Woodland pond ahoy!


An impressive amount of hard work has been accomplished at Queen Mary’s Woodland over the last few weeks by SNCV and local resident volunteers, working alongside the Biodiversity Team. The result a new pond for the woodland!

We knew that common frogs and common toads were present in the woodland and a pond seemed a good idea to further diversify its habitat. We chose a relatively open, sheltered area of the woodland to site the pond in, recently cleared of cherry laurel shrubs, roots and other unwanted vegetation. This will provide the pond with a mix of sun and shade. Enough sun to attract frogs and toads to breed in warmer, shallow margins and encourage good plant growth but also limit direct evaporation of water. Of course, being on free draining chalk, we knew a liner would be required and that meant a lot more work than just digging a hole in the ground. In the ‘old days’, any ponds on chalk would have been hand lined with straw and ‘puddled’ clay (squished and trodden down to squeeze out air pockets  to make a solid, immovable, watertight layer) to hold water and were known as ‘dew ponds’ for watering the livestock pasturing on the Downs. This is something of a lost art and we chose the more efficient and reliable approach of using an artificial pond liner.

With Biodiversity Officer David Warburton at the controls of a 5 ton excavator, we dug down into the underlying chalk and further refined its shape with hand tools. Then with the benefit of volunteer help, a 225m² Firestorm 1mm liner was laid out (and phew, was it heavy!). This has been given copious protection, being sandwiched between sand and a special geotextile matting. Finished off with a covering of chalky soil mix and then sown with a wild pond plant seed mix, the exciting prospect of a new habitat for the woodland was given form.

The pond will be fenced in the near future to safeguard against casual access and allow the pond time to establish, free from disturbance. Hopefully, the coming winter rains will yield sufficient clean rainwater to fill the pond and the pond plant seed mix will germinate to provide a valuable habitat opportunity for common frogs, common toads and a myriad of other animals and plants to breed and thrive next year.

We fully expect this pond to have a ‘dynamic’ water level and it may occasionally dry out. Not all ponds need to have constant water all year (although our UK amphibians need some water into the summer to complete their life cycle from egg to emerge onto land as a juvenile). A great many of our pond species are well adapted to fluctuating water levels within ponds and even drying out. This drop in water levels can be a good thing, by controlling any large fish present, which in a relatively small pond like this, are often be detrimental to the pond’s overall wildlife value, by eating lots of the invertebrates.

We will keep a careful eye on its development over the coming months and if necessary, carry out further planting to ensure we have a diversity of plant species and vegetation structure in the pond and grading into the woodland. Planting and seeding is appropriate on this occasion, given the pond’s location and the lack of abundant wetland habitat in the vicinity to recruit plants from. It will be fascinating to observe it developing over the next few months and years and we’ll keep posting to keep you updated on what we find.

A pond for wildlife can bring a great deal of interest to any garden and does not need to be as big as ours to be of real value for wildlife. Now is a great time to install ponds to harness the autumn winter rains. For more guidance on this take a look at the Froglife website here.

Creating our woodland pond was a big job for us to take on and a very big thank you goes out to our volunteers who made an extra effort in getting the job finished. We just need some water now: so let it rain, let it rain, let it rain!


It begins… (taking levels to ensure depth, gradients and top levels are what they should be)



Smoothing out the base and levelling the surrounding ground


Sand going in to prevent rock or roots near the liner



Geotextile woven underliner giving strong protection to liner


Pond liner unfolds



More geotextil overliner and sand to protect the liner


Final fill on top (looking like a bomb crater!)






New Biodiversity Assistant

Something awful has happened to Sutton’s Biodiversity team…

…It’s got me in it!

It’s Adam Asquith, by the way. Hello everyone!

I’ve been volunteering twice weekly with the SNCV for well over a year now, getting my hands dirty with everything from pulling ragwort, to pulling reeds, to pulling thistle, to pulling a muscle in my back.

Writhing on the floor in a pair of leaky waders after being thwarted by a tough reed may be enough to turn some people off their work, but it’ll take a lot more than that to keep me away. This isn’t a challenge, by the way, if the ancient and vengeful God of Manual Lifting Technique happens to read this.

Building up my knowledge of conservation work watching and listening to Dave, Mark, Alex, Joe and the other SNCV volunteers has given me a real passion to learn more and continue to work on our sites.

Having previously only really done office work under the iron thumb of ‘the man’, rather than practical, useful, tree-huggy (except when we chop ‘em down) work for the good of the environment, I can’t tell you how liberating and energising the last year and a bit has been. Genuinely, since being thoroughly accepted into the SNCV tribe, I’ve been happier and healthier, so cheers all.

The position of Biodiversity Assistant has been vacant since Joe Grainger’s departure earlier in the year to explore new pastures. With his blessing, I am to follow in his footsteps… Nice one, Joe.

Anyway Hi all, I’m Adam, the new Biodiversity Assistant. Adam the pun-slinging, wild food-foraging, mountain-walking, booze-brewing, music-making hippy.

…I normally just go by Adam, though.

…Also, I’m not sure I’m old enough to be a hippy.

Other than being the Biodiversity Assistant I am also a computer programmer/IT guy (I have to get money in somehow), and I play drums and sing in a doom metal band (cheeky link). Recently, we’ve been writing songs about how ruddy lovely nature is, if you can believe it.

If you don’t know what doom metal is, you may want to take the way I used ‘sing’ with a pinch of salt. ‘Yell’ or ‘bellow’ may be better words for what I do. I am fairly unlikely to burst into a heartfelt rendition of ‘My Delilah’ while working, you’ll be pleased to hear, but I can’t promise that I won’t start humming ‘Iron Man’. The volunteers will have to learn to deal with it.

Many of you reading this will know me already. Hello friends.
Those who I haven’t met, I look forward to getting to know you soon enough.

I’ll be updating the SNCV blog regularly in the future, covering the practical work we are undertaking and addressing the hows and whys of doing said work, deepening my own knowledge of it and hopefully yours too.
I’ll also post some in depth looks at certain species or groups that I find particularly interesting on a personal level (i.e. things I can eat), so expect something tasty popping up on here soon!

Cheers for reading,

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!