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October 2015

Chairman's message

Since my last report many projects have progressed while others have gone backwards.

Physical management and improvement of our sites has gone well, culminating in a grass cut in September that went well on all the sites - so thanks to Mark Richardson and the teamm from Harrow Parks. Some highlights:

Mick Wynne’s team at the council installed a nice strong metal gate to give access from Brockley Hill into 10 Acre Field, now formally part of Pear Wood nature reserve. Peter Elton, Claire Abbott and I then scythed bramble, cut down trees and dug earth to make a route from the gate into the field. This allowed a tractor and flail onto the field, which in September cut a path all around the field. This now allows Claire and Rosemary Etheridge much better access to the whole of their new domain, and in particular gives access to the three large patches of Japanese knotweed, so that next year they can be attacked as part of the Council’s regular programme of spraying.

Claire, Peter and Rosemary have also created paths in the old orchard immediately south of the ruined cottages in Pear Wood, and have worked hard to cut back ivy from the ancient trees. They then hosted a visit by the Harrow Natural History Society to this lost orchard on September 19th, which was enjoyed by all.

The Heritage Lottery funded Bluebell Heath project at Stanmore Common is now complete. Since the last report we completed the nature trail, complete with a nice information panel at the car park and explanatory leaflets, and on 6th September the trail was formally opened by the mayor. The newly created open space of Bluebell Heath is now a lovely mix of heather, grass, scrub, standard trees and belts of scrub. Of course although the HLF project is formally complete the actual work does not stop: constant maintenance by Simon and his team will be required to maintain the mix and prevent reversion to scrub.

Projects funded by the council’s excellent Green Grid programme are in train at Stanmore Country Park and Bentley Priory. At Stanmore Country Park the “gas main ride” that cuts across the southwest corner of Wood Farm, connecting two arms of Stanmore Country Park, has been made much more passable with a nice set of steps up from Cloisters Brook and a new path set higher up the slope than the gas main itself. This route avoids an area that is a horrible swamp in winter. A small bridge has also been installed just south of post 11 on the nature trail to carry the path over a small ditch that could be difficult to cross in wet weather. Still to be completed is improvements close to the car park: a better path up from the car park itself, and a set of steps up from the northern end of the short boardwalk/dipping platform by the pond to nature trail post 2. Meanwhile improvement works are ongoing at multiple locations on the Bentley Priory circular walk. Within Bentley Priory itself thee main works are new boardwalks over boggy areas at the west end of Aylmer Drive, by the deer enclosure, and at the western exit from Old Lodge Meadow.

Staying with Bentley Priory, work to create a new all-weather track from the north end of Masefield Avenue to Summerhouse Lake has begun. The aim is not primarily to help the public or nature but rather to improve access for the Environment Agency to the dam on Summerhouse Lake; but the improved access it gives us, especially for bringing in vehicles, will be a boon for the wardens.

Another long planned project is now apparently going ahead. As part of the “Dragon Finder” project to improve habitats for reptiles all across Britain, Froglife proposed at our suggestion to create a ride within Stanmore Country Park to connect the open space of Upper Blue Pond Field with 6 Acre Field close to the car park. Together with the work that John Hollingdale has already spearheaded, including the clearance of a belt of young trees at the eastern end of Upper Blue Pond Field in the winter of 2012-2013, and opening up of a ride connecting John Halls Field and 40 Acre Field (followed by the nature trail from posts 19 to 20), this will mean that all the open spaces within Stanmore Country Park are connected to each other and to the open space of Wood Farm. Apparently this is good for grass snakes, who prefer to move along rides rather than through mature woodland, but will also allow butterflies and other insects that like to fly in the open to move between the different open spaces within the Park.

The news about personnel is more mixed. On the very positive side, we welcome Saira Gregory as Deputy Warden at Stanmore Country Park. She has considerable experience, including supervising volunteer working parties for the Groundwork charity, and has already put in a significant amount of work with her Austrian scythe on Upper Blue Pond Field. This is a good point at which to also say enormous thanks to Peter Elton who has done enormous amounts of work clearing bramble at Stanmore Country Park and Pear Wood. In addition Peter takes lovely photos of wildlife: those of you who follow our Twitter or Facebook feeds will have seen many of them.

On the negative side we have lost both wardens at Wood Farm. Anne Altaner resigned in July and Harry Lines in September. There was nothing to keep them because the site has still not been passed to Council control, a year after we geared up ready for its imminent opening! Meanwhile at the opposite end of the borough Simon Thomas resigned as warden of Newton Farm in June. As I wrote in the last newsletter, we participated in a “celebration day” at the site on July 4th – thanks to Jane Skelly and Simon Braidman for organizing pond dipping – and collected some names of people who were interested in forming a Friends group. We will invite these people and other local residents to a meeting in early November and see if we can assemble a group to look after the site.

Lastly I should mention two groups of young people who have worked on our sites. On July 4th a group from the Four Rivers Church of Christ came to Wood Farm and had a great time digging up goats rue on a lovely summer day. On both Saturday and Sunday, September 26th and 27th, a large group in the National Citizenship scheme, organized by The Challenge Network, came to Wood Farm and Pear Wood. Organizing them was fun but exhausting for myself, John Winter, Claire Abbott and Leslie Bolsover. Nevertheless the young people made four neat looking stag beetle habitat piles on Wood Farm and Claire got some path work done in Pear Wood.

Steve Bolsover

Site reports


BENTLEY OLD VICARAGE AND ALL SAINTS CHURCHYARD

Jane Skelly reported that Harrow Council have extended the dipping platform and is it now accessible for wheelchair users. The monthly working party removed Duckweed from the pond. Heavy branches have fallen in Butterfly meadow. More people are needed for the monthly working parties at the site.

Jill reported that the Churchyard has continued to look good although the number of species is diminishing. The Forest School is planning to establish a wildflower meadow at the back of the church.

Steve reported that Mick Bradshaw and Francesca Campagnoli of Thames21 are keen to resurrect the idea of adding the Wealdstone Brook Triangle to Bentley Old Vicarage nature reserve. This is the small area of wooded ravine between the cemetery and the Leefe Robinson pub. Their idea is that it could be a good teaching resource. In 2003 the owner, John Rackham of Northwood, declined to allow us to manage this land.  Steve has drafted a letter to Mr Rackham to try to restart this idea.

BENTLEY PRIORY

As previously reported one of the largest Green Grid projects this year is the refurbishment of the Bentley Priory circular walk. The works in Bentley Priory itself will include:
● Renewing the steps down from Aylmer Drive into Bentley Priory.
● A boardwalk over the boggy bit at the Aylmer Drive entrance.
● Renewal of steps where the circular walk meets the Deer Path.
● A 21 metre boardwalk over the boggy bit beside the deer park fence with self closing gates at either end to stop cattle.
● Boardwalk where circular walk leaves west out of Old Lodge Meadow, again with self closing gates at either end to stop cattle encroaching.
● Signs, bollards, roundels etc
Access for the contractors has been agreed with residents.

Peter Peretti reported that Bentley Priory Management Committee met recently. A concern was the installation of a gate from Bentley Priory into the reserve. Liaison over this has been left withCllr. Camilla Bath and Harrow Council Officers.

The new pond is looking superb. All compartments have now been completed and cattle grazing can be controlled. Work on the Lower Dragonfly Pond has been successful, extending the habitat.

NEWTON FARM ECOLOGY PARK

Steve reported that Simon Thomas resigned as warden on 29th June and he was thanked for his efforts.

On 4th July we had a fair at Newton Farm - thanks to Jane Skelly, Simon Braidman and Russell Sutcliffe for helping. Simon did pond dipping with children and was pleased with what was found: Mayfly larvae, Diving beetles, larval Water Boatmen, and lots else.

At the 4th July event we asked for names of people interested in forming a friends group. We got 5 names, the number is not enough, but Paul Brogan said that he had additional names at the Beacon Centre.  If the total is eight or more we should pursue the idea of a friends group.

Meanwhile Claire McDermott, on her own initiative, got Waitrose in South Harrow to include Newton Farm in their Community Matters scheme. She got £250. She will use this to create a plaque describing her tree stump artwork..

PEAR WOOD

Claire reported that the renovation project of the old orchard is continuing. The offer of assistance from the Urban Orchard Project was turned down as the donation required was a large amount and they could not offer anything that we could not do ourselves.

A guided walk around the orchard is planned for the 19th Sept and is a short walk planned particularly for members of the Harrow Natural History Society who find some of our other walks too long and also for anyone else who is interested.

Rosemary led a successful guided walk about grasses on 11th July.

 The two TCV days on the Grimsdyke “Bracken bashing” on 15th June and 10th Aug were well attended as usual and the work was completed. It was reported that Elizabeth Whitbourne from English Heritage has agreed the continuation of our management for another three years and we are at present trying to set this up formally.

Peter Elton has very kindly made some beautiful bird boxes for the reserve and we have put 6 of these up in the orchard. He has also made some for Treecreepers and these will go elsewhere in the wood. A really big thank you to Peter. It was agreed that equipment that Peter used for the reserves, such as a Scythette would be financed by the Forum

The Grass Snake population has recovered this year after declining with the disturbance at Wood Farm. They have been breeding really well. Whether this was helped by the additional refuges and hibernacula that we created we don’t know but we do know that most of the refuges were used. Since Claire’s request at the last meeting, money for another roll of roofing felt was found and more refuges have been made as well as some smaller ones for Slow Worms after a report of a squashed one on Wood Lane. Some hibernacula have been built for them.

The Wood Ants have had a fantastic year and all the nests have greatly increased in size (more than usual). This is very good news as they were really plundered over the winter by other wildlife.

The mowing of the Scout Field was carried out in the 2nd Sept.

At the request of the Royal British Legion (RBL), the Environmental Agency (EA) visited Pear Lake and found the water quality to be very good. The fishermen also told Claire the EA reported that the plant variety and quality was “superb”. As a result of this report, the fishing club are going to change the fish  population from being Carp dominated to more mixed species, making a more natural and traditional English lake.

Regarding Rats, the RBL has been dissuaded from putting poisoned bait around Pear Lake. Instead we have tried to implement a zero tolerance attitude to litter and the most recent reports have been of only one or two rats.

The new gate from Brockley Hill to Ten Acre Field has been put in. A good sturdy metal gate was installed in late August, although not where Claire had decided it should go. On 8th Sept Peter and Steve helped to make the entrance usable, which not only involved felling quite a few trees but also a significant amount of digging into the rising slope to allow the gate to open. Peter and Steve were thanked for this. The new footpath around the field will be mown shortly.

Teams of young people from The National Citizenship Scheme run by The Challenge Network will be coming to Wood Farm and Pear Wood on 26th and 27th Sept. Among other jobs they will be creating a path from Pear Wood to TAF.

ROXBOURNE ROUGH

Dave Bolton reported that work has continued clearing litter and cutting back the sides of the paths and the grass edges as well as cutting up a fallen Willow. The hay cut has been carried out; Dave cleared and cut back the drive so there was no damage to the trees on the side. Cutting back was also carried out on the areas which were not accessible to the large machinery. There have been discussions with Francesca Campagnoli of Thames21 about the possibility of a new pond.

Although tadpoles were taken from the pond small frogs were seen leaving the pond on a wet evening. A Slow-worm was seen in August and a Little Egret is also a visitor.
The site is well used and the work carried out is appreciated by the community.

STANMORE COMMON

Steve reported that he had received a nice letter from a Mrs Susan Kelly, which has been circulated to members, praising the work of the volunteers at Stanmore Common. It’s nice to get positive comments!
The opening ceremony for the nature trail took place on September 6th. It went well, thanks to Simon Braidman, John Hollingdale and Margaret Huitson for their work on the day.

The Bluebell Heath Lottery Project finished at the end of July. Simon reported that a total of 61 volunteers have taken part. They have clocked up a total of 2900 volunteer hours (282 hours since the last Forum meeting). A further 161 hours of work have taken place at Bluebell Heath since the project ended (stopping the trees coming back is a lot of work) and 200 hours have been spent on other work at Stanmore Common.

40 flowering orchid spikes have been counted and the Coralroot Bittercress Cardamine bulbifera is spreading. At least three guided walks have taken place. On 6th June 14 people attended a walk looking at unusual plants and a spider walk with Edward Milner took place on 20th June.  On the 4th July people Neville Day and Simon led a guided walk in Roxbourne Park, the Greenway and Roxbourne Rough. 
Many Work Parties and surveying work sessions have taken place. Highlights include a black-headed Cardinal Beetle Pyrochroa coccinea, Agrilus biguttatus ( a deadwood Beetle) seen on the 7th June; on 22nd July a Stripe -winged Grasshopper Stenobothrus lineatus and on 13th Sept a White Ermine Moth caterpillar.

Simon was thanked for a useful and enjoyable evening on Monday 14th Sept when he talked about the Bluebell Heath project at the joint meeting of the Forum and the Harrow Natural History Society. Neville was also thanked for his contribution.


STANMORE COUNTRY PARK

We welcome Saira Gregory, the new Deputy Warden for Stanmore Country Park.

The problem was raised as to the action to be taken with respect to enquiries regarding injured wildlife. Steve agreed to circulate an updated list of contacts.

We have been coppicing the Willow by the lower balancing pond to let sunlight onto the water. Steve has done the felling and the monthly working party did the clearing up. They also carried on coppicing the Willow in the centre of nearby 6 Acre Field.

Steve also brushcut the Upper Blue Pond area and next day the monthly working party raked up. This day was not the most auspicious as they all got soaking wet in the heavy rain that day.
Thanks to all that helped.

Saira, our new warden, has continued removing bramble in the same field with her scythe. The other area in need of attention is Ant City. The bramble is encroaching and we have started to cut it back.
We have cleared few fallen and overhanging from the nature trail. Peter Elton will be working on the paths later.

The leaflet box by the car park is an issue and we will be looking at alternatives due to vandalism.

A new bridge, courtesy of the Green Grid scheme, has been installed over a ditch along the nature trail and nearby steps put in,  linking SCP to Wood Farm. A new bridge has been installed from Wood Farm into the gas ride.

The annual mow has taken place and all cut grass collected.

We had our National Moth Night on the 12th Sept. 13 people turned up. Unfortunately only 9 macro species were seen. Recent mowing, a clear still night and the presence of pipistrelle bats didn’t help.
The summer walk went well with all the featured butterflies seen; even Marbled Whites in 40 Acre field.

The highlight of the summer however was the sighting (twice), on 15th July, of a Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly.

STANMORE LITTLE COMMON

Robert Stone reported that the Council had acted very quickly to remove a recurrence of New Zealand Parrot’s Feather from Spring Pond (and they cleared away the Broad-leaved Pondweed at the same time). The Contractors were careful with the fences and replaced the barrier at the entrance which they did not do the previous time.

We have been unable to trap the terrapin. It is having an adverse effect on the breeding water fowl. However the fish are now flourishing again in Spring Pond so we are regularly visited by a very happy heron.
The issue of fishing was discussed and details of local fishing clubs were found to offer the anglers on these ponds local alternatives.

WOOD FARM

Steve reported that Anne Altaner resigned as deputy warden on 30th (following the meeting Harry Lines’ resignation was also received).

Steve reported that Dave Corby kindly investigated the situation regarding handover and reported on 3rd Sept. Handover is still at the “should be a few more weeks” stage. The wayleave agreement for the waste water system is still passing back and forth between the Council’s legal team and Jaysam.

Work is ongoing, funded by the Harrow Green Grid, to improve the gas main ride link across the southwest tip of Wood Farm linking the north-western and southern parts of Stanmore Country Park. These include (from northwest to southeast) building steps up the present steep bank just east of Cloisters Brook, a new slightly higher route through the open land of Wood Farm that avoids a very wet area on the present gas main route, and a new bridge over the boundary ditch as the route re-enters Stanmore Country Park.

The poor condition of the information panel at the view point was raised and it was agreed that Steve would write to Jaysam separately about this.


Thanks to Yu Xuan for the photograph of the saw

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