I first heard of Warren Farm from the many diverse posts shared on the EWG Facebook page, seeing numerous photos of red kites, kestrels and skylarks soaring high above the 61-acre space, little owls looking out from the tree hollows of oak and a rainbow of insects and spiders.
I have only visited once before and with Spring fully upon us, a second visit was well overdue.
Over the last few years, my bird identification skills have improved, but other than bees and wasps, it is rare for me to catch a glimpse of invertebrates, let alone try to identify them.
As such, my mission was to spend more time in nature to improve my knowledge, focusing in on birds and insects. Yet, with an estimated 27,000 insects across the UK, I realised that I needed to go with people who could help me identify what I saw.
Julian, a member of EWG, an amateur entomologist and amazing macro photographer, who regularly frequents this space, had kindly offered to let me accompany him on one of his solo photography walks. Unbeknownst to him, I ended up hijacking his kind offer and using it as an opportunity to have other people come along.
The walk was to start at 10 am outside the Fox Pub in Hanwell. A popular meeting point for the Ealing Wildlife Group.
A group of 9 of us, plus Max the very well-behaved dog, headed in via the Green Lane entrance, crossing the River Brent on our way. Upon our arrival, Katie, Trustee of the Brent River & Canal Society running the campaign seeking Local Nature Reserve designation to save Warren Farm from development and frequent visitor, had arranged for some members of a local nature group to attend. Quickly our group of 9 turned into closer to 20.
The precious acid and neutral grassland meadow habitat, perfect for native wildflowers and grasses, creates a rich and diverse environment for a multitude of insects and spiders. As with any species-rich ecosystem, invertebrates are key in making it perfect for the mammals and birds which feed on them.
‘So, where do we start?’ someone asked.
Julian knelt down over some foliage and said ‘Getting low is the best way to see things.
I leant over the nettles and brambles and stopped to focus in on a few leaves for no more than a few seconds. I spotted the rich red ladybird and then immediately, I saw another, then another. It was as though the first one gave me the key to sight. I looked at them with the same wonder a small child sees the world.
My eyes moved slowly over the leaves in front of me. Within the space of a few meters, crickets and grasshoppers clustered next to one another, more ladybirds including a yellow 14 spotted, caterpillar webbing, flower beetles, wasps, butterflies, bees and spiders.
Those knowledgeable among us happily helped to identify what we saw. At times, the owners of well-thumbed ID books were keen to show us what we were seeing. I found there to be something very special about a group of strangers coming together to both share their knowledge and learn from each other all whilst having fun.
I saw for myself the kestrel and red kites hunting high up in the sky. The numerous binoculars were shared around to help us get better views of the screaming parties of swifts and linnets, passing overhead like bullets.
I watched nesting pairs of skylarks rise into the sky, singing as they went, before hurtling back down, disappearing into the knee-high vegetation of the field.
The little owl was spotted in the oak, however, I missed out on a glimpse.
We spent the next 3 hours walking around this important habitat, witnessing this space which had been allowed to succumb to nature and create a much valued and needed ecosystem.
During a short break, Katie used it as yet another learning opportunity to show us feathers she had collected and test our knowledge.
I have no doubt I will be back, hopefully next time with even more people to show this vast and diverse space to. I look forward to the summer months, when the grasses will be higher, bringing even more life – given we never stop learning, I hope that next time, I will be more attuned to spotting and identifying more of what I see.
There is currently a campaign to turn this space into a designated nature reserve and I can see why – it really is a treasure so make sure it’s your next destination.
I am grateful to those who helped bring such knowledge to our day: