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Hedgehog survey update, it’s good news!

Our Ealing hedgehog team have been swiftly setting up and collecting another 30 trail cams across Ealing allotment sites.. beavering away reviewing photos of Ealing wildlife, harvesting data to submit to our friends at ZSL London Zoo All puns intended! First site has revealed an unexpected number of visits across the site from our prickliest mammal! 6 out of 10 cameras recorded visits, nightly or much more frequently. Thanks to all EWG members for help with this phase but esp Jane Fernley Jane Hodgkin (and of course Sean McCormack, as ever!)

Ealing’s Hedgehog Highways project launch. Can you help?

Blog post by Natasha Gavin, EWG Hedgehog project lead

When I was growing up in Ealing, it was a rare treat to see a hedgehog. In fact I only saw one once, when I was 12 yrs old, in South Ealing. I tried to pick it up, and that REALLY hurt. I learnt a life lesson: let wildlife be wild. No iPhones back then. Just a vivid memory remained 😉

Fast forward 30 odd years, it’s even rarer to see a hedgehog in Ealing. Or anywhere. Numbers have declined roughly by 2/3 since my first and only sighting of a live hedgehog. But trail cameras now mean I know they exist, in smaller numbers, but in urban safe havens- I have watched dozens of prickly mummies feeding their baby hoglets, in compost heaps, piles of leaves and back gardens all around our borough. As nocturnal creatures, you are unlikely to spot them coming out to feed, but affordable clever technology means we can capture their movements. And then we can help them to thrive.. or at least survive.

What does EWG have planned in our hedgehog project? 

Hanwell Hedgehog by James Morton

ZSL (Zoological Society of London) have been surveying hedgehogs across London for 5 years as part of their London Hogwatch project. We have commissioned them (using grants secured by our one lady fundraising team, thank you Sandra!) to help us survey populations in three hog hotspots across Ealing: Pitshanger Park, Brent Lodge Park (aka the Bunny Park) and Elthorne Park and Extension. ZSL will install about 30 cameras in those parks next week (as hedgehogs venture out to eat as much as possible before hibernating) and review all footage for us after a two week period. We will feed back to EWG members via informative online talks during this project- so watch this space.

We’d like to thank our friends at the Charity of William Hobbayne for getting in touch with us proactively to ask if there were upcoming conservation projects they could help support us on in Hanwell, and The Freshwater Foundation for awarding us further funds to get the local community across the whole Borough of Ealing involved in helping hedgehogs and connecting our green spaces and gardens to allow wildlife like hedgehogs to get around the borough and continue to thrive.  

EWG is also partnering with ZSL to deliver a citizen science project- that’s where you can help. 

How can you as an EWG member be involved in helping hedgehogs?

Phase 1

  1. ZSL will lend us a number of extra cameras, for private residents to use in back gardens adjacent/ in close proximity to the Parks above. Cameras would be loaned for a two week period and EWG members would be asked to review all footage at the end of the period. (The cameras only record for very short bursts when triggered by motion at night so this would not be too onerous.) Get in touch ASAP with me if you are interested in hosting a camera natashagavineo@gmail.com 
  2. We are looking for a Hedgehog champion in each of the three areas. This will involve coordinating and monitoring where private cameras are at any time, and ensuring their safe return to ZSL (via me) at the end of the project. It could also involve helping with phase 2 of this project. 
  3. Report any hedgehog sightings (recent or historic) to Greenspace Information for Greater London here: https://www.gigl.org.uk/submit-records/submit-a-record/ 
  4. Talk to your neighbours now about how to help hedgehogs: create holes in fences between gardens, leave wild corners, provide fresh water, leave out cat food in Spring/Summer months, ensure ponds have escape ramps and stop using horrid pesticides like blue slug pellets.
Tash Gavin, Hedgehog project lead with her very own hedgehog highway

Phase 2

  1. Once we have a better picture (no pun intended) of where the hedgehog highways are (or should be), our dedicated team of hole makers will offer to create CD sized holes in fences, where permission by fence/ wall owner is given. The grants from Freshwater Foundation and The Hobbayne Trust will be used to purchase all necessary equipment- all we need are DIY lovers. So please come out of the woodwork..:)
  2. We will be doing some hedgehog focused habitat management and creation task days for volunteers who want to get involved in a hands-on way. With some of the funding kindly provided by The Hobbayne Trust we will be initially focusing on making the Hobbayne Half Acre site near Hanwell Viaduct a model reserve for hedgehogs to thrive. All ages and abilities welcome to come help. Volunteer dates to follow. If you’d like to keep up to date then please sign up to our volunteer mailing list here: https://ealingwildlifegroup.com/get-involved/volunteering/
  3. We will be running a public information campaign in Spring/Summer 2023- if you want to help with that do let me know. It will involve outreach work, and probably talking to families and children- every child should be able to see at least one living hedgehog during their childhood, shouldn’t they? I have seen three dead ones in the last year. 

Please help us to change that. Any Hedgehog Heros please contact me natashagavineo@gmail.com

A PDF of our Hedgehog Slide Deck

Success! The Peregrines have fledged!

It’s been two years in the making but at long last, the Ealing Hospital Peregrines have successfully fledged 3 chicks! Two females and one male as far as we can tell., and all are strong and healthy and flying around the hospital!

How it started/ How it’s going. Photos by Sean McCormack (L) and David Gordon Davy (R)

There is a photo gallery that tells their story here

And to read more about this incredible journey, take a look at this guest blog Sean wrote for Animal Journal!


We will keep you updated on our peregrine family, we can track the chicks as they are all ringed. I wonder where they will end up?

Save Ealing’s Swifts!!

Swift illustration by @mx.momac on Instagram

One of the biggest thrills of spring is when the beautiful and acrobatic swifts return to the UK after a long and perilous journey from Africa.  They tell us that summer is on its way soon and that all is well with the world.  

The sad fact is that Ealing’s swifts, like swifts across the UK, are in serious decline.  Swifts spend their winter in Africa and return to the UK in April with their lifelong partner and offspring to breed in the same area as last year.  Swifts are used to living alongside humans, but modern building design and the refurbishment of old buildings have been depriving them of the nooks and crannies that they use for nesting sites. 

The Saving Ealing’s Swifts project is to combat the decline of swift nesting sites.  Ealing Wildlife Group is planning to erect 150 nest boxes to boost existing colonies of swifts and attract new colonies. The nest boxes will be sited on public buildings across the borough, with signage to tell the public about these wonderful birds.  The project will boost biodiversity in our borough & engage local communities with the conservation of these birds.

The swifts will be returning in April and May 2022, and so we hope to have the swift boxes erected by March, in plenty of time to help protect and conserve this iconic species for future generations.  Can you help by making a pledge to our fundraising effort?  We need to raise £10,000 in total, including £5000 from our followers which will be matched by Future Ealing.  Every little helps and you can pledge at www.spacehive.com/savingealingswifts.  If you are not able to contribute, there are other ways you can help, by offering your time to support some of our work by volunteering.

Thank you all for your ongoing support and for making Ealing such a great place for wildlife!

Photo by Malcolm Bowey

Heather from Calderglen on Ealing’s Harvest Mice

Heather Ryce releasing her captive bred harvest mice at Horsenden West meadows

“Conservation work involves the protection, preservation or restoration of nature and biodiversity, not a task one would immediately associate with Instagram or TikTok. However, more and more we are utilising social media platforms to share ideas and information, organise events and have conversations with one another regarding wildlife and the environment. It’s blending our very primal need to be one with nature with our newly evolved reliance on technology, and in most cases, it is working to the benefit of the natural world. 

In the case of releasing endangered captive-bred harvest mice back in Ealing we have Instagram Stories to thank. No, really. 

I have followed Dr Sean McCormack and Ealing Wildlife Group on social media for a while. I was inspired by the passion and innovation of both and drawn back each time on my phone by the community spirit and the sharing of wildlife photographs and information.

When Sean posted on his Instagram about a new project to return harvest mice back in a suitable habitat and monitor their population I paused my Netflix show, put my glass of red wine back on the coffee table and furiously began constructing my reply. I had to be involved. 

I work as an Animal Keeper and Education Officer at a small zoo in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. We care for a very successful breeding group of harvest mice and had been on the look out for a while for a project to introduce our mice back into the wild, as we were reaching maximum capacity in their enclosure. 

Some of the first Calderglen mice installed in EWG’s brand new captive breeding programme HQ

We had explored options in the past, but nothing seemed to work out or last. I wanted a project that Calderglen could fully get behind and believe in, and that gave our Scottish mice the best chance at surviving. 

After talks with Sean I knew the area chosen for their release and the people involved offered the harvest mice the best chance at restoring a wild population in Ealing. A species that hasn’t been recorded there since the late 1970s. It was time for that to change. 

After a couple of months of more conversations and planning with Sean the morning arrived for the long journey down to London. I plucked the fittest mice from the safety of their captivity, clinging unknowingly to their corkscrew hazel branch and silently wished each one good luck as I placed them into the travel box, awaiting a life of freedom only wild animals understand. 

It’s not lost on me the control humans have over non-human species and even though in my heart I knew I was doing the right thing for the conservation of harvest mice, looking at each individual twitching face, I also battled with doubt if it was what they would want. 

It may seem silly, after all how could a mouse possibly understand the concept of consent and the importance of its little life in the preservation of its entire species, but it certainly picked at my moral compass regardless. 

It’s why I take so much comfort in Ealing Wildlife Group’s project because out of the many that have been reviewed by Calderglen this one surpassed expectation. 

Heather Ryce at Horsenden Farm, ready to go release her precious charges into the wild

It was a lovely evening when I met with members and volunteers of Ealing Wildlife Group and I quickly felt I was with ‘my people’. Our enthusiasm and passion kept the chat flowing as the sun started to dip and the smiles and laughs just got wider and louder even after we stopped recording videos on our phones. Everyone was excited to be there, everyone wished for the success of the project, and everyone believed it was the right thing to do to give back to nature. 

Heather and EWG’s Caroline and Sean chat to passersby about the mice and reintroduction programme

We let Calderglen’s mice go in thickets of grass and flowers, with a small shelter and some food left behind for a short-term resource if they should need it. I watched one particular brown and white fuzzy ball dart immediately from the travel box and wind its way gracefully into the foliage. 

Heather, Sean and Caroline assess a likely release location for one group of mice

A bubble of emotion rose in my throat as I again wished it a silent good luck. As I uploaded the video to my Instagram with the caption ‘They’re free!’ and watched the mouse get lost behind stalks of green and fade from view, my doubts vanished. The harvest mice were home. “

The door to their soft release tank (with familiar food, water and shelter) is open, and they are free to be wild again…

Heather Ryce

Animal Keeper and Education Officer

Calderglen Zoo

(All photo credits to Council ranger James Morton, who accompanied us on this release alongside fellow ranger Jon Staples to whom we are grateful for collaborating on this project)

New Harvest Mouse partnership with Battersea Children’s Zoo

Battersea Harvest Mice

We’re very excited to be partnering with Battersea Children’s Zoo and their sister zoo, New Forest Wildlife Park, both of which will be providing us with captive bred harvest mice to release in Ealing over the coming years. I recently visited Battersea and was astounded by their beautiful Harvest Mouse exhibit, which showcases just how busy (and adorable) these little mice are. Here’s what Head Keeper, Jamie Baker, has to say about the partnership:

“Battersea Park Children’s Zoo has always championed British native species. Alongside our conservation work with other BIAZA and EAZA facilities on European Endangered Species breeding programmes we have always worked to put our own native species at the forefront of our work. As one of most successful zoos working with the Scottish wildcat breeding programme, producing 5 kittens over the last couple of years, we also collaborate on reintroduction projects for native hedgehogs and of course, Eurasian harvest mice, which are increasingly threatened in Britain. 

Battersea Children’s Zoo Harvest Mouse enclosure


We currently have one of the largest harvest mouse exhibits in the country and actively breed mice at the zoo before transferring them to reintroduction projects up and down the country. Education is key in providing a future for our native species, so our dedicated harvest mouse barn is a great opportunity for our yearly 8500 school children to connect with these relatively unheard of creatures. 


We are excited to have struck a new partnership with Ealing Wildlife Group and can’t wait to shine a light on their amazing work to restore wild places in London and reintroduce native species. Our curator Jason and head keepers Jamie and Charlotte had the pleasure of welcoming Sean to the zoo recently to discuss our joint passion for harvest mouse conservation and we look forward to providing captive bred harvest mice to Ealing Wildlife Group’s upcoming release projects. Joining forces to rewild some amazing habitats in West London.”

The team at Battersea and New Forest are also keen to come help us survey for harvest mice to monitor how well the reintroduction project is going over the coming years. There will also be opportunities for volunteers to help with this important work. Exciting times!

Photograph Wildlife in its Environment

Long time EWG member and nature photographer extraordinaire Nigel Bewley has put together two photography tutorials for us! This one is about Wildlife in its Environment and the previous one is Birds in Flight . Thanks Nigel!

Take a step back

It’s lovely and impressive to fill the frame with your subject and make a photograph that is a close-up portrait full of detail but without much of the environment – the place where your subject lives. Just by showing a little of the environment puts the photograph into context. Two goldfinches on a feeder? We know straight away that it was likely to have been taken in a garden with the inference that goldfinches are garden birds.

A portrait often works well. But what of the environment in which your subject lives?

Set The Scene

If you have wildlife in your garden, set yourself up with your camera, make yourself comfortable and be prepared for a wait. It could be that your subject has become used to you or is so busy that it doesn’t care about your presence.

Try using a piece of material to cover yourself as a disguise. It is always a good idea to keep quiet, move slowly and don’t wear perfume or aftershave. Foxes, amphibians in the pond, birds flying into nest boxes or even rats make great subjects that are right on your doorstep.

Patience is often a key to getting the shot or you might just get lucky.

Use Props And Build A Set

For this photograph of a coal tit I set up a wooden carry-box and various garden tools and scattered some peanuts. Wait for the right light – you will know when the sun makes its way around the garden and is behind you. Some wildlife photographers can be a bit sniffy about this technique and don’t consider it “proper”.

Many, many successful, published wildlife photographs use props and bait. A fox investigating a tipped-over dustbin? A kingfisher perched on a sign that reads “No Fishing”? A squirrel looking through a camera’s viewfinder? All artifice, guile and imagination.

Go Wide In The Wild

Composition often plays a key role in environmental photographs. Get away from placing your subject in the middle of the frame. A successful environmental photograph may simply be a landscape shot where the subject plays an important role in acting as a focal point.

By including some of this red deer stag’s habitat the image tells more of a story about the animal’s relationship with the environment. We can immediately see two things: it’s a stag and it’s in the mountains.

You don’t have to go to the Cairngorms for this kind of photograph. A nearby green space will works just as well. There’s plenty of wildlife around – like this muntjac. Go and look for it. It will be there.

Include People

Wildlife exists alongside us and we exist alongside wildlife. Our lives should be in balance with nature. It never ceases to amaze me how wildlife can be part of our lives – it’s all around us and it’s quite valid to document that with people or buildings etc. as part of the photograph. Wildlife, people and buildings. It often works very well.

A shaggy parasol mushroom in my local park
A barn owl and Ealing Hospital

Tell a story

Consider a series of photographs of the same subject taken over a period of time to tell a story. It could be of a particular tree seen over the year from bare branches to full leaf, a family of foxes and their cubs or the adoption of a nest box – not necessarily by birds – with their comings and goings.

Use your imagination. Use your love for wildlife.

Please obey and respect the current lockdown rules and advice.

Photographing Birds in Flight

Long time Ealing Wildlife Group member and nature photographer extraordinaire Nigel Bewley has put together two photography tutorials for us! This one is about Birds in Flight and the next one is Wildlife in its Environment. Thanks Nigel!

Getting To Grips With Photographing Birds In Flight

Exposure setting

Start with Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority.

Shutter Speed

Select a shutter speed fast enough to “freeze” the bird’s wings in your photograph. Go for at least 1/1000th of a second to 1/2000th of a second. Even faster is better, if possible.

Aperture

Select an aperture of around f/8. This aperture is likely to be the lens’s “sweet spot” where it is sharpest and you will also get a decent depth of field.

ISO

Set an ISO that will allow for the above combinations of shutter and aperture. On a bright and sunny day, start with an ISO of 250.

Focus Points

The most accurate focus point is the central point but it’s tricky to keep this centred on the bird. Activate all of the focus points or at least a cluster in the centre of the frame. Set your camera’s focus to continuous focus. The camera will continuously focus with the flight of the bird. Canon calls this function “AI Servo”. Nikon calls it AF-C or Continuous Servo.

Focus Points

Exposure Compensation

Your camera’s meter will be trying to expose for the bright sky. The bird that you are trying to photograph is not as bright as the sky so dial in around +1 EV of exposure to fool the meter into exposing for the bird and not the sky. If you are photographing a white bird such as a swan, you may need to dial in around -1 EV to stop the bird “burning out” in the photograph.

Plus/Minus

Look for a plus/minus button and dial in under or over exposure compensation

Lapwing plus 1
The dark lapwing needed +1 EV
owl minus 1
Pale barn owl needed -1 EV

The dark plumaged lapwing needed +1 EV but the bright, pale barn owl needed -1 EV for a correct exposure

Practice

Lots of practice in the garden or, if lock down allows, in the park.

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