A Note about Road Verges from Dr Judy John of Bromley Biodiversity Partnership   

A Note about Road Verges from Dr Judy John

When Bromley’s road verges were cut in May 2020 following the first Covid-19 lockdown many residents contacted Bromley Biodiversity Partnership devastated at the loss of wildflowers. We kept a list of these verges and why people were so upset. Many missed them simply because they thought them beautiful, others were worried because it meant there was no nectar for pollinators, some felt the flowering verges provided a gateway to their area, that they linked areas of greenspace enabling species to move between them and that it was more interesting for children going to school.

Bromley Biodiversity Partnership have been promoting more wildlife friendly verge management following Plantlife Road Verge Management Guidelines (see Plantlife :: Managing Grassland Road Verges) for several years but there are worries that some people perceive uncut verges as untidy and uncared for.  However, the problems of biodiversity loss and climate change are becoming ever more acute and managing road verges for wildlife can help: native grasses and wildflowers provide food (foliage, nectar and pollen) and shelter for invertebrates, including pollinators, and can link areas of greenspace so wildflowers can spread and butterflies , bees and other pollinators can more easily move between green areas. They also store carbon in the soil beneath them.

 

Verges uncut during spring and summer, as proposed, can be highlighted for their positive impacts. For example, an initiative called the Blue Campaign (partnered with Keep Britain Tidy and Eco-Schools England) encourages installing a small blue heart on a wooden post in road verges and other grassland newly managed as meadow, see https://bluecampaignhub.com. Cutting a narrow strip along the edge of road verges can also help.

 

If you do have any verges near you that you think might be worth managing for wildlife (where safe to do so) please let us know with the reason you value the verge. Contact bromleybiodiversity@gmail.com, talk to other Residents and Residents Associations and email your local councillors to let them know.

 

Thank-you for any help you can manage,

Dr Judith John for Bromley Biodiversity Partnership                                                   23rd February 2021

 

Below are attached some examples of wildlife usually seen on verge sides.

Brimstone Male Butterfly on Red Clover Flower:

Buff Tailed Bumblebee:  

                                                  

 Skipper Butterfly:

Essex Skipper, Thymelicus lineola. Hesperidae. Grass day at Beeche, then to Down House and its Great House Meadow, led by Dr June Chatfield. 6 July 2015.

Hoverfly on Yarrow Flowers:

 

Large White Butterfly on Yarrow Flowers:

Skipper Butterfly on Knapweed:

 

 

The Age of a Tree by Alan Oliver an FoDNW member

The Age of a Tree

How old is a tree and how long is a piece of string? The answers to these two questions are, somewhat surprisingly, interconnected.

I have often wondered about the ages of the large oak trees in Darrick Wood and, in particular, the one in the roadway leading to the swimming baths which my wife and I pass by every day when taking our dog for a walk.

I knew that a tree’s age could be calculated by counting its rings but as chopping down one of our oaks wasn’t really an option, I decided to investigate whether there was any other way.

As is invariably the case these days the internet had the answer, or rather several answers, all of which involved measuring the circumference of the tree – hence the piece of string. With the aid of a trusty assistant (my wife in this case) holding one end of the string stretch it around the trunk at about shoulder height and then measure the relevant length of the string with a tape measure. You should then divide that figure by the rate at which the tree grows each year (the website shows the growth rates for various different types of tree; in the case of an oak it gave a figure of 1.88 cm per year).  Using this method I calculated the age of the oak in the baths road at approximately 160 years.

This method will give you a rough estimate of a tree’s age but the growth rate of an individual tree apparently depends on a number of factors including the proximity of water, the nutrient base of the soil and competition from trees nearby.

I tried this method of calculation out on a fir tree in our garden which I know the previous owners planted as a rooted Christmas tree in the mid 1970’s (it is now over 40 feet tall) and the result was certainly pretty accurate.

I have tried, without success, to find a significantly larger and hence older oak in the Wood than the one in the baths road but if anyone knows better why not get to work with your piece of string!

Bird Survey as at 15 January 2021

Bird Survey as of 15th January 2021 by Trevor Morgan

We have been conducting a bird survey, mostly weekly, since 19th April 2018. We have been counting the number of birds of the species that we have seen. Three areas have been surveyed – Darrick Wood and Meadow, Newstead Wood and Meadow and Darrick Wood Hornbeam area/Broadwater Wood.

It should be noted that this is not a scientific survey and bird numbers cannot be accurate as birds are very mobile. We have only recorded species which we can positively identify by sight. But in the case of the Tawny Owl we are identifying it by the sound of its call.

We have been continuing just as monthly surveys from last year and this will continue.

During the last quarter of 2020 we have not seen or heard any new species. However, we are seeing Jay’s more often and sometimes in company of one another. We, therefore, conclude that Jays are definitely resident in the woods.

2020 along with 2016 was the warmest years in official records and some of the months were our driest. By early August, the large pond near Lovibonds Avenue had completely dried out.

This winter has been exceptionally wet so far and the ponds are now full to the brim.

The few cold spells that we have had have seen the arrival of Redwings and we observed a flock of them in December. We have also been hearing Green Woodpeckers but not seeing them. This year we have not seen any Fieldfare but another cold spell could see them arriving.

Every time my wife and I have walked through the reserve after dusk we have heard Tawny owls, so I think it is safe to say they are resident.

 

A list of bird species seen or heard and recorded on the official monthly survey is shown below (40+ Species):

Carrion Crow

Magpie

Jackdaw

Jay

Wood pigeon

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Song thrush

Blackbird

Robin

Great Tit

Blue Tit

Long Tailed Tit

Marsh Tit

Starling

House/ Tree Sparrow (difficult to distinguish between the two species from a distance)

Swift

Wren

Ring Necked Parakeet

Stock Dove

Treecreeper

Nuthatch

Dunnock

Common Redstart (06 November)

A Warbler species not a Blackcap (06 November) possibly a Chiffchaff

Goldcrest (20 November 2018)

Collared Dove (20 November 2018)

Common Gull (26 November 2018)

Domestic Pigeon (26 November 2018) pure white): this is the same species as the feral pigeon.

Feral Pigeon (same species as the domestic pigeon)

Chaffinch (26 November 2018)

Greenfinch

Green Woodpecker

Black Headed Gull

Redwing

Pied Wagtail

Fieldfare

Tawny Owl (heard only)

Goldfinch (15 Feb 2019)

Coal Tit (20 Feb 2019)

Garden Warbler

Grey heron

Birds heard on survey but not positively identified by sight (2)

Black caps – can easily be confused by song with the garden warbler.

Chiffchaff – warbler family

Other birds reported as seen or heard by members but not recorded on survey (7 Species).

NB, some members are better at identifying birds by call rather than sight. Also, some bird species such as starlings and jackdaws are capable of mimicking other bird species to the confusion of humans and the mimicked species.

Sparrow Hawk

Buzzard – Photo Member’s article in News Letter

Black Caps – heard

Possible sighting of Black Cap on Darrick Wood meadow during survey – too fast for positive identification.

Bull Finch

Mallard

Mandarin Duck

Grey Wagtail – 03October 2020

Not seen on Bird Survey but expected (3 species)

Mistle Thrush

Pheasant,

Coot

 

Bird Survey as of 16 October 2020 and a Grey Wagtail – By Trevor Morgan

Bird Survey as of 16 October 2020 and a Grey Wagtail

We have been conducting a bird survey, mostly weekly, since 19th April 2018. We have been counting the number of birds of the species that we have seen. Three areas have been surveyed – Darrick Wood and Meadow, Newstead Wood and Meadow and Darrick Wood Hornbeam area/Broadwater Wood.

It should be noted that this is not a scientific survey and bird numbers cannot be accurate as birds are very mobile. We have only recorded species which we can positively identify by sight. But in the case of the Tawny Owl we are identifying it by the sound of its call.

We have been continuing monthly surveys this year. We thought that we had exhausted our list of species, but I was surprised to see a Grey Wagtail when I went for a walk with my wife through Darrick Wood on the 3rd of October 2020. This bird cannot be recorded on the official survey as it was not on our standard route.

2020 has been one of the warmest years in official records and some of the months were our driest. By early August, the large pond near Lovibonds Avenue had completely dried out.

Darrick and Newstead Woods in general had also completely dried out. During the hot summer months, we were counting a reduced number of birds on the survey, especially the smaller species. In early October, the drought was really starting to be relieved. My wife and I took a walk through the woods before the deluge started. The large pond was beginning to fill up again and to our surprise we saw the grey wagtail searching for food alongside the edge of the new pond. Grey Wagtails can be confused with Yellow Wagtails, but they have longer tails and black feathers on their chin and throat. Yellow Wagtails migrate in October; Grey Wagtails are resident.

Our bird flew off the pond onto to the path alongside the Marsh and we got a better view to positively identify it. We got a very pleasant surprise and we have identified a new species that can survive in our reserve despite the unfavourable drought, as the Grey Wagtail needs water to survive. Perhaps the Marsh had not completely dried.

The full report can be see below:

 

Bird survey report 03 october 2020

Bird survey report 03 october 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Privet Hawk Moth

Whilst doing the July 2020 bird survey we saw the caterpillar of the Privet Hawk Moth on one of our paths in Darrick Wood. I was surprised to see such a caterpillar; it was between 7 and 8 cm long. This is a magnificent and colourful insect beast. I have never seen such a handsome and large specimen before.

The adult moth is equally as impressive, but it would rarely be seen in our woods as it only flies after dark.

Seeing this caterpillar and all the other wildlife in the reserve confirms to me that our woods should remain protected and preserved for future generations to see the wonders of nature.

https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/privet-hawk-moth

 

Oak Processionary Moth -Tugmutton Common

Oak Processionary Moth (Thaumetopoea processionea)

The Oak Processionary Moth has established itself in London the South East of England since 2005 and has recently been found in Tugmutton Common – just a stone’s through away from Darrick and Newstead Woods. 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.

 

Spring 2020

by Trevor Morgan 26 April 2020

Spring is well on its way. The woods are drying out after a very wet winter. The temperatures are rising and April 2020 is set to have a much higher average temperature that is usual.

The reserve is now being used by many more people owing to social confinement. It is not just dog walkers who are exercising. This is a new development, but the vast majority of the new people using the woods and meadows seem to be acting responsibly. Long may this continue.

The photographs may be downloaded from below: 

Spring in Darrick Wood by TrevorMorgan

Spring in Darrick Wood by TrevorMorgan