Wildlife Rescue   By Angela Wilkes

Reviewed by Bill Bradbeer

Wildlife committee chair, Angela Wilkes, has published a substantial handbook for the rescue of wild animals suffering from wounds, injuries, poisoning, disease, starvation, abandonment etc. as well as those animals trapped by natural or man made hazards.  It is aimed at the general public and presents a range of recurring themes:  When to act?  When not to act?  What to do?  What not to do?  What is legal and what is not?  Essentially the unqualified person is allowed to administer first aid to an injured animal and for each type of animal the book gives first aid instructions and the suggested composition of a casualty kit.  Where appropriate a single-page first aid procedure mirrors that for human casualties as an A, B, C (and D) guide: Airways, Breathing, Circulation and Do’s and Don’ts.  The rescuer should then seek instructions from one of the listed centres of first call, without delay, and may then become committed to delivering the casualty to a local animal hospital or rehabilitation centre.  The book lists 113 of the more established ones in the United Kingdom, but the author estimates that there are more than 700 specialist wildlife hospital treatment centres in England and Wales alone.

Almost the whole of the book comprises seven comprehensive chapters on different classes of wildlife.  The life-style of hedgehogs makes them particularly vulnerable to accidental contact with suburban man, while their bumbling gait and taste for slugs and beetles makes them something of a favoured  resident (there are not many ground-nesting birds in Dulwich), so they get the first chapter.  Garden birds and water birds get the next two, there is one on foxes and another which covers a mixed bag of 17 species which comprise rodents, rabbits, hares, shrews and moles.  Badgers merit their own chapter and everything else goes into Chapter 7, which is described as “Rescuing the Rest, from Stags to Stag Beetles”.  Each of these chapters starts off with factual information about the animal, such as estimated population, distribution, habitat, identification, breeding, feeding, territory, the Law, problems caused by hazards, the animal diseases affecting human health, other diseases, internal and external parasites.  Anecdotes about successful rescues are included, although success may be partial, in that recovery may not permit the return of the animal to the wild.  However injury often requires euthanasia.  Invertebrates get the simplest attention; rescue usually involves nothing more than the transfer of displaced animals to a place of safety.

This is not just a book for the compassionate minority who are willing and able to devote time and money to animal rescue.  It provides food for thought for anyone with an interest in the natural world.  Highly controversial opinions exist in the field of conservation and failure to reach some level of consensus weakens the impact of conservationists. Foxes arouse mixed emotions in Britain and Angela Wilkes shows a particular soft spot for them in Chapter 4, in which she reports that 80% of surveyed householders in Greater London were pleased to see foxes in their gardens.  Fox cubs are undoubtedly cute, furry and apparently cuddly and even deemed to be a suitable model for soft toys.  In contrast, I am one of those who have viewed with horror the rise of the suburban fox, of which those in Dulwich seem to be a mangy, scrounging, quarrelsome and disease-ridden apology for their rural ancestors.  Our first fox, more than twenty years ago, was a splendid beast, but I attribute their subsequent population boom to failures in garbage disposal on the part of the public, to food dropped in public places or even left in fox-accessible litter bins and to the feeding of foxes in gardens.  The population grows, becomes overcrowded, is inadequately accommodated, territories contract and diseases and parasites spread, with consequences for humans and their domestic animals.  I identify the occurrence of  Toxicara canis eggs in the faeces of  foxes and the potential of foxes to spread rabies, in an outbreak, as my main public health concerns.  Zero tolerance would seem to be appropriate for those of us who wish to have gardens safe for small children.  I am relieved to see that the book recommends feeding only in the case of foxes undergoing rehabilitation.  Any proposal to reduce an animal population in Britain seems to throw local and national government into frozen inactivity, lest the electorate be offended.  In Dulwich, the Estates Governors are not believed to go in fear of electoral defeat and thus might be open to persuasion to appoint a keeper with the remit of achieving a sustainable balance of species here!

The book is generally well balanced and written with a light touch.  It is both a good read and a standard source for action and reference with a well-prepared index.  A glossary is included and most of the numerous illustrations are both amusing and informative.

Wildlife Rescue (256pp.) is published by Broadcast Books, Bristol, in soft back at £15.95

Agent Zigzag by Ben MacIntyre

Reviewed by Stella Benwell

This engrossing book is about Eddie Chapman, a double agent during the Second World War.  Its particular interest for Dulwich readers is that Chapman’s handler was the late Ronnie Read, a resident of Court Lane Gardens and a long-time member of the Trees Committee of the Dulwich Society.

Eddie Chapman was a small time criminal who escaped to Jersey before the war to avoid a prison sentence.  When the Germans occupied Jersey he learnt some German, saw his opportunity, and volunteered to spy for them.  He was taken to Germany, treated royally, rigorously trained as a spy and finally parachuted into England to blow up the de Haviland factory which manufactured Mosquito aircraft.  But his basic loyalty was to England, and on arrival he went straight to the police.  He became a double agent handled by Ronnie, sending back false information to the Germans.  At one stage the British were financing one of his girl friends in England while the Germans were financing another one in Norway!

Chapman was both clever and utterly fearless and both Ronnie and his counterparts in Germany developed affection for him, though never certain of his loyalty.  But Ronnie Read was a modest and retiring man who never revealed anything about the improbable part he played in was, except for his radio expertise.  John Le Carré describes this book as superb and meticulously researched.

Agent ZigZag  is available at Village Books, Dulwich Village £7.99

On the street where you live

Dekker Road (conclusion) by Ian McInnes

Following the Governors agreement to build working class housing in Dekker Road at their meeting on 31st October 1901, the Manager wrote to the Charity Commissioners confirming their intention.  The Commissioners agreed in principle but asked how ‘the construction of working-class dwellings on the Estate would be a remunerative investment of the Charity funds, and that capital expended for the purpose could be replaced. In the event the Commissioners agreed that the Governors could raise a loan of £18000 on the security of an order of the Board subject to the repayment of such a loan by annual instalments in a period of thirty years.

The Surveyor was then instructed to prepare the working drawings for the dwellings to be erected and he was ‘instructed to prepare the necessary specification, and that the names of not less than seven and not more than ten builders to be selected.

The contractors returned sealed bids on 19th March 1903 and the winner was Mr George Parker of 124 Sumner Road, Peckham in the sum of £15,525. The Estate informed the Charity Commissioners who shortly afterwards insisted that the scheme be further reviewed by an architect of their choice at the Estate’s expense - they suggested W D Caroe, a well known church architect of the time. His fee was £31 10s.

The final letter of approval from the Charity Commissioners contained four conditions:

  • There should be a doorway from the living room in the C blocks into the inner cubicle so that the latter can be used separately if desired. The cubicle division must be at least 7 feet high.
  • 6lbs lead, or asphalt, which is considerably cheaper and more permanent, must be used instead of zinc on the flat roofs of C block.
  • The fanlight specified over the doors should be shown upon the drawings on which they are now omitted.
  • Lead roof gutters must be 7lbs lead.

Tenders for the road and sewer were received and Messrs R Ballard of Child Hill NW started work on 23rd July 1902. The building contract with Mr George Parker was finally signed on 22nd October, in the slightly increased sum of £16,050, which reflected a rise in material prices.

Initial progress was good. On 26th November the Surveyor reported that the average number of men on site was 17, that roughly 43000 bricks had been delivered, and ‘all the blocks of buildings, the proposed new road, and the increased width of Court Lane have been set and staked out upon the ground. The trenches for the foundations of a block on each side of the new road at the Court Lane end have been dug out, and the trenches of the first block of the south side of the said road have been partly concreted.

By the end of January 1903 the first block of single tenements had ‘their walls built to an average height of 4ft above first floor level, the stud partitions in position and all door and window frames of ground floor built in.’ By 24th March the ‘Roof boarding was finished, and roofs partly tiled; a large proportion of lead work on roofs laid. Chimney stacks cleaned down and pointed. All internal framed partitions fixed.’

At the Board meeting in May Mr Barry put forward a sketch for commemorative tablets to be fixed to the two end walls facing Court Lane and Woodwarde Road. ‘After due consideration I would suggest that the material of the tablets should be Hopton Wood stone, or a fine grained stone of similar character and that the lettering should be incised and gilded. Grey granite or marble are of course alternative materials; but both of these would be much more expensive and possibly too conspicuous.’ It was left to the Chairman and the deputy chairman to decide although, on 27th October, Mr Powell, one of the Governors, tried to have the tablets removed ‘as the College Arms, affixed to each block of the working class dwellings, sufficiently indicate their origin.’ There was no seconder to his motion, so it was dropped.

The new road was half completed by 26th May and the remainder of the blocks were constructed through the rest of 1903 and well into 1904, the final account not being agreed till December 1904.  In the autumn the Manager advertised locally for potential tenants and he reported on 5th January 1905 that although there were originally 130 applicants for the initial 24 houses, only 13 had returned properly completed application. He then added ‘I was only able to select four whose occupations were those of bona fide working men, and in three of these cases permission to take an approved lodger had to be given. The other nine applicants were described as Clerks, Travellers, School Mistress, a Stationer’s Assistant, and a lady of small independent means. A large number of the application forms were returned in blank with a notification that the rents fixed were beyond the means of the applicants’. It would seem that, despite the Governors best intentions, the new properties were just too expensive for the ‘working classes’ at which they were aimed.

There were 15 conditions in the lease agreement. Number 10 provides an interesting reflection on conditions at the time ‘The tenants shall immediately report to the Governors any birth, cases of infectious disease or death… tenants shall cause any case of infectious disease to be removed to the proper hospital without delay.’

“Your Own Allotment - How to find and manage one and enjoy growing your own food”, by Neil Russell-Jones, 370pp, Spring Hill Books, £12.99.

Reviewed by Adrian Hill

This book is written by a Dulwich allotment holder and its sub-title summarises what it sets out to achieve.  It appears to have been written after the author had worked his  allotment, his first, for only one year, such appears to be his desire to lose no time in sharing his enthusiasm for growing his own vegetables and fruit, something not possible on any scale in the small garden of his house.

After many years of decline in the allotment movement, allotments are now in demand again and most sites have long waiting lists (two years being commonly quoted), as the author found when he decided he wanted to grow his own food.  Fortunately, he was able far sooner than expected to locate a very overgrown plot that was available at the Dulwich Horticultural and Chrysanthemum Society (DHCS) site (at one time known as the Alleyn’s Nursery allotments) alongside Cox’s Walk.   Soon afterwards he as able to add to this a neighbouring plot to give him the traditional 10 rod plot (in his case 130 feet by 20 feet).  This is far larger than most allotment holders nowadays will wish to take on, five rods now being the norm on many sites.  With the help of his wife and two daughters the author seems, however, to have coped with a full ten rods.

He gives a brief history of the allotment movement and of its decline after WWII.  He states that by 1973 9,400 plots were being lost each year in England.  Most sites in the country are run by local authorities, though not his site or the other four allotment sites in Dulwich, which are all privately run by allotment societies on land leased from the Dulwich Estate.  

The book gives advice on how to set about finding a plot and, when successful, how to bring it into production and to plan for future years, including crop rotation.  His approach is strongly from an organic gardening point of view, disparaging the use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and artificial fertilisers.  Unlike most books on vegetable growing this one has no long chapter on the medicine chest. Instead, there is advice on dealing with pests, weeds and the like in an organic manner, for example encouraging ladybirds which have a voracious appetite for aphids, eating up to 500 a day we are informed.  The DHCS requires all its plot holders to garden organically, though this is not a requirement of any of the other allotment sites in Dulwich.  Again, unlike other local allotment sites, the DHCS enforces a ban on the growing of tomatoes because of their proneness to blight and the risk of this spreading to potatoes.  To this reviewer, this seems rather drastic as open-air ripened tomatoes (given the right varieties) taste vastly better than supermarket ones which are likely to have been picked green in southern Europe to avoid damage in transit.  Allotment grown potatoes, on the other hand, are unlikely to taste much better than bought ones, except perhaps in the case of first earlies which will have been harvested long before there is any risk of blight.

In line with organic principles, he gives much sound advice on improving the state of the soil in accordance with the maxim “Look after the soil and it will look after you”.  He also gives useful tips for successful compost making and other soil improvement techniques.  The author has not succumbed to the questionable fashion for no digging but his advocacy of double-digging (two spits deep) seems back-breaking advice for Dulwich’s London clay.

The book describes the different plant types, their life cycle and the plant families that allotment holders are most likely to be interested in, together with methods of propagation of vegetables.  There is much of interest here, even to old hands. There is a short section on fruit suitable for allotments but no advice on pruning, a topic which can be something of a mystery to allotment holders.

The author is realistic on how much effort needs to be devoted to make it worthwhile to take on an allotment.  He does not suggest any particular minimum time, though in this reviewer’s opinion a minimum of five hours per week is probably required in the busy months.     As he neatly puts it: “An allotment is not a destination - it is a journey.  You never arrive - you just keep going”.   Depending on what financial value one places on one’s time, own-grown food is unlikely to be cheaper than bought food.   He is however clearly of the view that, with some luck and sufficient devotion to the task, the effort is well justified in terms of the pleasure derived from growing one’s own food and the superior taste of most fresh home-grown produce.  On this, your reviewer is in complete agreement.  

The reviewer is chairman of the Camberwell & Dulwich Allotment Society.

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