The Tree Bees are still nesting in the woods – by Trevor Morgan

Last year tree bees were observed nesting in the woods and we published an article about them in the Newsletter. I am pleased to report that the tree bees are nesting in the same location this year. These pictures were taken on the 5th of June 2018.

We are lucky that the diversity of the wild-life in the woods seems to be improving. Unfortunately, the photography is not improving; the nest was heavily shaded which is not conducive to getting pin sharp pictures  using amateur equipment.

Tree Bee entering nest

Tree Bee in full flight

Tree bees at nest entrance

Oak Processionary Moth (Thaumetopoea processionea)

Oak Processionary Moth (Thaumetopoea processionea) by Trevor Morgan

The Oak Processionary Moth has established itself in London the South East of England since 2005. It was introduced by imported oak trees from Southern Europe.  The moth is a danger to its plant hosts. The caterpillars can strip the leaves off an oak to endanger the life of the tree. The caterpillars also represent a threat to humans, our pets and livestock. The caterpillars also represent a threat to wild mammals.

They are not common in the London area, but they have established colonies in Bromley in the near past and they are present in Bexley and west London now. High Elms park is on high alert; and there are plenty of oak trees in Darrick wood, so our park is vulnerable to infestation. If you have oak trees in or near your garden they are vulnerable too.  The adult moth can easily spread their dangerous caterpillars. Please be on the alert.

The caterpillars hatch out from eggs in March and April. They then make a nest of fine silk on either the trunk or branch of an oak tree. During the late spring and summer, the caterpillars leave their nests to head out into the foliage at dawn and dusk to feed on leaves. They move around nose to tail in a procession, hence their name. The procession leaves a silken thread behind which wends its way up the trunk of the tree and across branches.

It is relatively easy to identify the caterpillars which break out of, and return to, their nests made of fine silk webbing. The dark hairy caterpillars are about 25 mm long and it is the hair or bristles which produce inflammatory toxins (thaumetopoein and closely related compounds). which can damage your skin, lips and lungs.

https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park/visitor-information/oak-processionary-moth

https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=902

Apart from the damage to oak trees, the caterpillars and their nests represent a threat to public health and to the health of both domesticated and wild animals. So, it is important that you and your children and pets do not touch or even go near the caterpillars.

In the UK there are few natural predators of the moths such as the praying mantis. So, where there are infestations they must be cleared away by manual intervention using pesticides. If you see this moth’s nest or caterpillars report it to the Forestry Commission.

https://www.forestry.gov.uk/opm

 

You are best advised to not to tackle the caterpillars or nests yourself. The hairs of the caterpillar can blow around in the air. The nests and caterpillars need to be eliminated by professionals wearing protective clothing.

The symptoms vary from person to person. Some people do not respond to a mild exposure to the hairs but others, who are more sensitive, may develop a skin rash. It is almost certain that everyone will be affected by direct contact with the caterpillars to produce a skin rash or even cause asthma if the hairs are breathed in. The toxin can also cause inflammation to the lips, throat and eyes. In rare cases, the symptoms can be so severe that urgent medical attention is required. The toxin is even light sensitive and skin rashes can recur after the initial symptoms have disappeared. Mild rashes can be treated with ant-histamine cream.

 

It is difficult if not impossible to remove all the hairs and bristles of the moth by washing affected cloths which cannot be used again and are best incinerated.

Dogs and cats and livestock can develop similar symptoms to human beings but of course they cannot tell you where they have been to help identify a cause. It would be far better if we could rid ourselves of the moths altogether.

In southern Europe there is a similar species, the Pine Processionary Moth – (Thaumetopoea pityocampa). This moth makes similar nests and the caterpillars look the same and produce the same toxins. My wife and I came across their nests whilst walking in a pine forest near Bordeaux, curiosity did not get the better of us and we instinctively kept away from them. It was only researching this article that alerted me to what had seen. The nests were in trees all around us. The Pine Processionary Moth has not reached the UK yet and let’s hope that it never does to add to the problem.

History of Darrick and Newstead Woods from 1840 OS map

1840 Map by Trevor Morgan – April 2018

                      

Introduction

For centuries the landscape of Britain has been altered by man. Before the advent of farming the territory was covered by forest. Kent, itself, was covered with broadleaf forest. Gradually the woods were cleared for farming. The inhabitants of Britain changed from a lifestyle of free roaming hunter gatherers to sedentary farmers. With the advent of farming man started to live in villages and towns. Land was cleared for agriculture. And, many of our forests were felled to produce wooden beams to build ships and houses.

Farming caused the human population to expand considerably and it changed the organisation of society.  Land ownership and power were inextricably linked.

As man started to dominate and clear the forests many iconic species were extirpated. The Lynx became extinct in the 8th C. The Brown bear became extinct in the 11th C. The wolf was hunted to extinction by the 17th C.  The South of England lost its last wild cat at the beginning of the 19th C. Beavers disappeared from our watercourses some 400 years ago.

Whilst most of our large mammal predators were being hunted to extinction our ancestors were busily introducing other species to our landscape including rabbits, hares, fallow deer and rats.

In 1840 Darrick and Newstead Woods were completely surrounded by a rural landscape. A person walking through the woods would have been met by an air of tranquillity. It would have been possible to hear your softest breath and hear the breeze quietly blowing through the trees. Bird song would have been more apparent and so would the buzz of the innumerable insects flying over the meadow and through the trees.

Horses were employed to do the heavy work on the neighbouring farms but mechanisation using steam engines was slowly being introduced much to the chagrin of farm workers who believed that their jobs would be endangered.

Few people would have been walking through the woods. There were no dog walkers; dogs were not kept as pets. Dogs were kept for work purposes only. Some owners would be using their dogs to hunt for rabbits.

No-one would have been jogging through the woods to keep fit. There were no leisure walkers. There were no sign posts or benches or paved paths. The woods were managed for the collection of firewood, nuts, fruits and building material.

There was very little traffic noise. A visitor to the woods would have heard the blacksmith striking iron near the coaching house in Farnborough. The neighing of horses would also have been clearly heard. There were no cars and no A21. The bells of the local churches would have been audible from miles away. Sometimes, when the animal and human activity died down, the woods would have been almost completely silent.

There was no leisure activity. There were no tennis courts or Zumba dance classes. There was no running track. There was no litter.

Only birds and insects would have been flying in broad daylight but bats would have been plentiful in the dusk of the summer and autumn evenings. There would have been no roar of jet engines or buzzing of propellers.

At night the sky would have been extremely dark and almost black on moonless nights. However, the night sky would have been so peppered with stars it would have been difficult to pick out some of the constellations. The eerie sound of owls and nightjars would have penetrated long distances across the night sky. The moon would have cast deep shadows on cloudless nights. There was no orange glow, from street lighting, in the sky well after sunset. Few ventured out in the darkness of a moonless night except poachers. The dark skies were an astronomer’s delight.

There was no pressure on the local community to protect and preserve Darrick and Newstead Woods as the rural way of life had remained almost the same for a couple of centuries or more.

Today we would see the Darrick and Newstead Woods of those times as part of a peaceful rural idyll. In 1840, however, the countryside was hardly a leisure centre. Life was much more difficult for everyone even the wealthy; diseases such as influenza, measles and tuberculosis could kill anyone. A broken leg could lead to death or a life time disability. The poor were encumbered with the additional problems of bad housing, hard work and a bad diet. Darrick and Newstead Woods were just part of the rural working environment and the living situation was a far cry from the easier times of today.

 

 

 

The 1805 Ordnance Survey Map

A modern time traveller going back to 1805 would recognise most of the names of the neighbouring villages in the vicinity of Darrick and Newstead Woods. Orpington and Farnborough were just simple Kent villages. High Elms was a privately owned estate. Darrick and Newstead Woods were named as State Wood on the 1805 map. It is not certain why the name of the woods was changed.

Our time traveller would only be familiar with the names of the neighbouring villages and the general layout and usage of the area. The nature of the society would be completely alien. Life was dominated by rural activity for nearly everyone. Timekeeping was a completely different concept controlled by sunrise and sunset and the passing of the seasons. How would a time traveller from 2017 survive without clocks, pre-packed foods, supermarkets and central heating? Rural life no longer holds sway in a modern society actively using cars, mobile ‘phones, computers and holding steady jobs.

 

 1840 Ordnance Survey Map

Between 1805 and 1840 little had changed even though State Wood had changed its name. No-one living near Darrick and Newstead Woods would have dreamt that, within just over a century, the population would become part of the megalopolis of London. They dreamt that they would remain men and women of Kent forever.

In 1840 Darrick and Newstead Woods were part of an almost completely rural environment which had not changed much in hundreds of years. The woods covered a larger area and housing estates had not yet encroached upon the outer boundaries of the woods. Darrick and Newstead woods was situated mostly in the Crofton Manor parish of Orpington which at that time had a population of about 700. Part of the woods were in the parish of Farnborough which also had a population of around 700.

Because of the almost completely rural nature of the surrounding area the wild life would have been more diverse and abundant than today. Rabbits would have been common in the meadows near Darrick Woods and stoats would have been preying upon them. Hedgehogs would have been thriving. The squirrels would have been the red variety rather than the grey. There would have been no rose-ringed parakeets living in the woods. The bluebells in the woods would have been pure bred British varieties.

Insect and floral life would also have been more abundant because there was less urban occupation and farmers were not using systematic insecticides and herbicides.

Large birds of prey would not have been seen hovering over Darrick Woods, however, as the persecution of Buzzards was well underway and 1820 was the last year in which they bred in Kent until recently. Red Kites had also been extirpated.

It should not be assumed that because the landscape was rural that it was natural. Many centuries of farming even before the Romans had arrived had meant that Kent had lost most of its natural forest and the remaining woodland in areas such Darrick Wood were managed by the local population. Oak trees were still being felled for housing materials and ship building. Woodland was still being cleared for the expansion of domestic housing and the new workshops starting to be created by the industrial revolution

The soil is clay and sand based and there was poor drainage in the woods and meadows. To the north of Darrick wood a visible stream fed the upper reaches of the river Kyd Brook. The woods also drained into Worley’s Hole near Tubbenden Lane and a visible stream from this natural reservoir fed the upper reaches of the river Cray in Orpington.

The 1805 Ordnance map shows the woods as being called State Wood but this name was later changed to Darrick and Newstead woods. The name Darrick possibly means “Dark Oak”.

Throughout the 19th century, and until half way through the 20th century, the parishes of Farnborough and Orpington were part of the county of Kent.

The local economy was dominated by farming.  Farmers rented their land from the landed gentry. The majority of the population were labourers who worked on the farms. Shopkeepers and artisans such as shoemakers and farriers served the local population.  Apart from agriculture, the woods and the surrounding area supported fruit trees, hunting for game birds, farming for herbs and flowers, gathering nuts and wood for kindling.  Farming and agriculture not only supported a permanent workforce but also a force of seasonal workers which included gypsies who lived in the local area.

The winter of 1840/41 was severe and most 19th century winters were much colder than the winters of today. During the decade of the 1840s there were many years when there were wet summers. There was a failure of the grain harvest in England in 1845 and of course humid conditions led to the potato blight famine in Ireland.

The Years around 1840

Victoria became queen in 1837 and she married Prince Albert in 1840.

Life for people in and around Darrick and Newstead Woods and Farnborough village in 1840 was little changed but the Industrial Revolution was starting to stir things: people were leaving the countryside for work in the factories.

The effect of the Enclosure Acts from 1750 to 1860 was really beginning to tell. The enclosure of common land meant that poorer villagers were displaced from open fields where they could grow crops and feed their livestock. These villages then had to turn to labouring work for money to make a living. The wages of the labourers began to fall. This lead to the Swing riots. The Enclosure Acts also led to rural depopulation. Workers moved to the cities and big towns to find work in industry. Some of them emigrated.

New political ideas were spreading and in the wake of the French revolution there was a desire for social change which resulted in the formation of the Chartist movement in 1832. It was not just the lower echelons of society that were organising for social change. The rising middle class was also supporting change and the Establishment was about to finally abolish all forms of slavery in 1843.

Advocates for social change were also pressing for improved working conditions for the labouring classes and the education of their children.

Emigration to Australia and the other colonies became popular. It was not only convicts that colonised Australia and other territories but also free settlers who used emigration agents to facilitate their journey.

In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi established New Zealand as a British colony and legal entity

The first Opium War was taking its course from 1839 to1842

The first Anglo Afghan War was fought between1839 to 1842.

 

The objectives of the Chartist movement 1832

Male suffrage – every man, regardless of class or property, should have the vote. Women were not included in this objective.

An end to the regional differences in the electoral system.

Secret ballots (no one else would know for whom you voted).

The end to property qualifications for MPs. This would mean that a man wishing to be an MP would no longer have to own property or land worth a set amount of money.

Payment for MPs – this would enable men who were not already wealthy to stand for election to Parliament.

Living conditions

Workers were very poor, and living conditions in their cottages would have been primitive by today’s standards. Labourers’ cottages were poorly built and cold, in winter rain would have leaked in. There was overcrowding and the housing was often multi-occupancy. There was little room for privacy. Most labourers could not afford to buy their own home and the rent was a considerable proportion of their weekly income. Many cottages were tied to the estates upon which the labourers worked and this meant that labourers lost their home if they lost their job. Labourers’ cottages were poorly furnished with just stools or benches to sit on. Better off labourers could afford to keep a pig and chickens in the back yard.

Land owners and tenant farmers lived in much better accommodation of course. In 1840, however, in the Farnborough area there were a few things in common for all. There was no piped water, mains electricity and gas or sewage systems. There was no easy link to London or the network of railways. To get news you had to buy a newspaper and read it, if you could. The penny black postage stamp was introduced in 1840 but sending a letter for a farm labourer would have been very expensive, even if he could write.

Well off labourers could afford to eat bread, onions and root vegetables every day supplemented by cheese and bacon two or three times a week. The less well-off fared more poorly. Nobody ate a varied diet so most people, including the rich, suffered from vitamin deficiency.

The gentry, landowners, farmers and professional classes wore tailored clothing.

Clothing for labourers was often handmade at home or was bought second or third hand.

It would have been relatively easy for a landowner, farmer or labourer to have fitted in to the rural life of two centuries earlier.

Women’s rights

No one was contemplating the right of women to vote not even the Chartists. Men were always given priority over women even amongst the educated and middle and professional classes. Divorce was very much controlled by the religious authorities and acts of parliament until 1857 when divorce became part of the civil law. Divorce was an expensive affair in the 1840s and was strictly controlled by the ecclesiastical authorities there was very little chance of obtaining a divorce. It was much easier for a man to divorce his wife that it was vice versa. A woman who was trapped in a loveless or violent marriage had little recourse.

In 1836 civil weddings were allowed for the first time and this meant that a couple could marry in a registry office or in a place of worship other than the Church of England. Marriage, of course, was limited to a man and a woman.

It was not until the Victorian era that people married for love only. Financial and practical considerations would have been prime up until then at all levels of society and parents exercised considerable influence upon who their children could or should marry.

For most of the 19th century a married woman had no property rights and when a woman married all of her property became that of her husband. If a divorce was granted custody of the children was automatically granted to the husband. Women were basically the subjects of their husband.

Unmarried mothers were really looked down upon and mistreated. An unmarried man who was about to father a child would have been forced to marry his partner.

Children born out of wedlock had severely limited rights.

Jobs and economy

Farm workers had been getting poorer – the daily average pay for a labourer in 1810 was around 24 old pence or 2 shillings. By 1840 the daily wage rate had fallen to about 20 old pence per day.

There were paper mills in St Mary’s Cray and Foxes brewery opened up in Green Street Green. There was an Oast house in Orpington High Street to serve the local brewery.

Industrialisation started to alter farming methods in the 1830’s and this led to the Swing riots, when farm workers revolted against steam driven threshing machines and low wages. The discontent continued into the 1840s.

Society was still divided and very hierarchical. The landowners and gentry were the wealthiest and most privileged and these were followed by: the professionals; clergy, tenant farmers, artisans and farm labourers who were the poorest.

The hours for the farm labourer were long and a 12 hour working day was common. Rest days were irregular. Children worked. Only the very rich could afford not to work at all. There were no retirement plans and no pensions.  When you got old and were unable to work you had to rely on your family and friends or the poor house unless you were very well off. The average age of death meant that few people lived past their 50th birthday.

1844 Bromley Union Workhouse was built at Locksbottom. Once you were installed in the workhouse it was difficult to get out. A poor person needed the approval of the local clergy and gentry to be allowed to enter the workhouse. If you were debarred from the work house then you were in severe difficulty; being homeless in 1840 would have been near to a death sentence.

The Bromley Union population in 1840, including Orpington and Farnborough, was 14,000. Bromley town itself was about 4,000.

Health

With regard to health: the well off and well fed and clothed and were better able to resist infections and were generally healthier than the poor. However, modern health treatment was in its infancy. Research into bacteriology and virology was almost no-existent. If you caught measles, whopping cough, chicken pox or diphtheria then you had to rely upon your own body’s immunity for protection. If you were a poor child with compromised immunity you could easily be condemned to death by a disease such as whooping cough or influenza. More serious diseases such as Tuberculosis were killers of both the rich and poor and medical science could do little to save you.

Diseases of poor hygiene were also prevalent and there were regular outbreaks of cholera, typhus and typhoid. Life expectancy was much lower than today a new born boy in 1841 could be expected to live an average of 40 years and girls to 42 years. The average age of death was brought down by the serious numbers of child deaths. Childhood diseases took heavy toll.

Travel

Unless you were well off and could afford to maintain a horse and carriage or use the Sevenoaks turnpike, you were limited to short journeys to the next village or so. Soldiers and sailors could get to travel to foreign lands by courtesy of the state but many did not return home. Some of them were killed in battle and others decided to stay in the colonies where they felt they had a better future.

Of course people did travel across the country the rich could afford to travel on turnpikes which connected to the main cities and to the developing railway system. Skilled workers also were given the opportunity to travel from one town or village to another. By 1850 the railways were in full swing providing workers from the country to factories.

 

Justice

There was much petty crime in rural areas including theft, robbery and poaching. A lot of this crime went unreported. Justice for crime amongst the labouring classes was often settled on an unofficial basis. Crimes against the gentry, farming or professional classes would have been settled at petty session courts or the assizes. Punishments for simply crimes such as poaching were often severe. In 1840 you could have been transported to the colonies for a petty crime. But, by 1840 the death penalty was reserved for murder and treason.

Conclusion

Life was only relatively good for the landowners, the gentry and professional people in rural areas. The fortune of a tenant farmer was dependent on the climate and weather and the success of the harvest. It was also dependent upon the many plant and animal diseases which could ruin agricultural production. In 1840 industrial farming was in its infancy, farming was labour intensive and hardly mechanised. Farm labourers remained poor and if the harvest failed they became poorer. Farming has always meant long hours of working and dedication to the seasons of planting and harvest. Animals have to be cared for. Considerable time has to be dedicated to animal husbandry. For many labourers this dedication of their lives to the daily duties of agriculture for little reward became intolerable.  Many left farms for the factories in urban centres which were rapidly growing but their lives were hardly better and their lives were still under control. They exchanged the timetable of the harvest for the whistle at the factory gate.

Rural life pressed on, however, the increased numbers of factory workers had to be fed so farming production had to increase; the industrial revolution on the farm was about to begin.

Rural life was about to change and the relationship between the local population and the rural landscape was also about to change.

 

We are lucky that the changes to come did not result in the disappearance of Darrick and Newstead Woods altogether. The economic value has changed from supporting the rural community to a resource that supports nature conservation and leisure activity.

 

 

Spring and Bluebells

by Trevor Morgan

Spring heralds some of the most beautiful and inspiring sights in our woodlands with the blooming of our native bluebells. One of the best places to see our favourite flower is in Darrick Wood. At the time of writing (early May 2017) the bluebells are starting to die back but there are areas which are still blanketed with these iconic flowers. Continue reading

The Sounds of Humans in Darrick Woods

by Trevor Morgan

For a long time I have thought that human beings make far too much noise but not with their voices: our world is filled up with too much mechanically driven noise. I like to go to Darrick Woods to try to find some peace and quiet but some mechanical noise always disturbs me eventually. Usually, it is the constant noise of the traffic on the A21 and the airplanes taking off and landing at Biggin Hill but Zumba – come off it. Continue reading

The Ticks of Darrick Wood

by Trevor Morgan

There has been a lot of news lately about ticks. It has been claimed that 1 in 3 dogs attending veterinary surgeries are carrying a tick. Ticks are related to spiders and these arachnids can give a bite which usually goes un-noticed by the host animal. The tick then engorges itself with blood and when fully fed it falls off the host to lay eggs. Continue reading

Woodland Walk with Doctor Judy John

On Saturday 9th of April we did the Darrick Wood Walk with Doctor Judy John. This followed up quickly from the Woodland Year talk by Simon Ginnaw at Beeche. Dr Judy’s introduction to the woodland species found in Darrick Wood helped to put Simon’s talk into context in a live environment.

Judy’s presentation inspired me into doing some research into the species which I would have just passed by when running or walking through the woods.

There are many plant species which act as indicators of ancient woodland including wild garlic, wood anemone and wood sorrel. Continue reading

The super moon and its total eclipse

by Trevor Morgan

Supermoon1A total lunar eclipse of the super moon is a rare occurrence: the last one was in 1982 and the next one will occur 2033.

I looked forward to it with increasing anticipation and excitement. Luckily the observing conditions were excellent during the early hours of Monday morning the 28th September 2015. The weather was also kind, so there was no need for a thick coat and gloves.

The super moon is supposed to appear 14% bigger and 30 % brighter than an ordinary full moon so I began to observe the moon before the eclipse started. I could not honestly say that the super moon looked any different to an ordinary full moon. Our memories are short after we make observations and it is difficult to remember how bright the full moon is from one month to the next. Continue reading

Dark skies from Tubbenden Meadow by Trevor Morgan

When I was a young lad living in West Wales in the 1950s I had no problem finding a location without any light pollution as all I had to do was walk about half a mile from my village. It was easy to see the Milky Way and recognise the constellations. Orion in particular was a wonderful sight and you could easily see its nebula with the naked eye. The night sky was an inspirational sight and my sense of wonder and awe at seeing the heavens in their full glory has not diminished and it still stimulates my imagination. Continue reading

Summer Migrants on the Way!

Gary1In the next few weeks our woods will be full of the sounds of birds singing. Males make themselves known at this time to attract mates and to establish and maintain their territories. They add to the resident birds like Great tits as they call ‘teacher, teacher’ and the drumming of the Great Spotted Woodpecker. Soon we will be hearing Chiffchaffs as they sing throughout the woodland like their name implies.

 

 

 

Gary2Later Blackcaps and Garden Warblers will add to the chorus with their melodious, bubbly song. Approximately the size of a House Sparrow, the male has a black cap on his head, while the female has a brown cap.

Look out for these new arrivals as you wander through the woods in Spring!