Harrow Nature Conservation Forum

October 2007

Chairman's message

Thanks to the efforts of our wardens our established reserves continue to thrive and in most cases to improve. As I wrote in the last newsletter we anticipate that the Bentley Grove development on the old Marconi site may have an adverse impact on the wildlife and ambience of Stanmore Common, but this has not yet materialized. There are also good changes in the offing for the Common: an open area created a number of years ago by a fire has been identified as the location for the creation of new heather heathland. This area is in the poorly visited north of the site and the work should not disturb the better known glades and open areas. For those with access to the detailed map on our website the heathland restoration site lies to the west of minor path 1 (MP1).

One reserve where biodiversity and a sense of wildness are certainly under threat is Bentley Priory. A recent study by Banks and Bryant (Biology Letters 2007; D.O.I. 10.1098/rsbl.2007.0374) showed that disturbance by even well controlled, leashed dogs scares away many birds, and such a phenomenon is evident in the Nature Reserve. Furthermore the process that will lead to housing development around Bentley Priory mansion continues inexorably. In July the leader of Harrow council, Councillor Chris Mote, specifically asked interested parties to submit suggestions to improve the relevant Supplementary Planning Document. We submitted detailed suggestions which did not oppose housing as a way of funding the establishment of a museum in the mansion, but did propose that it be located in the north of the site. In the latest incarnation of the Supplementary Planning Document the council has not even deigned to acknowledge that these suggestions were made, let alone given a reasoned argument as to why they should be set aside.

The best news to report is that we have added a new reserve to our portfolio. Pear Wood lies to the northeast of Wood Farm on the Harrow Weald ridge. Claire Abbott has taken over the site as warden, aided by Rosemary Etheridge. It is the largest ancient woodland in Harrow, and forms a continuous open space with Stanmore Country Park to the south. Pear Wood contains three independent nests of the wood ant Formica rufa. These nests, together with a population on the north of Wood Lane in the grounds of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, consitute the only population in Middlesex, indeed, the nearest population is in Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire. The ant nests are actively managed by Philip Attewell with the help of myself and Claire, and we may in the coming years transplant other colonies from the hospital site into Pear Wood.

To the west of Pear Wood lies Wood Farm, an area owned by the council and rented to a developer, C.P. holdings. We have visited the site a number of times over the summer. Although many species that one might expect to see are absent there is a high density of whitethroat warblers for which the pattern of low ground cover with scattered bushes is ideal. We are still fighting a rearguard action to prevent the building of luxury houses within this site on the crest of the Harrow Weald ridge, and have presented a counterproposal to the council under which the whole area would be retained as open space. However, even if the houses are built a large area of open space will be added to the Stanmore Country Park/Pear Wood complex, and our actions have I hope established the position that the Forum will manage this land as a nature reserve.

If we are to continue to take care of our sites and indeed to adopt others in the borough then we need new members. Working parties are one way of recruiting young people, and I am convinced that they should continue both to run and to present a welcoming face to those volunteers that appear. The new timetable of events appears in this newsletter and on the website. Once an event is timetabled it should proceed unless cancellation is absolutely unavoidable: a volunteer who arrives at a site on a damp Sunday morning to find a sign “working party cancelled” is unlikely ever to be seen again. Please, if a warden or event organizer finds that they cannot attend an event that they have scheduled can they contact me: I will step in in their place if at all possible. My mobile phone, number 0779 483 7302, is on at all times.

Steve Bolsover


Site reports

STANMORE COUNTRY PARK report by John Hollingdale

The two butterfly walks had not been well attended due to inclement weather; neither had the recent moth evening in spite of extensive advertising.

The annual cut has been completed, Dave Corby has been given the all clear to start work on the new car park and he is applying for funding from a Mayor of London fund to repair the bridge.

However I am concerned that we had had to clear a number of fallen trees from paths on the Country Park also the horse ride on Stanmore Common and that those had been down for many months or even years. The Council did not appear to be checking the reserves for problems that don’t come under the remit of the wardens.

We have had our first visit from BTCV this autumn and they have uncovered the stile that leads from the south east field up to Ant City. We found that all the top bars of the fence supporting this stile have disappeared and makes climbing over it a bit challenging, Dave Corby please note.

BENTLEY OLD VICARAGE

Betty Brown reported that work on the reserve was continuing being carried out by a smallish but devoted group working on the first Sunday of each month. An Open Day was planned for the 22nd September. The issue of the grass cuttings that were being dumped from the cemetery and causing damage had not been resolved. It was again agreed to contact Dave Corby about this and ask for a report in the next four weeks.

ALL SAINT'S CHURCHYARD

Jill Lewis reported that a new vicar had been appointed who had a background as a geography teacher. After a good spring the diversity of the later flora was disappointing. It had been observed that tough, coarse grass was predominating. It was suggested that after a cut in early July and maybe in September the grass was removed and possibly put in a compost heap at the lowest part of the reserve to ensure any run off did not enrich the site.

PEAR WOOD

Claire Abbott reported that Rosemary Etheridge was working alongside her as an assistant warden for Pear Wood. The wood is ancient woodland, at least four hundred years old, so with the dyke running through it being an ancient monument, Claire is spending time observing and getting to know the site. The fence needs fixing and a BTCV work day has been arranged for this.

The issues with regard to Wood Farm were firstly the shooting that was taking place every day particularly around dusk. The use of a high speed rifle near the wood was considered to be inappropriate and a menace to both humans and wildlife. It was agreed that Steve Bolsover would write to CP Holdings and the matter would be taken further from there. It was also suggested that the Police, Dave Corby and then the press be informed and Cllr Bath said she would look into this.

Secondly the problem of the lighting at the Brockley Hill driving range was raised. Although this lighting was turned off at 10pm it was felt that it was detrimental to the movement of bats at night and the possibility of more downward directed lighting was muted.

BELMONT LINE

John Williams reported that the underpass improving pedestrian access was now going to happen.

BENTLEY PRIORY

Peter Peretti reported there was a slight drop in bird numbers and in particular the Willow Warbler had not returned and it was not possible to cite any particular reason for this. On the good side the numbers of Black Caps, Garden Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Whitethroats had increased. Mandarins and Parakeets had been seen and one cuckoo had been heard and a buzzard had been seen flying over.

Ragwort had been cleared in July however the usefulness of this was in doubt as the cattle were only on the site in the winter and yew was actually more of a problem. Ragwort was also useful to insects such as the Cinnabar Moth. A bat survey was also being carried out.

Four BTCV sessions had been arranged before Christmas; the priority was trying to keep the secondary woodland at bay, particularly in the grassland areas.

A concern was that the bramble cutting, which is normally carried out by a flayer in August, had not taken place. These needs to be carried out urgently and it was agreed to email Dave Corby about this.

The question as to whether to use Section 106 money to fence off a small area was discussed and it was agreed that Steve Bolsover would pursue this.

ROXBOURNE ROUGH

Dave Bolton reported that all but half a ton of path stone had been used on repairing the water damage of last winter and the remainder will be used as needed over the coming winter. Grass edges to paths have been cut each month as have the brambles. Litter continues to be picked up on a regular basis. Overhanging trees have been cut back to head height on paths but some more will need to be trimmed. In spite of the summer rain the ponds had all dried up by the end of August suggesting that the water table may have fallen due to nearby developments.

Work days have been planned for the coming months.

STANMORE COMMON

The problems with organising volunteers have continued and Simon Braidman will try to get back in touch with those who had previously shown an interest. The Friends of Stanmore Common Launch has taken place and may lead to a few more volunteers. Some parts of the Common are scrubbing over badly and the BTCV work days are badly needed Work is being done under the London Heathlands’ Heritage Project involving bracken control and heather replanting in a degraded area of the Common. Litter clearance is also being carried out under the aegis of the Probation Service though it is not clear who in the Council is responsible for this. The site complexity is strong with a good variety of insects. Secondary populations of Sanicle and Orchids have been found and some work by a volunteer has been carried out on one of the orchid sites.

Simon Braidman reported that the toilets remain closed since the fire.

The issue of horse riders not keeping to the tracks was an ongoing problem which was exacerbated by the condition of the horse ride which needed to be improved.

The issue of the cat proof fencing was discussed and it was agreed that Steve Bolsover would try to get a reply to his letter regarding this. Councillor Bath also agreed to look into this.


Thanks to Yu Xuan for the photograph of the saw

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