Author: Sean McCormack

BMX tracks or Brown Long Eared Bats? Can’t we have both?

TL;DR

“too long; didn’t read”. AKA the short version

The plans for a BMX track at Stockdove Way, which was originally meant to be on the Gurnell redevelopment site, is now proposed for ABSOLUTELY the wrong location on a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC). Various reasons it’s the wrong location. The crudely annotated map below illustrates the main one. It will block the last remaining space in the critical wildlife corridor of the Brent River Valley after the Gurnell redevelopment takes place.

The ecology report is also out of date from 2016, and no professional bat surveys have been undertaken which are a legal requirement.  Lodge your objections for wildlife and biodiversity please. The BMX track needs to find another more appropriate location. We need to maintain the integrity of the few urban green spaces we have left in Ealing. We need you to lodge your comments by June 17th here: https://pam.ealing.gov.uk/online-applications/PLAN/201541FUL

Click on the image to enlarge:

Long Version

While I try not to use EWG as a personal or political platform for campaigning on local development, there are some planning decisions that I will object to and speak out publicly on. In this instance,I truly believe a poor decision is about to be made and I’d like to add my two cents and make our membership aware so they can have their say if they so wish. 

I’d like to talk about the proposed BMX cycle track facility at Stockdove Way in Perivale Park. The consultation is open to comments right now, but closing date is 24th June 2020. So it’s pretty urgent that if you want a say, you make your voice heard here ASAP:

https://pam.ealing.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=Q8XTU7JMKMH00

If you don’t have time to read a long winded post, here’s my summary. The BMX track’s proposed location will be catastrophic to maintaining wildlife corridor connectivity in our Borough and there are far more suitable sites it could be built on with less impact. The plans to integrate it into the surrounding landscape are good, but not good enough in this critical location. The ecology report desk study and field study for the site were done in 2016, and are now out out of date according to CIEEM guidance. There have been no professional ecologist bat surveys done, which is a legal requirement. We need a rethink on a suitable location.

But first, I just wanted to clear up a question I get asked quite frequently. 

What does EWG stand for and do when it comes to local planning and development?

As the founder and Chair of EWG I’ve been challenged over the years as to why I won’t lend my support to certain causes. There are always a variety of reasons but to outline some of them here:  EWG is not my full time job. I work full time in a challenging role and profession, I have a life outside of work, and I try my best to run EWG as a small conservation organisation on an entirely voluntary, free time basis. I do not get paid (or brown envelopes!*) for what we as a group do. And I only have so much time and energy. The vision of EWG is to bring about positive change through education, engagement, protection and safeguarding of biodiversity and space for nature in the Borough of Ealing. 

Rather than spend my time poring over pages and pages of planning documentation, considering evidence, talking to stakeholders and lodging objections, I would rather spend my time** getting out into nature, educating people in the borough and winning where we can – and there are plenty of fights that we can win and some wonderful examples of things that we’ve been able to achieve as a group over the last 4 years.

With regards to planning documentation, lobbying and stakeholder management, there are plenty of fantastic, passionate and largely objective people and groups in our community who have the time to devote to this, and they do a wonderful job. It doesn’t mean EWG or I personally don’t care about certain causes, it means we are all just doing our best.

If EWG politely refuses to help out in an objection to a neighbour’s loft extension, or declines the ‘offer’ to come and do a bat survey at 10pm, or declines the opportunity to collaborate with another conservation group, please don’t take it personally. Usually, it’s because we just don’t have the time or energy – we are all volunteers with lives outside of EWG. I get very upset when people say that if we’re not with you we’re against you. Conservation requires us all to be in this together and sometimes it is necessary that someone else picks up the mantle, it can’t be the same people all the time.  We are but human and prioritisation is always difficult. 

A final word before we get to the specifics of why I am keen to talk about this BMX track. EWG is not in the pockets or control of Ealing Council. We are free to criticise and oppose their decisions if we so wish. We are an independent, volunteer run organisation that operates on three key principles.

What are EWG’s three key principles?

  1. Community
  2. Collaboration
  3. Conservation

The middle principle is key here. We collaborate. With other local nature organisations (hey Selborne Society, hey West London Birders and hey many more!), community groups (love you guys at Friends of Horsenden Hill!) and our local Council, specifically our wonderful friends on the Council Parks team. Sadly, our collaboration with the Council Parks has riled a small but vocal minority who believe everything the Council does is BAD. I’d like to make this clear; we would not have achieved half of what we have as a group over the past four years were it not for our collaborative approach with the Council.

Can EWG criticise or oppose Ealing Council decisions?

In a word, yes.

  • Do we as a committee and individuals personally disagree with some of the decisions the Council makes? SURE we do!
  • Do we realise that not everything is black or white and the Council are making decisions based on the 350,000+ people in our wider community, not all of whom have nature and wildlife as their top priority? Again, yes we do.
  • Do we recognise that lots of what the Council does (big up to the Parks team here) is wonderful and motivated to help our community and biodiversity, but yes, many of their processes and decisions are super frustrating? Damn straight!
  • Does any of this mean we are gagged by our collaboration with the Council? Absolutely not.
  • Are we here as a collective of local enthusiasts and experts to help and advise the Council on biodiversity matters if they need that advice? I’d like to think so.
  • Does disagreement on some decisions mean we want to sever ties and have no association with the Council in future? No! 

Because that would be the very definition of cutting off our nose to spite our face. We recognise everything in this world is not perfect and we are outward looking enough to recognise that our agenda is ours, and ours alone. There are other agendas, equally deserving and worthy of balanced consideration.

So what’s the issue with this BMX track?

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here. Our friends at Brent River and Canal Society (BRCS) who advocate for the conservation of the Brent River Park set out the issue very clearly as follows:

“There’s a BMX track proposed for Stockdove Way…have your say …it is an easy process, just takes a couple of minutes..

https://pam.ealing.gov.uk/online-applications/PLAN/201541FUL

Consultation ends: 24th June 2020

……the meadow is designated as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) in Ealing’s policies – the whole meadow is part of Metropolitan Open Land [MOL] and an asset as part of the Brent River Park……

…..more than many locations in the borough, the location identified is a meadow of environmental value and an important asset as part of the mosaic of wildlife habitats in Ealing and West London.

Ealing Council has created this situation by deciding to remove the BMX facility from the Gurnell Leisure redevelopment proposal, thereby having to create a new home for the BMX facility. The proposed location for the new 0.99ha [c100m x c100m] “Bike Park” destroys half the area of an established meadow environment that is poorly represented and dwindling, and introduces infrastructure and social activities that will dominate and change the area.”

Here’s the current proposal, which as you can see makes a massive footprint on what was promised as and meant to be a space primarily for nature, and which was meant to mitigate for the next big controversial development just a stone’s throw away across the river Brent, the Gurnell Leisure Centre redevelopment. Click to enlarge:

High resolution plan here:

201541FUL-PLAN-3329540

My own personal objection in the comments on the above planning application is as follows:

“Dr Sean McCormack: While I’m all for promoting outdoor activity and providing space for young people, the proposed location for this BMX track is totally inappropriate. It is going to encroach massively on an area that’s just been redesigned for nature and green space for residents which is just as important, arguably more so, as many more people benefit from the space as it is than would from a BMX track specifically. A BMX track is reasonable and suited as part of the built environment, and I had thought it was originally to be included in the Gurnell redevelopment area. Now it has been moved to this proposed location, its footprint is going to swallow up a large area of diverse and important grass and wildflower meadow.

We cannot continue to swallow up our green spaces; once they are concreted over that’s the end of them. In this time of climate emergency, the Council should be looking at ways to minimise encroachment on green spaces where nature is thriving and providing the green lungs for our urban landscape. I’m sure there are plenty of areas of monoculture green lawn planned in the Gurnell development that would be much better suited to a BMX track instead.

There are also problems with the proposal in that light pollution of a valuable wildlife corridor will impact wildlife such as protected bats and invertebrates among other species. Finally, it’s going to be a beacon for antisocial behaviour down there when surrounding facilities are closed, and would be less of a draw if placed in a more built upon location. In summary, I’m all for BMX track facilities, but this Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) is absolutely not the right location and goes against what was trying to be achieved by the wonderful Greenford to Gurnell Greenway. I think an alternative location should be found.” 

Ok, so let’s have some more context…

I want to offer some alternative plans, sites or solutions to what I consider to be a really bad decision to locate this BMX track. This track will also bring with it floodlights, hard standing, concrete and shipping containers taking up at least a third of the width of the current green belt here. The Gurnell redevelopment and its 6 new towers will also present a major obstacle to wildlife to navigate our urban environment.

I don’t doubt for a moment that many BMXers will use the rest of the surrounding meadow and wetlands to cycle around too, disturbing sensitive wildlife species. 

The fundamental objection I have to the BMX track being placed right here is that it creates too much of a bottleneck and blocks an already natural narrowing in this green corridor. And down the line it’s to be further narrowed with the Gurnell Towers going in. I’m not anti-BMX track. It’s just a really poorly thought out place to put it if we value biodiversity and wildlife in the landscape. 

The simple diagram illustrating my main objection is worth repeating here (click to expand):

I’m going to bullet point my critical arguments as I’ve already gone on too long:

  • This was planned to be part of the Gurnell Development across the river and makes sense there
  • One of the mitigating factors for the Gurnell development in the first place for me was that we likely had net biodiversity gain in the vicinity with Greenford to Gurnell Greenway (G2GG) works
  • To now cannibalise on G2GG by relocating the BMX track back onto a SINC and what was meant to be new and pristine space for nature is a backpedal (pardon the pun)
  • The more we allow this to happen the less value that green spaces, SINCs or MOLs hold
  • I’m all for the BMX track. I just feel strongly that’s not the right location for it. And it colours my judgement now on weighing up the pros and cons of the Gurnell redevelopment too

As great as a state of the art BMX track will be for some in our community, its location will have serious impacts for our wildlife, Borough wide biodiversity and climate! There are other locations more suitable with less impact, and BMX track users can still be kept happy:

  • Just as we don’t need to cram sports facilities into human-centred areas, we also don’t NEED to plonk them into spaces for nature either
  • The footprint of the Gurnell redevelopment encroaching on green space needs to be minimised, so building up is the only logical and practical solution to that end. Development and housing is a fact of life and where we live! If we continue to encroach outward on precious green space for nature, bit by bit, fragment by fragment we further our negative impact on nature, in already pressured urban environments
  • No matter the sensitivity of the plans to the environment and local wildlife, lighting designed to be bat friendly (to all bat species, or some?!), native planting to shield and integrate the facility from and into the landscape, just the presence of more human activity and man made structures/effects will disturb wildlife, reduce biodiversity and ultimately place an unnecessary barrier into an already narrow and extremely important wildlife corridor
  • One which is already going to be heavily impacted by 5-6 high rise tower blocks very soon

What is the actual impact on wildlife if this goes ahead at this location?

To illustrate the problem in blocking this important wildlife corridor here’s just one single practical example of the potential impact on a particularly vulnerable wildlife species of this poorly thought out plan.

Brown Long Eared Bat (handled under licence, photo by Ryan Greaves)

Ealing has recorded Brown Long Eared bats using its railway assets as roosting or hibernation sites. This is a locally scarce species in London which relies on total darkness to navigate its environment between roosting, feeding and hibernation sites. ‘Bat friendly’ floodlights or not, it won’t like floodlights interrupting the important green corridor that is the Brent Valley. Should we just say “well the Common Pipistrelle bats don’t seem to be bothered by the light so we’ve done our bit” and shrug our shoulders? 

Should we take the risk of potentially losing the Brown Long Eared bat in Ealing (and affect the ecological niche it contributes to) because perhaps we’ve made life very difficult for it? Because we unknowingly (or knowingly) placed a very difficult barrier in its way between the species’ only maternity roost in the Borough and good feeding grounds or somewhere to hibernate (e.g. railway viaducts). These are impacts we won’t know we’ve caused until we cause them, or perhaps we’ll never find out if we blindly eat into more green space with tokenistic ‘mitigation’ to ease our conscience. As the Bat Conservation Trust says: “Some bat species have been shown to be impacted by significantly lower lighting levels than others, certain colour temperature environments also play a factor in the level of impact. However, all bats require dark roosting areas, corridors through the landscape and habitats to feed.”

Let’s not forget the scarce and incredible migratory bat species, the Nathusius’ Pipistrelle which comes here to breed all the way from Eastern Europe! It uses river valleys to navigate and migrate, and London is a major influx route for the whole of the UK. We’ve recorded those using the Brent River Valley at night too. I could go on with more species impacts, but I digress.

Nathusius’ Pipistrelle (handled under license, photo by Ryan Greaves)

The fact that there is plenty of space across the river within the developed landscape of Gurnell that could be used, and that seemed to be the original plan, means we don’t have to cause these negative impacts on what is an exciting fledgling nature reserve being created. As I say, it’s a backpedal on the original BMX facility plan.

Almost like saying: “We’ll give you space for nature to get these Gurnell plans through, but then we’ll take it away”.

The more this happens the more negative impact on biodiversity in the whole Borough over time. Sometimes we have to call a stop to this chipping away mentality. And if that means segregating space for people/space for nature with firmly held lines at times I’m all for it.

I just have to hold my stance that this placement of the BMX track is wrong, and represents the slippery slope of unnecessary encroachment bit by bit onto what should be protected green space. Once it’s gone and under concrete it is gone for good! And our wider environment, and our vital connection to nature is worse off for it.

And it’s not just Brown Long Eared or Nathusius’ Pipistrelle bats. It’s Barn Owls, migrating birds, hedgehogs, toads. You name it. Poorly placed and ill thought out development gets in their way, and we lose them for good. 

What’s the solution then? Are there alternative and more appropriate sites?

Yes! Here’s a list of sites that might be more appropriate and less impactful:

  • The Gurnell redevelopment site as originally planned?!
  • The golf course further along on the other side of the railway line which is already of poor biodiversity value
  • Somewhere else in Perivale Park that isn’t a bottleneck in the crucial wildlife corridor of the Brent River Park
  • The athletics track site on Stockdove Way
  • Ealing Central Sports Ground
  • Horsenden Hill Golf Club
  • Elthorne Park
  • Marnham Field
  • Berkeley Field (behind the tennis courts)
  • Grove Farm
  • Bixley Field
  • Clayton Green

In conclusion…

Please, if you value wildlife and biodiversity in Ealing, and feel the Council should not place a BMX track here lodge your constructive comments before the 17th June 2020 here:

https://pam.ealing.gov.uk/online-applications/PLAN/201541FUL

We shouldn’t obstruct what’s left of an already pinched wildlife corridor and green space for a facility that could be easily relocated to a more suited location and be just as wonderful but have far less impact on our Borough’s nature and open spaces.

I ask you to share your concerns in the consultation, and I ask Ealing Council planning department not to backpedal on their original promise and to reconsider a more suitable location. We should be able to have Gurnell, BMX tracks, bats and barn owls. Space for nature is just as important as leisure facilities. 

Thanks, 

Dr Sean McCormack

Founder and Chair, Ealing Wildlife Group 

 

NOTES/DISCLAIMERS:

*In the interests of full disclosure, and before anyone tries to later label this a ‘brown envelope job’ as is so common when criticizing local politics or planning, I’d like to take this opportunity to share (as I did at our AGM) that I’m finally getting paid for some of my local conservation work. By the Council. A modest sum in future for the work I’m doing currently. Which is writing Species Action Plans (SAPs) for Ealing’s Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP). In a capacity independent of EWG. Hurrah!

Some of those local, vocal critics may say that means I’m in the pocket of the Council, or getting paid by them. I say I’m charging them for my time and expertise and helping Ealing’s biodiversity in the process. It’s another collaboration I’m only too happy to be part of to help shape our Borough’s Biodiversity Action Plan.

**Also to prove my point on the best use of my spare time running EWG, I’ve probably spent about 6-8 hours of my time on this issue reading planning documents, talking to various stakeholders, doing my own bat surveys, researching independent reports on biodiversity of the area and writing this blog post that I hope is fair, reasonable and objective in its aims. It’s concerned with the unsuitability of location alone of this proposal; and its detrimental impact on wildlife, urban green space and nature. I have not benefited financially or otherwise from this time.

References & Further Reading

Meadow Biodiversity Survey carried out by expert naturalists and ecologists in 2019: https://www.perivalepark.london/archives/20106

Guidance notes on bats and lighting

https://theilp.org.uk/publication/guidance-note-8-bats-and-artificial-lighting/

https://www.bats.org.uk/news/2018/09/new-guidance-on-bats-and-lighting

EWG’s very own nature reserve!

We have a wonderful announcement!

Our funding drive for the future Costons Lane Nature reserve has been successful!! We wanted to especially thank Transform Your Space for donating £9,577, Greystar and Greenford Quay whose donation of £7,000 made up our remaining difference and ensured the project’s success.

We particularly want to call out Andrew McRae and Gemma Holmes for their extremely generous private donations of £500 each but we want to thank everyone who donated, from £1, £5, £10, £20, £50 or £100. It all helps tremendously and we couldn’t be more thankful to you all and we couldn’t have done it without every single one of you!

We set up the funding drive to allow for over funding so it’s not too late to donate if you are able (visit https://www.spacehive.com/ealing-wildlife-group-nature-reserve.) The over funding will go towards things like extra classroom equipment, bat boxes, bird boxes, native plants, classes and lectures, trail cams, a static bat detector, the possibilities are endless.

Nina Provencal, Events Manager for Greystar said: “Greenford Quay are delighted to be involved in this project, working with the local community and continually looking at ways to help bring communities together is a huge part of our agenda”.

We Need You!

We hope to get the project started in midsummer and depending on the lockdown situation we would like to get people volunteering as soon as we can. This reserve is for all of us in Ealing Wildlife Group and we would love everyone to come and be involved in its creation and evolution. Learn about conservation, urban wildlife, native plants, meet new people and most importantly have fun! Comment below if you are interested in getting involved and volunteering!

What is Costons Lane Nature Reserve?

We will take the old disused and flood prone allotment site & turn it into a nature reserve & education centre. We plan to clear rubble, reinstate the pond, provide trails around the site. We’ll encourage native plants, & manage for native wildlife.

We want to install a storage area for our equipment and teaching facilities, bird feeders & houses, bat & bug homes, hedgehog homes, habitat features for frogs, toads, newts & reptiles such as slow worms. We want to plant native & ornamental flowers to help pollinators, & install log piles for rare stag beetles. We would like to install hides so people can come and observe the wildlife, take photos and learn about the wonders of the natural world.

We would encourage citizen science by hosting Bioblitzes as a chance for the community to help us record species for organizations like Greenspace Information for Greater London, Bat Conservation Trust, London Wildlife Trust, RSPB. We could also host schools and scouts groups & have community open days. To learn more visit https://www.spacehive.com/ealing-wildlife-group-nature-reserve

Once we get up and running we will be documenting our progress on all of our social media channels so be sure to follow us to keep up to date!

Hedgehog Awareness Week 2020: How can you help?

Did you know it’s Hedgehog Awareness Week? Well it is, so here are our top tips for attracting and helping these prickly garden visitors, who sadly are in decline in the UK.

Hedgehog by Rob Fenton

Build A Hedgehog Highway

One of the challenges facing hedgehogs in urban areas is getting around enough gardens at night to forage. Solid walls and fences don’t help when you need to travel up to a mile in one night to find enough food. So cut a hole or leave a gap about the size of a music CD in each of your garden boundaries. Encourage your neighbours to do the same so each little island of garden habitat is connected and hedgehogs can get around.

Hedgehog morning travels by Esther Brooks

Stop The Slug Pellets

These (and all other garden chemicals) are not only harmful to pests eating your precious plants, but anything else that eats them afterwards. Like hedgehogs, amphibians and the beautiful but declining Song Thrush. There are just as effective organic or chemical-free solutions to slug control. My favourite is a biological control that uses tiny parasitic nematodes that kill slugs but don’t harm anything else. Beer traps also work well, and the slugs die happy. Or you could just garden with plants that are great for wildlife and not so prone to slug damage?

Build A Log Pile

Stack logs, branches and woody cuttings in a pile in a quiet area. Leave a large cavity in the centre and some gaps a hedgehog might be able to squeeze through. Not only will it provide a potential hedgehog home but rotting wood is an important habitat for insects and other invertebrates, hedgehog food! You may also attract newts, toads, slow worms and even stag beetles! The more dead wood you can include in your garden habitat the better.

Provide Water

A shallow dish of fresh water can be a lifesaver to a thirsty hedgehog in the summer months. If you can create a small container pond or full-on wildlife pond even better, but make sure there are ways for hedgehogs to scramble out of a pond if they fall in. Ponds with steep, slippery sides are a death trap for hedgehogs and other wildlife so create a beach area in the shallows or pile up some logs, branches and plants near the side just in case.

Hanwell Hedgehog by James Morton

Check Compost Heaps & Bonfire Piles

These piles of material can make excellent homes or temporary shelters for hedgehogs too. Always check them carefully before sticking a garden fork in them or lighting that fire.

Make A Feeding Station

With a few simple supplies you can create a hedgehog restaurant that excludes larger diners like cats and foxes. You could even set up a trail camera and see who comes to visit your garden at night. Fun for all the family!

Log Your Sightings

To allow conservation organisations to build up a picture of where hedgehog hot spots are and where they are in trouble, we need the power of Citizen Science! So log your sightings of hedgehogs here and here. We’d also love you to post any sightings or photos you have on Facebook for our members to enjoy.

Donate to Hedgehog Awareness Week

 https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/HAW20

Ealing bats in 2020!

As the future of group activities looks uncertain with Covid-19 lockdown in place, one question we’ve been asked a number of times in recent weeks is whether there will be any bat walks in the season ahead. It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to lead any sizable group walks any time soon. But all is not lost for you batty fans!

EWG Hanwell Viaduct bat walk (Photo credit: Steve Morey)

As our Dawn Chorus walk showed, virtual walks and activities are still an option. And a couple of weeks ago I took my bat detector out on my daily exercise at dusk, and transmitted through Facebook Live to see if it would work. And it did!

Bats in May

Now May and warmer weather are here bats are getting really active, feeding on flying insects, replacing lost energy reserves from hibernation and soon giving birth to tiny new baby bats. In fact May is the month most females will be heading to their communal maternity roost. Like a giant bat creche where they all have their babies. We’re lucky in Ealing to have lots of green space and wildlife corridors that bats (and other wildlife) need to survive and thrive. And we need to protect these spaces as best we can. Bats are an indicator species for the health of our wider habitats and ecosystems, so that’s why we’ve focused so much of our monitoring and public educational activities on them.

We’ve recorded 7 confirmed species in Ealing over the course of 38 public bat walks and many outings from members of our EWG bat pack over the past 4 years. And we’re providing all of our bat data to London Bat Group and the Bat Conservation Trust. It’s also an asset going forward for site specific development issues. The species we have confirmed in Ealing to date are as follows:

  1. Common Pipistrelle
  2. Soprano Pipistrelle
  3. Nathusius’ Pipistrelle
  4. Noctule
  5. Leisler’s
  6. Daubenton’s
  7. Brown Long Eared
Common Pipistrelle examined in hand during trapping and monitoring by London Bat Group under license (Photo credit: Sean McCormack)

Bats have fascinating biology, behaviour and habits, they’re much misunderstood. They are secretive and come out at night when we can barely observe them. Kids enjoy staying up late to see them, and a bat walk combines nature with technology. What’s not to love?

Bat Walks

I don’t know of anyone who’s experienced bats flying overhead with an electronic detector in hand to listen to their high pitched calls who hasn’t been thrilled or fascinated.

So I’m going to try to schedule a series of virtual bat walks via Facebook live this batty season, so at least if we can’t go watch them together we can have the next best thing.

Sean with bat detector

If you haven’t joined our Facebook group, what are you waiting for? That’s where we’ll transmit the live walks, and the event dates will be posted on there soon as well as on our website.

In the meantime, if you’re having bat withdrawal symptoms, here’s a couple of entertaining bat shaped videos on our YouTube channel:

I look forward to seeing and chatting with you on a Virtual Bat Walk very soon! And if you have any comments or questions, do let us know.

Sean

Blue Tit Nest Box: Chapter One

Having treated myself to a camera bird box for Christmas in 2018 I was disappointed to get no visitors to it on my 4th floor balcony in 2019, but can’t say I was very surprised. Too high for a discerning tit or sparrow, I resigned myself. This Spring I took it to my pal Nigel’s place, where Blue Tits regularly avail  of his nest boxes to raise a brood. And he kindly agreed to host the box for the 2020 season, as well as edit and post any footage we managed to capture.

Well for the last few weeks we’ve been on tenterhooks as we’ve been teased by a pair of Great Tits at first, soon followed by a charming little Blue Tit pair inspecting the box and deciding whether or not it might make a nice home.

Let me tell you things have well and truly heated up in the Blue Tit family planning department in recent days, and nest building is underway.

So everyone’s in lock down, confined to their homes for the most part. Every Nature Nerd’s favourite programme, BBC Springwatch, is hanging in the balance of whether it airs or not this year. So we thought it was vitally important to provide you with regular updates of our own little Springwatch experiment here.

Check out the action to date in this, our first #EWGtitcam video, and stay tuned as we’ll be providing more footage of this industrious little pair’s antics in the weeks to come.

Stay safe and well folks, and enjoy.

Sean

Top 10 Tips for attracting wildlife during lockdown!

While we’re all confined, I’ve noticed so many more people taking the time to watch and observe the beauty of nature around us. It’s a pleasure to see people posting about it on our social media channels. Getting outdoors daily and connecting with nature is just so vital for all of our well being in general, but especially right now. Whether you’ve got a balcony, window ledge or a garden, there are many things we can all do to encourage wildlife to visit. Then sit back and enjoy watching wildlife going about their business as usual! 

1. Feed the birds

Birds benefit from having food provided all year round, and the more variety you can offer the more species you’ll attract. Peanuts, sunflower seeds, niger seed, fat balls and dried mealworms will bring in a huge range. Don’t forget a shallow dish of water too. Place feeders near some cover if possible so the birds feel safe stopping by, not out in the middle of a lawn or patio. If you don’t have a garden, not to worry, you can also get suction cup window feeders which will allow you to see your feathered visitors up real close. And everyone has a window! 

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/feeding-birds/

Goldfinch by Kish Woolmore

 

2. Sow wildflower seeds

Buy some wildflower seed packets or a seed bomb online, and sow on a bare patch of earth, or in a pot, container or window box according to pack instructions. These usually contain a mix of native and ornamental flowering plants that are just perfect for pollinators like bees, hoverflies and butterflies. So not only do they create a wonderful display of colour, they also benefit some of our most threatened insects. You can get various mixes that suit woodland shade, full sun, dry or damp conditions so choose your spot and get sowing now.

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-grow-wild-patch

Wildflowers by Jenny Gough

 

3. Make a container pond

Any water in your outdoor space will act as a magnet for thirsty wildlife like birds, insects and mammals. And it doesn’t have to be a massive pond. Why not try making a pond in miniature using an empty plastic container, plant pot (with no drainage holes) or an old half barrel. Any water tight container will do, and you can do this on a windowsill too. You’ll be astonished what comes to visit; damsel and dragonflies, lots of microscopic water creatures if you look closely, and if you’re lucky maybe even a newt, toad or frog!

https://www.rspb.org.uk/fun-and-learning/for-families/family-wild-challenge/activities/make-a-mini-pond/

Container pond by Indra Thillainathan

 

4. Stop mowing the lawn

Put your feet up and forget about lawn mowing this summer. Not only is it terrible for the environment, we’re running out of grass in urban areas, especially gardens, as people use decking, paving and (cringe alert!) Astroturf instead. Not good for flooding risk either, all this hard landscaping. But it’s also an ecological desert for wildlife. So to counteract it, what if we all left even a portion of our lawns unmown this year? Wildflowers will spring up and the long grasses with their attractive seed heads provide cover and food for an abundance of insects, including lots of butterfly and moth species. Insects are the bottom of the food chain, so with all this new bug life you’ll get more bats and birds and other creatures too.  

https://plantlife.love-wildflowers.org.uk/wildflower_garden/mynomow/

Long Grass by Jane Ruhland

 

5. Put up a nest box

If you haven’t already put up a nest box for birds, get cracking. The avian property market is hot, hot, hot right now so you need to be quick. There are various designs available online; blue tits, great tits and sparrows like circular hole fronted boxes (a different diameter for each, 25mm, 28mm, 32mm respectively). Robins, wrens and wagtails will use open fronted boxes. An old teapot or boot placed deep in a hedge can even turn into a robin des res, just be sure to place the teapot spout down and boot toe down for drainage! And if you have a nest box that’s been up for ages and never used, change it to a different location this year. They need to be out of direct sunlight, ideally facing between north and east. Hole fronted ones on a tree or wall 2-4m high. Under 2m high in dense cover for an open fronted robin box. 

Don’t forget to tune in across our social media channels for what happens in our Blue Tit camera nest box!

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/nestboxes/

Blue Tit in our camera nest box, hosted by Nigel Bewley

 

6. Build a log pile or compost heap

Find logs, branches or even woody cuttings from shrubs and trees in your garden and pile them up in a quiet area, leaving a few spaces in between. Rotting wood is an important habitat for insects and other invertebrates, which feed lots of other creatures in your garden ecosystem. Log piles also attract the nationally rare Stag Beetle, whose larva feeds on dead wood. London and Ealing are hotspots for this impressive insect, so the more dead wood you can provide in the garden the better. You may also attract newts, toads, slow worms and even hedgehogs if you make a teepee style pile! Log piles for the win! 

https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/help-hedgehogs/helpful-garden-features/

Volunteers Richard, Jane & Alex build a logpile by Sean McCormack

 

7. Dig a pond

If you’ve got the space, I can’t recommend installing a pond highly enough. It’s the single most beneficial feature in any wildlife garden. You’ll have hours of entertainment peering into its depths and marvelling at the number of creatures it draws in to drink, feed or breed over the years. So yes, it’s a bit of hard work to dig and install, but it will repay you ten times over. We’d love to see your efforts if you decide that this is the year you finally put in a pond! Great resources here to help you:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/water-for-wildlife/planning-a-pond/

Smooth Newt in pond by Nigel Bewley

 

8. Provide a bee hotel

You can buy one online, or make one yourself from scrap wood, boxes or old plastic bottles and stuff them full of hollow bamboo sticks. Place on a sunny wall and watch as various solitary bees use it to raise their young. You can also help the more familiar bumblebees by sinking and upturned terracotta pot into a sunny bank or border filled with dried grass or straw. More detailed instructions here:

https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bumblebee-nests/

Bee hotel by Trish Hart

 

9. Stop using chemicals

Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides line the aisles in garden centres all over the country. These are poisons, killing far more than their target pests and diseases. So please ditch the weedkiller, go chemical free and stop the slug pellets. Poisoned slugs are no good for amphibians, hedgehogs, song thrushes that rely on them for dinner. Use biological controls, like nematodes which are just as if not more effective and eco friendly. You can order biological control for many common garden pests online as well as organic options for many plant diseases.

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/animal-deterrents/organic-pest-control/

Leopard slug by Rachael Webb. These ones eat other slugs! 

 

10. See the small things

We’re challenging you to go out in whatever outdoor space you have access to and spend an hour just looking at the ground, the leaves, the world around you. ONce you stop to watch and really observe what’s happening down at ground level in your lawn, or under a stone, or in the edges of a pond if you’re lucky to have access to one, you’ll discover lots of life. Take a snap of what you find, and post it on our social media using the hashtag #seethesmallthings. 

https://www.instagram.com/p/B96EjpZnavi/

Hoverfly by Julian Oliver

 

What we’ve done in 2019, and what 2020 holds!

We’ve been so busy this past year, that we’ve forgotten (or run out of time) to keep our website updated. For anyone just occasionally checking in on our Facebook group, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was just a forum for people to post wildlife photos and sightings. But there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes.

Here’s a list of just some of the things we managed to deliver for Ealing in 2019, and a snapshot of what’s in store this year.

Habitat Management

– countless volunteer habitat management task days (e.g Boles Meadow, Hanwell Meadows, Horsenden Hill to name a few)

– helping manage ponds and surrounding habitat with EWG volunteers and the Friends of Horsenden Hill to preserve vulnerable populations of the internationally threatened Great Crested Newt (GCN) at key locations in the Borough. We also carried out GCN breeding surveys under license with one of our professional ecologists

– getting funding from Tesco for an owl conservation project, erecting approx 20 owl nest boxes for Barn, Tawny and Little Owls across the Borough in association with the parks team

– crucially, for our owl project, working with the Council parks and grassland management team to adapt mowing regimes in key locations to reestablish the rough grassland habitat required specifically by barn owls’ and kestrels’ small mammal prey. Mitigating for the very type of habitat we look set to lose in other areas of Ealing due to proposed development plans.  

Community Events

– running our third annual photography exhibition for residents to enjoy which is proven to boost engagement with and enjoyment of our green spaces (as well as keeping our membership growing year on year)

– community outreach and family fun events in parks including activities like bug hunting, pond dipping and bird spotting to engage young people, families and often under resourced communities with nature and our valuable green spaces

– took part and were funded by the Mayor of London’s National Park City Festival to put on a series of community events called Ealing Wild Discovery Days in July 2019, covering parks and green spaces across the Borough including areas we haven’t previously had much of a presence, such as Northolt, Acton and Southall. 

Education

– trips and excursions to share knowledge, build a community and get people outdoors learning about nature. London Wetlands Centre, a camping weekend at Knepp rewilding project in West Sussex, our annual Dawn Chorus walk at Long Wood, Hanwell Meadows and Warren Farm, starling murmuration at RSPB Otmoor in Oxfordshire. All good fun!

– giving talks and walks to several scouts groups in evenings about bats and other wildlife

– free of charge educational bat walks from April to October for the public across the entire Borough from Northolt to Acton which highlight the importance of maintaining wildlife corridors and green spaces for these key indicator species for biodiversity value

Conservation/Partnerships

– monitoring newly discovered badger setts in the Borough under the advice of the Wildlife Crime Prevention Force to ensure there is evidence of human disturbance should it happen again, like with the last badgers in Ealing that were dug out by men with dogs for sport

– establishing links with Network Rail and London Bat Group to survey and monitor local rail assets as potential bat roost sites, hibernation roosts in particular

– establishing links with several large scale developers in the area to provide nesting and roosting provision for swifts, peregrine falcons and bats as well as other biodiversity benefits integral to their future development proposals

– engaging with local business clubs and business owners to put sponsorship money into green initiatives and wildlife projects in the Borough.

Business As Usual:

– Facilitating an online inclusive discussion forum on Facebook on which there are no stupid questions about wildlife or nature, and everyone can learn and be inspired by a community of experts all with different interests, opinions and viewpoints but by and large treat each other with respect

2020 – things to come!

All of our 2019 work is on-going and, on top of that we are adding the following:

currently we’re applying for grant funding to transform a 4500sq m derelict allotments site into an official nature reserve to protect it from development (and we need donation pledges to help us get match funding! Check it out here:

https://www.spacehive.com/ealing-wildlife-group-nature-reserve

– repeating a Water Vole survey in 2020 that was last carried out in 2009 by WWT to establish whether we still have a population of Britain’s fastest declining mammal and what we can do to protect them

– soon to be rolling out a schools outreach programme encouraging wildlife gardening, and encouraging kids to take an interest in bugs, birds and bats in their school grounds

– building kingfisher banks and artificial nesting tubes with the ranger team in multiple locations across the Borough. We’ll be looking for volunteers to help us on this and other habitat task days.

So there you have it, there’s lots going on! And plenty more in the pipeline, and some we’ve probably forgotten. If you’d like to get involved, keep an eye on our events page here on our website, on our Facebook group, or email us to be added to a volunteering mailing list on ealingwildlifegroup@gmail.com.

(Featured image of Barn Owl by Nigel Bewley).