promoting biodiversity. He mentioned that cemeteries such as Charlton cemetery are expected to be neat and tidy, but, in fact are bustling with wild life and like Charlton they should have an area left to encourage biodiversity.

To help promote and encourage more biodiversity Greenwich Park has also taken a more relaxed approach to mowing and is allowing grass to grow in some areas as well as setting up biodiversity friendly habitats.  This policy has been incorporated into its  multimillion pound Heritage funded renovation programme.  Many CABAHS members are already keen promoters of biodiversity and wildlife. Hopefully Joe’s  enthusiastic talk  will encourage the rest to consider  the needs of biodiversity and wildlife in their own gardens.

Angela


Joe Beale is a naturalist who, in addition to carrying out surveys of local wildlife, giving talks and writing, also offers guided walks. He is across social media platforms with an active Twitter account, updating people on what to see in our area.

Bankers and biodiversity

The City of London might not be the first place that you would look to understand how nature conservancy developed in this country.  The Wildlife Trusts, the umbrella organisation for local groups that care for their environment, makes it clear that they owe their existence to the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves, for which Charles Rothschild, a partner in the merchant bank of N M Rothschild & Sons, was the catalyst.

I thought about him during Joe Beale’s excellent talk on Zoom to the CABAHS meeting on 17 May. Members learned a lot about biodiversity in the area of Greenwich Park, Blackheath and Charlton.  We also learned how important it is for people to work together.  Joe didn’t just mean small groups of concerned individuals, although those are crucial.  He meant engaging with local councils and other bodies to make sure everyone’s interests and concerns are understood.   

"Worthy of Preservation" - responses to Charles Rothschild's questionaires
“Worthy of Preservation” – responses to Charles’s questionaires

This is what Charles Rothschild did.  He sent out questionnaires to local natural history societies, asking for nominations for sites that could be nature reserves:  sites that were ‘worthy of preservation’.  On the basis of these returns, the newly-created Society for the Protection of Nature Reserves published a list – Rothschild’s List – and sought government intervention to protect the sites.  Here is the list, published in 1915.     

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/about-us/rothschilds-list

Joe also brought home the importance of keeping records over time so that measurements of improvement and, sadly, deterioration have value.  In the link above The Wildlife Trusts also presents an analysis of the condition of Rothschild’s Reserves, 100 years on.   

This document features a pie chart of habitats, 2% of which are pavements.  I wonder if our very own Terry might well be responsible for some of that, based on what he told us he was up to at the end of his road! 

Charles Rothschild was an extraordinary man by any measure of means.  His collection of fleas, now the national collection of fleas in the Natural History Museum, was lovingly catalogued by his daughter, Miriam, who was herself a powerful advocate for nature, advising the Prince of Wales on the creation of his garden at Highgrove.

One of his fans is sports- and nature-writer Simon Barnes, whose book, Prophet and Loss: Time and the Rothschild List is available on Kindle for only £2.37.  If members were to buy the book (profits to The Wildlife Trusts) they could buy a cake from the WI at the CABAHS community day at Charlton House on 30 May and still have change from a fiver! 

Melanie      

Members’ gardens, March 2021

Look who has been visiting in Sharon’s garden in Shooters Hill? She says she is so pleased she left part of her garden for the wildlife, and this is her reward! He’s been hibernating in a leaf pile and came out to enjoy the sunshine today. He has been scrubbing around in Sharon’s garden and then wandering through the beech hedge into her neighbours. Oh the advantages of a Wildlife corridor, we should all make one!

Shown below is Angela’s beautiful Clivia in full bloom. Angela says this one is a division from her main plant, and is one of her favourite indoor plants as it needs so little care and attention.

Is today the day?

I have had a worrying time recently, and have bored my husband half to death with my constant observations along the lines of “I wonder if one has arrived yet?” and “Perhaps today is the day”.

As we are awaiting the appearance of our first grandchild, you might think that’s the reason for my anxiety? Well of course that’s very important, but in fact the problem has been that for the first time in 30 years, the toads have not arrived in our pond.

I have been pondering (ha! pond-ering) whether it is the new fence that has stopped them or whether I have been too tidy in the shrubbery and whether I should not have got rid of the overgrown irises at the pond edges. To try to make amends, I have crawled along the new fence and created nice deep tunnels underneath (to the interest of my two terriers and the annoyance of my husband, who has no engineering knowledge and thinks this will weaken his expensive fence).

My neighbours on the other side have known me for a long time, so they have already assured me they will put any lost toads they find through the hole by our shed so they can find their way home.

Toads can travel up to 2 km to come back to the pond they grew up in to spawn, so imagine how many fences and what obstacles we humans put in their way on that journey? They live about 10-12 years, so in theory you should get more coming back each year.  I am afraid my little band has been dwindling in recent years, and I worry that the new fence may just make them give up and change their permanent address to a pond down the road.

Luckily, I am able to tell you that today there has been movement in the pond! It’s not heaving, like Monty’s pond on Gardeners World, but there are definitely a few happy toads in there, making their “chirrup” noises and sounding pleased (relieved?) to be home. No spawn yet, but I expect a happy ending to this story, any day now.

Kathy

Local wildlife in Paula’s garden

CABAHS Committee member Paula has been grateful for the distraction of wildlife-watching during the lockdown, and has been reading up about it. Paula’s garden style is “not manicured” but she does like to keep things under control – things such as ivy. She says that ivy can cover a multitude of sins and like it or not, it certainly helps out the local wildlife. Plus it is evergreen and makes a lovely backdrop about now, when everything else has lost its colour. She was intrigued to learn that there is an Ivy Bee, one to watch out for this year. The Wildlife Trust says that ivy bees are recent arrivals to the UK, being first recorded in 2001 and slowly spreading North. They look like honey bees and feed mainly on ivy nectar. There doesn’t seem to be anything bad known about them so at the moment they are welcome!

Paula has also been bird watching and says another “new” arrival to our gardens is the Collared Dove, a less bulky version of the native Wood Pigeon.

They are normally seen in pairs (a good Valentine omen maybe!) and come to bird feeding stations sometimes. They are not native but arrived from the Middle East in the 1950’s – a bit like the Green Parakeets that are now all over the South East, although not such a pest. They are mainly seed and berry eaters and if they raise a brood successfully they often return to the same nest site.

If you would like to find out more, try these links:

https://www.wildlondon.org.uk/wildlife-explorer/invertebrates/bees-and-wasps/ivy-bee

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/collared-dove/

Paula

 

A robin for Christmas

John Sturgis has recently written an article in the Spectator, much after my own heart. He says he has two birds on the go, one in the garden, one at the allotment, both real beauties — and both robins.

With much of the nation still working from home, robins have become more familiar than ever. Most species of garden birds are horribly in decline, but the robin has stubbornly stuck around in great numbers.

 

While those other great survivors, magpies and pigeons, are brash and ungainly, the robin is a delicate little gem: magpie song is shrill, pigeon dumbly repetitive, but robin chirrups are a delight. They’re bold, too. Other garden birds flap away when we appear, but not robins. In fact, they approach — as inquisitive as a kitten.

The robin has a territory that ‘can be as small as a half acre’ so where I live I must share my robin with several neighbours. But one always appears as soon as I venture out of the back door, for human activity is their cue. My robin particularly likes it when I use my daisy grubber on the lawn. The stabbing activity seems to prompt all the worms near the daisy to come to the surface, in case I stab them too, I suppose. But there she comes, Mrs Robin following my every footstep, darting around where I have just been, feasting on the worms leaving their cover.

I say ‘she’ but frankly I don’t know. No doubt your Chris Packham types would be able to gender a robin from half an acre away, but to the untrained amateur, male and female are very much interchangeable.

Sturgis points out that robins frequently come up in literature and songs – John Donne’s Robin Redbreast, or The Secret Garden, or Rockin Robin of the Jackson 5. And, of course, the robin is the Boy Wonder’s spirit bird in Batman. Imagine trying to pitch that set-up today. ‘I like this Bat guy – very dark and cool. What are we doing for the kid? A scorpion? Eagle?’ ‘No, we thought a robin.’ Yet it works, accentuating the character’s chirpy loyalty.

But their definitive place is on Christmas cards. They’ve somehow smuggled themselves into the greeting card nativity scene, apparent survivors, along with holly, ivy and mistletoe, of pre-Christian winter festivals, one of the few flashes of colour in the bleak midwinter.

So just go outside with a trowel or daisy grubber and she will soon appear. And despite the Christmas connotation, she’ll still be there in the bleaker days of January and February. Because robins are very much for enhancing life, not just for Christmas!

Kathy

Butterflies and sunflowers

SC gatekeeper and Lysimachia

Beautiful picture of Gatekeeper butterflies enjoying Sharon’s garden. Lysimachia clethroides is grown here with Anthemis “Cally Cream” near a Hydrangea Limelight in a pot.

SC Vanilla Ice

These are Sunflowers, Helianthuis debilis “Vanilla Ice” growing daintily in Sharon’s garden, producing new flowers continually as she deadheads them.

A neglected patch

Retirement four years ago. Time stretched, or I thought it would. The bottom of my garden was an area where rubble collected, unwanted household items had been left and bonfires lit. It was in desperate need of a clear up and a change of use although to what I had no ideas. Nettles and weeds thrived and tall trees belonging to neighbours and the MOD who own the land at the back ensured there was shade for most of the day apart from an hour or so. One year on it remained untouched as there proved too many fun things to do.
A visit to the Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden in Surrey spurred me on to make a start.
SC Hannah Peschar
Much of this magical woodland garden is in shade and shuttlecock ferns were in abundance. I loved their structure and vibrant green. I had not grown ferns before and felt that they at least may like my shady patch. The hard work began.
Picking up the obvious rubbish, carrying it up the garden, through the house, up a steep flight of stairs, into the car, onto the recycling centre – halcyon days! – was just the beginning. When I dug into the ground, I realised there were layers of broken bricks and glass underneath. It was heavy labour and took weeks to clear. The reverse journey, but now from the garden centre, brought in bags of compost, rotted horse manure and chipped bark.
I had no particular vision of the final outcome but by now just wanted to plant something. Half of the area had been dug over. Ferns along with a few other shade tolerant plants such as astrantia and hardy geraniums were planted.
SC Garden 1
By June 2018 I had dug up the remaining rubble and added more plants – foxgloves, aquilegia, thalictrum delavayi to give height and the nettles were left for butterfly eggs. Other wildflower/ plants that had found there way in and settled were allowed to remain as good for pollinators. I now have a large clump of greater stitchwort (also known as gentlemans shirt buttons – love that name) and cow parsley. Hellebores were put in later that year.
SC Garden 2
Bronze fennel was planted last year which grew to such a height it needed staking. I found an obelisk which does the trick. As the area is fairly bare in early spring, I had put in loads of aconite bulbs. None of these survived as the local squirrels found them irresistible. A few English bluebells and snowdrops did grow and more will be planted in Autumn.

Time stretches now. I sit and enjoy watching bees, early butterflies, neighbouring cats, toads, ignoring the gaping holes where the fox has squashed the gentlemens’ shirt buttons and hoping the hedgehog recently spotted in a garden two doors away will wander into mine.
SC Garden 5

SC Garden Hogg

Sharon