A summer pick of ragwort

What a magical day.

I could never have imagined that tugging up ragwort could be such a wonderful experience.

Let me start by explaining I am a volunteer for Sutton Nature Conservation and I am part of a team that assists with habitat management work on a number of wildlife sites in the London borough of Sutton.

I volunteer on a Thursday and have turned my hand to many tasks since I started volunteering a year or so ago, such as raking, cutting down trees, pruning hedgerows, coppicing and pulling weeds! But nothing has compared to the lovely day I had pulling ragwort.


Roundshaw Downs

The team’s task for the day was to remove ragwort on Roundshaw Downs, Sutton’s largest wildlife site. Ragwort is a biennial plant which is common in grazing paddocks and areas of unimproved pasture. Although a number of myths circulate about ragwort, the chemicals it contains can lead to liver damage if consumed. As Roundshaw Downs, is grazed, ragwort is pulled annually to minimise the risks associate with eating the living plant or dried pieces, which may find their way into hay that is cut as part of site management.

Imagine walking through a meadow full of beautiful wild flowers – names I have been told many times, but still cannot remember – and seeing a glorious array of colours. Yellow, white, blue, pink. The sun was shining and I was watching the butterflies, blue, brown, golden (again an identification memory loss) fluttering from flower to flower resting for a moment to enjoy the heat of the sun.  Imagine too hearing the bees as they work their magic collecting the pollen.

I was lost in the beauty of the meadow. I could have been Shirley Valentine (without the sand, sea and glass of wine) or Julie Andrews in the sound of music (without the singing, thank goodness). For me it was a magical experience, completely lost in my thoughts and day dreams, only realizing, from time to time, that I need to keep up with the rest of the team to complete the task in hand!

What a wonderful day – one of the best.

For more information about ragwort visit – http://www.ragwort.org.uk

Task Programme – Out now!

The new task programme is now out: July – October 2016!

We’re continuing our summer season of botanical surveys, study days to help you brush up on your identification skills (continuing this Saturday with Butterflies) and more works at Queen Mary’s Woodland, including the first chance to get involved with the improvements to this new site through seeding the newly cleared areas and laying wildflower turf.

What better chance to get outside, laugh and learn do you need this summer?!


Chalk grassland at Roundshaw Downs Local Nature Reserve

Four legged grass mower joins the Biodiversity Team.

After a colder than usual spring, it has taken a while for the grass to get growing but now the time has come for a magnificent conservation tool to be deployed once again onto some of Sutton’s beautiful flower rich Wellfield chalk grasslands: sheep!

The Wellfield Grasslands in Carshalton Beeches is a collection of small chalk grassland sites which offers a glimpse of the open pasture of this area a 100 years ago where sheep grazing would have been widespread. Sheep have grazed Wellfield East and West in Wellfield Gardens for over ten years but have never grazed ‘Wellfield South’. As part of the Biodiversity Team’s new management of this site, sheep will be grazing Wellfield South for a few weeks during June, to help the scarce wildflowers and insects. Wellfield South is also proposed within the Local Plan to be protected for nature conservation, so ensuring the site is in peak condition helps in ensuring Sutton fulfills its Biodiversity Action Plan targets.

The chalk soil underlying these grasslands plays a key role in creating conditions where a rich diversity of wildlife can flourish. More species of plant can be found in a square metre of chalk grassland than any other habitat, which in turn play host to numerous species of invertebrates, including scarce butterflies, spiders and beetles.

Grazing by sheep helps to reduce the dominance of less desirable coarser grasses, giving the more delicate flowers greater space to grow, such as the aromatic wild marjoram and kidney vetch with its clusters of small yellow flowers sitting atop little woolly cushions.

Whilst the sheep are hardy for their outdoor lifestyle, they still need a little daily support to check they are healthy and content.  Most of this ‘lookering’, as it is known, is undertaken by staff and volunteers from the Downlands Partnership (who own the sheep) and the London Borough of Sutton Biodiversity Team.

Alex Draper, Sutton Biodiversity Project Office says “The sheep benefit from visits to check they are safe, have sufficient water and are not showing signs of distress. We would welcome anyone interested in volunteering to help keep an eye on the sheep.”

Beverley Nutbeam, a local resident and volunteer sheep carer says ‘It’s a great privilege to help look after the sheep on our doorstep. Grazing is by far the best way to manage these delightful chalk grasslands, and is in keeping with how they developed over hundreds of years in the first place!’

If you are interested in volunteering to help care for the sheep, contact Sutton Biodiversity Team. Ideally, you’ll live relatively close to Wellfield Gardens and you’ll be able to spare about 15 minutes, either in the morning or afternoon / evening, to check the sheep on a rota basis.

Contact Alex. Email biodiversity@sutton.gov.uk or call 020 8770 4197

Wellfield sheep 16-06-2016

Sheep having a munch on Wellfield South

Go Wild(lings)!

Den building

Den building

Guest Blog from Bonnie Johnson:

Wildlings Forest School is pleased to announce that following the huge success of its first 6-week block of Parent and Toddler Forest School sessions at Sutton Ecology Centre, it will be running another block starting on the 9th June!

Every Thursday morning or afternoon, toddlers and their parents can come along to Wildlings Forest School to join in a range of out door activities, from learning how birds make their nests to building dens from sticks and bug hunting to campfire cooking.  These sessions help children discover nature first hand and gain skills and confidence as they play and learn.

Wildings Forest School provides sessions which engage children’s natural curiosity in the world around them. It follows a child-led ethos, whereby Forest School leaders facilitate children’s learning by providing a variety of opportunities, within a woodland setting,  for children to explore and discover, scaffolding new understanding as they develop.

Peeling a carrot

Peeling a carrot

Forest School is an approach to children’s learning that originated in Scandinavia.  Studies [1][2][3] have shown the benefits to children’s health, wellbeing, physical and mental development and fostering a connection, and love, of nature and the outdoors.

During the summer holidays, there will be a Family Fun Forest School taking place for 5-8 year olds and their parents.  Children can try their hand at tying knots to make a picture frame, erect a shelter, create forest art or make their own unique piece of forest jewelry to take home.


If you fancy something different for a birthday celebration this summer, Wildlings Forest School will also be running birthday parties.  Bring all your friends along to play, explore and have lots of fun at our Forest School parties.

Wildings Forest School sessions are run by Bonnie Johnson, a level 3 Forest School Leader and former Primary School Teacher. Bonnie trained with Surrey Wildlife Trust and following her training, she set up Wildlings Forest School.
For more information email wildlingsforestschool@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

[1] https://www.forestschools.com/forest-schools-research/
[2] http://www.nfer.ac.uk/nfer/pre_pdf_files/05_33_06.pdf
[3] http://forestofavontrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/forest_school_for_early_years.pdf

Rope bride fun!

Rope bride fun!

Make Your Own Half Term Holiday Fun at Sutton Ecology Centre

zaria looking at plants
Do you need some ideas of things to do with the children this Half Term?
Whilst there aren’t any organised activities at Sutton Ecology Centre during this school holiday, the nature reserve is still open all day, 7 days a week. So why not pop along and make your own fun !
If you haven’t already signed up, the Wildlife Trusts ’30 Days Wild’  provides lots of fun ideas for nature related activities. Alternatively, a favourite of Sutton’s Biodiversity  Team Education Officer is The Woodland Trust’s Nature Detectives.
So come along this half term and see what you can find. If you get the chance we would love to hear about any discoveries you make. Please post your photos or stories on the Sutton Ecology Centre Facebook page.
If you are looking for wild stuff to do with your little ones after half term, there are still spaces on Wildlings Forest School at Sutton Ecology Centre on Thursday afternoons.
For more information please Contact Wildlings Forest School directly.
Sutton Ecology Centre provides an inspiring place to deliver the National Curriculum and encourage young people to develop an interest in the natural world. To find out more about the service Sutton’s Biodiversity Team provide for schools and community groups, please visit their website or contact the Education Officer.

Dawn Chorus Delight

Twelve attendees made the special effort to join the Biodiversity Team at 5am on Sunday 1st May for a dawn chorus walkabout as part of International Dawn Chorus Day. The morning was crisp with a light frosting on the ground as the birds joined in chorus. We heard wren, chiff-chaff, great tit, blackbird, robin and a drumming woodpecker were all heard, as we wandered through the sun glazed woodland.

More human chatter concerned the state of the house sparrow as well as current work and future plans for the woodland. The sun had fully announced itself by 7am when the walk came to an end and a second breakfast called.

A big thank you to all who shared the occasion with us and made the event a very enjoyable one.

Alex Draper – Biodiversity Project Officer


David Warburton, Biodiversity Officer,  illuminating the birdsong code