Author: Sean McCormack (Page 1 of 2)

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.

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!

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