Where we were in 2020, where we are now, and where we are going in 2021
It’s been awhile and circumstances have slowed everything down but things are still moving forward at Costons Lane!
The weather and Thames Water have delayed the pond building until we get the go ahead from TW and it dries out a bit, but we have been working on other aspects of the project! The contractor has lifted the gate (so it opens now!) and will be building the platform for our building and the paths in the front half. Once this work is complete and restrictions lift, we can have volunteer days again! Our first task will be create the wildlife garden. And once the platform is complete we can order our beautiful green roofed recycled shipping container and finally give Ealing wildlife Group a home of its own!
Of course the first priority of a nature reserve is to provide a place for nature to thrive and CLNR is no different. We had a bioblitz last summer, the first of many, to see what kind of plants and animals call it home. As expected most of what we found were insects and arachnids which is very good as the UK is catastrophically losing insect life! We had a few ladybirds, several species of tiny parasitic wasps, two kinds of grasshopper, leafhoppers, dock bugs, blue flea beetles, dragonflies, many different butterflies, bumblebees, honey bees, several spiders we don’t know what they are yet and a few wasp spiders which are always exciting! You can see the full gallery of critters below, the ones we know are named, if you think you can identify any of the others or think we may have got it wrong leave a comment below!
As for birds we saw and heard robins, starlings, house sparrows, wood pigeons, and a red kite and sparrowhawk over head! On different occasions we have also heard wrens, green finches, and black caps as well! No amphibians or reptiles yet, but creating the pond should help the amphibians and of course we plan on building habitat for slow worms and if we are lucky maybe even grass snakes! The mammals we found were grey squirrels (of course,) a curious fox, and a few pipistrelle and soprano pipistrelle bats. We were expecting more bats but again the pond will create food and should attract more, most we saw seemed to be on their way to the river where food is plentiful.
Throughout the summer and early autumn we had several volunteer days, while it was still allowed and safe to do so. The first one was the biggest, with 30 volunteers and the help of the Ealing Park Rangers we moved enormous amount of rubbish out to the entrance to be picked up later! The area was originally an allotment site (abandoned 20 years ago because of the constant flooding) so much of the rubbish was bits and pieces of old allotment detritus. Unfortunately, it was also used as a fly tip so we found toilets, shopping trolleys, old footballs, shoes, batteries, you name it! Park rangers Jon and James cleared a path around the site with a giant mowing machine and later it will properly mulched. Our second two volunteer days were mostly clearing brambles from the area we plan to turn into a meadow to replace the meadow that will be lost when we build the pond. We still found and moved a tonne of rubbish we even found a bathtub! Then the lockdowns came and the weather turned and volunteering stopped for the winter.
So where do we go from here? Anticipating the lockdown easing up in the spring, we will continue to have volunteer days, starting with the wildlife garden. And also exciting news, we have got two shipments of free trees from I Dig and the Woodland trust, so we will have to plan a planting scheme and get planting them out! Then working around the heavy works of pond building and path laying, we will build the bird hides and the pond dipping platform. I plan on setting up a spring bioblitz, as at Boles meadow I’d like to have a bioblitz in every season. After the large projects are complete, it will be different tasks, building and installing bird and bat boxes, different feeding stations, increasing the diversity of plants and micro habitats, and seeing how we could increase our connectivity to other green sites in the area. Later as the building is installed, we hope to build a deck around it to give us more space to teach, and have community events.
So that’s about it, progress is slower than we would like but not too bad considering the circumstances. As always, if you would like to volunteer, pop us am email at [email protected] and put volunteer in the subject heading and let us know what you would like to do. It may be a while until you hear anything back because of lockdown but hold tight and rest assured your help is very much wanted and appreciated! Hope to see you all in the spring!
I’m trying something new, a night sky guide for us city dwellers. Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Ealing and most of West London is very light polluted, on the Bortle Scale ( a scale that ranks light pollution) we are a Bortle class 8 out of 9. Class 1 is true dark skies like you get in the middle of the Sahara or the Atlantic Ocean and class 9 is the greatest amount of light pollution (think central London, NYC, Hong Kong.) As you can see, this is not an ideal place to see deep sky objects or anything faint. However having said that, there are things to see in our skies!
The Winter Circle
The lovely British weather
One thing I should mention is the weather. The weather can really ruin a celestial event if it takes place over a few nights and you end up with clouds the whole time. Fortunately, the Winter circle is something that is in the sky all winter so you can still get a chance to see it at some point even though it feels like the clouds are never going to go away!
The Stars of the Winter Circle
The Winter Circle (or Hexagon) is the name of an Asterism that encompases some of the most prominent stars and constellations in the winter night sky. Seen rising in the Southeast and making its way across the southern sky over the course of the night, it consists of Sirius, the dog star of Canis Major and the brightest star in the sky, Rigel, the foot of Orion, Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus, Capella in Auriga, Castor and Pollux, the twins of Gemini, and Procyon, the little dog star of Canis Minor. The Pleiades appear to the upper right of the circle and the Milky Way almost perfectly bisects it (that’s not something you will be able to see in Ealing though.) The moon makes a monthly trip though it as do many of the planets, which is something that makes it interesting to observe the whole season.
Deep Sky Objects
There is also one deep sky object you can see from Ealing within the circle, the Orion Nebula found in Orion’s sword. It can be seen with good binoculars and small telescopes, and I even got a snap of it using a telephoto lens. There are loads of nebulae and star clusters in and around the circle, I plan on trying to observe them all from here and see what I can see. I will keep you posted if I find anything good! Please let me know in the comments if you have had any luck with any deep sky objects here in Ealing!
A few other exciting things to see in December provided the weather cooperates!
As the growing season winds down, people are starting to tidy their gardens and prepare them for winter. For wildlife friendly gardens and gardeners however, things are a little different, it’s far less tidy, and far better for the wildlife! Here are 10 things a wildlife gardener can do to prepare the garden for winter that benefit both the garden and the wildlife.
1. Clean feeders, feed the birds!
It’s always important to keep your bird feeders as clean as possible and this time of year is a good time to do it as it the feeders will be very busy over the next few months! Then fill the feeders with fat balls, fat blocks, coconut shells filled with fat, fat pellets, fat filled with berries, mealworms, peanuts! Lots of fat! Don’t use the plastic nets though as birds can get caught in them with tragic consequences! (Also we don’t need more plastic) Don’t forget seeds and fruit, and I was today years old when I found out you can leave out cheese and bacon bits as well (probably go sparingly so you don’t attract too many rats!) A firm favourite with my birds are sunflowers seeds, I think just about everyone likes them, I get the shelled ones, waaaay less mess! Don’t get cheap seed mixes though, they are often made with cheap grains that are too big for anything other than pigeons to eat, I learned this the hard way!
2. Keep water available!
Keep small bowls of water on the ground and/or bird baths available as it’s just as important for wildlife to access water in the winter as at any time of the year. If you have a pond and should it ice over (not super likely in London but it could happen), melt a hole in the ice so the critters can get in and out and drink, and to make sure your pond doesn’t become oxygen starved. Use a pan filled with hot water to melt a hole, do not bang on the ice to break it as this sends out painful shockwaves that can hurt wildlife. (I’m imagining being inside a ringing bell, not a pleasant thought!)
3. Watch out for Hibernating Animals!
Check bonfire material for hibernating animals such as toads, hedgehogs, and frogs before lighting! (Better yet only build the bonfire when you are ready to light it, then nothing can get into it) Be careful turning compost as it’s warm and could be full of slow worms, grass snakes, toads, frogs and other lovely things you want in your garden!
4. Make homes for the animals!
Don’t bag up all your leaves, spread them on the flower beds, it’s good for your soil and it provides shelter for frogs, and insects, and gives Blackbirds and thrushes, and Violet Ground Beetles a place to forage for food. Leave some pots and piles of bricks laying around for newts and toads ( they like the greenhouse too so watch out for them if you are tidying, I have frogs in mine!) Make or buy some bug hotels for the leaf cutter bees and other insects such as lacewings and ladybirds, or just drill some holes in a log! Place clay roof tiles in the pond for the frogs and newts that may be overwintering in the pond.
5. Leave the Soil alone!
If you can help it, avoid digging your garden beds, as many spider eggs and insect larvae (especially moths) overwinter in the soil.
6 Plant some Winter Berries!
Shrubs that feed wildlife in winter are great for gardens because they also provide beautiful flowers in the spring and summer, lovely foliage in the Autumn and striking berries and stems in the winter! I wrote another post with a list of native berries here (such as hawthorn, rowan, guelder rose etc) but other good non-native garden shrubs for wildlife are Cotoneaster, Pyracantha, Barberry (Berberis), and Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) although be careful with the last one, it can get invasive if not carefully controlled!
7. Leave it Wild!
Avoiding trimming ivy and don’t cut hedges until at least March. Both provide much needed food and shelter for overwintering wildlife. Leave all the herbaceous plants untrimmed until early spring. Leave it messy! Many insects overwinter in hollow stems, ladybirds will all snuggle up on a stem for the winter and if there is one thing you really want in your garden, it’s ladybirds! When you do finally cut the stems down in spring, set them aside in stacks until May so the insects can emerge safely.
8. Clean Ponds!
Winter (Oct through January) is the best time to clean your pond as it is the time of lowest activity. However there are still active critters in there so be careful! Always stack the weeds and debris you clear from a pond on the edge for a few days so things can crawl out and back into the water. Having a little poke around and giving some of the dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, other invertebrates, newts, frogs, and snails a helping hand back into the water is nice too.
9 . Clean out Nest Boxes!
In late winter clean out the nest boxes for the upcoming spring nesting season. Also be aware that some birds will roost communally in nest boxes in the winter to stay warm, especially wrens and house sparrows so making sure they have nest boxes or roosting pouches in you garden in winter could be very beneficial!
10. Help the Butterflies!
There are five species of butterfly in the UK that hibernate in winter as adults, the brimstone, comma, peacock, small tortoiseshell and red admiral. Two of these, the Peacock and the Small Tortoiseshell usually overwinter in a shed or garage, and if you see them there, leave them be. Sometimes though they will try to hibernate in your house, which would be fine if it didn’t get so warm. When the butterflies get warm they wake up and think it’s spring, and that is not going to be a good time for the poor butterfly when it’s still winter and there is no food in sight. So if you find an awake and confused butterfly in your house, the Scottish Wildlife Trust suggests the following:
The best thing you can do if you see a butterfly flying about in your house in the middle of winter is to help it relocate to a cooler spot. Put it in a cardboard box for a while to calm it down and then leave it in your shed, garage or another suitable location. Somewhere cool and dry is ideal. Remember to set it free when spring arrives!
Laura Preston, Scottish Wildlife Trust
So there it is, ten ways to help make your garden a safe haven for wildlife this winter! You will be rewarded come spring with an abundance of helpful creatures to keep your garden ticking along as well as the knowledge that you are also helping them to survive and thrive when so many are in shocking rates of decline across the country. Gardens make up one of the largest green spaces in the UK so we can have a huge impact on the future of wildlife, one garden at a time!
In the dark cold days of winter, nothing is more cheery in the grey landscape than colourful winter berries dotting the hedgerows. However not only are they beautiful , they provide a vital food source for birds, insects, and mammals when little other food is available. All of the following berries can be found growing wild and in gardens in Ealing. They are a great addition to any garden/greenspace to help the wildlife through the winter! (I realise that several of these are technically not berries, but I will refer to them as such for the sake of convenience)
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
You can find hawthorn pretty much everywhere in the Borough, on the sides of the A40, up on Horsenden Hill, the Bunny Park, everywhere. Found in hedgerows the fruits are called Haws and are eaten by loads of migrating birds such as Redwings, Waxwings and Fieldfares. Our natives such as Blackbirds, Greenfinches, Yellowhammers, Chaffinches, Hawfinches, Starlings and many other birds enjoy them too!
Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)
Rowan is another winter bird favourite, including Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Song Thrush, Blackcap, Fieldfare and Waxwing. This feeds more than just birds, caterpillars of the apple fruit moth feed on the berries as well!
Dog rose (Rosa canina)
These beautiful native hedgerow roses turn into the bright red hips that feed birds such as Thrushes, Blackbirds, Redwing, Fieldfare and Waxwings, which then disperse the seeds in their droppings, and some birds like finches actually eat the seeds!
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
The beautiful plum like drupes of the Blackthorn (called sloes) provide insects, mammals, and larger birds like the thrushes and hawfinches a lovely midwinter feast. Humans also use them for making flavoured gin!
Spindle (Euonymus europaeus)
House Sparrows, Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, various Tits, and Starlings, and even mice and foxes eat the berries of the spindle. (It’s poisonous to humans though!). I haven’t seen a lot of spindle in Ealing, but I might just not be looking in the right places though as it’s a sign of ancient woodland. I will keep an eye out for it in our local bits of woodland such as Long Wood, Fox Wood, Horsenden Wood, and Perivale wood. Please let us know in the comments if you spot any out and about!
Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
Most birds leave these until later in the winter; they eat certain berries at certain times in the winter to ensure they have enough to last until spring. Mistle Thrushes, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Fieldfares and Redwings all eat the berries. However the Mistle Thrushes don’t mess around, they will aggressively guard their berries to prevent all the other birds from getting any! Small mammals like wood mice and dormice also enjoy them.
Ivy (Hedera helix)
This is another high fat, calorie dense berry that the birds leave until late winter when the other berries have dwindled and the ground is still too hard to forage for worms and insects and nothing else is growing. Some of the bird species that enjoy Ivy berries are Thrushes, Blackcaps, Bullfinches, Wood Pigeons, Blackbirds, Doves, Warblers, and Jays. And despite popular belief Ivy does not kill trees!
Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)
Another ancient woodland indicator, the red berries are an important food source for birds, including Bullfinches and Mistle Thrushes. Far from ancient woodland however, the berries are a favourite food of Waxwings coming from Scandinavia who can often be seen scarfing them down in car parks! If anyone knows of a local guelder rose landscaped car park, please comment below so we can all potentially see some Waxwings this winter!
Mistletoe (Viscum album)
I almost didn’t include mistletoe because it is relatively scarce in Ealing (and London in general) but can you talk about winter berries and not mention mistletoe? Mistletoe doesn’t grow as a separate shrub, they are parasites and derive most of their nutrients from their host trees. They particularly like Hawthorn, Lime, Poplar, Sycamore, Ash, and in the UK their favourite is Apple trees. They are hemi parasitical however so they do also photosynthesize. Blackcaps love mistletoe, they eat the pith but wipe the sticky seeds off their bills and onto the tree branches, helping the mistletoe find new hosts trees. Mistle Thrushes (unsurprisingly) also enjoy mistletoe berries.
This Friday Dec 4th at 8pm, join Sean McCormack for an online discussion about a potential reintroduction project of Harvest Mice in Ealing. We’ll be exploring whether we have Europe’s smallest rodent species in the Borough, how we might find out with some help from our members, whether we still have suitable habitat and why such a project might be beneficial to people and biodiversity.
This is hopefully the first in a series of talks exploring rewilding and nature conservation in Ealing.
There are 100 spaces; first come, first served. Please do join live so you can take part in the Q&A afterwards. A recording of the session will be posted after for those who missed the live event.
The meeting will be on Zoom, details as follows:
Ealing Wildlife Group is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
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.
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.
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:
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?!
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!
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.
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.
Beautiful Ealing: celebrate the wonderful natural spaces and landscapes on our doorstep
Fantastic Flora: showcase the beauty and importance of our plant life (fungi count here too!)
Relationships with Nature: capture the meaning of nature and wildlife to you and tell us why it makes your heart sing
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
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
Young Wildlife Explorers: this is the under 16s category and seeks to celebrate our young wildlife enthusiasts and engage other young people with nature.
All submissions must be your own work and by entering you declare you have the legal rights to that image.
Each entrant can submit up to three photographic images to be judged for competition
Submission of entries does not guarantee inclusion in the exhibition.
Entries will be eligible for a first, second and third award in 6 categories as well as placing in the overall winner category.
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.
Entries submitted after the deadline will not be eligible. Late entries cause extra admin and will NOT be accepted.
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.
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.
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.
No photos of staged wildlife shots, no captive animals, no dead creatures posed as if alive are allowed.
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.
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.
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.
Political agendas are not factored into any part of the judging criteria. Photos win on their own merits.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.