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’.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Slender Hare's-ear find is first for more than a century

A specimen of one of the 'unusual' plants that I brought to the attention of my companions on my most recent visit to Crayford Marshes (22/9/09 - see separate posting), because I didn't recognise it, was subsequently sent by one of them, Margot Godfrey, to the chap who is writing a paper on rare plants of London. She has rung me to say that he is very excited because he has confirmed that it is Slender Hare's-ear (Bupleurum tenuissimum), a small, very slender umbellifer. Apparently this species has not been recorded this far up the Thames, nor within the London boundary, since the nineteenth century.

In the light of this development, Margot made a subsequent visit and counted over 100 individuals of this annual plant. I can also report (4/11/09 update) that the herbarium specimens collected at this site were held up as the highlight of the plant material exhibited at the London Natural History Society's AGM / Flora of London Project talk which I attended.

A photo of this species, taken in East Sussex, can be found here:

Sunday, 25 October 2009

25/10/09: Wood Mouse watching

23.30 - I disturbed a Wood Mouse foraging amongst fallen Fuchsia flowers on the path under the covered way at the back of my home in Barnehurst. So I sat out of sight and it pretty quickly re-appeared.

Friday, 23 October 2009

23/10/09: Bloomsbury Polypody, bracket on Birch

Polypodium sp. fern in the wall of a nice community garden on Ridgmount Gardens, London Borough of Camden

Bracket fungus on Silver Birch, by the long-closed Finsbury Park - Alexandra Palace railway line, south of Highgate station

Charing Cross station and the London Eye

Monday, 19 October 2009

19/10/09: Lewisham, Cornmill Gardens

The most interesting find for me was a single specimen - just about still in flower - of Hemp Agrimony, which seems to be very infrequent in the areas I've looked at to date.

Water plants on the riverbank included Water Cress, Water Figwort and Flag Iris, also an Alder seedling.

There was a white-flowered Michaelmas Daisy (Aster novi-belgii) and some Coltsfoot.

19/10/09: Eltham verge surprise

Although heavily mown, there was a short 'strip' of Tansy shoots in a grass verge on Glenlea Rd, Eltham. This isn't a common plant in those parts of South East London I've covered to date.

Also present were Buck's-horn Plantain, Spotted Medick, Yarrow and Cow Parsley.

19/10/09: Eltham Park north - Wild Service trees

I hadn't been through Eltham Park North before, and only traversed a couple of paths just to the north of the railway line.

There was no sign of the Gorse, Broom or Wood Spurge that can be seen below, on the cutting bank on the north side of the railway line just west of Falconwood station.

The most interesting find was a circa 6 foot tall Wild Service Tree (Sorbus torminalis) and two small seedlings very close by, though there was no sign of a mature tree. Perhaps there is a specimen in the mixed plantings along the side of the A2 on the other side of the railway line, from which the seed might have come? But three together, of different size, seemed odd - unless they were suckers of a long since disappeared adult. There were also a number of Swedish Whitebeam.

Three Wild Service trees - a sapling and two apparent seedlings - growing in close proximity in Eltham Park North

Beside the Swedxish Whitebeam , other non-native trees were Sweet Chestnut, mature Turkey Oak and some Norway Maple seedlings.

Nice bracket fungus on an old sawn log

This hollow old Oak, which some moron had at some point lit a fire inside, was still alive

Tar Spot fungus (Rhytisma acerinum) on Sycamore

The 'field' at the western end of the side, immediatly north of the railway line, had clearly been managed so as to allow a large circle of long grass and herbs to develop over the summer, bisected by a wide mown path with a circle at its centre. Plants found here included a couple of Black Knapweed, Ribwort Plantain, Sorrel, Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris) and Bird's-foot Trefoil.

There were Mallard and 5 Moorhen in and around the pond beyond, and from here, fine views towards Canary Wharf and central London bathed in the afternoon sun.

19/10/09: Lots of Turkeys and no Falcons at 'wood, and more unsympathetic vegetation management ....

I had previously recorded Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris) in the former 'up' bay at Blackheath station. There must also be one or more somewhere near Barnehurst station, as the Pedunculate Oaks there get Knopper galls, for which Turkey Oak is a necessary alternate host for the Gall Wasp concerned. But this was the first time I'd got off at Falconwood station to take a proper look at the flora. And it's 'Turkey Oak central', at least behind the 'down' (towards Dartford) platform .

Turkey Oaks (Quercus cerris) tower over the platforms at the west end of Falconwood station on the Bexleyheath line. Given the unsympathetic vegetation mangement highlighted below, it's ironic that the billboard advertises rare wildlife on another continent

Closer view of Turkey Oak

This substantial Swedish Whitebeam (Sorbus intermedia) on the bank behind the 'up' platform could have been planted or self-sown

The vegetation at the foot of the bank behind the 'up' platform has been so hard strimmed that bare earth is exposed

The even steeper bank behind the 'down' platform had been treated the same way, despite the 'ducting' meaning that the vegetation would have to get pretty long to flop right over onto the platform surface and pose any sort of hazard - and in the dry summer we've just had it wouldn't have taken more than a basic trim or two to make sure this didn't happen

Annoyingly, this 'modern' (=lazy) approach to vegetation management is also practiced at Barnehurst , Bexleyheath and Erith stations, possibly more. If all this bare earth was about fostering rare burrowing bees or wasps etc. I might be persuaded, but the cynic in me sees it as yet another example of a fetishistic obsession with 'tidiness' and an over-the-top approach to 'health and safety'. Moreover it can only lead to more rapid erosion of the banking, and lots of dirt being washed onto the platform for someone to sweep up.

Oh yes, and what else do we find - the standard 'jobsworth' finish so beloved of public and private 'utilities' whereby the vegetation is trashed but the trash is left firmly in plain sight. And in this case some of it looks suspiciously like asbestos.

For the record, the other species within the station area included those typical of the Bexleyheath line such as Hazel, Perennial Rocket, Hogweed, Cow Parsley, Mugwort, Black Medick and Purple Toadflax.

Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits and a Wren were also seen.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

17/10/09: Bexleyheath backstreets

More of the usual suspects - Black Horehound, Evergreen Alkanet, Common Mallow and Hop in the grass around the hall at the junction of Devonshire Rd and Standard Rd. Pellitory-of-the-wall and Oxford Ragwort by No. 28 Standard Rd.

On Heathfield Rd Ivy-leaved Toadflax was in flower by the gates of the warehouse next to St. John Vianney church, and there were several Greater Celandine by the church hall.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

15/10/09: Last Speckled Wood's demise

I saw what's probably going to be the last Speckled Wood of the year in my Barnehurst garden fly into a Garden Cross Spider's web, where it was promptly seized upon by the owner and wrapped in silk.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

10/10/09: Southwark brownfields could be better for wildlife, but benefit from 'negative growth'

I was surprised at the number of brownfield sites I came across en route from London Bridge to Waterloo station.

As the invertebrate conservation charity Buglife have made clear, brownfield sites can be extremely valuable for wildlife

I was less surprised by the fact these sites weren't being worked on, given the current 'economic climate'. So yes, there are positive things about a 'recession'.

What is a 'recession'? According to the BBC the UK economy is in recession when it experiences two successive quarters of what is known as "negative growth". For this to happen, the total amount of goods and services produced by the UK - known as gross domestic product (GDP) - would have to contract on a quarter by quarter basis for a total period of six months.

Welcome to the wacko world of Westminster party extinction economics. Has our pile of existing material wealth suddenly vanished? No, but you would think so given the screaming headlines. Is it a good idea to consume more and more resources at an ever faster rate when the UK is living a three-planet lifestyle already, and according the the New Economics Foundation the world went into ecological debt for the year in September. Er, no. But according to Gord, Dave and Nick THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE. But that's because they've got everyone on the same debt-laden treadmill, so if too many people wise up and stop guzzling the goods all of a sudden a load of people become unemployed and the whole system starts to unravel. And never mind that GDP is an extremely gross measure, including all manner of damaging activities as 'positive' economic activity.

Well here, for the historical record, are the havens I came across before we 'recover' (albeit not our senses) and most probably build all over them .........

Brownfield site, Union St (south side of the London-Bridge-Waterloo railway, line which is on the viaduct above). Note some kind of art installation (?) looking like so many bracket fungi growing out of the brick wall. I quite like it!

Brownfield site a bit further west along Union St, again on the south side of the London-Bridge-Waterloo railway line.

The flora of these sites included several Tree of Heaven (see below) and typical plants for such places such as Buddleia, Canadian (or Jersey?) Fleabane, Annual Mercury, Woody Nightshade, Pellitory-of-the-wall and Oxford Ragwort. All that rubble would be great for reptiles, in the somewhat unlikely event there are any in the vicinity.

What the Americans would call a 'vacant lot' at the corner of Risborough St and Union St., with the ghostly outline of former buildings plainly visible. I couldn't resist getting the name of the bar in the shot. And although you can't read it without enlarging the picture, the upper advertising panel on that end wall says 'Rose Brand Fine Teas'.

Perennial Wall-rocket made an appearance here, along with Herb Robert, Black Horehound, Creeping Thistle and Purple Toadflax but ........

the most interesting specimen was this non-native purple Convolvulus (Ipomoea)

False Acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia) spilling over the boarding round this large brownfield site on Bear Lane, bounded on the other side by Great Suffolk St.

The same site pictured through the small hole in the previous photograph. Row of Silver Birch as street trees in the background. Quite a lot of hard surfacing still in place here.

Large site on the east side of Blackfriars Rd, on the north side of Burrell St. , through a gap in a gate. According to an official notice posted on the hoarding, the TfL-granted licence for it to remain in place had expired on 31st May ...........

On which note, it seems to me that several of these sites were not dangerous to the public (unless ridden with toxic chemicals), and probably less so than crossing the road. It would be good if some people at least were allowed in to sow or plant things that would enhance them for wildlife, even if just for a year. I suggest that amongst other things the annual Phacelia tanacetifolia, the best bee attracting plant I've ever grown (sold as a green manure), could usefully be employed. In my experience you just sow and grow. It will self-sow itself thereafter, is not mown down by molluscs, reaches a good size and can provide flowers over a long period. It is ornamental-looking enough to keep the public happy. A few 'portholes' in the hoardings would allow anyone interested to have a look.

Going back to the Chinese Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) mentioned earlier, this is an increasingly common and invasive non-native in this part of the capital. It grows quickly and reproduces from prolific wind- and water-dispersed seeds and from numerous root suckers that allow it to re-sprout vigorously from cut stumps and root fragments.

Here is one in fruit:

Fruiting Tree of Heaven by Waterloo station

10/10/09: Southwark and Lambeth's progressive parks and planting

I was pleased to see good use being made of both native and 'garden' plants in the parks that I came across on my back-streets walk from London Bridge to Waterloo station, and in general the more relaxed, less formal styles of planting being adopted.

Red Cross Park on Redcross Way has a nice pond, a wildflower mini-meadow under development, and some 'European new wave' type plantings of perennials and grasses.

I saw one of the species of Darter dragonfly on this boardwalk by the pond, but couldn't get close enough for a certain ID as to which one.

Native water plants here include Marsh Marigold (centre top) and Bogbean - which will have beautifully fringed white flowers (the thing that looks a bit like a Broad Bean plant, bottom).

A number of seedlings of Meadowsweet and of the non-native ornamental grass Stipa tenuissima had 'escaped' into the crack between the pavement and the outside face of the garden's boundary wall.

Mint St park had varous formal elements like the clipped Box in the foreground and stepped grass area beyond.

The flower beds had an eclectic mix of garden ornamentals like Lavender, Cotton Lavender, Sage, Rosemary, hardy Geraniums, Asters and Japanese Anemone and natives such as Teasel and Common St. John's-wort, plus self-sowing garden herbs like Lemon Balm and Borage.

There was a single Common Stork's-bill in some thin gravel.

Further on it was good to see street trees in what might be considered less promising locations.

Tree close to railway viaduct on Burrell St.

Junction of Chancel St and Treveris St.

An example of the welcome new idea of growing food round blocks of flats.

I would rather see areas of grass like this - frequently mown to within an inch of its life - formally or guerilla-gardened than 'sanitise' brownfield sites, since the latter can be much more valuable for wildlife.

There was a stand of Bracken in a park on Ufford St.

Waterloo Rd park, Lambeth, at the junction of Waterloo Rd and Baylis Rd. The large plant on the right is Thorn Apple (Datura stramonium) , an introduced 'weed' from central and south America in the Potato family which, being highly poisonous, was presumably not planted here deliberately.

The garden plant Rudbekia laciniata under Silver Birch.

One end of the park has a stream with water plants such as Water Mint. The other had the cut-down remains of a man-made meadow, with what looked like a very similar mix to the one at Hall Place, Bexley, namely species such as Bird's-foot Trefoil, Black Knapweed, Ox-eye Daisy, Lady's Bedstraw and Sainfoin. There was also the remains of some kind of Primula, plus Red Clover, Hemlock, Wild Carrot, Musk Mallow, Hop and a single plant of Gorse.
Man-made meadow in Waterloo Rd. park - the yellow of Lady's Bedstraw in the foreground, looking towards Waterloo terminus station.

10/10/09: Some Southwark and Lambeth side-street species

Having messed up and failed to check for weekend engineering works, I couldn't get to the London Natural History Society meeting I'd intended to go to in time because of bus substitution. But I bought a Travelcard anyway, and decided to set out from London Bridge station with no particular route in mind. As it happens, I eventually ended up by the terminus at Waterloo. Most of the journey was within the London Borough of Southwark, with the end part in Lambeth.

There was a lot of Galinsoga around London Bridge station between Railway Approach and London Bridge Street, in O'Meara St and Redcross St.

A Hart's-tongue Fern was growing in a wet spot under the railway arches on O'Meara St.

The flora around St. Joseph's School on Redcross Way included Pellitory-of-the-wall, Woody Nightshade and Spotted Medick.

Take away the car, the road markings and recast in sepia or black-and-white and Copperfield St (below) with its large Limes wouldn't look out of place in a collection of pictures from the early 1900s.

Copperfield St - olde worlde, semi-countrified feel (apart from the car ....)

There's a battle going on with the church over a proposed re-development of All Hallows, where this huge Fig (Ficus carica) - the largest I've ever seen - grows in the grounds by the road.

Very large Fig tree, All Hallows Church, Copperfield Street

A couple of ferns were growing in the recessed corner of the churchyard wall at the corner of Copperfield St and Pepper St. One was Asplenium (probably) trichomanes. A piece of the other, the fronds of which had by now died and dried, is pictured here:

Fern from Pepper St, Southwark, believed to be Chinese Holly Fern (Cyrtomium falcatum), an introduced species.

I don't have a modern fern identification, guide so have resorted to websites. Please comment if you think I've got this wrong (or right!).

There were also 24 small Hart's-tongue ferns in the wall further along Pepper St.

There was more from China ....

Juxtaposition of the very old and the very new: the Gingko, or Maidenhair Tree (Ginkgo biloba), increasingly used in urban streets, looks the part as a 'modern' architectural plant when set against this recent development at the junction of Dolben St and Great Suffolk St.

Fossils recognisably related to today's Ginkgo date back 270 million years to the Permian period, with one of perhaps only two species, G. gardneri, having been found in the Paleocene of Scotland.

Geranium rotundifolium seedling (left) - with characteristic dark spots at the lobe junctions, in a stone sett 'lane' off Dolben St

The Lambeth Borough side of Gray Street is the first place where I've found both of the South American Soldiers, Shaggy Soldier (Galinsoga quadriradiata) and Gallant Soldier (Galinsoga parviflora), growing within a stone's-throw of each other. In my experience the latter is taller, more slender, has longer internodes (to the fowering stems), is more widely branching, not noticeably hairy, with usually smooth or far less idented leaf margins and tends to be a paler colour. If there are any other naturalised Galinsoga that these might be, I'm not aware of it.

Gallant Soldier (Galinsoga parviflora), by the Stage Door pub on Gray Street

Some of the large number Gallant Soldier (Galinsoga parviflora) growing on steps outside a disused office building on Waterloo Rd (next to No. 133-155)

There were a further 6 Shaggy Soldier in the sloping road leading up to the side of Waterloo terminus station.

10/10/09: Kidbrooke produces Pear plus Greater Periwinkle

This post covers the ground either side of the footpath from Tudway Rd to Eltham Green Rd, east of Kidbrooke railway station in the Borough of Greenwich.

The strip of ground to the north of the footpath is bounded on the north side by the Bexleyheath railway line. There are several indications that this has been gardened in the past, with a cultivated variety of Apple in fruit, as well as this impressively well laden Pear.

There is also a considerable amount of what appears to be a non-native Euphorbia that is different to those I am familiar with. Although there were two shoots coming out under the footpath fence, the remains of the flower haeds were too far away to winkle out a sample. All that can be said at this stage is that the flowering stems reach about 3' tall and have narrow leaves, the lower of which had by now fallen off. There were also some Parsnip-type plants, some quite small though still with a few yellow flowers. The leaves didn't look quite right for Wild Parsnip, and they may be descendants of a cultivated variety.

I searched the rough ground to the south of the path for the remains of the Meadow Vetchlings I had found here earlier in the year, because I wanted to collect a few seeds to grow, but there was no sign of them. A plant was later found back towards the station on Tudway Rd.

Another sign of some previous cultivation, at the east end of the fence on the south side, was a small patch of Greater Periwinkle (Vinca major) under an Ash tree.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

1-6/10/09 in my Barnehurst garden. Bat, mossy Bee nest, Foxes and Wren.

1/10 - small bat, presumed Pipistrelle species, over the top end of the garden at dusk.

3/10 - sightings illustrated by the following pictures:

A fox has taken to lounging on one of the shed roofs and here, for the first time (as far as I know) were two together - at 3.20 p.m. on this overcast afternoon. I tried to sneak a better picture but they scarpered.

No I didn't buy this tacky sheep, but I did leave the lawn grass to grow longer around it most of the summer. Then when I moved it to mow the grass the other day, before winter sets in, I found this almost perfect mossy half sphere, from which a couple of small and somewhat annoyed bees emerged. Any suggestions as to species most welcome.

Also today, 5 of the Starlings from next door's Rhododendron roost were squabbling on the bird table and a Blue Tit was foraging in a large Fuchsia outside the kitchen window.

6/10 - caught a brief glimpse of a Wren on the fence before it dived into the Christmas tree at the top of the garden. After which two agitated Grey Squirrels came along.

No moths at the windows for some time now, nor any sign of the local blackbirds.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

4/10/09: Thamesmead transients

Patches of relatively bare ground always attract my attention, in case soil disturbance has resulted in something out of the ordinary coming up - either from imported soil, or dormant seeds. There was one such area below the walkway from the Lesnes Abbey site into Thamesmead around the east end of Fendyke Rd and immediatly south of the railway line through Abbey Wood.

Patches of bare ground like this one in Thamesmead can turn up relatively unusual plants.

Amongst the flora of this site were Spotted Medick, a Common Stork's-bill, several Ox-eye Daisies, a couple of Weld, Lesser Swine Cress, three Feverfew, a few clumps of Horseradish, a Hemlock seedling, a white-flowered crucifer with a rather long, hooked end to the seed pod - probably descended from a cultivated variety of Radish - and a couple of rather succulent orache-type plants which I've yet to identify.

Who says 'weeds' aren't worth looking at? A Mayweed puts on a fine show doing a passable impression of a cushion chrysanthemum - which is exactly what it is, of course.

I also took another look at the disturbed area to the west side of the walkway by Wolvercote Rd. This time I secured my first record of Bugloss (Anchusa arvensis) in Bexley Borough - bulbous bases to the bristles, and white-eyed blue flowers with doubly bent corolla tubes.

Bugloss (Anchusa arvensis) by Wolvercote Rd, Thamesmead

In paving in a locked 'garden' area on Maran Way were several Galinsoga sp.

On Alsike Rd there were two female Hop plants on the railway fence, a Hemlock, Phragmites in a ditch by the railway line, Spotted Medick and Self Heal by some flats, a few Sun Spurge and more than ten Barbarea sp.

At the junction of Waldrist Way and Yarnton Way were several Ox-eye Daisies, Common Toadflax in flower and Buck's-horn Plantain.