Booking System update

You may have noticed we have recently updated the booking system, making it more user friendly. As part of this work, we have also updated the URL (web page address) to https://suttonecology.getconnect2.com/. This works from our Events page, which works through both the Google calendar and for each event description, which requires booking.

If you have book-marked the old URL (http://37.188.117.158/suttonecology/),vthis no longer works, so please update to the new address!

In addition, you will also see that we have slightly updated the Terms and Conditions on the frontpage, to make them compliant with the new GDPR policies.

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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?!

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Chalk grassland at Roundshaw Downs Local Nature Reserve

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Roughin’ it in Ruffet and Bigwood

After my latest trip out with the Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers, I am now relaxing at home with aching biceps, feeling tuckered out yet exhilarated. Earlier today I have been putting my newly acquired tree felling skills to good use in one of Sutton’s precious woodland habitats. Yes, today we have been axe swinging in Ruffet and Bigwood. Check out some of our previous blogs for more information on the benefits coppicing has for nature: https://suttonnature.wordpress.com/tag/coppicing/

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Volunteers coppicing at Ruffet and Bigwood

Working with the SNCV every week gives me the opportunity to take my head out of my books, roll up my sleeves and get stuck in. I have learnt so much about ecology whilst volunteering and this has inevitably enriched my studies in biology.

The weather in recent days has been cold but beautifully sunny. Working in the long shadows with the sunlight beaming through the trees is magical and hard to find in everyday urban life.

I first started volunteering with the SNCV last spring and have since seen all four seasons and the changes they bring to our conservation areas and the native species dependent on them. I was initially drawn to the work of the Sutton Biodiversity Team and the SNCV because I wanted to spend more time outdoors.

On my second day out with the volunteers, I jumped at the chance of donning some waders and squelching around in the waters of Anton Crescent Wetlands. Although I was busy trying to stay upright, I caught glimpses of elusive wading birds among the reed beds, in their element in this carefully managed environment.

I remember how welcomed I felt on my first day and since then I haven’t looked back. The SNCV volunteers are friendly, supportive and keen to share their skills (and broken biscuits!)

In their company you can be yourself, as quiet or as chatty as you like, working in quiet contemplation or chatting away with a friend.

When the weather is rainy or cold, I can be tempted to stay at home in the warm but it never fails to amaze me how a day working outdoors makes me feel uplifted and invigorated, whatever the weather.

As a massage therapist, I appreciate the benefits of the natural endorphins (happy hormones) released during outdoor physical activity, which are great for the soul. There is no better remedy for the mid-winter blues.

As I relax at home, thinking about the trees we coppiced today, allowing sunlight into the woods, I know that soon my tired arms will be ready and raring to get to work again next week!

Ali Clarke- SNCV volunteer

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Sun shining through Ruffet and Bigwood