Swamp Cypress. Taxodium distichum
The swamp cypress is a deciduous conifer. Unlike other cypresses it loses its leaves in winter. In spring it is a tall spire covered in a haze of pale green leaves which turn reddish brown in autumn. It comes from America and as you would expect, often grows in swamps where its roots appear above ground, and are known as knees.
There is a fine one in Dulwich Park, on the right hand side just inside the College Road Gate. There are two dawn redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostrobides) on the opposite side of the carriageway which are very similar to the swamp cypress. One way of distinguishing them is by the leaflets which are alternate on the swamp cypress and opposite each other on the redwood. There was, until recently an old and dying Swamp Cypress in the Dulwich Picture Gallery garden which was once magnificent. People felt sentimental about it but it was finally felled in October. It is hoped that either a bench or a sculpture may be made from the timber. There is a new one in memory of David Halsey, a Friend of the Gallery, been planted nearby. Yet another swamp cypress is to be found in Belair, to the right of the entrance.
There will be profiles of other interesting Dulwich trees in future editions.
I am aware that in writing an article in October, a time of great change in our wildlife populations, winter will have arrived by the time the Newsletter is published and many seasonal changes will have passed. But at the time of writing the flocks of winter thrushes are arriving from Scandinavia and both Fieldfares and Redwings are to be seen mostly at the tops of trees where they briefly stop in transit for elsewhere. Those remaining will come down from the Hawthorn berry feast and once finished will start to rake the fields for invertebrates. The Redwing can be heard often in the dead of night giving a thin high pitched “zee” call as they pass over.
Much of the October movement of our small birds, typically Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Pied Wagtails happens by day with also the occasional Meadow Pipit and Skylark. They move through so quickly that it is often only by flight call that you are aware of their passing. The summer migrants mostly migrate at night and it is only by chance that you wake and find them missing. Indeed most of our House Martins had disappeared by mid September, a little earlier than usual, perhaps reflecting a shortage of insect food life.
Migration time can produce oddities. Surprising, was a call from Mr Robinson of Great Brownings who reported a Lapwing on a rooftop. Lapwings are of course countryside birds of open fields, so finding itself in Great Brownings it had few options, but it must have been extremely uncomfortable.
However, the most amazing event came at a weekend at the end of August when Audrey Lambert phoned to report that on two consecutive mornings she had seen five Nutcrackers in Lings Coppice. She could scarcely believe her eyes, thinking at first that they might be Mistle Thrushes but with time and a good view she was able to look them up in her reference book and confirm that Nutcrackers they must be. Nutcrackers are birds most closely related to Jays and Magpies resident in central Europe, mostly in coniferous forest. They are slightly smaller than a Jay, dark brown and white speckled all over, emitting a call if anything harsher than a Jay if that be possible. They tend to occur in this country very occasionally in the autumn in so called eruptions when they are observed in numbers. However the last eruption was in 1969 and there were no other records of Nutcrackers this year, so Audrey’s record was exceptional. The saving grace was that they departed after her two observations so she was spared the ordeal of the descent of hordes of twitchers.
Winter will hopefully bring a new crop of records, perhaps none as spectacular as a Nutcracker, but it is always worthwhile keeping an eye on berry trees for a Waxwing which occur from time to time, the last one seen in Rosendale Road a year or so ago.
Wildlife Recorder (020 7274 4567)
During summer 2008 Dulwich Going Greener carried out a Survey of Lifestyle and Attitudes to Green Issues in Dulwich. Participants completed a questionnaire on-line via the DGG website and 174 replies were collected.
Demographics of the Sample
Energy Saving in the Houses
For more information on Dulwich Going Greener and further results of this survey go to www.dulwichgoinggreener.org
Bats are getting more and more popular and over 50 keen bat-watchers came on the Belair Park walkabout organised by the Dulwich Society and the Friends of Belair in July. And even though hardly any of us caught a glimpse of a bat as it ducked and weaved through the evening air, chasing its insectivorous supper, there were triumphant cries from trackers of all ages as three varieties of this small flying mammal revealed their presence.
Bat-spotting triumph came thanks to the wizardry of the hand-held ultrasonic detectors that Colin Higgins (from London Wildlife Trust) had distributed before he led the walk. By pre-tuning one of these battery-powered devices to a particular frequency - bat calls are so high that they are inaudible to all but the most sensitive of (young) human ears - it is possible to identify which species of bat is “shouting” in the vicinity. Its whereabouts can be pinpointed, even though it may be hidden from view by dimming light or thick leaf cover.
A bat emits a rapid series of squeaks as it flies. These extremely high-pitched sounds can be picked up and transmitted by the detectors, which look like small transistor radios, or walkie-talkies. They reach the human ear, translated into a stream of metallic clicks. A particular variety of bat can be identified by twiddling the detector’s knob before setting out on a walk, thus pre-setting the equipment to a particular “waveband” or frequency range, which is known to be that bat’s type. Each kind of bat will be “broadcasting” within a specific sound band.
That warm Thursday night, as dusk fell, the calls of two of the three Pipistrelle varieties most usually found in London, as well as the sounds of a Noctule, were picked up, loud and clear. (Members of the London Bat Group, who came along with their own state-of-the-art electronic detection equipment were particularly pleased by the Noctule because they had not realised they were using this particular Dulwich habitat).
Those of us who strolled back beside the lake were also able to see, as well as record on our borrowed handsets, a Daubenton’s bat swooping low, as the water reflected what was left of the fading light. A pipistrelle must eat up to 3,500 tiny flying insects in a single night (that’s a third of its bodyweight) if it is to find the strength to fly and hunt the next evening. In Belair, the railway line and embankment and the mature trees around the edges of the sports fields and lake are regularly used bat roadways. The newly planted Woodland Walk, edging the sports fields, aims to enhance this ideal insect-hunting ground.
Bat-detector equipment, like that used on the walk in July, is brilliant but it’s not always able to differentiate between some of the less-common species. Certain “pulses” of clicks appear so similar, between species, or are issued at such long or irregular intervals, that it would take an experienced bat expert to interpret them correctly. It is only by using a mist net to temporarily trap bats as they exit a roost, and examining them closely in-hand (an enterprise which is against the law unless carried out by a licensed bat handler) that species can be identified beyond doubt. At a distance, in the dark, bats may all look alike to us. But seen close-up, they do have very distinctive face and ear shapes. It was this netting method that proved the presence of a Brown Long-eared Bat (and probable presence of a Natterer’s) both previously unrecorded in Southwark, at Sydenham Hill Woods nature reserve in 2006.
In Belair, a number of batboxes (including a maternity roost) have been donated to the park by the Dulwich Society to try to help bats thrive locally and it is hoped that these will be in place before the winter. During hibernation, bats must find frost-free, dry quarters if they are not to die during their seasonal torpor. They interrupt their “sleep” to move to a safer roost if there is any danger of their blood freezing.
Edwin T Hall (1851-1923) by Ian McInnes
Edwin Thomas Hall, not to be confused with his son Edwin Stanley Hall, also a noted architect, was a local resident and the architect of the Old Library at Dulwich College, built in 1902 to commemorate the Boer War. He published the well known ‘Dulwich History & Romance’ in 1917 and lived at ‘Hillcote’ in West Dulwich.
Born in 1851, the son of an architect, George Hall, he began practice in 1875, and was best known for most of his life as a major designer of hospitals. He won the 1894 competition for the design of Hither Green Infectious Diseases Hospital but his most important work was the Manchester Royal Infirmary, a competition he won in 1908. He also designed two hospitals in Leeds, the Homeopathic Hospital in Queen’s Square and several hospitals in Sussex and, closer to home, the St Giles Hospital in Peckham and the Camberwell Infirmary.
His practice was large and other projects included factories, offices, churches, houses and flats - the latter including Sloane Mansions in Sloane Square and the St Ermins Hotel in Victoria. However, his best known work today was the one he carried out towards the end of his life, in conjunction with his son, the design of Liberty’s, the store in Regent Street. Captain Stewart Liberty, the store’s owner, had long cherished the desire to build a larger than life-size Elizabethan style building in Regents Street and had purchased three old wooden ships to provide the timber. The Crown Estate, the landowner, refused to consider such a proposal and insisted that any building fronting Regent Street should be stone faced. Hall acquiesced but built the gloriously esoteric black and white timber framed building behind.
He was a vice-president of the Royal Institute of British Architects and was an active participant in drawing up the Institute’s charter in 1887. He was known as ‘Bye law Hall’ not only because of his incisive legal mind but for the major part he played in drafting the updating of the London Building Acts in the 1890s.
Edwin Hall was a Dulwich Estates Governor for 22 years and chairman in 1908-10. As well as the Old Library, his local projects included the Camberwell Public Library and Council Offices, and the completion of the British Home for Incurables at Crown Point in Streatham - when its original architect died just as building started. Perhaps his most important local project, however, was the Sunray Gardens Estate. Although in the end that estate was partially redesigned and built by others, his was the initial concept and, had it been built, it would have been a model for future housing in this country - with its garden city layout and innovative integral community facilities. At the end of his life he was also involved in the design and development of Roseway in Turney Road.
His obituary in the RIBA Journal noted that ‘his life at Dulwich was one round of public duty very cheerfully undertaken and very carefully performed’. He was an active member of the Dulwich & Sydenham Golf Club, a Governor of Dulwich College and a trustee for the Charity Commissioners of Dulwich College Chapel. He was also a vicar’s warden at the old Emmanuel Church in South Croxted Road for 30 years and a master of the No. 5 Masons Lodge and a grand steward of Grand Lodge. One of his daughters married the vicar of St Stephen’s.