Harrow Nature Conservation Forum

February 2012

Chairman's message

We welcome three new people to the Forum. Chris Lomas has a degree in Environmental Studies from Manchester and holds Associate Membership of The Institute of Environmental  Management and Assessment  and works for the engineering and design consultancy company Atkins the official engineering design services provider for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games; so he knows about management plans and suchlike. He will act as Assistant Warden at Bentley Priory. Laura Brown is studying Animal Care at Capel Manor and is a regular worker at Newton Farm. Vanessa Marlowe is a voluntary officer at the BTCV and is helping Simon Braidman and David Bailey at Stanmore Common.

Sadly, we also say goodbye to two. Tony Lovegrove is leaving Harrow and so will be relinquishing his role as an assistant warden at Bentley Priory. Elliot Bertram has done a great job behind the scenes as Publicity Officer but has to give the role up due to work pressures. We wish them both all the best in the future.

In addition to the regular events at our sites John Hollingdale, Margaret Huitson and I joined some specially recruited volunteers on January 22nd 2012 to tidy bramble and other undergrowth from under the 100-year old apple trees at Grimsdyke Open Space. The orchard dates from the time William Schwenck Gilbert, librettist for the Savoy Operettas, lived at Grimsdye house. Although it lies just outside the area leased by the hotel, Helenka Jurgielewicz, head gardener at Grimsdyke Hotel, acted as a volunteer to lead the group in this work. There’s a photo on our website. To visit the orchard walk a few metres along the path that leads from the northwest corner of the sunken rose garden at Grimsdyke – but watch closely, the trees are not immediately obvious as apples. John Hollingdale is organizing a moth evening at the orchard on the 19th of May 2012, which hopefully will turn up some of the many species that like old fruit trees. A few days after this working party, on the 28th of January, Stanmore Common hosted the first of what we intend to be a monthly group from the Woodcraft Folk, with eight children and five adults doing an excellent job in clearing sapling birch and bramble from New Heath. In February they will work at Pear Wood, then visit different sites in subsequent months. 

Until recently Harrow Council gave the Harrow Heritage Trust an annual grant of £4000 to support the work of the Forum, increasing to £5,900 in the year ending March 2011. It is worth noting that the Forum has always overspent this budget and has therefore been subsidized by the Trust, for which many thanks! However the Council’s system is now more competitive. No grant was awarded for 2011-2012. In December 2011 we applied to the council for £5000, the maximum amount under their small grants scheme, to support our activities. We will hear the result in March 2012. Meanwhile we are grateful to the Community Matters Scheme at Waitrose, Harrow Weald which will be giving us £580 to support work on Bentley Priory.

In the summer of 2011 Vicky Ogilvy of Froglife visited a number of our sites looking for possible projects that they would fund with the aim of improving the environment for amphibians and reptiles. In December we, together with the Council, were invited to propose works on Bentley Priory and Stanmore Country Park. We have submitted a proposal to create a new ride and glade in Stanmore Country Park, connecting the small open space of Blue Pond Field with the larger Six Acre Field. In practise this would probably mean money for some BTCV visits to clear away trees after John Hollingdale and I fell them with chainsaws. In addition to helping grass snakes move around the Park, the ride will also act as a flyway for butterflies, moths and bats. The new glade will be at a site that was open grassland ten years ago, and so will, we hope, still have a seed bank of grassland plants in the soil. Chris Lomas is working on the Bentley Priory proposal, which will have two aims: to make Boot Pond safer for amphibians, and to survey Spring Meadow for lizards, which were seen there in 2003, and improve the site for them if they are indeed still present.

The pendulum of public and government opinion is I think now swinging back from the extremes of the Health and Safety mindset, but not quickly enough that we did not have to generate a formal Child and Vulnerable Adult policy. We agreed such a policy, very much designed to formalize the sensible behaviour our wardens already adopt without adding an additional compliance burden, at our meeting on the 17th of January 2012. The policy can be read on our website.

There’s a new site that will eventually be added to our portfolio. Headstone Manor Copse is the small wood adjoining the west side of Pinner View as it runs up to Headstone Manor. It will always be closed to the public, so we will not generate a leaflet for it or be responsible for visitors – all we will do is perhaps survey the site in collaboration with the Harrow Natural History Society. Denis Vickers believes that it is ancient woodland, so there should be some interesting species there. At present the Council is installing a gate, using Green Grid funds. Once that is done and Peter Prendergast has assessed the trees for safety, we will be allowed in.

Steve Bolsover

Site reports

BENTLEY OLD VICARAGE AND ALL SAINTS CHURCHYARD

The Rev James Mercer reported on how the reserve would continue to be used for environmental education. Following ongoing communication with the council on how best to engage with schools and teachers, the idea of a Forest School Partnership is being pursued with the Teachers’ Centre. A bid would enable a teacher on a 0.5 contract to be funded for 3 years. There was a woodland base for activities and indoor facilities. If the project goes forward successfully it could potentially be extended to include a staffed environmental centre on the site. James will contact Stephen Kelly regarding this.

Betty reported that an Oak tree had been planted at Roxbourne Rough for 11th Nov 2011 as agreed. The Forum would pay for one plaque. Claire M will investigate the production of a stone plaque, an alternative was plastic.

Dave Corby had been contacted about the proposed work at the site which had not taken place. Steve would contact him about this.

BELMONT LINE

Margaret Huitson reported that there is ongoing renovation work mainly on the stretch between Belmont Circle and the synagogue. However there is still a lot of litter on this stretch. Simon agreed to visit. A message from JW said that the short section of the Rattler Line that has been surfaced looks very good. We now need to get the entire route sorted. 

BENTLEY PRIORY

Steve reported that the Bentley Priory reserve had been selected as one of the local causes to receive support from Waitrose (Harrow Weald) though their Community Matters scheme. It was receiving support from the public.

The HLF bid was aimed at the clearance and maintenance of the eastern side of the site. Elizabeth reported that she had been involved with the questionnaires and users of the site had been supportive and appreciative.

A Bentley Priory management committee meeting would take place on the 23rd January.

The Dragon Finder project application, discussed earlier, would include making one end of Boot pond suitable for amphibians

NEWTON FARM ECOLOGY PARK

Claire reported that she had spoken about Newton Farm Ecology Park and some of the issues being faced at the Greener Harrow meeting on the 24th November. The assistant warden Tiffany Moore had prepared a draft 5 year management plan for the site. Claire would email a copy to Steve. Claire explained that she wanted to add details of who would carry out each task to ensure that their completion could be monitored.

PEAR WOOD

Generally this was a quiet time of year. The introduction of bee hives was an ongoing issue and was discussed. No fencing work had been carried out and 3 sections now needed repairing. It was noted that work would eventually be carried out on Wood Lane but in the meantime it was agreed that Claire would purchase minimal materials and use the BTCV working party to carry out the repairs./p>

The agreed action by the council with regard to the Japanese Knotweed problem just outside the boundary of the site had not been carried out and it has recently started to spread. Steve agreed to look at it.

Following clearance work the reappearance of Heather Calluna vulgaris and Bell Heather Erica cinerea was pleasing.

Claire reported that she had visited the orchard at the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital with the London Orchard Project officer who was very positive about it however it was not something they could take on this year. It was noted that Russell Sutcliffe, through Hoi Polloi was carrying out work on community orchards in Harrow.

ROXBOURNE ROUGH

 Dave Bolton reported that some resurfacing work had started before Christmas and the materials were on site ready to repair the steps. Conditions were currently ideal, being dry, to complete the work with minimum damage to the site and it is hoped that the work will take place in January.

In November Dave gave a talk to a local Social group and some of them had come along to walk round. A lot of people did not know the reserve existed.

Regular working parties have taken place. Dave has removed Yew trees from the encroached area of the site and replanted them along the railway to provide evergreen cover particularly in winter. The holes from where they had been removed were dry showing the current conditions .The pond was continuing to hold water although it was not full.

Maps from the HLF Crane River Project had been checked for errors.

STANMORE COMMON

Again it had been a quiet time of year and winter work had continued. Simon reported that he had continued with the monthly Sunday work parties. Three new volunteers had attended the last work party and they had heard about it through various routes: one through Agenda 21; one through the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust newsletter and one though Simon’s own advertisement.  

Additional Friday work parties have been held attended by a new volunteer Vanessa Marlowe. Efforts had been concentrated on compartment 19 which was being extended in all directions. A problem was the disposal of the material generated.

Simon was pleased to report that there was a Bull Finch on site and in addition Simon would be spending time investigating the possibility of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

STANMORE COUNTRY PARK

John Hollingdale reported that the new monthly working party on the second Wednesday of each month from 10.30 to 12.30 was proving successful with six regular attendees so far. The current aim is to reclaim the open area in Hilly Field. This work was last done with Betty’s help.

John has continued to carry out routine management disposing of brash and brush cutting along the Central Path and widening rides.

A gate and stile had been removed (unnecessarily), to allow the cut grass to be picked up in Lower Forty Acre Field, and needs replacing. The water supply for the proposed cattle has not been connected. Dave Corby needs to action these matters.

Also an update is needed regarding the proposed Brockley Hill entrance.

Two incidences of fly-tipping clearance were mentioned and these have been reported to the Council

STANMORE LITTLE COMMON AND BREWERY PONDS

Robert Stone was unable to attend the meeting but had sent in a report. "On the Little Common front, I picked up a more than the usual haul of litter last week, presumably because of the holidays, as well as two dustbin liners full of household waste in Spring Pond. There's a great deal of litter along Wood Lane and Warren Lane: The Council is normally very good at cleaning up here, so I hope that this was just the holiday hiatus and that they'll be back on form soon." It was agreed that Steve would contact Cllr. Navin Shah directly with regard to some of the local dumping problems.

"The level of water in Caesar's Pond remains low, and Spring Pond is now also low - as low as I can remember it. But the Brewery Ponds are also low, so maybe this is about rainfall and not the draining of Spring Pond last year."

"There were still five male and three female mandarin ducks on the small Brewery Pond last week."

"Not strictly HNCF business but I'd like to record that the Little Common Resident's Association planted a tree (provided by Peter Peretti) on Little Common in memory of the late George Offredy, who restored and developed Little Common and was a stalwart champion of the conservation area."


GREAT CRESTED NEWTS

Last spring Claire Abbott and some volunteers from a charity called Froglife discovered the presence of Great Crested Newts (GCN) on what remains of Gilbert’s Lake in the hotel’s grounds. As these are a European protected species grants are available to improve and protect their habitat where they are found to be living.

Claire’s Report

We surveyed during the day and at night, our methods being egg searches, netting and torching and also searching under refugio (old logs etc) on the land around the water. Although we discovered the newts were present it is a very small population and could certainly not be described as flourishing.

This is probably due to the degradation of their habitat over the last 2 or 3 decades. Gilbert’s Lake is no longer really a lake at all but is now a couple of small ponds. These were rapidly disappearing due to their invasion by scrub and willow trees. This invasion of these remnant ponds meant that not only were they very shady but (more importantly) that they dried out completely very early in the season. Eventually these 2 ponds would have disappeared altogether. Clearly some work needed to be done as the site in its entirety is very conducive to supporting GCN with an excellent terrestrial habitat.

Froglife co-ordinated the work. The council did the tree work removing some and cutting back larger overhanging trees to allow more light penetration. Better light will improve the growth of submerged aquatic plants which will improve breeding conditions for the newts. The felled logs were stacked nearby to provide extra refugia.

Froglife organised a digger and dumper truck to de-silt the ponds. We also used the digger to dig out some of the larger tree roots. The deepening of the water, to different levels should prevent the early drying out, which will not only improve the breeding conditions but allow more time for the young or efts to metamorphose beyond the stage of having gills so that they are able to leave the water.

Future plans for the site include follow up monitoring. This spring this will be done by people from Froglife and myself. This should then be done every 2 years for a 10 year period to see if our remedial action has lead to an increase in the population and to identify any other factors affecting the newts. This spring we also plan to introduce some submerged aquatic plants./p

The Froglife project finishes on the 30th April this year which is before the end of this season’s monitoring period. Somehow we need to find a few volunteers as doing this on my own I am unlikely to get an accurate picture. Froglife has also suggested that as a group we should get a couple of torches and nets, perhaps even send a few more people on a training course such as the one a few of us attended.

Ideally more of Gilbert’s Lake should be cleared to create more ponds in the old lake basin. This is obviously dependent on available funds. I’m not sure where the council stands on this and have been told that The Grimsdyke Hotel “is keeping an open mind”. The important thing is that we have found Great Crested Newts and have hopefully secured their future in Harrow Weald.


Thanks to Yu Xuan for the photograph of the saw

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