Monday, September 29, 2008

Sunday lunchtime

It was another lovely day yesterday, and I took far too many photos. I started out on my usual route towards the green via the curvy path that runs from Redriff Road. The colours were terrific. I don't think that I have ever been so intensely aware of the period of transition from summer to autumn, but you simply can't miss it hereabouts. The fresh greens are still in the trees, but everywhere you walk the myriad of colours is remarkable.

I was in the Russia Dock Woodland by 1130am, which is usually a busy time of day on a Sunday, but I had the place almost completely to my self when I arrived. Lots of lovely birdsong from the robins and blackbirds, but very few people. I walk across the green, enjoying the sunshine, but I was quite alone.

At the Downtown pond the heron was absent, which was a bit of a disapointment. But the bright yellow Yellow Flag seed pods are bursting and their seeds are extraordinary - vast and copper-coloured. There is an entire area of mud which was once under water, almost beneath the bridge, which is covered in bluish-purple daisies which are Blue Zephyrs - a feral occupation of the pond muds. The bullrushes are dark brown and velvety, their leaves a soft green, but everything else there is changing colour. There was simply no-one around, and as I stood quietly enjoying the scene all I could hear was the sound of falling leaves. Really rather nice.

At Globe Pond the Canada geese have left but the ducks were enjoying the sunshine. Following the path along the waterway that leads out of the pond I went to inspect the duckweed, which is as rampant as ever. I am always fascinated by the way it forms such a vivid carpet of miniscule mosaic pieces, how it captures and supports leaves, and how the water birds leave a network of dark trails through it as they move. There were three white-breasted black ducks there yesterday, but none of my books are able to enlighten me as to what they are called - I'll post photos in the next couple of days.

Walking up to the windmill I ran into Les Butler and we talked about the various things to be seen, and had a good moan about Tesco which really helped to get things off my chest a bit! Tesco is one of my bĂȘte noires. We parted to explore different areas, and I went to look at all of the berries in the immediate area. The sheer variety of berries in the ecological park and elsewhere in the Woodland is spectacular and I took great pleasure trying to caputure all the different types that I could see.

As Les had said, there wasn't much going on around the Stave Hill pond - lots of mating damselflies but nothing else to see. The butterfly sanctuary remains unchanged - there was really nothing much to see. In fact, the only butterflies that I saw all day were the ubiquitous speckled browns, two of which flew straight into my face on one occasion startling me quite considerably for a few seconds.

Instead of heading for home I wended my way around the top of the green, heading back towards the Downtown pond on the off-chance that the heron would have turned up - it was now nearly 1pm and I thought he might have arrived. I was to be disapointed on that front but I am so glad that I went in that direction because standing right on the edge of the green, his rust-coloured fur standing out against the green grass, was a fox. It was perfectly motionless for a few seconds before breaking into a run. My photos are never going to win any awards but at last I have managed to capture one on my camera! Slightly out of focus and far too far away to pick out any detail anyway, I am still pleased to have them.

I took some more pictures at the Downtown pond, mainly of a hoverfly who obligingly stayed on the same flower head for quite a long time. After that I headed for home. There were now a lot more people - joggers, bicyclists, dog walkers and people walking with their children. Right in the very middle of the green there was a woman sitting on a towel in a bikini, who was attracting far more attention than the local wildlife. I had hauled on a cardigan by then and how she didn't expire from hypothermia I cannot imagine.

Sitting in my garden later one of my plants was visited by a red admiral - always a joy. There was also a rather intimidating spider in a massive web, which I caught sight of because it was picked out so clearly in the sunlight. I've never seen anything so big in Britain. A passing neighbour said that it had been there for days.

Generally I am quite happy to share my garden with the local wildlife but this really was preying on my mind so after photographing it I moved it to a new home. Hopefully it won't try to relocate! My insect book only has a small section on spiders so I have been unable to identify it so far, but it looks very distinctive so I'm sure I'll track it down. If anyone recognizes it and can let me know what it is, that would be even better.

I went to the movies this evening to see the new Robert De Niro and Al Pacino film Righteous Kill and when I came back there was an email to the Friends of RDW from Mike Scott saying that he had seen a kingfisher back at the Downtown pond. YES! That is just about the best news of my day today.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

More photos from Friday

This is one of the sedum species from the perennial Crassulaceae family. Although it is located in the ecological park it looks suspiciously like the sedum Autumn Joy, which my mother has in her garden and which attracts the bees and butterflies like nothing else at this time of year. I suspect that it is a garden escapee.

Greater Knapweed
Species: Centaurea scabiosa
Family: Asteraceae

I took this photograph in one of the small remaining areas which survives intact in the butterfly sanctuary and is one of the plants which has been seeded there for next year's insects.

Centaurea = from the classical name of a plant in the ancient Greek myths which is said to have healed the wound in the foot of one of the Centaurs, Chiron

Roots and seeds of the knotweed were once thought to have diuretic properties.
Combined with pepper they were thought to resolve loss of appetite
As my book says (the DK Pocket Wild Flowers) - do not attempt!

Speckled Wood
Pararge tircis

This water-lily (Nymphaea) leaf was a deep green at least until two weeks ago. It is now thoroughly autumnal, all reds, yellows and oranges. Its edges have turned under so that instead of the classic lily-pad shape it is now this rather peculiar triangle.

Red Clover
Species: Trifolium pratense
Family: Leguminosae

Another of the species which survives in one corner of the butterfly sanctuary and has been planted in one of the cleared patches in the ecological park - a great pull for the bees.
Tri = 3, folium = leaves.
Pratense from the latin pratum, which means meadow

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Autumn photos - more from Friday

In spite of the fact that it is a staggeringly beautiful day today, what my father would call the perfect September day, I am very unlikely to make it over to the park. Deadlines are deadlines and backlogs are backlogs. So here are some more photographs from yesterday, and hopefully the weather will hold until tomorrow. As usual click on the small image if you want to see the full sized photograph.

Don't forget that Les Butler has of course been active in my absence and has some lovely photographs on his Walks With My Camera blog, which include some photos of the children's contribution to the Stave Hill Open Day and some Flash Earth images of the area. He too has some doubts about the recent work in some parts of the ecological park.

Mike Scott has also been busy on his blog, drplokta's Photostream. There are some stunning photographs of insects - particultarly the dragonflies, and there's a lovely photo of a set of mallard chicks huddling together. I am very envious that he has managed to capture a very clear photograph of a fox in the Russia Dock Woodland. Whenever I see foxes they are alway on the move - like lightning. Mike's photographs on the Flickr website are now organized by most recent date first, so it is very easy to get a view of how things change over time.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Over a week later and it's all change

Life stepped in the way and prevented me updating the blog within seven days of my previous post. It has been nearly two weeks since my last update. I was up in Wales and the contrast between natural life as I left it here in Rotherhithe and the status of counterparts in north Wales was quite an eye opener. Everything was so much slower to flower and ripen in Wales - the blackberries, for example, are only just ready for picking and many of the flowers that have been over for weeks now in the ecological park are still in full bloom. The blackberries here are now completely over. The small-bird life is much more voluminous in our part of Wales at an observable level, due to the prevalence of bird feeders in gardens and the richly damp environment. I wasted many happy minutes watching gold and green finches on my mother's seed feeder.

As usual, you can click on the small image to see the full-sized photograph if required.

I was away longer than I had intended and today was my first opportunity to race over the road with my camera. I was fortunate with the weather - a gorgeous blue sky, a bright yellow sun and a gentle breeze. I braved shorts but took a cardigan, and that turned out to be the perfect combination.

My route was one of my usual ones. First I walk up Onega Gate, cross Redriff Road and go into the Russia Dock Woodland, ambling up the winding woodland path that runs next to the old Russia Dock quayside. I then skirt the side of the green and head for the Downtown Pond, where I linger before going up to Globe Pond, taking the path along the side of it, and going up the steps towards the windmill. I cross in front of the windmill, turning left at the end and spend some time exploring that little area. I then head to the Stave Hill pond before going into the butterfly sanctuary, through to the rest of the nooks and crannies that dot the end of that area and then on back into the Russia Dock Woodland before proceeding home. With camera time, it takes me about an hour.

The first thing to strike me was that autumn really has arrived in the form of yellowing leaves. Most are a very light and bright yellow, with only a few turning slowly to a deeper and richer orange. There is a symphonie fantastique of berries and hips everywhere you look. The greens are still bright and alive, and altogether the effect in the light breeze was one of dancing colours and shapes. Lovely. I picked up a magpie feather - black along one edge, bright blue along the other.

Walking along the edge of the big green I could hear the sound of some fairly heavy machinery coming from the rough area of the Downtown Pond. Picking up my pace and prepared to throw myself, Arthur Dent fashion, in front of any premature Barratt Home bulldozers, I found that it was in fact a man on a vast sit-on lawn mower who was mowing all the green edges into submission. Elsewhere people with strimmers were cutting down the dead vegetation and generally tidying the area up.

At Downtown Pond I was quite simply overjoyed to see my old friend the heron back on his usual perch. It has been many, many weeks now since I last saw him. I looked like a statue, not moving a muscle, not a feather out of place.

Both sides of the Downtown Pond are looking a lot healthier, with much better water levels. Even where the water levels haven't recovered the sediments are very damp and muddy and not cracked and desiccated as they had been only a couple of weeks ago.

At Globe Pond there was a similar story - the water looked much healthier and there was the sound of water falling into it. There was a moorhen having a lovely bath and creating a tremendous din in the process, and there were a set of six Canada geese. Two of the geese were on the round pontoon preening and the others were propelling themselves gently around the pond in the sunshine.

The stream behind Globe Pond is still looking very sorry for itself with an unhealthy skin over the water surface, but a bit more rain should soon fix that. It is sad to see what little summer we had depart, but I hope that it will be a good chance for the waterways to recover.

There was nothing much to report up at the windmill, except for some very fine berry displays, all bright oranges and deep reds, lovely in the sunshine against the deep green of the leaves.

At Stave Hill pond there were a few dragonflies and damselflies, one of which obligingly stopped on a light stone for a brief moment. I have never been there when that stone is not hosting a bit of sun-worship by a damselfly. The waterlily has now gone over and its leaves have curled under and turned a deep and bright colourful orange/red.

My visits in the parks are never dull, but rounding the corner into the butterfly sanctuary in Stave Hill Ecological Park was something of a shock. I had read, when I was in Wales, that several breeds of butterfly have a second brood which emerges in August and September and can last until well into October. Ever the optimisit I was hoping to catch sight of some of these late-comers. I was also aiming to find the hypericum which, when last seen, was hosting a splendid knotgrass caterpillar to see whether or not he was still there - they can take weeks to form chrysalids. Instead of the wildlife exploration I had anticipated I rounded the corner to see that the entire sanctuary, except for a very small end at the far end, had been completely denuded of vegetation. It was a very severe crew cut. They hypericum was just one of an entire field of grasses, weeds and flowers which had vanished. Instead there are now cleared patches of earth, stringed off, with notices to inform that they have been seeded with flower species which will attract bees and butterflies.

I know nothing about wildlife management, but I do wonder if part of the objective of a butterfly sanctuary shouldn't be to preserve caterpillars and chrysalids which would have populated the place next year with a new generation, rather than trying to attract them in from elsewhere? It has clearly been a bad year for butterflies and I would have thought that the preservation of the habitat in which butterflies have laid eggs, and in which the plants feed caterpillars and support chrysalids would have been a good idea. The planting was clearly a good idea but wouldn't it have been better to clear a few patches rather than the whole area? I have probably missed the point entirely.

There were few butterflies around, and certainly nothing unusual. Likewise with the bees. Even the crickets, confined now to the small areas of longer grass, were somewhat muted.

As I left the ecological park I saw a fox moving across the path and into the undergrowth - another missed photo opportunity! I would love to know how many foxes live in the park and the Woodland.

After Stave Hill I walked home through the Woodland. It was all very beautiful with the bright sun filtering through the trees and the intense blue of the sky forming the perfect backdrop for the autumn colours. I saw several hoverflies and speckled wood butterfly, all soaking up the sun. There were a great many squirrels running around, many of them very bold.

Later in the afternoon I had to go to Tesco. It was an act of desperation. I have always thought of Tesco as something of a hell-hole but it has descended into unutterable carnage as the result of the expansion works. Walking along the edge of the dock along Brunswick Quay I looked out for any interesting bird life, but there was nothing unusual. There was the usual mix of ducks, Great Crested Grebes and coots, and a few seagulls bobbed around. The fishermen were out in force in spite of the breeze, which had become a lot stronger and was now very cold in spite of the sunshine. Quite suddenly a peacock butterfly landed on my leg before lifting off almost immediately to head off over the dock. I have seen very few of these this year, so even that quick glimpse was quite a treat.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Stave Hill on Saturday

Saturday was a wonderful bright sunny day. I was spring cleaning a bedroom, looking out of the window into the day beyond and suddenly realized I really had something better to do than waste my time on a room which would happily wait for a rainy day.

Again, the results with the new macro lens are a bit mixed. I seriously need to get in some more practise.

Trying to relocate yesterday's caterpillar I disturbed a fox who was sunbathing. I sat still for a while hoping that it might come back, but that plan was foiled by my mobile phone which I couldn't find and whose ring tone grew incrementally and offensively louder, and by a kid on one of those wretched motorbikes. circling Stave Hill. So I diverted my attention back to the hypericum and its furry occupant, which was still there. There were also a number of rather lovely green shield bug insects (hemiptera - Palomena prasina), which I photographed. They are bright pink on their undersides.

As I roved through the grass looking for further likely subjects I saw a small dog who I recogized instantly, with some surprise- Bijou! Following the lead I found Jeremy Pender on the other end. It was super to catch up, as Jeremy now lives in Yorkshire. Shortly afterwards we were joined by Lorraine, with whom I have had many email conversations but never managed to meet. Lorraine had five dogs in tow, and between all of the dogs and the three of us we managed to cause some quite substantial chaos on the pathway. As we talked I saw a man with a camera in his hand approaching us, and guessed that this must be Les Butler to whom I was at last able to say hello in person.

After Jeremy and Lorraine departed with their happily noisy small rabble, I took Les to inspect the caterpillar and talk photographs and macro lenses. We watched a rather amazing little winged insect land on the hypericum and crawl into the grasses - long, thin and black with a bright yellow section on its back. Neither of us was able to take a photograph of it because it vanished into the undergrowth so quickly. Looking through my insect book I am fairly confident that it was an Amlyteles armatorius. I have never seen one before but apparently they are common in the summer, particularly on umbels.

I had to leave, so I left Les to head out towards the Stave Hill pond. As I reached the green, where people were playing football and packing up picnics, I heard the sound of small dogs barking. I turned to see Jeremy and Lorraine with Bijou in the middle of a group of other dogs, livening life up for everyone. I smiled and waved before going home.

Local events

Open House 20th and 21st September
Many buildings in Rotherhithe Area will be open to visitors. Walks will leave the Angel Public House at 11.30; 13.30 and 15.30 on both Saturday & Sunday

24th September , 7.30 The Rotherhithe and Bermondsey Local History Group 100 years of the Rotherhithe Road Tunnel.

RBLHG arranges talks and events on the last Wednesday of the month in The Old Mortuary, St Marychurch Street, SE16 4JE. Visit:

Stave Hill Ecology Park Open Day 20th September
I was walking in the park yesterday and saw a poster advertising the Stave Hill Open Day on 20th September. All sorts of events will be taking place. Any Bric-a-brac will be welcome for the day’s events, and can be delivered to the TRUE shed.

Historical walks around Rotherhithe
Three FREE walks will be run by Time & Talents in the area. The theme of Saturday, 13th was the history of the Riverside. Future ones will be on the history of Surrey Docks, Rotherhithe village and Royalty and Maritime and a Peninsula coastal Walk. All ages are welcome. The tour will finish with refreshments and a tour of The Old Mortuary, St Marychurch Street. Further details contact Time and Talents, The Old Mortuary, St Marychurch Street, LONDON SE16 4JE, Telephone: 0207 231 7845

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Stave Hill on Friday

Glued to my computer last Friday I glanced briefly out of my window and was somewhat astonished to see a brief glimpse of sunshine through the clouds. I instantly decided to abandon my keyboard and cross my fingers that the sun would last. I was very lucky because the sun stayed out. I had the park completely to myself, failing to bump into anyone else whilst I was there.

I had a new macro lens attached to the camera. It was the first time I had used it and I have not yet managed become confident with it, so I had some mixed results.

The blackberries had nearly all gone over, and the untidily desiccated remains look rather sad. Elsewhere everything remains mainly green, but there are few other colours surviving. There were very few butterflies around and not many bees, but walking to inspect a small-flowered hypericum I saw a fabulous caterpillar, which Les later identified as a moth caterpillar: Knotgrass caterpillar (Acronicta rumicis) . It is a member of the Noctuidae family, which includes over 25,000 moth species. The moth itself is almost greyscale - a bizarre contrast to its caterpillar phase. The fly below is a Greenbottle (Lucilia caesar) which is a member of the blow-fly (Calliphoridae) family.

There are still "Veg. Survey" notices on fabric dotted all over the place, and I am still none the wiser what that is all about.

Everywhere I went there was the deafening cacophany of school children. I seem to have timed my tour of the ecology park with play time. I don't remember hearing the noise before, but it must have been there prior to the summer vacation.

Rounding Stave Hill itself I heard the sound of birds at the corner of Dock Hill Avenue, and paused to watch them - lots of pied wagtails and a small collection of absolutely delightful reed warblers. Unfortunately they were on the other side of a mesh fence and I was unable to photograph them. But they were lovely to watch and hear.

I went up to look at the sculpture and there was a bizarre scene worthy of Marcel Duchamp - adorning the bronze map was a single spring onion and a single tomato. Brown bottle glass surrounded the plinth, but thankfully there was no new graffiti.

Monday, September 8, 2008

REMINDER - TONIGHT - Frogmore Presentation re Surrey Quays Leisure Park

Don’t forget that the presentation by FROGMORE, the Surrey Quays Leisure Park developers, will take place tonight, MONDAY 8 SEPTEMBER 2008, at 7PM, at the ALFRED SALTER SCHOOL, Quebec Way, during the Canada Water Consultation Forum meeting.

If you are interested, concerned or wish to know what the owners of the Leisure Park are planning to do in our area, please come to the presentation.

An Agenda for the meeting is available from the Canada Water Campaign's Meeting Dates page.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Update re revised Barratt Home planning application for Downtown site

Thanks to Kam Hong Leung for the information that he has (and presumably other residents in the immediate area of the Downtown site) has received a letter a letter from Southwark Council dated 4-9-2008 which invited written comments of objection or support for the revised Barratt Homes planning application to be submitted within 14 days, before which time no decisions will be made. Responses should be submitted to:

Case Office: Brett Henderson
Email Address:

Telephone: 020 7525 5521

The case number for the planning application is 08/AP/1563. Details of this can be found on the Southwark Council website by clicking here. The page gives summary details of the application, its history and current status. The top-level description reads as follows:

    Demolition of existing health centre and the construction of 213 new dwellings including affordable housing, in 2 part one, part four storey residential buildings with undercroft car park (Blocks A/B and G); 1 part two, part four storey residential building with undercroft car park (Block C); 2 four storey residential buildings (Block D and F); 2 part one, part two and part three storey terraced housing buildings (Block H); 1 part one, part four storey health centre (1425.5 sq ms), community (40sq ms) and residential building (Block E), together with associated car parking, a new children's play area, landscaping and infrastructure works.

There are two other tabs on the page - Documentation and Consultation. The Documentation tab provides just what it says on the tin - links to all the main documentation surrounding the application. There’s some fascinating stuff in there. The Consultation tab is divided into two sections: Internal Consultees and Neighbours Consulted. Thanks very much to Kam for bringing these pages to my attention.

For more information about local objections to the current plans for the site at SE16 6NP see the Downtown Defence Campaign's web page.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Water problems in Russia Dock Woodland

I bumped into Steve Cornish yesterday and he was able to fill me in on a number of exciting things that are happening, which I will report as they unfold. However he also told me something about the past problems with the water levels from the Downtown ponds and into the channels that runs under the bridges along the former Russia Dock quayside.

The most obvious culprits are the plants. The giant reeds and the smaller weed-like dandelion carpets are consuming large quantities of water from the ponds. The reed beds have grown massively and there is simply not enough water in the small ponds to support this expansion.

I hadn't realized that the ponds are actually lined. Steve says that in the past the lining has been breached, and this resulted in water draining out into the groundwater rather than flowing down the channel. Subsidence of some of the granite blocks may have caused damage to the lining which could have contributed to the falling water levels.

Another potential problem is that water-pipes which lie beneath the ground surface may become blocked or may leak. High pressure water hoses can reveal leaks and can reduce blockages, but this has not yet been attempted this year.

Jazz club to open at Moby Dick, Russell Place

I was in the Moby Dick yesterday evening for a quick drink with a friend and there was the sound of sawing and hammering coming from above. A perusal of the Southwark News today reveals all - a new jazz and swing club is being launched in the upstairs bar of the Moby. Called Monroe's, the launch event will take place on Sunday. Club singer Phil Lee has been employed by Millwall FC as a pre- and post-match entertainer, and the owners of the new club expect Millwall FC supporters to attend the events. Initially Monroe's will be open on Sunday afternoons, but they will look at opening on Fridays and Saturdays in the future.

I have no idea how that will impact Sunday nights in the immediate vicinity of the pub at closing time - better than Friday or Saturday nights I suspect. It is a matter of waiting to see what type of clientele the club attracts.

Old Father Thames gives up his secrets (updated)

This is more than slightly off-topic again - but I have become fascinated by the ships that were built along the Thames and sailed from here all over the world. Of course this one wasn't built on the Thames (although similar ships certainly were), but she did sink in the Thames estuary! Tenous, I know.

The Dovenby was one of those, and she was found recently by the Wessex Archaeology investigation of the Thames, covered by the BBC series Thames Shipwrecks: A Race Against Time. There is original footage of her, which was shown on last night's episode, and she was a quite beautiful sailing ship with an steel hull. The source of the photographs on this page is the website of the State Library of Victoria.

She was built in 1891 by Pickersgill in Sunderland for one Peter Iresdale., and was the second ship to hold this name. She sank off the Nore lightship in the Thames estuary - after a trip all the way from Lobos D'Afuera in Peru with a cargo of guano, en route to Antwerp. She had three masts built of steel (of which a part of one was found and retrieved), with many layers of sail, and was 70m long. The BBC episode called her "a great ship of Empire". A quite extraordinary vessel. I wish that I could find out more about her, but there is almost nothing on the Web. The best websites for ships are all those which look at naval vessels, and the Dovenby was commissioned for commercial purposes. I may find out more from seeing the same episode on BBC iPlayer, because I missed the entire first half of the programme - hopefully it will become available in the next couple of days and will tell me more.

There's another article about this on the Times Online. Here's an extract about The Dovenby, but other ships and boats are described too:
For a ship as beautiful as the Dovenby, 2,575 tons of bird droppings were not the most glamorous cargo. She'd picked up her load in Peru and was en route for Antwerp when she was intercepted by a Royal Navy cruiser off Falmouth, and taken to the Thames. Guano, normally used as fertiliser, could help to make explosives.

The Dovenby was among the last ships from the great age of sail, when Britannia ruled the waves. Ships such as the Cutty Sark had once been the fastest afloat. By 1914, when the Dovenby sank, that title belonged to steamships. Windpower was cheap and still useful for hauling heavy bulk cargoes, so steel-hulled sailing ships were built. Between 1870 and 1920, 60 per cent of all new ships were British, and in 1914 the British Merchant Marine was 18.9 million tons, four times the size of its biggest rival, Germany.

The Dovenby was being led into the Thames when a fog bank rolled out. With almost no visibility, she dropped all sail and drifted. Suddenly the bow of the steamship Sindoro appeared and the two ships collided. The Dovenby sank in less than three minutes, with her helmsman aboard.