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/.

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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.

Masks!

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!

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

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David Warburton, Biodiversity Officer,  illuminating the birdsong code

Our National Pollinators

Good lord, we’re well into March already. And after a balmy winter, Friday (4th) brought about the years first grass cut in my garden. After blowing out the cobwebs, cleaning the air filter and checking the oil and petrol, off we went on our quest to neaten the garden. However, unlike previous years, I noticed that I was far less gung-ho and far more slow-mow. Being more ecologically minded, I would peer over the mower, observe the forthcoming grass patch and grind to a halt, if I feared I would slice through the dreaded, detested and despised dandelion Taraxacum officinale. But why so cautious, in particular for a plant that when searching into Google ‘removing dandelion’, brings about 197,000 results and solutions?

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Marbled White butterfly feeding off Common Knapweed. Joined by a hoverfly.

Now that I’m an esteemed ‘Biodiversity Assistant’ with Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers and Sutton Council, I can ask whether I can tag along to events such as DEFRA’s ‘National Pollinator Strategy: Urban Knowledge Exchange Workshop’. This event attracted the nations leading Doctors and Professors,  key policy makers, top ecologists, respected biodiversity officers and of course, an esteemed biodiversity assistant.

The day brought to my attention the value and necessity of our urban landscape to our national pollinators. Bees, hoverflies, butterflies, moths and beetles, provide critical ecosystem services, i.e. benefits to humans from the environment. These include food production, as through transporting pollen from one plant to another, the production of British crops is ensured. The National Audit Office, estimate that the value of honey bees alone (in the UK) is worth around £200 million, based on pollinating strawberries, apples, pears and oil seed rape,  while the retail value of what they pollinate is considered to be around £1 billion. Yet, this doesn’t earn a mention in George’s illustrious budget review. A shame.

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Buzzzzzzzzz. A bee enjoying the riches of a red clover Trifolium pratense late in the season (17/09/2015)

Conservationally speaking, as well as their economic importance, pollinators ensure the functionality of a healthy ecosystem. Simply put, by pollinating flowers, flora diversity is maintained and this enables all the essential interactions between flowers and animals (i.e. food, nesting and breeding resources) to take place. When considering the health and well-being properties of the natural landscape and how pollinators positively impact this, the conservation of our national pollinators is most certainly in our interest.

Despite their relevance, it is understood that pollinator diversity and abundance is declining, due to a number of environmental pressures. Use of herbicides/pesticides, intensive land use and habitat loss are all believed to be contributing factors to their decline. However, urban environments, such as Sutton, have the potential to be incredibly important habitats for our pollinator species.

Research suggests that across farmlands, nature reserves and urban areas there was no significant differences between pollinator species diversity and flower visitor abundance. Additionally, bee species diversity was higher in urban areas than farmland! Importantly, this suggests that urban landscapes are becoming an increasingly important habitat, so how can we improve them?

Cuddington Flowers

Cuddington Meadows. An SNCV site that is fantastic for pollinators

Typical features of an urban landscape include: road verges, recreation grounds, parks, school ground, offices, gardens and churchyards. These can all be managed sympathetically towards the needs of pollinators. Ultimately, providing structural heterogeneity and improving floral diversity is essential. By improving these components, the habitat will provide suitable conditions for pollinators at different stages of their life cycle and provide pollen and nectar resources throughout the Spring and Summer months. Where appropriate, methods that are encouraged include the sowing of seed mixes and plug plants, followed by a reduced mowing regime, which will allow the plants to set seed and provide resources throughout the desired months. See here to learn more about methods of improving the urban landscape.

At the SNCV, we aim to provide suitable conditions that will enable pollinators to thrive. During my time here, I’ve learnt a variety of methods that aim to improve plant abundance and diversity; green-haying and cattle grazing at Roundshaw Downs, plug planting across our sites, Sheep grazing at Cuddington Meadows, while scrapes have been created at Therapia Lane Rough in order to remove undesirable species and promote the growth of chalk grassland species. In essence, our grasslands are managed in a way that seeks to promote plant diversity and abundance, that will in turn, provide valuable resources for bees, moths, butterflies, hoverflies, beetles etc.

Clearly pollinators are fundamental to our existence and therefore, we should be doing everything in our power to help them. With this in mind, the SNCV have a couple of exciting projects coming up this month! Through community conservation days, we aim to improve pollinator conditions by  plug planting at Roundshaw Woods and Carew Manor Wetland. At these sites, we will be planting suitable native plants, that have the most likely chance of surviving and thriving in these chosen habitats. For the SNCV, our main aim is to improve the conservation value of sites throughout Sutton, and by providing richer  pollen and nectar resources throughout the seasons, we hope we can achieve this.  In the years to come, through this work, we hope to develop areas that can be enjoyed by all things natural, including humans. So, if you have the time, do please come along to one of these community planting days.

Carew Manor

Carew Manor Wetlands. On the 30th March, the SNCV will be aiming to improve the surrounding wet meadow through plug planting. Please do come and join us!

Oh, and in regards to those dandelions, a study in Canada found that this plant species had one of the highest diversities of bee visitors, when compared with other present plant species. In the early Spring months (such as now) the dandelion provides a valuable nectar source for the early and opportunistic pollinators! So leave them be, for now anyway.

FOROS Poster-2

CMW Planting Poster-2

 

 

Trees

I’m sure there have been many an iconic verse throughout the annals of history, dedicated to trees. Keats, possibly, Wordsworth, inevitably and Shakespeare almost certainly. I’ll be honest, I did think about searching ‘trees and Wordsworth’ in Google in order to bestow a deceitful intelligence upon myself and provide a nice opening sentence for this blog post on trees. But I haven’t, and I probably wouldn’t have understood it anyway.

“You’re so beautiful….like a tree” – Flight of the Concords (2007). As the esteemed musical icons suggest, trees are beautiful. As I stare into my garden on a drizzly Sunday, I see the dainty pink blossom that has erupted from the cherry plum Prunus cerasiferathe elegant white petals of a neighbors blackthorn Prunus spinosa and a shower of  plump yellow catkins, dangling on the hazel Corylus avellana. Though remarkably early, these features remind us that Spring is near and the days are getting longer. Wonderful.

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London’s largest plane tree Platanus spp. Or is it?

http://www.suttonguardian.co.uk/news/9386804.When_trees_go_to_war___debate_rages_over_the_tallest/

 

Ecosystem Services

Trees are not just lovely to look at of course, they provide numerous functions that are absolutely essential to our existence, functions termed ‘Ecosystem Services’. Of course, trees absorb carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, generate sugars for growth, and as a by-product release oxygen, oxygen that we can use to breath.

Additionally, in light of the recent flooding, there’s been a plethora of column inches dedicated to the roles trees can play in flood prevention, which is also backed by science. If this isn’t enough, studies have also suggested that trees can reduce the amount of harmful toxic particles in the air, (such as the one produced from our exhausts) as a result of their large porous surfaces. Still not enough? How about their role as natural air conditioners? Through providing areas of shade and the process of evapotranspiration (the equivalent of trees sweating), there is a thought that trees have the potential to cool our surroundings. Further still, as well as cooling our bodies, trees can also cool our minds. According to a study carried out by the Forestry Commission, there was a significant difference in the mean ‘mental wellbeing’ of tenants with high tree cover, when compared with tenants from a negligible tree cover. Similarly, patients recovering in hospital, recovered on average a day faster when their ward had a tree visible to them. And of course, trees play a critical role for wildlife, providing sources of foraging, nesting, breeding and shelter. Moreover, it seems fair to suggest that trees are important.

Trees and the SNCV

As of late trees have constantly preoccupied my mind. In fact, I think I have been directly involved with trees almost daily in 2016, whether that be with the SNCV, or practicing Vrksasana on Tuesday and Friday evenings .

With the SNCV, we began the year hedge laying at Anton Crescent Wetland (ACW). From a conservation point of view, hedgerow is an incredibly important habitat, and is essential for 47 species of conservation concern in the UK. Hedgerows act as corridors for the movement of populations and have the potential to increase the connectivity of populations from one habitat to another. Further still, creating hedgerow improves the structural heterogeneity at ACW. As a result, there is greater niche, resource and shelter availability, which should in theory attract a greater scope of wildlife. Resource and niche availability is further improved through hedge laying, as reducing the canopy cover will allow more sunlight to penetrate the understorey, which may benefit a greater diversity of ground flora.

By jove hedge laying is a skill! Thankfully, we had our hedgemaster, Sutton’s Biodiversity Officer Dave at hand. Our hedgerow consisted of a range of native species, hazel Corylus avellana, field maple Acer campestre, blackthorn Prunus spinosa,  ash Fraxinus excelsior and hawthorn Crataegus monogyna. Once ‘pleached’ (carefully thinning the tree to an angle where it will lay flat, yet not tear away from the trunk), our trees were delicately laid as we completed a fantastic, native hedge.

With hedge laying over, we have moved into the woodlands, Oueen Mary’s and Ruffett and Bigwood.  Thinning trees plays a vital role in conservation. Where areas are too shaded as a result of dense canopy cover, trees have been selectively thinned in order allow greater light to radiate the woodland floor. It is hoped, the this extra sunlight will benefit the wildflowers in the understorey, in particular species such as dog violet Viola riviniana, dog’s mercury  Mercurialis perennis and bluebells  Hyacinthoides non-scripta. In these woodlands, there is an abundance of ash Fraxnius excelsior and sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus, which is where most of our thinning was focused. Within the years to come, it will be fascinating the monitor the process of the extra sunlight!

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Winters day at Ruffett and Bigwood

Having enjoyed this work greatly, it has dawned on me that my tree identification is relatively embarrassing, especially with a title of ‘Biodiversity Assistant’ entrusted upon me. And so, with this woeful knowledge and with the help of two other SNCV volunteers (Adam and Alison), we have been tasked with mapping the trees of Sutton. We are literally putting trees on the map.

Referred to as the ‘Barc de Treeumph’, the three of us walk around Sutton, recording any tree species in a public space. With the information, Sutton Council’s Tree team can place some sort of value on their sites, whilst the SNCV have a greater understanding of the diversity, and conservation attributes of areas across Sutton. And most importantly, we’re learning how to successfully identify trees. Black buds, most definitely ash. Large green buds, sycamore. Hmmmmm, very small buds, black in colour, small hairs, blooming hec is that an elm, Ulmus spp.?  I think so. What about this one, quite a corky bark, small hairs, very small buds, black in colour. Oh, is it in an another elm?

I scored 8/10. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/01/can-you-identify-the-uks-most-common-trees

Importantly, Sutton’s Biodiversity Officer Dave, is hosting a Winter Id tree training day (which he’s probably put on for me), and promises to be an excellent and knowledgeable event! So do book on, and get identifying.

 

 

 

 

Reed Beds

By November, I had assumed that our annual grass cuts had been completed, with our green hay spread, our seeds sown and our plugs planted. So surely it was time to put away the rakes and let them lay dormant until called upon in the Spring. Well, it appeared not, as there was one final grass that had to be attended to – the common reed Phragmites australis.

Reed beds are early successional wetlands that are formed by stands of one plant, the common reed. They tend to occur in open areas of freshwater and ditches, whilst also establishing themselves in brackish and tidal water, such as estuaries. Once the reed has colonised open water, plant litter gradually builds up, resulting in the drying of the habitat. Consequently, overtime these areas undergo natural succession from reed bed, to scrub, to woodland. Therefore, if we want to maintain a reed bed and its ecological and conservation value, then active management is essential. But what is the conservation significance of a reed bed?

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Anton Crescent Wetland – A site with various habitats, including reed bed.

These habitats are among the most important areas for a number of Britain’s resident and migratory bird species. They support a distinctive assemblage of specialist species (meaning that they are entirely or largely dependent on this this habitat) including the; bittern Botaurus stellaris, bearded tit Panurus biarmicus, marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus, Savi’s warbler Locustella luscinioides, Cetti’s warbler Cettia cetti and the crane Grus grus – all of which are currently nationally rare, Red Data Birds. Further to this, reed beds provide roosting habitats for a number of our overwintering wildfowl and wading birds, whilst common reed seed provides a valuable food source for a number of our resident passerine species during the winter. Clearly, the diversity of rare avifauna associated with reed bed is extensive, which suggests why conservation of these habitats is so important.

As well as birds, British reed beds provides habitat for a number of globally rare invertebrates. Species including the reed leopard moth Phramataecia castanaea, a rove beetle Lathrobium rufipenne,  and the swallowtail butterfly Papilio machaon are all closely associated with reed bed conform to the GB Red Data Book and the IUCN red list. In addition, 40 species are known to feed exclusively on reed, whilst a wide range of invertebrates are strongly associated with reed, even if they do not feed directly upon it (i.e. spiders, who use it to spin their webs).

Unfortunately, across the UK, it has been estimated that up to 40% of reed bed habitats were lost between 1945 and 1990, predominantly through dredging for agriculture, deeming it a nationally scarce habitat. As a result, reed beds are considered a priority habitat for conservation in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.  Therefore, in Sutton, it is critical that we manage our small areas of reed bed effectively. But how do we do this?

Our main area of reed bed is at Anton Crescent Wetland, where the SNCV have been involved with management work on the site since 1989. Much of this work involves halting the natural succession of scrub and tree species – typically willow carr, brambles and nettles – thus ensuring that the common reed is the dominant feature of the wetland area.

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Anton Crescent Wetland – This picture shows the various habitats on offer at ACW. In the foreground we have the grassland, which we have spent time on plug planting, in order to improve the botanical diversity. The reed bed and willow carr dominate, while in the bottom right we have the areas of scrub.

According the RSPB’s extensive report on reed bed management – “Bringing Reedbeds to Life: creating and managing reedbeds for wildlife”, there is a clear method that increases the potential of improving the site for wildlife. The report states that:

  • older, drier parts of the reed bed support the highest overall invertebrate diversity and many invertebrates of conservation importance
  • early successional reed beds are essential for specialist invertebrate reed bed/wetland species
  • temporal and spatial variation in the habitat is key to maintaining and providing high flora and fauna diversity

Moreover, the reports suggests that by creating a heterogeneous reed bed, i.e. one that supports a structural diversity of reed of different ages and heights, the chances of improving the site for wildlife are greatly increased. Heterogeneity increases the diversity and availability of foraging, breeding, nesting and roosting resources, that can potentially host a range of species, thus improving the site for wildlife.

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Anton Crescent Wetland – This picture highlights the structural heterogeneity of the reed bed. In the middle left we have the mature reed (light brown patches). In the centre, the area of dark green is the young reed growth, which would have been cut back the previous autumn. The varying height structure and stages of growth are what we are looking for with our reed bed management.

In order to achieve this, under the guidance of Sutton’s Biodiversity Team, the SNCV carry out an annual rotational cutting regime of the reed. This involves selecting a patch of reed bed, scything down the reed and collecting the arisings. If left, nutrient enrichment will favour the growth of scrub species, while decomposition will also lead to the drying of the site.

Over the years, Anton Crescent Wetland has attracted a diversity of wetland birds uncommon in London, such as the water rail Rallus aqauticus, reed and sedge warblers (Acrocephalus scirpaceus and Acrocephalus schoenobaenus), reed bunting Emberiza shoeniclus, the over wintering green sandpiper Tringa ochropus and common snipe Gallinago gallinago. Importantly, these species prefer different stages of reed growth for survival. The water rail, for example, prefers shallow areas of open water for foraging, surrounded by dense reed beds for nesting and breeding.  While the snipe, a cryptic wader, requires areas  of 10-30cm tussocky vegetation for nesting and dense stands around muddy polls, so they can probe on the water’s open edge for foraging but then swiftly blend in with the vegetation when necessary . Further still, the areas of bramble and the reed bed provide lots of cover and feeding opportunities for small perching birds. House sparrows (Passer domesticus), great tits (Parus major) and blue tits (Parus caeruleus) are common visitors to the site. In the winter months, charms’ of gold finch Carduelis carduelis and   long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus) families chirp away harmoniously. Evidently, providing structural diversity and various stages of reed bed growth is attracting numerous bird species to our wetland site.

Thanks to the  fantastic effort (reed removal is a particularly tough task, with endless scything, wading through water and shifting great quantities of reed) of the SNCV, we are able to support these species, and it is hoped, that with our current management we will continue to discover more species within our reed beds.

Unfortunately, Anton Crescent Wetland is closed to the public. Though, withinthe M25 there are plenty of reed bed habitats, with sightings of bitterns being recorded in London every year since 1990! Other exciting reed bed visitors include the otter Lutra lutra, so it is worth exploring London to see these flagship species! For a list of London sights, click here. London Wetland Centre  and Rainham Marshes are certainly worthwhile days out. Also, Beddington Farmlands Bird Group offer open days to the public and always see exciting and regionally rare birds on their wetland site. There’s plenty out there to explore and see! Alternatively, if you’d like to help with the volunteer task days please get in touch at: sncvvolunteers@hotmail.co.uk.

 

Surveying

On Saturday, I took part in another wildlife training day at the Ecology Centre, with Dave (Sutton councils Biodiversity Officer) at the helm. This time, we were exploring the lives of dragonflies, or Anisoptera (warriorflies) and Zygoptera (damselflies) as I now like to refer to them. In a concise, informative and enjoyable classroom session, the fellow students and I were guided through their taxonomy, anatomy, life cycle, behaviour, habitats and identification. This influx of information was easily digested thanks to a well earned coffee and biscuit break.

Common darter 8 (male)

Male common darter (Sympetrum striolatum)

At the end of the day and after a cloudy and therefore unsuccessful trip to Beddington Park and the river Wandle (no dragonflies to be seen, but heigh-ho that’s nature!), we arrived at the Ecology Centre to see what would be on offer here. After catching a Naiad (the immature form of a dragonfly) our attention was drawn to a whopping Southern hawker (Aeshna cyanea) elegantly zapping around the pond. This is a magnificent warriorfly, whose stunning green, brown and black colours make her hard to miss. After buzzing around, she found a suitable position at the pond side where she began ovipositing, which for any enthusiastic amateur naturalist allows for a fantastic photo opportunity. A great end to the day.

Southern Hawker

A female southern hawker ovipositing

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