Sutton Common – future wildlife haven!

To look at Sutton Common a few years ago you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a fairly standard amenity parkland with relatively little value for wildlife.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Sutton Common in 2008, before any conservation work

If you looked right now you would see a huge amount of churned up mud and wonder what on earth is going on. Incensed by the view of grassland carnage, you would almost certainly descend on me, teeth bared, demanding answers or blood. Fear not, mutinous Sutton-ites, all will become clear in time.

P1000794

That’s neat, that’s neat, that’s neat, that’s neat I really love your tiger feet! (Wrong kind of Mud? Oops…)

But first, some backstory…

The site we refer to as Sutton Common is the field to the north east of the Sutton Common Recreation Ground, and it hasn’t always been managed for wildlife. Until 2009, when LBS Biodiversity (and the SNCV!) took over management, it was treated much the same as the rest of the park. However, it was deemed too wet to be easily maintained as a sports and recreation site. Wetness is no a bad thing for wildlife habitat, however, so it was decided that the site would be changed to a meadow, for nature conservation purposes.

At this point, the whole site was absolutely dominated by Creeping Bent grass (Agrostis stolonifera). In order to deal with this and diversify the structure of the site, one of the first works undertaken was to create a large ‘scrape’ area to the north.

 

scrape creation 2

Scrape creation, 2009.

Scraping (removing a certain amount of topsoil) from this area allowed the waterlogged ground to become more of a feature rather than a hinderance to the site. Standing water in this area now creates a small ephemeral pond in the winter months, and retains some dampness in the summer, creating a ‘wet meadow’ type habitat. This has since been seeded and planted with species relevant to a damp habitat, and is still being managed this way.

suttoncommonScrape2015

Scrape with water, Sept 2015

The ‘pond’ is not permanent, fluctuating with rainfall and normally more or less drying up in the summer.

Ponds like this are referred to as temporary, ephemeral or vernal pools. Due to their lack of fish means amphibians and invertebrates can thrive there without predation, offering a much needed safe haven for many species.

 

P1000788

Scrape wet, but not full, Sept 2017

It does, however mean that the plants in the pond have to be hardy enough to survive both in and out of water, with varying degrees of water. A pond without plants is far less useful as the vegetation provides benefits such as food and shelter.
For this reason the pond was seeded with mainly hardy marginal wetland species that can deal with both deluge and drought such as Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens) and Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis) with some species faring better than others over the years.

Following this work, a lot of time and effort went into attempting to change the botanical make up of the rest of the meadow. Most of the site was overrun creeping bent which was stopping any other grasses or wildflowers (with the exception of a few very hardy bits like clover). To remedy this, the area was overseeded with Hay Rattle (Rhinanthus major), a semi-parasitic plant that keeps grasses such as Creeping Bent at bay by stealing their nutrients. For this reason it is often lauded as great plant for a fast track to a biodiverse meadow. Stimying the grass growth allows more space and nutrient to be freed up for other, less aggressive species like many wildflowers.

DSCF1442

Hay Rattle (Rhinanthus Major) at Sutton Common

The introduction of hay rattle on this site only had limited success. Some patches did take, and in these areas it had the desired effect, suppressing grass and increasing potential for wildflower growth. Eventually though, the creeping bent, hell bent (hah!) on domination, stamped out the hay rattle and bar a few isolated patches, returned the burgeoning meadow to a homogenic swathe of grass and clover.

Due to this persistence, it was decided to undergo the current meadow creation work. The first steps of this were to spray the entire area with pesticide to kill off the unwanted species, then rotovate the soil to churn it up, exposing bare soil.
This work has currently been stalled due to the soil’s wetness (maybe the parks team were wise to give up their waterlogged field?) and there is still more rotavating and weed control to be done to create a fine receptive soil. A ‘blank canvas’ into which we can finally seed. The seed mix will be a mixture of less aggressive grasses, and wildflowers which will hopefully help us create what we’ve wanted all along at Sutton Common – a wildflower rich meadow.

As I mentioned, the initial seeding of the pond was more successful for some species than others. In order to help increase the biodiversity of the pond, I’m organising a community planting day when we will plant over a hundred pond margin and wetland plants. (Please come! Details below or on facebook)
SuttonCommonPlanting

Species to be planted on the day include wetland plants such as Gypsywort (Lycopus europaeus), Water Figwort (Scrophularia aquatica) and Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and more meadow-suited plants like Devil’s Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis), Autumn Hawkbit (Leontodon autumnalis) and Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum). By planting these we can create a more diverse pond, and a smooth transition between meadow and pond.

With continued management we will drastically change the botanical makeup of Sutton Common, and improve the habitats therein. With a bit of volunteer elbow grease, the site will develop into the well balanced and beautiful haven for wildlife that was originally envisioned when the park was taken under the Biodiversity Team’s wing in 2009. What a great way to help wildlife on Sutton (Common)’s doorstep!

Advertisements

A Very Happy Birthday

30bday
I’m pleased to let you all know that Saturday’s Woodland Celebration was a great success! First things first – If you were one of the 200+ people that showed up and partook in the festivities, thank you!

This was a celebration not just of the SNCV’s 30 years of ‘helping wildlife on Sutton’s doorstep’, but also of the amazing work done over the last few years turning Queen Mary’s Woodland into the beautiful space it is today.

It was massively heartening to see such a great turn out from volunteers, old friends, and of course local families interested in the work going on in their neighborhood.
The number of people enjoying the celebration made all the preparation worthwhile and the feedback about the woodland was overwhelmingly positive. Now the major projects have been done, all can agree that the works have had a massively positive effect on the woodland, bringing not just biological diversity but also improving access, allowing more people to enjoy this beautiful area.

diana_30bday

A warm welcome!

Throughout the day we raised a total of £257.00 of donations to the SNCV from visitors to our charity stall and the enticing cake stall. Many, many thanks to all who channelled their inner ‘bake off’ and brought some tasty treats. I endeavoured to try a bit of everything and failed miserably less than halfway through. Those of you that have witnessed my propensity for gorging myself know that means there was a lot of cake on show, making for a lot of sticky fingers throughout the day!

cake_30bday

Food, glorious food…

The true centerpiece of the day was a beautifully made log-pile birthday cake, with edible leaves, mushrooms and frog! A ceremonial cake cutting was enacted after some touching speeches by Janet and Alex with enough showmanship and panache to put the fanciest carnival parade to shame. (What’s life without a little hyperbolic embellishment?).

cakeCut_30bday

Half for me, half for you!

It wasn’t just cake providing the entertainment though. With the sounds of folk musicians filtering through the woodland, the gorgeous melodies being sung and strummed reflected the harmonious nature of the celebration and provided the perfect soundtrack to a sunny early autumn day spent with family, friends and… cake.
Music_30bday

Bug catching was the order of the day for many young visitors. Armed with pooters, collection pots and sweeping nets they scoured the woodland, helping entomologist Peter Kirby track down and record over 100 species of insect, worm, arachnid and mollusc through the day, showing how diverse life in this woodland has become.
Peter was great at showcasing these bugs off to children and adults alike, enamoured by the creepy crawlies. Hopefully those who arrived with a dislike for scuttling, slithering or flying beasts have been swayed!

insects_30bday

More bugs than you can shake a net at!

Those who were interested in the botany and ecology of the site may have plumped for our own Dave Warburton’s guided walk which proved very popular. Taking in the whole site he gave punters the ‘inside scoop’ on the work we’ve undertaken at the woodland, giving people an appreciation of the whys and hows of these projects, as well as how the woodland fits into the wider picture of green space and nature reserves across the borough.

dave_30bday

Look, a tree!

Dotted around the site were a series of signs hanging from trees like baubles, constituting our ‘tree leaf trail’ quiz. The trail pinpointed examples of some of our common and important trees such as Oak, Ash, Hawthorn and Hazel, highlighting the ecological, practical and social uses of them. Included were some ‘fun facts’ – some of which bordered on the morbid end of what can conventionally be considered fun… did you know that Hawthorn blossoms smell of the plague?

TreeLead_30bday

Examining the world’s hardest quiz

Probably the most popular activity through the day was the craft stalls, where our visitors flocked to create ‘stickies’ – that’s slightly Blair Witch-esque stick and clay figures with features made using found materials in the woods – and ‘god’s eyes’ – gorgeous patterned dream catcher type things made by lashing sticks together with coloured string. Also on offer was Hapa Zome, the art of smashing the pigment out of leaves and into cloth. Given children’s propensity for hitting things and making a racket, this proved very popular!

20170923_143250

Craftwerk

All in all the event was a great success, not just in a monetary sense (although we raised a lot), or even just getting people through the door (and it was very well attended!).

The day felt like a much deserved celebration of Queen Mary’s, and of the SNCV. Often while we are so busy rushing from site to site, helping wildlife on Sutton’s doorstep, it’s easy to forget to give ourselves a pat on the back for work well done.
So a sincere well done, back-pat, hand-shake and glass-clink to everybody that has given their time and effort to the SNCV over the last three decades. The turnout on Saturday and the kind, thankful comments received throughout the day are testament to the fact that our efforts do make a great difference, and aren’t left unnoticed.

Here’s to another 30 years!

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Many thanks to James and Mikey for the photos!

Party preparations are well underway…

bunting

Our 30th Birthday bash is almost upon us, so it’s all go for the volunteers, running around industriously prepping and ferrying things around, getting ready for the party!

And there’s a lot to get ready! With tea and cake, arts and crafts, nature walks, live music, a tree trail quiz and guided walks there will be plenty to see and do on the day: this Saturday, 23rd September, 12 til 4.

We hope to see you there!
Queen_Marys_Woodland_celebration_final_2017-1[1]

Celebrate good times – SNCV Birthday Bash at Queen Mary’s Woodland!

Those of you who avidly follow the Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers blog, facebook and twitter may be aware that we’re celebrating a big birthday this year. It has been 30 years since the SNCV was first established, championing Sutton’s wildlife and nature areas ever since.

To mark this anniversary we’re having a family fun day of wild art and crafts, live music and themed trails at Queen Mary’s Woodland.
This site has been chosen not only because of it’s accessibility and biodiversity, but because it is emblematic of the SNCV and LBS Biodiversity’s work in recent years. The woodland has been completely transformed in the last few years from a thick, impenetrable mass of Sycamore, Ivy and invasive Cherry Laurel to the diverse range of habitats we see there today, all the while fostering a close relationship with local residents, many of whom have volunteered with us on site. As the restoration phase at the woodland comes to a close, it is a perfect time to come and see the work that SNCV, LBS Biodiversity and the local community have done and enjoy some live music, wild art and a piece of cake!

On 23rd September please join us in our celebration. All are welcome.

For more information please see below poster or visit the facebook event page: https://tinyurl.com/woodlandCelebration

Queen_Marys_Woodland_celebration_final_2017-1[1]

Summer Holiday Fun

Do you have, or know of, any children aged 3 years old or above? Are you already a nervous wreck, seeing the Summer Holidays stretching out in front of you, wondering how are you going to entertain them for more than 6 weeks?!

Never fear, Sutton Ecology Centre has a fun-packed programme of events throughout the summer holidays to reduce your burden, just a  little! And we all know that a good dose of fresh air always tires them out!

kingfisher

Will you spot a kingfisher on the Wandle Wildlife Fun Day?

The fun kicks off with a Wandle Wildlife Fun Day on 1st August.  There will be a trail of hidden pictures and information about the animals you could find along the River Wandle, as well as a chance to get up-close with some of the creatures that live in and along the River, including dragonfly nymphs, water boatmen and moths.  You may even be lucky enough to spot a gorgeous kingfisher!

There’ll be a craft activity and lots of information from the experts to entertain and educate you and the little ones, so why come along and dip your toes in?
This is a drop in activity, so no need to book, just turn up any time between 11am and 2pm.

The cost is £4 per child, 3 years and up.

 

 

bee on flower

A bee, being busy!

You’ll need to book onto the Go Wild for Bees day on 8th August to avoid disappointment.  Your little ones will learn all about why bees are so busy, through playing fun games, tasting honey and making and decorating a bee hotel to take home (plus we’ll throw some free wild flower seeds in too, so you can promote bees at home)!

Only £5 per child, ages 3 years an up. Book here: http://37.188.117.158/suttonecology/

Hazel-Nut-Flower-FairyLastly, come and join in with the Flower Fairies Adventure on either the 14th or 15th August.  Find the fairies with their flowers, plants and trees, listen to fairy stories on the lawn, make fairy gates and gardens and make your own natural flower fairy or elf to take home.  This is also a drop-in activity ,so no need to book, just turn up any time between 11am and 2pm on either day.

Again, only £4 per child, ages 3 and up.

With all of this, plus lots of fun Wildlings Forest School activities such as mallet making and a 3-day camp, you need look no further to make this Summer Holiday a huge success!

For more information and booking, visit our Event page: https://suttonnature.wordpress.com/events/.

Breaking News: Boy Backs Burgeoning Butterfly Benevolence, Lazy Lad Learns to Love Lepidoptera

Last week, accompanied by a small group of novice lepidopterists (me being very very novice!), I attended a ‘Butterfly Study Day’, hosted by Dave Warburton, Sutton’s senior biodiversity officer, in Carshalton.

comma2

Comma – Polygonum c-album

I’ll be honest, I have had a hard time finding butterflies massively interesting in the past, and found it frustrating out on task days when Dave had shouted out the name of some kind of winged beast, only for a blur of brown and wingbeats to flutter out of my field of vision before I could get a decent look.
This was the majority of my interactions with butterflies until recently. Whenever one was nicely perched on a leaf, it would flit off as soon as I got any closer. To be fair, I’m not known for my nimble grace and stealth. Something to work on, perhaps.

In the butterfly season this year though something changed. It could have been to do with Dave taking me under his wing (hah!) for a few butterfly transects at Roundshaw Downs, or a general want for more knowledge about the natural world but for the first time since childhood, butterflies piqued my interest. Fortunately for me, Dave had his yearly butterfly identification course already planned. Coincidence or divine intervention? Coincidence, of course. The Great Butterfly God (All hail his most venerable proboscis!) cares not for the trifling concerns of humans…

P1000073

Common Blue –  Polyommatus icarus

To kick off the course we all introduced ourselves and briefly mentioned how much we already knew about butterflies. It was a relief to know that we were all at pretty much the same level, so my own lepidopteral ignorance wasn’t going to stick out like a sore thumb. We knew a handful of the more common species, and wanted to learn more.

And learn more we did! Dave started with the basics, going through butterfly biology and ecology from life cycle to food plants to habitat types. A lot of this I already knew, but a few surprising facts came to light.
One that interested me was that there is no scientific distinction between butterflies and moths. There are many rules of thumb which for the most part ring true, but fall apart when scrutinised, like moths only flying at night (what about all those day flying moths?) and moths being fluffy/furry (see the Marbled White below and tell me you wouldn’t give it a little cuddle!).

Marble

Marbled whites – Melanargia galathea

The most reliable – but hard to see in the field – rule to differentiate a moth and a butterfly is the way the wings are coupled, allowing hind and fore wing to move as one. Moths have Frenulo-retinacular couplings, where a small hook or lobe on the hind wing is hooked to the forewing, whereas butterflies have Amplexiform coupling, where the wings overlap sufficiently so they don’t need this hook to move as one. Of course, there are still exceptions to the rule, there is a species of Skipper which is considered a butterfly and yet has a hooked wing.
I’m not going to lie, I don’t fancy pulling the wings off every butterfly I see, so for now I’ll live by ‘if it doesn’t look like anything in my guide book, it’s probably a moth’. It’s a fairly safe bet, too, as there are only 59 species of butterfly in the UK. There are around 2,500 moths. I’ll try and master our butterflies first methinks.

Before heading out on a field trip we had a run down of ID tips, including which Blues are actually brown, which Whites are actually pretty yellow and which species like ‘puddling’ – a somewhat euphemistic term for a practice of certain types of butterflies who seem to enjoy various bodily excretions… I won’t go into too much detail but suffice to say it made me a little less excited to see a Purple Emperor.

After a spot of lunch we headed out to Roundshaw Downs armed with nets and a ‘butterfly pavillion’ (that’s a big mesh cage to you and I, hardly the Ritz is it?) to test out our newly learned skills.  The final skill to master was the ancient and mystical martial art of butterfly catching. Initially, I was rubbish. While everyone else was rounding up Essex Skippers, Meadow Browns and Marbled Whites galore, I was flailing, running, swearing and sweating trying to catch the blighters. As I may have mentioned earlier, I’m not known for my grace.

P1000075

A slightly moody and beaten up Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) at Sutton Ecology Centre

On bagging my first Ringlet, a really fresh and lively specimen, showing off the line of rings (it was far fresher than the more tattered bloke I found at the ecology centre, above), I felt that addictive, life-affirming pang of accomplishment. I was hooked!

We spent the next few hours in the meadows, scrapes, scrub islands and woodlands of roundshaw downs chasing butterflies of all shapes and sizes – releasing them all shortly after, of course. Fly free my pretties!

The number of species we caught in such a short time was astounding to be honest, and seeing them captured and up close is a surefire way to cement the IDs in our minds. For instance while the Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) has a flash of orange on the forewing, it can often look just… browny, rather like a Ringlet (Aphantophus hyperantus – above), depending on the light and how beaten up the poor little fellow is. Up close and personal, however, you can clearly see the lack of a ringlet’s rings, and the light brown to orange patch on the forewing.

Essex skipper

Essex Skipper – Thymelicus lineola

Then there’s the Small and Essex skippers, apparently often called ‘Smessex’ when on the wing because they are almost impossible to distinguish without looking incredibly closely at differences in the sex brands (small area of pheromone-laced scales on the wings) on the males, and a tiny blotch of black on the tip of the antennae of Essex Skippers. We decided that all of our skippers were of the Essex variety (Thymelicus lineola), bearing that jet black antennae tip.

We also caught Large and Small whites, Commas, Small Tortoiseshells, Green Veined Whites, and a host of moths – some of which were just as beautiful as the butterflies. We also had a few species just beyond our grasp, with Holly Blue and Speckled Woods fluttering around but evading capture.

All in all the Butterfly Study Day was a great success and a massively fun outing.

gatekeeper

Gatekeeper – Pyronia tithonus

I have been out almost every day since spotting and counting butterflies, and even managed to get some family and friends involved! On a walk the other day, my girlfriend wasn’t too pleased with my newfound lepidopteral knowitall-ism, me pointing out a new critter off in the bushes every few feet, stopping to note it down and take a picture. Yet like any burgeoning addiction, she was pointing them out quicker than my eyes could follow within ten minutes.

It was a slippery slope but I think I’ve found my new vice. All hail the Great Butterfly God!

For more information on butterfly identification and ecology, visit Butterfly Conservation
For more information on our upcoming study days and other events, visit our Events Page and book using the instructions on that page.

Thanks for reading!
-Adam