Author: Sean McCormack (Page 1 of 2)

Lighting up Lammas Enclosure: bad news for biodiversity!

Several concerned residents have been in touch with EWG to ask if we could advise on a proposed new floodlit tennis facility in Lammas Enclosure, a sanctuary for people and nature between Walpole and Lammas Park. We won’t go into too much detail here as it’s all in my comment below, and want to reiterate that we can’t always wade in on local planning proposals. But this is another classic example of poor planning that will have a seriously detrimental impact on an important wildlife corridor and pocket of green space in our urban landscape.

Lammas Enclosure (Go Parks London)

Here’s where to search for the proposals on the council website:

https://pam.ealing.gov.uk/online-applications/

The application reference is 212116FUL.

And here is the objecting comment from me:

“The main issue that makes this proposal inappropriate is that it’s yet another encroachment and fragmentation of important green space for biodiversity in our already pressured urban landscape. We are in a biodiversity crisis, and pockets of green space like this are crucial so that both flora and fauna can survive. They are also crucial as wildlife corridors allowing threatened wildlife species to move from one habitat to the next as well as being important habitat in themselves. The more we chop up these spaces, or light them at night, the more pressure our biodiversity faces and ultimately it is lost over time through this perpetual chipping away and degradation of the quality of the habitats within.

My objection to this from an ecological point of view (apart from increased flood risk due to yet more hard standing) is the impact of lighting and activity on biodiversity in the area. Bats in particular are very prone to lighting disturbance, and the Lammas enclosure is without any doubt an important transit route for bats through the urban landscape. Even with so-called ‘bat-friendly’ lighting, certain light sensitive species will struggle to commute from feeding and roost sites across an area that is floodlit. We at Ealing Wildlife Group have records of several bat species using Lammas and Walpole Park spanning the last 4 years. We have also detected bats around the perimeter of this site. Lammas enclosure is undoubtedly a flight route for them between these habitats. I notice on the ecology report it says there is a tree on site with moderate roost potential for bats. It also says rather bizarrely that there is low suitability as foraging habitat on site and adjacent. I have to categorically contest this as we have reports of and ourselves detected foraging bats around the enclosure and adjacent gardens.

The report also admits that “Without mitigation there is the potential for adverse impacts through lighting”. The amount of floodlighting in what is currently a dark refuge for wildlife at night is extremely damaging, even if apparently ‘bat-friendly’.

There are also confirmed hedgehogs and at least two species of owl (Tawny and Little) confirmed in this immediate area which rely on the cover of darkness and in the case of hedgehogs are declining rapidly due to encroachment of urban development and loss of habitat.

It’s important to note that the ecological impact report was carried out two years ago in April 2019 and is not in line with CIEEM guidelines on effective duration. It needs to have been carried out within 12-24 months depending on species, site and potential impact so is effectively now invalid. In terms of bat activity, April is also just the start of the season when bats become active and may not fully reflect the suitability or use of the site by bats, hence the incorrect assertion in the report that it’s of low suitability for foraging. Ideally the site should have been visited to assess specifically for bats on two occasions when bats are most likely to be active. Which is not in the middle of the day in April.

Herein lies the problem with ecological assessments that don’t factor in the connectivity and wildlife corridor potential of the site between other sites. And fail to even survey for active foraging bats in the first place.

We are not so concerned about the footprint of the hard standing referred to as “the site” so much as the impact of the lighting and increased activity in the whole space surrounding “the site”. It’s shortsighted to say there are no bats or breeding birds “on the site” when the proposed works’ wider impact is way more far reaching.

As outlined in the report itself: “Given the mobility of animals and the potential for colonisation of the site over time, updating survey work may be required, particularly if development does not commence within 12 months of the date of the most recent relevant survey.” So the proposal cannot legally be granted permission without further ecological surveying being done in an appropriate manner.

On enhancements, a few token bird boxes and some tree planting will do nothing in the short or medium term to mitigate for the increased activity and lighting in this space at night time which will have seriously detrimental impact on already beleaguered wildlife species such as bats, hedgehogs and owls. With all due respect, we have plenty of Blue Tits!

Finally, I do find it worrying that Will to Win appear to be recruiting supporting commentary for this proposal from so many people who don’t live anywhere near the borough of Ealing let alone Lammas Enclosure. I hope like others that the opinions and concerns of local residents and groups such as ourselves are taken into account and given greater weighting.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Sean McCormack BSc (Hons), MVB, MRCVS
Founder & Chair, Ealing Wildlife Group
www.ealingwildlifegroup.com”

If you too feel that it’s important to preserve this space for wildlife and nature, and perhaps a more appropriate place for the proposal should be found then please make your voice heard.

Rewilding Ealing: Harvest Mice

Photo: Harvest Mouse by Amy Lewis, The Wildlife Trusts

This Friday Dec 4th at 8pm, join Sean McCormack for an online discussion about a potential reintroduction project of Harvest Mice in Ealing. We’ll be exploring whether we have Europe’s smallest rodent species in the Borough, how we might find out with some help from our members, whether we still have suitable habitat and why such a project might be beneficial to people and biodiversity.

This is hopefully the first in a series of talks exploring rewilding and nature conservation in Ealing.

There are 100 spaces; first come, first served. Please do join live so you can take part in the Q&A afterwards. A recording of the session will be posted after for those who missed the live event.

The meeting will be on Zoom, details as follows:

Ealing Wildlife Group is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Rewilding Ealing: Harvest Mice

Time: Dec 4, 2020 08:00 PM London

Join Zoom Meeting

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83855182276…

Meeting ID: 838 5518 2276Passcode: 581930

What to see & do in October

The nights are drawing in and we’ve seen a bit more rain but it doesn’t mean that we need to stay indoors!  The ‘there’s no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing’ quote is one which has a lot of truth to it so, once you’ve wrapped up and ventured outside, what can you expect to find?

Autumn Trees by Jane Ruhland

Blazing branches 

October is the month in which to see the leaves on the trees changing colour.  This is a visible signal of the physical and chemical changes going on inside the plant as it prepares for winter but it’s also absolutely glorious to look at.  Trees full of leaves which are vibrant reds, oranges and yellows, looking like they’re on fire in the sunshine, are a sight to behold and it’s not around for long so now is the time to get out and see it. 

Fabulous fungi

Wherever you’re out and about, start looking for signs of fungi – on trees, forest floors and in your own gardens.  Weird and wonderful, there’s around 15,000 species of wild mushroom found in the UK so you’ve got your work cut out to see them all! Mushrooms and fungi can be poisonous so it’s always best to look and not touch.  You can see a list of the ten most common UK species in this handy guide.

Autumn fungi by Susan Quirke

Watch wildlife 

Wildlife remains active in October with lots of magical displays of behaviour.  You can watch the arrival of migrant birds such as Waxwing, Redwing and Fieldfares. Listen out for the thin “Tseep-tseep” calls of these migrants overhead at night. Get on down to the London Wetlands Centre in Barnes for a spectacle of newly arrived wading birds, ducks and geese.  Head to Richmond Park and try to catch a glimpse of deer rutting (from a safe distance!).   You can admire intricate spider webs bejewelled with rain drops and watch out for busy squirrels and jays foraging for nuts to hoard!

Red Deer portrait by David Gordon Davy

Record what you see

A lot of the work we do at EWG can feed into larger studies and networks, when we get the time to collate and submit our records.  We’re big believers in ‘Think Global, Act Local’ – doing what you can in your local area to help out.  Recording what you see can help UK wide studies understand things like how climate change is affecting our planet or could help highlight other issues which may be present in our environment.  Citizen science! The Woodland Trust’s Natures Calendar is just one way in which you can get involved and help.  Not only does it help you spot and identify nature in your local area, you will also be helping to monitor the health and biodiversity of our planet! Others include Greenspace Information for Greater London or GiGL (https://www.gigl.org.uk/). So if you’ve seen a hedgehog or a slow worm, an unusual butterfly or bird get your records in!

Fresh discussions & alternative visions on the future of Warren Farm

Dear friends, 

As many are aware, the long and complicated battle to save Warren Farm from development by QPR reached another milestone earlier this year with the football club pulling out of the proposed redevelopment scheme. This is perhaps in no small part due to the renewed pressure, most recent legal challenge and determined campaigning from local group Hanwell Nature over the past couple of years. There were undoubtedly also factors around the plans for runway expansion at Heathrow changing which have altered the situation for QPR, and of course Covid-19 having an impact on everyone’s budgets and future plans.

It should also be recognised that many groups and individuals have played a role in creating the remarkably rich site for biodiversity it has become today. Whether that was the previous campaign group ‘Save Warren Farm’ delaying the site’s development with their legal challenges. Or individuals influencing planning departments within QPR and Ealing Council with a more collaborative than combative approach behind the scenes. Or indeed the Council Parks and Ranger team themselves deciding to stop mowing the site so that it could rewild and be of value to nature whilst the legal challenges rumbled on. In any case the situation we’re in today has been a cumulative effort. The site is a wonderful biodiversity asset which shows what happens when nature is allowed to do its own thing for a while. 

Barn Owl
Barn Owl by Nigel Bewley

Since the inception of the QPR plan in 2013, time has moved on and the world is a very different place. A climate emergency has been declared and biodiversity is in catastrophic decline. In an increasingly urbanised environment, the importance of large scale and connected green spaces for local residents and nature cannot be underestimated. We’ve all seen the mental wellbeing benefits of getting out in nature during Covid-19 lockdown. 

Wryneck by Nigel Bewley

Although, in the past, the issue of Warren Farm has attracted heated debate, differing opinions and at times hostile relations between stakeholders and members of our local community, there’s a unique opportunity at this point in time to reassess and re-unify on what is important for the site. Together, moving forward. 

So I personally was delighted to see the Brent River and Canal Society (BRCS), who Ealing Wildlife Group have worked closely with in the past, come out yesterday with their alternative vision for Warren Farm. Take a look here:

http://www.brcs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/BRCS-vision-for-Warren-Farm.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2tbdm3EJi_-TnQBQOhqrD1Eg1-bk8LozlMZXGvM2mf0WveyflNoQiuF10

It’s very similar to the alternative vision for Warren Farm that I drafted several months ago (but haven’t yet posted publicly). I’ve discussed it briefly with both the Council and Hanwell Nature. Local Lib Dem members have spoken out on the need for a new vision too. We’re all suggesting a similar thing because it makes sense. It’s practical, collaborative and solutions based. We need to get behind nature based solutions to the dire state our planet is in at the moment.

The vision I’ve discussed could take several approaches including making the Warren Farm site an official Local Nature Reserve (LNR), as BRCS are now calling for. It could also be a collaboration with the Council to make sure there is space for nature alongside sports facilities, if indeed that is still the plan for the site. Or it could be that a newly formed collective leads the way on a ‘bigger, better, more joined up’ scheme incorporating Long Wood, the Earl of Jersey Field, Warren Farm and the Imperial College land adjacent to create an even larger scale flagship and pioneering London urban rewilding project with a visitor centre. Wouldn’t that be something?!

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar by Kish Woolmore

There’s lots to consider and I’m sure many in the community are wondering ‘what’s next’ for the site? It doesn’t seem the Warren Farm saga is over especially considering this quote from Council leader Julian Bell following the announcement that QPR had pulled out:

“Warren Farm has always been a playing field and our ambition to develop first class sporting facilities for the borough’s young people remains unchanged. We will be looking at how this can be funded once the Covid-19 emergency is over”

The time is now ripe for change and to see an alternative vision suggested. There have been exorbitant legal costs on both sides of the Warren Farm debate which have only resulted in the stalemate scenario we see today. Money that could have been put to very good use in a constructive way for the site. So I congratulate and commend BRCS for putting such a well thought out document and proposal together to put forward to the Council. I truly believe the only way forward is to be open to all possibilities, explore and respect all stakeholders’ opinions or needs, and work together for the best solution for people and nature. And I hope the Council will take the suggestion seriously and consider it carefully in their decisions.

Ealing Wildlife Group firmly and fully support it. Well done BRCS!

Regards,

Dr Sean McCormack

Founder and Chair, Ealing Wildlife Group

Ealing Wildlife Group Photography Competition is open!

‘Incoming’ by Paul James

Mission:

An exhibition of photography to highlight the wonderful nature and wild spaces on our doorstep, celebrating the important relationships between people and local wildlife in Ealing.

‘A Perfect Camouflage’ by Malgorzata Sikora

Judging criteria:

We want to explore what nature and wildlife means to you. Everyone sees their surroundings through a different lens, so we want to celebrate diverse personal journeys and individual relationships with nature.

This is not purely a technical photography exhibition; equally if not more important is the portrayal of images that will engage the public with the natural world at a local level in Ealing.

We will judge each photograph impartially, without bias and keeping the mission of the exhibition in mind.

The judging panel consists of a panel of wildlife and/or photography enthusiasts, including members of Ealing Wildlife Group, Ealing Council Park Rangers as well as amateur and professional photographers.

‘Life is full of winners and losers’ by Nigel Bewley

Categories:

  1. Beautiful Ealing: celebrate the wonderful natural spaces and landscapes on our doorstep
  2. Fantastic Flora: showcase the beauty and importance of our plant life (fungi count here too!)
  3. Relationships with Nature: capture the meaning of nature and wildlife to you and tell us why it makes your heart sing
  4. Up Close and Personal: this can be taken literally if you’ve captured incredible detail, it can cover macro photography or you can interpret it as imaginatively as you wish
  5. Urban Wildlife: it’s incredible what creatures and life shows up in urban environment, so show us where the man made environment meets the wild
  6. Young Wildlife Explorers: this is the under 16s category and seeks to celebrate our young wildlife enthusiasts and engage other young people with nature. 
‘Onwards and upwards’ by Julian Oliver

Submission guidelines:

  1. All submissions must be your own work and by entering you declare you have the legal rights to that image.
  2.  Each entrant can submit up to three photographic images to be judged for competition
  3. Submission of entries does not guarantee inclusion in the exhibition.
  4. Entries will be eligible for a first, second and third award in 6 categories as well as placing in the overall winner category.
  5. You should specify which category you are entering; judges will appraise each entry using the categories as judging criteria, but may award your photo in another category if deemed fit.
  6. High res original jpeg files to be submitted online at https://ealingwildlifegroup.com/2020-photo-competition/  by 8pm on Wednesday 30th September 2020. 
  7. Entries submitted after the deadline will not be eligible. Late entries cause extra admin and will NOT be accepted.
  8.  Excessive manipulation of images is highly discouraged and will not be judged favourably. Moderate processing and cropping is allowed, but should not include removal or addition of objects. Excessive vignettes, artificial borders, extreme changes to colour, saturation, light, or contrast that could be viewed as rendering the image a dishonest representation will be marked down. 
  9. Photographs must have been taken within the Borough of Ealing within the last 5 years; exact location is to be included in the submission details.
  10. Please include your camera or phone details (e.g. ‘iPhone 10’ is fine, we have winners every year using phone cameras). List the settings if you wish so others who are interested in technical details can learn.
  11. No photos of staged wildlife shots, no captive animals, no dead creatures posed as if alive are allowed.
  12. Your description of the photo is just as important as the photo itself and is part of the judging criteria so please fill it in with more than just a name of species or subject and location. We want to hear the story of the photo and perhaps what it means to you. Failure to provide a good description which will be displayed with your entry may lose you significant points in judging.
  13. By submitting your photo to the competition you agree for EWG to share the image in promotional materials in future, with credit to you, the photographer.
  14. Winners will be announced at the opening of the exhibition in Walpole Park this Autumn and a list of winners will be posted online afterwards on Facebook and our website. We cannot guarantee all winners will be informed individually afterwards, and certainly not before the opening of the exhibition. 
  15. Political agendas are not factored into any part of the judging criteria. Photos win on their own merits. 
‘Being a bee’ by Daniel Hatch (age 10)

Things to see in September!

Collect and plant tree seeds

The best time to plant a tree was 50 years ago, the next best time is now! With climate change, biodiversity loss and loss of green space in urban areas all real concerns, trees are a real asset. So why not grow some trees for future generations? We’re seeing a bumper crop of acorns this year and Ealing is no exception! Oak trees are one of our best natives for supporting wildlife, with a whopping 280 species of insect supported by a mature oak. That’s a pretty solid base for a multitude of food webs. 

So why not get out and collect some acorns to plant in pots of compost this Autumn. Leave in a cool place outdoors, make sure they don’t dry out and they should start to sprout in Spring. You can also do this with conkers from Horse Chestnuts, Beech mast, Sweet Chestnuts and many other tree seeds you find this time of year.  Between EWG projects and our local park rangers we’ll find them homes over the coming years, or you could plant a native hedge with them to support an abundance of wildlife in your own outdoor space. Free, fun and fantastic! 

More info here:

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/plant-trees/advice/grow-from-seed/

https://www.habitataid.co.uk/blogs/blog/native-hedge-planting

Watch bird migration

Our summer visitors are leaving, with Swifts one of the first to depart in August. Swallows and Martins are leaving now, along with many of the warblers we enjoyed listening to back during the glorious dawn chorus in Spring. It’s a great time to watch birds like Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, Blackcap as they are busy feeding out in the open to pile on as much energy as possible. They’ll need it to fuel their epic journey back to Africa for winter (where there will be plenty of insect food for them, unlike here this winter). Some rarities and surprises always show up this time of year as birds pass through Ealing. The Hanwell Wryneck was a good example with less than 300 passing through the UK on migration from Sacndinavian breeding grounds to African wintering grounds each year. 

In the opposite direction, we’ll see many of our winter visitors arriving, mostly in a month or two, but a few will start arriving in September too. Ones to look out for arriving on our shores are generally waders and waterfowl at the coast or on large lakes and ponds. Garden or parkland visitors in Ealing include our winter thrushes, redwings and fieldfares. Listen out for them overhead from later this month and early next, with a thin ‘tseep-tseep’ call in the dark night sky.

Redwing by Barry Riches

Watch Autumn dragonflies (& if you’re lucky, Hobbies)

A few species will still be chasing, hawking and darting over our freshwater ponds, ditches, canals and lakes. One of the most spectacular is the Migrant Hawker, a large and quite magnificently blue spotted species. You’ll find them patrolling hedge lines, woodland edge and waterside vegetation, hawking flying insects from mid air. The female is less brightly coloured but no less impressive. The British Dragonfly Society is a great resource for learning all about these prehistoric and fascinating creatures (https://british-dragonflies.org.uk/).

Common Darter dragonfly by Rachael Webb

And whenever you’re in a good area for dragonflies there’s always the chance of spotting a Hobby, a small migratory falcon that comes to the UK to breed each summer. They will depart having raised their young and taught them to hunt later this month and into October, back to sub-Saharan Africa. Ealing usually has several breeding pairs and 2020 looked to be a great year for them. They are nimble aerial predators and dragonflies over water a firm favourite so keep your eyes peeled. 

Hobby juvenile by Martin Shirley

Learn to ID fungi

Autumn is the start of bumper fungi season. And it’s a real skill, as well as being fun, to learn how to identify all the various types that crop up in a wide variety of places. A good fungi book is a great investment if these strange organisms interest you. 

Autumn fungi by Susan Quirke

Every year on our Facebook page we get photos of fungi posted asking for an identification and whether the fungi in question is edible. We have to reiterate that it’s really difficult to ID fungi from one or two photos online. And on the question of being edible, a very wise saying states: “All fungi are edible, some are only edible once!”.

It’s true. Some seemingly harmless specimens that mimic a delicious type, can actually be deadly if eaten. And it could be the smallest ID feature that sets it apart as such a danger. From the colour of the gills underneath the cap, to the shape when it initially emerges from the ground. The best advice is if you don’t know, then please don’t eat it. Every year people suffer excruciating digestive upsets, kidney failure or even death from eating the wrong type of mushrooms. So please don’t ask if fungi are edible on Facebook. It’s a recipe for disaster. 

When is watching wildlife harmful to wildlife?

There have been a few times recently where I’ve had to make a decision on whether to share wonderful wildlife news, or hold back and keep it to myself. Mainly to protect the wildlife from disturbance or harm.

In August for example, we finally released some very exciting footage of barn owls using one of the nest boxes we installed last year. The footage was from February! Do you know how hard it was for me to sit on that exciting news all these months? Very! Once we had confirmed footage from the early breeding season, we stopped checking and left them to get on with it. Releasing the footage once the breeding season was over so as not to have a rush of people down to catch a glimpse at a delicate time when they were prone to depart.

As it happens, someone did catch wind of there being activity at the box, and we don’t believe this pair of barn owls bred successfully due to disturbance. Not only that but the interested humans scaled the tree with a ladder and took our trail camera, so we have lost all our footage for the season. I can only hope the camera is our only loss, and they didn’t also take barn owl eggs or chicks! The only silver lining is that a pair of kestrels may have nested in the box later in the season.

The ranger team found a new badger sett location which we’ve staked out with remote trail cameras, and confirmed an active, healthy badger clan living within. Bringing our total number of known established badger setts in Ealing to three (and a few other locations TBC). But we’re always super secretive and never disclose locations of badgers as they are so prone to persecution. There was after all an incident some 12 years ago where badgers were dug out of a sett in Ealing, presumably for fighting/baiting with dogs.

Our newest resident Ealing peregrine falcons, Freddie and Dusty, chose a pretty public place to roost for all to see. Right above the A&E entrance of Ealing Hospital! So even though they are a schedule 1 protected species, we thought it best to go public in a big way and put it to the public to name the pair! The more eyes on them the better, and the less likely they are to be disturbed or persecuted. It’s worked at many peregrine nest sites up and down the country so hopefully next year we’ll have them breeding on the hospital and we can all enjoy watching. Peregrines are not exactly popular with the racing pigeon fraternity, in case you were wondering what the exact threat is to this species.

Tiercel or male falcon (photo: Rachael Webb)

We’ve had a pair of Hobbys nesting in one of our local parks, a migratory smaller cousin of the peregrine falcon. Apologies to anyone who asked me where they were to go see or photograph them and I refused. They are very secretive at the nest, and the more people that know about them and go see them, the more likely they were to have left or perhaps not used the nest site again this time next year.

Word gets around, one person tells one other person, passers by take an interest in all these people watching a particular tree. And before you know it the Hobbys spook and depart because their top secret location is now receiving daily visitors to have a nosy. It’s not to keep it a secret for only a few to enjoy, it’s to keep the Hobbys safe and happy so we can enjoy them in our skies above Ealing each summer.

Hobby nest (from a great distance)

It’s a delicate balance between showcasing and promoting our wildlife, encouraging people to get out and explore, and stepping too far into the realms of disturbing wildlife or affecting its safety. So it’s been on my mind for a while to write about watching wildlife responsibly.

This last week when a very rare migratory bird called a Wryneck appeared on Warren Farm, there was great excitement from birders, twitchers, photographers and general wildlife enthusiasts alike. All flocking to see this ultra rare and super camouflaged woodpecker, with less than 300 of its kind arriving briefly on our shores each Autumn on their migration route from breeding grounds in Scandinavia to wintering grounds in Africa.

Wryneck by Kish Woolmore

I went and saw the bird myself, the day it was reported when it evaded me and the day after when I saw it in full view several times. And I must admit that it was wonderful to witness so many people show up to revel at its beauty and rarity, and take real delight in seeing such an amazing little bird.

I did have one or two moments of unease however when the bird flew off and the assembled watchers all merrily followed it. Could we be disturbing it from feeding up efficiently? Is it worried about all these people? Could we be affecting its ability to make the onward leg of its epic journey by preventing it from feeding?

It didn’t seem at all perturbed when I was there to be honest. But I’ve had one or two concerned watchers get in touch to tell me that some of the people attending to see the Wryneck haven’t always behaved in a responsible way that’s in the best interests of the bird.

Wryneck by Kish Woolmore

I’ll hand over here to ‘Perry Vale’, who details an account of what they saw, and some top tips for responsible wildlife watching and photography. And I’d urge anyone going to see the Wryneck, or any other sensitive species of wildlife to ask yourself if your behaviour is in the interests of that animal’s welfare, or getting a great photo or view for yourself. It’s a fine balance. Over to ‘Perry Vale’:

The interests of birds and wildlife come first

I sometimes see incidents of wildlife disturbance being carried out in ignorance but also by people who simply should know better.

I recently went to a well known and much cherished wildlife site in Ealing to try and photograph a scarce passage migrant bird that had arrived a few days earlier, probably on its way to central Africa from Scandinavia for the winter. The bird had decided to stay in the warmer weather to rest and feed up before continuing its journey. Its presence was publicised on various birding social media platforms and when I arrived at the normally very quiet site there were several birders and photographers present hoping to see it with several more arriving. It’s normally a shy bird and it took quite a while for it to be found where it was skulking in, apparently, one of its favourite trees.

There was a little rush towards the tree which sent the bird flying into some dense bushes and undergrowth. The assembly moved around to the new area and after a fair bit of waiting, an audio recording of the bird was played to try lure it out of hiding. The recording sounded more like an alarm call to me rather than its song – and in any case the bird is likely not to be singing whilst migrating because it’s not holding territory or looking for a mate. The bird flew from the bushes into a more open area, but was hidden on the ground in long grass and vegetation.

After more waiting the patience of the birders – interestingly not the two or three photographers – was stretched and they decided to flush the bird by doubling behind it and walking in a slow line as if they were beaters on a grouse shoot. The bird was duly flushed and flew into a tree where it was seen nicely. I got on the bird and lined up my tripod-mounted camera and long lens when one of the birders stood two yards in front of me. When I moved to one side, so did he. When the bird flew off after thirty seconds or so he supposed that I had got some great pictures of the back of his head.

The bird flew to a more distant tree and then dropped down into the bushes and undergrowth. The birders congratulated themselves on the good views and how the wait was worthwhile and began to drift off having got their ticks. Two or three birders stayed and I moved to the area where it flew to. After another wait those birders moved off to another part of the site. I remained, stood still and quiet and eventually the bird flew from hiding and settled on a perch in good light, and in full view. I was perhaps thirty metres away and got onto the bird almost straight away, getting some photographs before it flew off and I left it in peace.

When I go to the Highlands of Scotland for photography I hire a wildlife guide to take me to places where my target species are likely to be – he has notebooks and diaries that cover over thirty years of time spent in Scotland and elsewhere. In many ways he is my mentor for wildlife photography, fieldcraft and the ethics of the countryside. One of his principles is to allow the subject to arrive and depart of its own free will.

A birdwatcher’s code has been produced by a partnership of several organisations involved with wildlife and whilst quite specific to birds can be extended and adapted to all areas of observing the natural world on the ‘don’t trample that orchid’ principle’. I urge you to follow, or at least be sympathetic, to the code:

Birds respond to people in many ways, depending on the species, location and time of year. Disturbance can keep birds from their nests, leaving chicks hungry or enabling predators to take eggs or young. During cold weather or when migrants have just made a long flight, repeatedly flushing birds can mean they use up vital energy that they need for feeding. Intentional or reckless disturbance of some species at or near the nest is illegal in Britain. Whether your particular interest is photography, ringing, sound-recording or birdwatching, remember that the interests of the bird must always come first.

Avoid going too close to birds or disturbing their habitats – if a bird flies away or makes repeated alarm calls, you’re too close. And if it leaves, you won’t get a good view.

Stay on roads and paths where they exist and avoid disturbing habitat used by birds.

Think about your fieldcraft. Disturbance is not just about going too close – a flock of wading birds on the foreshore can be disturbed from a mile away if you stand on the seawall.

Repeatedly playing a recording of birdsong or calls to encourage a bird to respond can divert a territorial bird from other important duties, such as feeding its young. Never use playback to attract a species during its breeding season.”


Wryneck by Nigel Bewley

So there you have it folks, I don’t think any well meaning nature enthusiast can stand over the behaviours described above. Yes, people may get excited, yes people may not realise that their one action that disturbs a sensitive wildlife species doesn’t add up as part of all the other disturbance incidents caused by others. And maybe some people just don’t give a damn as long as they get that tick on their bird list, or a beautiful photo. But please, I urge anyone that sees this type of behaviour in the field in future to call it out and explain why it’s just not on!

I welcome comments and discussion below.

Dr Sean McCormack BSc (Hons), MVB, MRCVS

Founder and Chair, Ealing Wildlife Group

EWG bat walks are back!

The summer is coming near to an end but with relaxing of lockdown rules we wanted to squeeze in a few bat walks before our little winged flittermouse friends retire for their annual hibernation in a few months time.

Paula Kirby, coordinator extraordinaire of our EWG Bat Pack has been busy researching and organising how best we can run some bat walks for you safely and in accordance with government guidelines, including track and trace.

Common Pipistrelle (handled under license. Photo: Sean McCormack).

So, here’s an initial list of dates you can sign up to. Please only take a place if you can definitely come, as we anticipate places will be in high demand. We never normally have a limit on numbers, and our last bat walk in 2019 led by Paula had over 90 people!

For these walks, we’ll be leading a maximum of 25 people, from only 5 households or social bubbles. All the details are in the form for each walk, so choose your preferred date, location and/or guide and get signed up. Again, please only sign up if you can make it.

Thanks, the Bat Pack!

Mon 17th – Paul Schifferes leading, Blondin Park: https://forms.gle/6tkbGHc4UFWknrzA9

Weds 19th – Paula Kirby leading, Walpole Park: https://forms.gle/PrpNDdPETQtDg5vb6

Fri 21st – Paul Schifferes leading, Gunnersbury Park: https://forms.gle/4Gi8t5E95HKsh3Xr9

Sat 22nd – Sean McCormack leading, Pitshanger Park : https://forms.gle/emZiTbc2LBHYhH4e8

Fri 28th – Sean McCormack leading, Northala Fields : https://forms.gle/fNkbxsMARgmJdM2F8

Sat 29th – Paula Kirby leading, Hanwell Viaduct: https://forms.gle/7FnxkdMMTKfkbLbm8

We may be adding more availability from some of our other bat pack members in due course, so look out on Facebook and our website events page for more announcements.

Costons Lane Nature Reserve: Grand plans revealed!

Here are our plans for the derelict and often flooded allotments site at Costons Lane. Our aim is to turn it into a refuge for nature and people alike. The front section will be a landscaped utilities area. This will be perfect for showcasing ideas for wildlife gardening. Our recycled storage container and decking surround will act as the centerpiece for this space. It will house our supplies and act as an education hub for events and open days.

Passing under a natural wood pergola you’ll enter the nature reserve proper, with winding wood chip pathways to explore. Much of the space will be left as is, already an absolute haven for wildlife of all kinds. But we’ll carry out some management tasks. Pushing back some brambles to allow space for other woodland edge plants to establish. This will provide a mosaic of diverse habitats. Therefore supporting more species of plants and animals.

In the southeast corner the site holds most water, and has some aquatic/wetland plant species clinging on. Here we’ll create a large pond on one side of the path. And a wetland scrape in the centre of wet meadow on the opposite side. A pond dipping platform will allow curious kids of all ages to explore what lurks below the water surface. The bird hide will allow viewing of the wet meadow, pond and a woodland bird feeding station.

There’s a lot of work to do, and it’s already started! All ages and abilities are welcome, but under 16s must be accompanied by a responsible adult. To get involved and stay up to date with volunteer task days, sign up to our newsletter here or check out our event section on our website and Facebook group.

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