Bentley Priory, good news and sad. The sad news
is that Chris Lomas has moved to Birmingham and has therefore resigned
as assistant warden. The very good news is that Camilla Bath and her
Bentley Priory Management Committee have been awarded a
Heritage Lottery Fund grant to restore Furze Heath. This will involve
clearing much of the scrubby woodland that lies between Summerhouse
Lake and the top of The Greensward.
At Bentley Priory, good news and sad. The sad news is that Chris Lomas has moved to Birmingham and has therefore resigned as assistant warden. The very good news is that Camilla Bath and her Bentley Priory Management Committee have been awarded a £59,500 Heritage Lottery Fund grant to restore Furze Heath. This will involve clearing much of the scrubby woodland that lies between Summerhouse Lake and the top of The Greensward.
The rest of this report concentrates on the Stanmore Country Park/Pear Wood/Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital area, since a lot is going on here. At the southwest corner lies the Stanmore Country Park car park and Six Acre Field. The latter will soon have a picnic table paid for by Green Grid funds. The Green Grid is also paying for the hardware component of a nature trail that will start here and show off many of the highlights of the Country Park. One of the first highlights on the trail is a 200 by 100 metre hotspot of fern biodiversity, home to six species including Harrow’s only specimen of Narrow Buckler Fern Dryopteris carthusiana. Three other fern species are found elsewhere in the Country Park. The nature trail will also point out the lines of large oaks within the Park. These once stood on field boundaries and can be seen on a 1945 aerial photograph viewable on Google Earth. Denis Vickers writes “One or two specimens might actually rival the Master (in Bentley Priory) - I estimate 400 years… In my opinion these oaks are pretty special and amongst the oldest of their kind in London”.
At the southeast corner of the Country Park is Forty Acre Field. This is now fully fenced, thanks to Section 106 money, and Veolia Water have re-established the water supply to where a cattle trough will stand. John Hollingdale is now seeking cows to graze the field, and intends to put them on not in summer but rather in the autumn, once wildflowers have seeded. Grazing should improve the biodiversity of this field. John’s aim over many years of management is not only to improve the various open glades within the Country Park but to link them with rides wide enough to allow easy dispersion of butterflies and moths - and, as a bonus, grass snakes. He has already connected Forty Acre Field with John Hall’s Field to its north. This winter The Conservation Volunteers will work to clear the scrubby woodland separating John Hall’s and Blue Pond fields - this paid for by the Green Grid. In subsequent years a big Heritage Lottery Fund grant to the charity Froglife should fund creation of a ride linking Blue Pond field with Six Acre Field.
100 metres or so east
of Forty Acre Field lies what will be a Green Grid-funded connection
through to Brockley Hill Open Space, a small park north of the housing
development on the old MOD land. A stile is already in place, and works
to create a path should not be long in coming. Within Brockley Hill
Open Space is an attractive pond which contains a very nasty plant, New
Zealand Pygmyweed, an invasive species that can be spread by even the
tiniest fragments. The only treatment is a complete herbicide kill of
all plants in the pond followed by restocking, and Denis Vickers urges
that this be done by Harrow Council Public Realm as soon as possible
before the plant spreads to other ponds in the vicinity.
North of Stanmore Country Park Wood Farm stretches up to Wood Lane. Biologically the land is of less interest than Stanmore Country Park and Pear Wood, although there is a good pond, favoured by grass snakes, adjoining Pear Wood while in spring the scrubby grassland on top of the rubble dump is alive with whitethroat song. We fought the housing development in the northeast corner and lost. The positive side of this otherwise sad outcome is the addition of the remainder of Wood Farm to Stanmore Country Park. Preparation of the site is being handled by Land Use Consultants who have been excellent in consulting with us. To what extent the final outcome will match their and our hopes is as yet unclear. One small victory is that a small building on Wood Lane called “The Dairy” will now contain a toilet for use by keyholders; this will allow Harrow teachers to bring field trips to the site. We don’t yet know the fate of another of our suggestions, that a 100 x 50 metre area around the pond be fenced off and managed for grass snakes and skylarks. More ambitiously, we have suggested to the Council that the large section 106 sinking fund allocated for maintenance of the Extension in its initial years be transferred to an independent management committee modelled on that at Bentley Priory. This would buy in contractor work including mowing and elimination of Japanese knotweed. Unlike the Council, an independent body could apply for grants to use the site for educational purposes and to continue maintenance once the sinking fund is exhausted. There has been no decision on this idea, although the response from council officers has been positive.
To the east of Wood Farm lies the ancient Pear Wood. Edward Milner, author of Trees of Britain and Ireland (Natural History Museum, 2011), told Claire Abbott that this was the best woodland in all of London and Greater London that he has seen. During February to April 2012 Pear Wood was the site of our successful battle to prevent the sale of the Cottages enclave and the building of a luxury house. One of the highlights of Pear Wood is the remnant of Grimsdyke, a Saxon boundary marker. English Heritage are paying for three visits per year by The Conservation Volunteers to keep this clear of scrub. Further east, between Pear Wood and Brockley Hill, is the open scrubby expanse of Brockley Hill Field. Our hope is that the original (2008) Council promise, that this field be added to Pear Wood nature reserve, will eventually be fulfilled.
Across Wood Lane lies the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. Straddling the fence adjoining Wood Lane is a big nest of the Southern Wood Ant, Formica rufa. Other, linked nests lie in a small patch of woodland between the Institute of Orthopaedics and the Purchasing and Linen building. This is the only surviving population in Middlesex and one of only two in Greater London, the other being at the opposite edge of the conurbation in Bexley. The nearest colony to ours is in Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire. The hospital ants are at present thriving, but worries that redevelopment of the site will damage the population led Phil Attewell, together with Claire Abbott and Rosemary Etheridge, to transfer populations to Pear Wood. Pear Wood used to support a good population but this had almost died out by 2004. Six nests have now been transferred, spaced widely enough so that they will function as independent populations rather than, as in the hospital grounds, one super-colony, impressive but vulnerable to a single catastrophic event. They are all doing well.
The ecological aspect of the proposed development of the hospital site is being handled by Aspect Ecology, who have involved us in discussions and seem keen to take our views on board - in particular, the idea that the wood containing the ant colony should be fenced to protect it during construction work and should remain closed to the public once work is completed. On a broader scale, the redevelopment of the hospital is clearly welcome - except that it is proposed to be funded by large housing developments at both the east and west ends of the site. Worse, vehicle access to the western housing is to be along what is at present a narrow (and as far as I can discover, nameless) lane leading from Warren Lane to Warren Lodge and Grove Farm. We have argued strongly that the development be designed such that the majority of traffic enters and leaves onto Brockley Hill, which is already a busy road, rather than onto the narrow rural byways of Wood and Warren Lanes. Our views seem unlikely to prevail on this point.
Claire McDermott reported that a flower bed is being created at the Alexandra Avenue end of the site to increase nectar for bees etc. Scythe work was carried out on Wednesdays and/or Saturdays from the end of April through to the end of June to keep on top of the Thistle situation and now there are only small pockets of thistles remaining. Working parties will continue in the Autumn.
The Council has cut the wet meadow for the first time (no notice was given that this was going to happen). However overall the Park is looking fine with increased number of flowers for nectar and a reduction in the rampant Thistle and Nettle.
Proposals for Green Grid funding for next year would include additional fencing at the Alexandra Avenue entrance and clearance of the pond. New plants are also needed. Carole Lis will provide Marjoram seed.PEAR WOOD
Thanks to Yu Xuan for the photograph of the saw
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