US social scientist Kenneth Boulding : ‘If you believe exponential growth can go on in a finite world, you are either a madman or an economist’.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

28/6/09: 'Weeding' in the woods

I spent this Sunday afternoon with the Lesnes Abbey Conservation Volunteers working in the more open heathland area at the top of the hill.

I was primarily weeding 'scrapes' where vegetation, leaf-litter, peaty bracken remains and some topsoil have been removed to provide a seedbed for Heather (Calluna vulgaris), so that the area of heathland can be extended further into areas where tree thinning has taken place. The main 'invaders' were bramble shoots, Rowan seedlings and bracken.

Heather-dominated heath within Lesnes Abbey Woods, surrounded mainly by Sessile Oak

Whilst there are several areas of remnant heathland vegetation around the Borough, this is the one with the finest show of Heather.

A 'scrape' seedbed for Heather

Flowered heather shoots carrying seed are deposited in the scrapes, with varying degrees of success in terms of seedling development.

'Scrape' with several Heather seedlings

Other volunteers were pulling Bracken and tree seedlings out of the more established areas of Heather.

To get involved in this and other projects in the woods check out

for more details and a programme of events. The actual meeting point tends to be on the west side of the information centre (round the back) by a fenced compound where the tool shed is.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

25/6/09: Verging on the progressive in Hackney

Here's a better way ahead for grass verges.

This is more like it. Whether the verge here, and other land surrounding a private estate on Dalston Lane, Hackney, is left uncut for conservation reasons or to save money, it's way more attractive and interesting than the usual over-mown examples that bear testimony to a warped sense of 'tidiness'.

OK, it's not stuffed full of rare meadow plants, but it's showing promise

Here are a couple of Corn Marigolds (Chrysanthemum segetum) right next to a busy bus stop. This arable 'weed' used to be regarded as a serious pest but had declined significantly.

And a couple of plants of Black Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) were noted.

Let's have more of this. Why should better managing verges for wildlife/wild flowers be restricted to rural areas? With so many front gardens being trashed and sterilised for car parking, we can at least offset some of the losses (whilst working to reverse this abhorrent trend) by allowing increased productivity and structural diversity in our street verges. Even where they are relatively species-poor, swaying grass seed heads are far more attractive than something repeatedly mown down to half an inch.

Many grass verges are wide enough to allow a taller rear section up against garden walls, whilst keeping the front 18" shorter for those species that do better in such conditions, and to allay 'health and safety' fears about people slipping over on wet vegetation that might otherwise flop onto the path.

25/6/09: Verges: public amenity, not private driveways

Grass verge damage in Barnehurst, Bexley Borough.

Grass verges are presumably Council property. They are a public amenity which add to the attraction of living in a suburban area. They are certainly maintained by the Council using taxpayer's money. Yet no action appears to be taken over the numerous examples of damage caused by residents widening entranceways - having turned great chunks of their front gardens into sterile car parks - and using parts of verges as driveways.

If a bunch of teenage hoodies came round digging up the verges, leaving unsightly scars, there would no doubt be uproar and calls for police action. But since it's all down to 'respectable' car-drivers, nothing happens.

If a bunch of young people came round after dark and dug up chunks of verge like this there would be calls for action

Unfortunately, it may be better not to take this up with the Council, since I fear the response is more likely to favour cars by chucking tarmac over affected areas than asking offenders to please 'keep off the grass'. At least while the earth's still there, future restoration is fairly straightforward.

Allowing vegetation in the rear half of verges to grow longer, improving wildlife interest and value, would help offset loss of gardens to car parks and might just make them look less inviting to drive over than a flat, frequently mown-to-the-ground surface. Let's have more green and less grey!

24/6/09: Bee Moth at Barnehurst window

For the second night running I've had a male Bee Moth (Aphomia sociella) at the lounge window. The larvae feed on the comb inside bee and wasp nests, and are said to eat the grubs when other food runs out, an unusual case of carnivorous behaviour amongst the Lepidoptera.

It took a long time because I wasn't sure where to start looking, but I eventually identified this specimen by working my way through the images at UKMoths -

Not the greatest photo here, but then it was taken through the side of a jam-jar with a mobile phone cam .............

24/6/09: Pyramidal Orchid in Bexleyheath

Several good finds this afternoon, of which the highlight was this single Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) not far from the eastern end of the Broadway and Bexley Council's Offices. It's a frequent to locally common species in the south of England, but is normally found in calcareous grassland rather than the sandy soil in this area. It may have come in with imported soil.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

24/6/09: Slow Worm likes habitat enhancement

There have been occasional records of Slow Worms (Anguis fragilis) - a legless lizard - in my Barnehurst garden for some years, and on one occasion 3 babies close together.

There have been two more sightings in recent weeks, including one adult male in a flower pot, which when distubed, burrowed down between the rootball and the side of the pot before I could get a picture.

In order to improve the habitat for Slow Worms, which are now a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species due to a decline in numbers, to make finding them more reliable and to thus be able to get a better idea of how many there are here, I recently set up the habitat enhancement features below:

These are two piles of grass clippings plus, importantly, rougher material so that the mix remains open and doesn't become a soggy mess, located in part sun/part shade, and covered with old black bin liners weighed down with bits of rubble. Old carpet, or carpet tiles are also effective.

Slow Worms like these because they can burrow into the dryish pile of vegetation, it's moist enough that more food is attracted (worms and slugs being their favoured prey) and they can get warm by being pressed up against the covering. One of the main advantages of this behaviour (termed thigmothermy) is that it speeds up digestion of food whilst at the same time keeping the practitioner hidden from predators.

The first animal was found using these facilities yesterday evening, and it was there again this morning.

The markings on the head are unique to each animal, and by recording these the number of different individuals can be determined - even if I only see one or two at a time.

Given the fairly dry nature of the sandy garden here, I don't expect numbers to be particularly high. On one of my allotments when I lived in Bristol, a larger heap covered in old carpet had 12 Slow Worms in it at once on one occasion. But in any case, I have made small piles of vegetation in several places around the garden in spots under shrubs that are too dry and shady to support much in the way of live plants. It's an easy way of helping Slow Worms and finding out if you have any in your garden.

24/6/09: Of Swallows and several new species

My trip from Barnehurst to Bexleyheath started well with 4 Swallows sitting on telephone wires near the junction of Thirlmere and Grasmere Roads.

A Comma butterfly was seen on each side of the former pitch and putt course.

Cutting through the eastern edge of Bursted Wood, there was a rustling in the undergrowth that didn't sound like Blackbird foraging. In fact it was two Wood Mice.

The Asparagus by a garage in Lavernock Rd, near the rear of the hospital site, was now sporting Asparagus Beetle larvae.

There was a good display of Common Mallow in an alleyway at the Long Lane end of Francis Av.

Common Mallow

Being a horticulturalist, as well as a 'botanist', I noted with interest that a specimen of the recently-discovered Woollemi Pine, a 'living fossil' from Australia, was on sale in the garden shop on the corner of Heversham Rd.

A new species in Bexley for me was Catmint (Nepeta cataria), with white, purple-spotted flowers, growing by the exit of the Texaco garage opposite 'The Yacht' public house on Long Lane.

Greater Celandine and Asparagus occur around 'The Yacht' car park.

A seedling of a grey-leaved Verbascum was growing in a crevice by a junction box at the corner of Long Land and Rydal drive.

There was interest in the 'open plan' gardens round the estate on Bristow Rd, near the end of Franklin Rd., as a new location for Common Stork's-bill (Erodium cicutarium) was discovered, hard up against the back end of someone's garage. Unfortunately the nine or so plants were now shaded and the flowers all closed.

Common Stork's-bill

Other plants here included Spotted Medick, Common Cat's-ear, Yarrow and, making a striking and attractive contrast in flower colour, Self Heal and Bird's-foot Trefoil.

There were at least three plants of Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) visible through the fence of Uplands Primary School on Church Rd, a species which I've seen become quite invasive by means of seed on a Bristol allotment site.

Lots of Buck's-horn Plantain was to be found in the grass bank behind the Marriott Hotel on Albion Rd (another candidate for a more relazed mowing regime). There were around 14 plants of Swine Cress (Coronopus squamatus), which has slightly heart-shaped fruits with a pointed projection, along the path edge here, and just around the corner on Gravel Hill, two plants of Lesser Swine Cress (Coronopus didymus) which has grape-shaped fruits.

Swine Cress

Lesser Swine Cress

A Hop plant and Traveller's Joy (Clematis vitalba) were growing ove the hedge by the side of the hotel on Gravel Hill.

There was a good selection of plants around the former Woolwich Building Society offices at the junction of Erith Rd and Watling St, including several Perforate St. John's-wort, Black Horehound and Mouse-ear Hawkweed.

A new Bexley Borough species for me here was the attractively silvery Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), the aromatic nature of which led to it being used to repel fleas and moths. It is an ingredient in the liquor absinthe, and in the Middle Ages was used to flavour Mead.


There were three Hemlock plants, another new Bexley record for me - in borders of what looked like imported soil - at 68 Erith Rd.

I'd first spotted Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca) in a scrap of green between two 'car-parked' gardens along this section of Erith Rd (south of Mayplace Rd East/West) a couple of years ago, and was pleased to see it's still hanging on. Despite supposedly being a fairly common plant, I've only ever seen the odd specimen here and there.

Tufted Vetch

A flock of about 11 Starlings was seen once back on Grasmere Rd., and another of around 20Ring-necked Parakeets

The best 'spot' of the day was undoubtedly a Pyramidal Orchid (see separate post).

Monday, 22 June 2009

21/6/09: A modicum of moths

Starting to make some headway on moth identification . More usage for my 'Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland' by Townsend and Waring (British Wildlife Publishing) as three new records for my garden have turned up in the past two nights, all at lit windows. Fortunately they were all fairly distinctive, and were not one of those brown jobs with two oval and two kidney/x-shaped marks which to the novice look all too similar to one another.

Tonight: - 1x Varied Coronet (Hadena compta) , an attractively marbled species in blackish and white, common in the south and south east, and 1 x Common Emerald (Hemithea aestivaria).

Yesterday night: - 1 x Heart and Dart (Agrotis exclamationis).

I had a look at Japanese Honeysuckle and Hebe flowers by (wind-up) torchlight, but no sign of anything feeding on them.

Friday, 19 June 2009

18/6/09: Here be Dragons ... and Toads

Common Lizards and Common Toads, both now UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species because of a worrying decline in numbers, occur on the Grasmere Rd. allotment site in Barnehurst. Both were seen there today. The site was once an orchard and has remnant heathland vegetation, including Pedunculate Oak, Silver Birch, Gorse, Broom and Bracken. A third UK BAP species, the Slow Worm, is found in my garden less than 100 metres away, but I have never found one on the allotments, despite searching suitable in places.

Yeah, we know you're watching us - we're watching you too

Here a pair of Common Lizards (Zootoca (Lacerta) vivipara) enjoy some habitat enhancement in the form of an old tyre, part-buried in the ground, with a 'bolt-hole' / possible hibernation facility excavated underneath at the rear, and bits of broken brick and rubble - also found on site - and a clump of grass put in the middle.

Last autumn I found four lizards on this tyre at once. Tyres are known to be lizard 'magnets' because they warm up quickly and retain some heat so are ideal for basking/raising body temperature, especially in cooler and changeable weather.

Here's a closer view of one of them - not pin-sharp because my mobile phone cam has trouble knowing exactly where to focus in this sort of shot.

Surrounding gardens are unlikely to provide suitable lizard habitat, so it's likely this is an 'island' population that has survived here since the site became hemmed in by houses in around 1933.

And here's a two inch body length young toad. A couple of larger ones were seen recently. Numbers are never high here, but specimens keep turning up, so there must be a breeding pond not too far away. There isn't one on the site.

Juvenile Common Toad (Bufo bufo)

Other amphibian species here are the Common Frog and Smooth Newt. The latter has bred in a pond made from an old bath.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

17/6/09: A South American in North Heath

Shaggy Soldier (Galinsoga quadriradiata). This South Ameriacan species, now naturalised in places, is seen here growing in a crack between the wall of the launderette and the pavement in the parade of shops on Erith Rd., Northumberland Heath, Borough of Bexley.
Other locations I've found it in in London so far are Lewisham railway station, bits of Bloomsbury (including near ULU) and in raised beds at Euston railway station.
Its more lanky and less hairy relative, Gallant Soldier, is found on a Barnehurst, Bexley, allotment site.
Galinsoga are members of the daisy family.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

17/6/09: No heart, no soul - over-mown again

OK, so there was nothing exceptional about the grassy areas either side of the junction of Hurst Road and Avenue Road, Northumberland Heath.

But here we see a Poppy, Papaver (probably rhoeas), on 4th June, all set to produce a nice show of flowers:

And here we are on 17th June with the whole lot unimaginatively mown to the ground in typical Council/railway company/utility style

including the Poppy

which was in any case right at the margin of the site, hard up against a garden fence. Was it really necessary to be this zealous about chopping everything down? I don't think so.

Have a heart. Have a soul. Ditch this warped obsession with 'tidiness' and let some wild flowers do their stuff in otherwise dull and uninspiring corners of Bexley Borough. It's not as if there aren't a host of productive things contractors could be being paid to do instead that would improve other aspects of the local environment.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

13/6/09: Highway aliens and Hare's-foot Clover

More botanising in Bexleyheath.

Geranium robertianum, Nipplewort, Ground Elder, Hedge Bindweed and Black Medick in the shrub beds surrounding the wasteland that is the car park behind The Mall.

Fairly typical 'weeds' in beds along the north side of Albion Rd, behind the Broadway, including Prickly Lettuce, Creeping Thistle, Shepherd's Purse, Redshank, Hedge Mustard and Black Horehound. Plus a couple of aliens. Firstly a Virginia Creeper seedling (I've now seen several 'naturalised' plants in London and Bristol) seen on the left of a Smooth Sow Thistle in a crack between a wall and the pavement. Second this young leaf-curl disease free Peach tree, presumably grown from a stone discarded by a passer-by.

Natives along this capitulation to the motor car of a road included several Hops (including one growing, appropriately enough, over a building sporting the sign 'Maison Maurice Wholesalers to the Licensed Trade'), Common Mallow, Great Willowherb, a large stand of bracken marching through a formal shrub bed towards the Bexleyheath Conservative Party HQ (nature will win in the end), Woody Nightshade and Lesser Swine Cress.

The real highlight on Albion Rd is in the grass by the tile shop, at the junction with the Broadway. This is Hare's-foot Clover (Trifolium arvense) - an annual plant 'frequent to locally common, especially in the east and south east', but which seems to be uncommon in London as far as I can make out. Here there are around 31 separate plants, 29 of them in a roughly 12' by 2' strip. Ever since I discovered them back in April I've been coming back to see if a decent number of flower heads were out for a photogarph. There would have been a couple of weeks ago were it not for a typically indiscriminate and over-zealous mowing regime which had decapitated earlier flower stems. Indeed it looks like they can only persist because of being part-protected by a metal fence and being on a fall-off slope at the edge of the grassed area (see pictures).

By garages on Russell Close (off Woolwich Rd) was, amongst other things, a vigorous Dwarf Mallow (top), with its procumbent habit and pink flowers and there was a good show of flowers on a White Bryony (below), a relative of the Cucumber, on the edge of Russell Park.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

12/6/09: Archway to Ally Pally

This evening I walked up Archway Road to Highgate to look for access to the trackbed of the former Great Northern Railway Alexandra Palace branch, north of Highgate station. South of the station, behind the fence on the east side of the road just up from Shepherd's Hill, was this attractive plant (left)- which from web searches looks to be the non-native, perennial, Straw Foxglove (Digitalis lutea). Although there are several other cultivated species on this former cutting side, a hunt around revealed no other specimens.

Further up Archway Rd., past Muswell Hill Rd., there was a good selection of herbaceous plants in the strip of land between the raod and the Northern line, now at the surface. These included Purple Toadflax, Mugwort, Common St. John's Wort, at least 5 Common Figwort, Feverfew, Cow Parsley and Hogweed.

I was pleased to see Meadow Vetchling, and there was a large swathe of another legume, Hairy Tare with its downy, two-seeded pods, some of which was climbing the chain link fence (left) opposite 477 Archway Rd. More unusually, there was also a plant of Black Bryony (Tamus communis), a relative of the Yam, at this same spot (below left).

Unfortunately there isn't much of the trackbed you can get at - it's breached twice and is inaccessible where it skirts Highgate Wood, so I cut through this Pedunculate Oak and Hornbeam wood to get to the access point where Cranley Gardens joins Muswell Hill Rd. The saving grace of the short section beyond is a viaduct with panoramic views, from which one can see Canary Wharf and just make out the top of the Gherkin next to the Nat West tower.
[Temporary posting - to be added to]

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

1/6/09: Stags and Elephants in my Barnehurst garden

Here are a couple of the bigger insect visitors that can be found in local gardens.

20th May: This male Stag Beetle was rescued from a neighbour's garden netting, next to my garden wall, after I heard a loudish rustling sound at about half past eight in the evening.

This species is globally-threatened, rare and protected in some European countries. Its British range is internationally important, and it is frequent in much of south and west London, making the Capital's population nationally significant.

You can help this species thrive. See Bexley Council's biodiversity action plan (BAP) for the species:

31st May: This visitor is an Elephant Hawk Moth - and its mirror-image in a twin-wall polycarbonate roofing sheet. My 3MP mobile phone cam has focussed better on the reflection.