Saturday, May 30, 2009

More from the 29th May 2009

Painted Lady
Vanessa cardui

Resident in north Africa and southern Europe
A summer visitor to northern Europe, some returning to the Mediterranean in early autumn
Prefers nectar from thistle (its larval foodplant) and knapweed

I have a photograph of a Painted Lady sitting on my watch in one of the most barren
areas of the eastern Sahara desert, drinking water from my wrist. Remarkable.

Sambucus nigra

Onobrychis vicifolia

I am fairly confident that this is an Oedemera beetle- perhaps nobilis?
It fits the description in my books for the male of the specis.

Solanum dulcamara


Friday, May 29, 2009

End of May

Back from Wales, which was very beautiful in a very intense way. I have never seen growth like it in all the years that my family have lived there.

I went over the road on May 29th and found that the vegetation is growing in a very healthy and happy way. Everything is very green, and the damp areas are enjoying a particularly rich time.

The first thing that I noticed as I crossed to the winding path was the squishing of cherries underfoot. When I looked up I startled multiple birds of diferent species who all took to the wing leaving me staring at cherries of different ripeness and colours overhead.

The hawthorn is now over but elder is everywhere, it stiny white flowers clustering together in big flat rounded disks. Wild roses are distributed throughout both the woodland and ecological park, some of them beautifully perfumed. Willow fluff is falling like snow, coating everhting and floating like dust on ponds and channels. The honesty and garlic mustard flowers are over, as are most of the red and white nettles. The yellow flag is having a party and the reeds are growing beautifully. In the butterfly sanctuary I was overjoyed to see the the Budleia globosa has come into flower and is a riot of insect life.

At both the Downtown pond and Stave Hill pond the damsel flies were out in force. In the former case both Azure damsleflies and Large Reds were there in force but in the latter only the Azures were in evidence. There were a few aquatic birds with chicks on all the ponds (mallards and moorhens), two Canada Geese on Globe Pond and some coots. magpies dominated the terrestrial birds, closely followed by blackbirds and a few great tits, but there wasn't much else to see or hear in the trees.

There were dozens of butterflies everywhere. Sadly I didn't manage to photograph more than a couple - there was a slight breeze and they were refusing to settle. Those observed included a Peacock, three Painted Ladies, a Red Admiral, some unidentified whites, and a Common Blue. Dozens of tiny dark winged insects which may have been bufterflies or daytime moths moved in clouds and resettled quickly on the vetch and birdsfoot trefoil in the butterfly sanctuary (I'll post photos in the next couple of days).

Of the insects the bees were most in evidence, lots of different types enjoying the Budleia globosa in the sun. Vast white daisies were attracting all sorts of tiny characters, which sat in the sun on the surface of the flowers themselves or, in the case of the ghastly blackfly, clustered along the stems in thick communities.

On Greenland Dock the former inlets into Norway Dock is now home to coots and moorhen couples with their chicks. A pair of Great Crested Grebes were sharing a pontoon with two coots and their chicks. This surprised me because coots are usually fierecely territorial. Apart from a single swan there was not much else to report.

I'll post more photographs over the next few days. The rose to the right, which is a short walk in the direction of Globe Pond from Downtown Pond has the most heavenly perfume - keep an eye and a nose open if you are over in that area.

A little gruff humour

All examples of expenses taken from an article in The Times at the weekend which summarized the most recent of the MP expense claims to have been revealed by The Telegraph.

A Message from your MP

I want a floating duck house
I need to clear my moat
I have to mend my tennis court
That’s why I need your vote.

I have to build a portico
My swimming pool needs mending
My lovely plants need horse manure
And the Aga needs much tending

A chandelier is vital
Mock Tudor boards are great
My hanging baskets won awards
And I’ve earned a tax rebate.

I need a glitter toilet seat.
My piano so needs tuning
Maltesers help me stay awake
And my orchard must need pruning

I could have said the rules were wrong
And often thought I should,
But somehow it was easier
To profit whilst I could

The public really have to see
That the rules are there to test
And that by ripping off the taxpayer
We were merely doing our best

The Speaker of the House became
Our sacrificial beast,
But the public are still braying for
More corpses at the feast.

What do the public want from us,
Those vote-wielding ingrates?
They really should be grateful
To be financing our estates.

Sucking dry state coffers
Is so very much in fashion that
It seemed a shame to miss the chance
To join the trend with passion

The message is so clear, you see,
(We merely learned it late):
That the British way of living
Is to screw the bloody state.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Once there were swarms of butterflies in our skies

The Guardian, UK
(By Patrick Barkham, author of the forthcoming A Butterfly Year)

There was recently a fascinating article in The Guardian (27/04/09) about the challenges facing the butterfly in modern times.

As well as peticides and climate change other man made problems have lead to dwindling numbers. In some cases only recently have the lifecycles of certain species been fully understood and, as some of these can be remarkably complex, this has prevented butterfly conservationists from being able to prevent or at least slow down the decline of some species. This is a truly fascinating article about butterflies, what different species require in order to survive, and how changes in the landscape are inevitably causing them difficulties. It is also very well written.

Here's a short extract, but do visit the above page for the full story:

"Whichever way you look at it, it's linked back to the climate," says Tom Brereton, head of butterfly monitoring at Butterfly Conservation. Climate change, he says, is a particular problem for our butterflies because our countryside is so fragmented. Decades of ploughing up grassland and ripping out hedgerows means that more than half our butterfly species are now confined to small islands of land. When the climate makes the current sites unsuitable, butterflies will no longer be able to fly elsewhere and find new sites. "If you had an intact countryside, butterflies should be going through the roof, but the species can't move through the countryside like they once would have done," says Brereton. "Habitats are too fragmented. There are vacant suitable habitats in parts of the countryside but the butterflies won't necessarily find them."

Our largest and most charismatic native butterfly, the swallowtail, was once found across the fens of East Anglia and beyond until the draining of these wetlands for arable agriculture caused its extinction. It is now confined to the Norfolk Broads. When global warming causes the Broads to be inundated with sea water - widely expected within 100 years - the swallowtail will die unless it is relocated by humans to suitable inland sites. These new sites will have to be meticulously created to cultivate a single, rather neurotic wetland plant used by this notoriously picky species.

Conservationists playing God like this has already happened. The last species to become extinct in Britain was the large blue in 1979. Despite heroic scientific endeavour, the full complexity of this butterfly's weird lifecycle was not understood until it was too late. When tiny, the large blue caterpillar throws itself on to the ground and secretes a tantalising scent which tricks ants into carefully taking it into their underground nests, whereupon the nasty caterpillar devours ant grubs until it is fully grown. Its dependence on ants was known but not that it relied on a very particular species, which in turn needed a very specific kind of rough grassland to survive. So, in the 1980s, conservationists brought stock from Sweden and successfully re-established the butterfly on a small field on the edge of Dartmoor. Dad and I were ticked off by a warden when we found this secret meadow, still known only as Site X. The large blue has since been successfully reintroduced into other areas.

With this kind of ingenuity, could we turn the whole country into a giant butterfly farm? Could we save every species by reintroducing them to tailor-made nature reserves or boosting populations with specimens from abroad? "We might do it for a few species, but it's not the basis for a conservation strategy," says Warren. "What about all the other insects? We want to get the habitats right and butterflies will tell us if we are getting it right, and then we'll be getting it right for biodiversity as a whole."

There is also a section at the end of the article which offers four steps for the public to take in order to help save Britain's butterflies. Three of these are sound and practical, but the fourth ("buy produce from farmers who manage their land to support wildlife)" might be slightly more difficult to achieve in this part of London.

Wind, Rain, and Wales

Between the wind, the rain and my current visit to Wales I've failed to catch up with the park in the last week and a bit, but there has been some good news.

There are several families of baby hedgehogs in Stave Hill Ecological Park, coot and Great Crested Grebe chicks on the dock and tit chicks in the bird boxes in the Russia Dock Woodland, all very noisy!

The crushed and leaking water pipes have been replaced in the Woodland and the results in the Downtown Ponds have been immediately visible, saving them from drying up completely and restoring them to their former glory.

The new bridge sculpture is in place over the bridge beyond Globe Pond, and looks great. It was vandalized within days of being officially launched but blacksmith Kevin Boys, based at the Surrey Docks Farm, was on hand almost immediately to repair it and it has been left untouched ever since.

Finally the application for Green Flag Award status for the Woodland seems to have gone very well indeed! We won't hear the results until late June or early July, but the response from the judges who came to inspect the park last week was very positive. There are lots of events coming up in Stave Hill Ecological Park, details of which you can find in the calendar on the Recent News page of the Friends of Russia Dock Woodland website.

Downtown Pond before new pipes:

Downtown Pond after new pipes:

(Photos by Steve Cornish, Chairman of the Friends of Russia Dock Woodland)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Last lot from 10th


Garlic Mustard, with as yet unidentified insect.

Perennial cornflower
Centaurea montana

Albion School Bridge sculpture
Unfortunately I arrived when the sun was in quite the wrong direction so this is a very poor photograph of the new bridge sculpture, but I'll redo it shortly. Details of two of the flowers, the theme of this bridge, are shown below

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More from 10th May, Sunday

Many of the shrubs are still in flower, with white flower clusters and dark green leaves. Much of the hawthorn, which has such a fine aroma, is still in flower, but many of the flowers have gone over and are now brown. The cherry laurel flowers are now completely over but they are coming into fruit. Likewise, the cherry trees which had such wonderful blossom are now producing green and pink fruits, which the birds will undoubtedly raid as soon as they become ripe.

Unripe cherries

Still trying to identify

Guelder rose
Euonymus europaeus

Sambucus nigra

Aquilegia, a garden escapee

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

More from Sunday 10th May

As well as the more obvious floral effusions there are tiny little contributions which hide in the grass and often need to be looked for. Tiny vetches, speedwells and birds foot trefoils can be found throughout the ecological park and in parts of the open areas in the woodland.

There aren't many birds to be seen - far too busy feeding their offspring, I assume. I stood and listened to one of the bird boxes where a cacophony of noise made it very clear that a family had made their home there. The noise level rose to even greater levels when a Great Tit flew in and seconds later flew out again, obviously having left its food offering.

The damselflies at the Downtown Pond were great to see. One of them, a female Azure (shown below), appears in neither of my insect books and I found it online on the British Dragonfly Society website, where it says that this colouring is characteristic of the newly emerged insect. If you want to see what local insects are around in this area, the best resource is easily Les Butler's Walks With My Camera which is attracting quite a following.

Common Vetch
Vicia sativa

Azure Damselfly (newly emerged)
Coenagrion puella

Germander Speedwell
Veronica chamaedrys

Dwarf form of Birdsfoot Trefoil
Lotus corinculatus

Ribwort Plantain
Plantago lanceolata

Still trying to find this one.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Happy first birthday to this blog

I've done what I originally intended to do, and have completed an entire year of photographs of the Russia Dock Woodland and Stave Hill Ecological Park. It has been a revelation to learn my way around the park and its wildlife over the last 12 months, and to introduce some new people to its many benefits.

The photo to the left was taken on the 11th May 2008, when it was still hot in the park at gone 6pm.

It will be fascinating to see how it has changed on a month by month basis, if at all, in the year to come.

Here are some more photographs from yesterday's walk in the Russia Dock Woodland and Stave Hill Ecological Park.

Large Red Damselfly
Erythromma najas

Seet Briar /Eglantine
Rosa rubignosa

Tiny fish at Downtown Pond
Without the recent replacement of pipework in the Russia Dock Woodland the twin Downtown Ponds would almost certainly have dried up completely by now.

Chalkhill Blue
Lysandra coridon
A very blurred photograph but it although I've seen several examples of this specie I have not managed to photograph one at rest. This one was at the absolute extreme 300mm end of the range of my telephoto lens, which is its weakest focal length.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Yellow Flag Lillies and Roses

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the blog, and many of the flowers that I saw today were so familiar from this time last year, giving me multiple flashbacks of the sense of surprise I had when I first started to investigate the woodland and ecological park with camera in hand.

I have become so much more in tune with individual sections of the park, and even individual trees and shurbs, so whenever I cross the road and enter the Russia Dock Woodland I have the sense of greeting new aspects of a very old friend.

Today the most noticeable changes were the appearence of yellow flag water lilly flowers, the profusion of shrub roses (some of which have the most wonderful perfume) and the recovery of water in the Downtown ponds. The Downtown pond was the best place to see pond life today. There were several damselflies dashing around, blues and reds glinting in the sun and there were dozens of tiny fish. As well as yellow flag coming out the usual reeds were looking tall and fine in the sun, and a single moorhend was enjoying the water and the sun.

I will post more in the next few days about today's outing.

The Duff

Built in 1794 by Peter Everitt Mestaer, King and Queen Dock, Rotherhithe, for J. Carbine.

03 March 1794 launched under the name DUFF.

Tonnage 267 ton (bm). Draught 14ft. Armament 10 - 6pdrs. guns.

Lloyds Register of 1795 gives, that she was bound for Gibraltar under command of Captain P.Gordon, underneath the destination port Gibraltar is marked, as being bound for Port Jackson, Australia. I could not find her in the arrivals of Sydney, that most probably she did not make this voyage.

When the Pacific discoveries of Captain Cook made the people of England more aware of the pagan population of Polynesia. As a result of this awareness a number of meeting were held by those concerned with the propagation of Christianity and the London Missionary Society (MSL) was founded.

1796 The Duff got a charter for a cargo of tea from the East India Company, so the ship could be self supporting for the voyage with missionaries to the Pacific, and after the missionaries were disembarked on the Pacific Islands, the DUFF would sail to China for a cargo of tea. Of she was chartered by the London Missionary Society or bought is not clear, her owner is given during this voyage as J. Cox & Co.

The DUFF was under command of Captain James Wilson a retired East India Company Captain, he offered his service to the London Missionary Society (LSM), and he was appointed captain of the DUFF. First the Duff sailed from the Thames on 10 August 1796 with on board 14 ministers, 22 men skilled in various crafts, a surgeon, and a gentleman’s man servant.

23 September 1796 sailed from Portsmouth for the South Sea, and via the Cape Verde Islands arrived at Rio de Janeiro on 13 November for fresh provision, water and firewood for the galley stove.

Already on 04 March 1797 she sighted the high land of Tahiti and they arrived at Matavai Bay the next day. When she arrived the DUFF had on board 37 missionaries and artisans and their families, who had to be resettled in the South Pacific on the islands of Tahiti, Tonga and the Marquesas.

07 March the missionaries went on shore, and were met by King Pomare and his Queen on the beach. After the missionaries were settled, the DUFF sailed away on 26 March for the Friendly Islands (Tonga) were he landed 10 missionaries at Tongatabu.

See the above page for the full story.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A working river's last hurrah before the bulldozers ball

Times Online (Marcus Binney)

Windows on to vanished worlds are enthralling, and few more so than the ten-mile photographic panorama of the Thames riverfront commissioned by the Port of London Authority in 1937. From London Bridge as far as Greenwich it records wharves, warehouses, boatyards, cranes, pontoons, piers, pumping stations, quays and watermen’s steps. Page by page, the 1937 panoramas are matched by the authors’ own panoramas, taken first in 1997 and repeated in 2008.

Here is the story of the Pool of London between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, of Shadwell, Limehouse and the Isle of Dogs, Bermondsey, Deptford and Rotherhithe.

The most telling photographs, across a double-page spread, are of the Wapping riverfront in 1937 and 2008, between Steam Wharf and St Helen’s Wharf, where not a trace of spice mills, colonial warehouses and river stairs remain. This was a world badly hit by wartime bombing but even more, as later photographs make chillingly clear, by crass 1960s clearances and rapacious 1980s redevelopment of docklands. Let the fate of St Katharine Dock never be forgotten, where the mighty warehouses by the great engineer Thomas Telford were felled one after another by Taylor Woodrow. A Warehouse (warehouses were named alphabetically) left the world in flames as a backdrop to a film about the Blitz (to be replaced by the hideous Tower Hotel). C Warehouse followed soon afterwards and B Warehouse was condemned as a brontosaurus, incapable of beneficial use. Since then the conversion of dozens of riverside warehouses as apartments and lofts have shown the needlessness of the sacrifice.

The photographs in the 1937 panorama are labelled above the buildings like 19th-century prints, naming intriguing places such as Oporto Wharf, Kidney Stairs, and the Limehouse Cut Entrance. Morton’s Sufferance Wharf specialised in preserved foods, chocolates and confectionery, Hubbuck’s Wharf dealt in paints and Blood Alley was named by the dockers because sacks of stick sugar chafed and cracked their skin. At Millwall Dock pneumatic elevators sucked grain from ships’ holds at over 300 tons an hour into a 13-storey granary, while Chubb, Round & Co’s fibre works produced rope and matting from mountains of coconuts.

The fascination of docklands warehouses is that they have an architectural language of their own, true to classical proportions and traditional window rhythms, and complete with arcades, parapets and cornices.

See the above page for the full story.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Centre for Wildlife Gardening

Centre for Wildlife Gardening

An idyllic garden within a quiet residential street, the centre has an award winning visitor centre offering practical advice to city gardeners. It’s the perfect place to both learn and relax.

The reserve
A favourite place to visit for local families, gardeners and wildlife watchers from further afield, the Centre for Wildlife Gardening in Peckham has developed beyond all recognition over the last 20 years. Its origins are as an old council depot in the late 1980s, but it is now home to an award-winning visitors' centre demonstrating innovative environmental building techniques, which provides a base for school parties and the 'Happy Flower' project for adults with learning disabilities. In addition the centre has a demonstration wildlife garden with a range of inspiring mini habitats, a wild flower nursery, and some very well used community raised beds. You can pick up some plants from our stall, not to mention a pot of Peckham honey from our very own hives – delicious.

Habitats you'll see
Minibeast village, summer meadow, woodland copse, stag beetle sanctuary, wildlife pond and bog garden, flowery chalk bank

Species you might spot
Frogs and newts; grasshoppers and stag beetles; songbirds; foxes

What’s in my backyard?
Find out what species have been spotted on this reserve with the fantastic WIMBY tool, run by GiGL – Greenspace Information for Greater London.

Visit us
28 Marsden Road, London, SE15 4EE
020 7252 9186 or email us
Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday: 10:30 - 16:30

Get involved
Search for events happening at this site – click here
Search for volunteering sessions at this site – click here

School visits
Fancy arranging a school trip to this site? Our experienced staff can provide your class with a hands-on outdoor learning experience directly linked with the National Curriculum. Have a look at our education pages for more information.

Site status
Site of Borough Importance

Further site information can be found on:
London Wildweb

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Greenland Dock and South Dock barge owners re residential fee

South London Press (Sam Masters)

This item actually dates back a week ago, to the 27th April 2009 but I've only just noticed it. Those who live on residential moorings on the British Waterways managed canal system have always been charged a residential mooring fee, which covers basic services and reflects the higher level of usage that residential users represent on the waterways. I lived on a narrow boad on a residential mooring on the Grand Union canal in the late 80s and had no issue with paying this fee, which was a lot more expensive than that being asked of the dock dwellers, but maybe I'm missing a point somewhere.

ANGRY barge dwellers are threatening to “stand up” to a council that introduced a fee to live on the river.

More than 130 people live on the barges in a community at South and Greenland docks, Rotherhithe.

They have rejected Southwark council demands for a £650 licence to stay living on water.

The authority said it introduced the charge to stop river residents avoiding paying council tax.

If they refuse to pay the licence fee, they could be forced to leave the docks within two weeks.

Kevin Bridgey, owner of the Vertouwen barge, has been living at his dockside mooring for more than 10 years.

He claimed the council was using “bully-boy” tactics to make people pay the charges.

He said that last Friday he got a phone call asking him to sign-on to the new arrangement for residency, but refused to agree to the terms.

Mr Bridgey said: “We are trying to be recognised as a community.

“It’s not about the council tax at all.

"If they turned around to us and said, ‘pay council tax’ that would be another matter.

“They are using bully-boy tactics to get money and we have to stand up to it.

"We have got less rights than the gypsy community here.”

Mr Bridgey claimed boat owners had already been hit with a 25 per cent hike on mooring fees by the authority, bringing the total cost of mooring a barge to £7,000 a year.

A council spokeswoman said the authority was dedicated to protecting the boating community.

She said: “Like every other marina in the country they must abide by the terms and conditions or find another marina.

“Those boat owners who choose to live permanently on their boat will be using the borough’s services – school, rubbish collections, roads, libraries, and so on.

“It is only fair to every other council tax payer that boat owners contribute to those costs.”

North Southwark and Bermondsey MP Simon Hughes has written to Southwark’s director of environment and housing, Gill Davies, asking that she attend a meeting with berth holders to resolve the situation.

In the letter Mr Hughes said forcing residents to leave the docks if they do not agree to council terms was “completely unhelpful and insensitive”.

(My photo on this post)

Telegraph article about nature conservation

This is an irritatingly garrulous article about TV wildlife presenter Chris Packham, but it does highlight some interesting points about the relationship between dog owners and wildlife. Here’s an extract from the article but see the Telegraph web page for the entire story:

Three hours after returning from his morning inspection of wildlife in the New Forest, Packham is still seething after a spat with a man who wouldn't acknowledge the damage his spaniels were doing. "I got up at first light and wandered around for two-and-a-half hours," he says. "I saw redstart, wood warblers, a cuckoo and two roe deer; luckily, my dogs did not see them."

Had they done so, he would have beaten a hasty retreat. Not so the dog-walker whose spaniels were careering around the wet heathland. "I asked the man if he could see that speck in the sky, a curlew. 'My dogs never kill birds,' he replied. He didn't understand that the bird was flying around, not sitting on its nest, because his dogs had disturbed it.

"It happens all the time. Each day, 25,000 hours of dog-walking take place in the New Forest. The heathland is home to several 'red-listed' species of birds on the conservation list, and 45 per cent of those birds nest on the ground. During foot and mouth, when dogs were banned from the area, we had a bumper year for birds. Since the dogs have returned, bird numbers have declined."

Packham can't understand why the British won't make the connection between their behaviour and our disappearing wildlife. "When I was a boy, we all arrived at school with dog poo on our shoes because people didn't scoop it up. That's no longer acceptable. Things change. Yet people still feel they have a right to let their dogs off the lead because they have always done so."

Cat lovers – among whom he does not number – are even more blinded by sentiment. He knows he is in danger of sounding like "the Pol Pot of conservation", but it infuriates him that owners refuse to acknowledge the carnage wrought by these fluffy, domesticated killers. "Sixty million songbirds are killed every year by cats. If cats were kept in at night, predation would be cut by 50 per cent. If they were all fitted with bleeper collars, it would reduce daytime predation by 45 per cent. Most important of all: they should be neutered.

Last lot from May 1st

Butterfly sanctuary, recovering its ground vegetation at last

Downtown pond, showing recovering water levels

Enjoying the green in Russia Dock Woodland

Galium aparine
(Not yet in flower)

Sacrophaga carnaria