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!
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!
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.
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:
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:
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?
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..
……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:
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.
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.
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
Berkeley Field (behind the tennis courts)
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:
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.
Dr Sean McCormack
Founder and Chair, Ealing Wildlife Group
*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.
Ealing Wildlife Group is a wonderful community and everyone is welcome. At time of writing we have over 2,800 members which is an incredible number! Whether you’re a regular contributor, Facebook appreciator or maybe a photographic whizz – we’re a local community group which hopefully is bringing you some joy! Whilst EWG does put on regular socials, events and volunteer days (when possible!) – not everyone can come along and many members don’t get to meet others in the group.
We got together with some of our well known names to pull together a virtual ‘meet your community members’ so you can put some names to faces and to find out more about what EWG means to them.
Debbie Nixon – W7
Been a member of EWG since 2016
Lived in various parts of Ealing Borough for 40 years
Got involved with EWG at the end of 2015, I wanted to revamp my garden but still ensure it was wildlife friendly. I saw a post on Facebook which showed a lovely garden Sean had designed a few years earlier for a competition. We met, I instantly warmed to him (he loves dogs!) he redesigned the layout, helped build new beds, brought in new plants and shrubs and created a pond.
In 2016, a post appeared on a local Facebook group enquiring about the bats at Hanwell Viaduct. I immediately thought of Sean and his huge knowledge and passion for wildlife. I tagged him and he offered to host a bat walk if anyone was interested. I think about 100 people responded! We did a few, got Helen, who was a scientific researcher and Paula, who already ran bat walks in Walpole Park to help. Sean then said he’d like to set up a Group to bring together local folk to share everything and anything nature related in the Borough.
Favourite thing about EWG? As more people have joined with various skills, knowledge and enthusiasm, this has created the amazing and very special Group it is today. I help out when I can, I’m a midwife and always encourage women to join, good for the children and them. When I’m out dog walking and see someone taking a photo or looking at something, I ask have they heard of the Group, it’s great when they are already members! I’m sure many people see me as a slightly crazy woman but I love telling people about EWG!
Nigel Bewley – W5
Been a member of EWG since 2016
Lived in Ealing for 38 years
Got involved with EWG after being told about it in the car on the way home from a birding trip.
Favourite thing about EWG? The collective expertise, offered freely and without ‘judgement’. Members share their experiences and observations of wildlife in Ealing and sometimes beyond, and comment on topical environmental issues. Some of the members like beer, and that is a good thing!
Annette Winter – W7
Been a member of EWG since 2017
Lived in Ealing for 50 years
I don’t remember how I found the group on Facebook but I was following it for a while and I keep noticing that there were organised events including bat walks at the meadow near the Viaduct, which is pretty close to where I live, and I thought that I should go to one and eventually I did. About 30 years prior to that I had attended a couple of bat walks organised by the Rangers at Brent Lodge Park, back when detectors seemed to be large wooden boxes, but hadn’t actually managed to see an actual bat. This event was different, the detectors were small, easily portable, electronic devices and more importantly they worked! I met Sean and a friendly group of people, had an interesting introductory talk and eventually saw my first bats swooping around the river – It was brilliant and I was completely hooked.
The things that I love about EWG is that it brings beauty into my life on a daily basis, mostly through the photographs taken by other members but also through articles, book suggestions and humorous threads on the web page. I also really like the way that it dovetails with the parks and environmental teams within the council and this has lead me to further activities that I never would have thought of doing including yet more bat walks, where we’ve met other members of the group, bulb plantings, herb and tree identification walks, moth and bird counts and even dragonfly identification courses (mostly spent laughing with Boaby and Kish).
The trip to see the starling murmuration at Oxmoor was one of the most brilliant things ever – If you ever get a chance to see this, do it and we met Yvonne and Charlie on that trip who feel like friends. The best thing of all is that I feel like I’m still learning thanks to EWG. I watched a film the other evening and just at the crucial moment, when the heroine crash landed, I heard the birds squawk and thought that’s a great tit! I really love that I now know that.
Julie Winter – UB6
Been a member of EWG since 2017
Lived in Ealing for 50 years
I was introduced to the group by my sister, Annette. We are both really invested in Walpole Park. It has been witness to all of our training attempts to complete a 5K run for Cancer Race for Life and we also have a memorial tree for our Dad there, which is a rendezvous point for us.
One afternoon, I was sat on the bench overlooking Dad’s tree, Annette had gone to buy our teas from the Rickyard cafe. She’s been gone a while and I cast my eyes around and spotted her, with our hot beverages in hand with “a strange man “. They were both staring up into the canopy of a mature tree. I’m keeping my eye on him in case he’s dodgy! When Annette returns, she has news. “That noise we heard coming from the tree is in fact the feeding call from baby owls, we have Little Owls breeding in Ealing !!” I’m astonished about the owls but curious about the tree staring stranger. ” That’s Sean, he runs Ealing Wildlife Group on Facebook, it’s a group of local people who love and enjoy nature and wildlife, you should join”. She sent me the link the same evening.
Favourite thing about EWG? Too many: I love the opportunity to revisit things we did as children such as listening and identifying bird song. Getting involved in habitat work such as building stumperies and bat boxes (or trying to). The annual Photo exhibition is superb, but I have to confess to loving the organised Bat Walks. I now have my own bat detector and no doubt look “strange “ too as I’m wandering around, looking up and waving my gadget around.
Heidi Cullip – W13
Been a member of EWG since 2019
Lived in Ealing for 4 years
I work with Sean in our day jobs and, as soon as I heard about EWG, I was eager to find out all about it so I joined the Facebook group. Sean and I car share to work so I get to hear a lot about what’s going on with the group and the projects that Sean is working on and I was overawed by what the group has been able to achieve and the grand plans that EWG have for the future.
I was so excited to get involved in a bigger way and, as I work in Marketing and PR in my day job, I offered to do some comms/marketing work for the group. I look after the newsletter and any press releases that need to go out. I’m also working on a secret website project (more to come soon!) alongside my husband Drew Noble who is also an active member of the group.
Favourite thing about EWG? I love how many experts we have in the group! I had no idea that there were so many knowledgeable and passionate people walking around – it’s wonderful to have a supportive community like EWG which enables everyone to get involved!