There have been winners and losers over the past year’s wildlife calendar - and some valuable leaders which should jog us all into action to make the future brighter.
The Society were among organisations backing London Wildlife Trust’s Great North Wood Living Landscape project in south-east London. Just under £700,000 was raised overall, the majority coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has resulted in the creation of new footpaths in heavily-compressed sites within Sydenham Hill Wood and its next-door neighbour, Dulwich Wood. Uncontrolled footfall - yes, you can love your local wildlife ecological gem a bit too much - has eroded soil, heavy rainfall has washed layers away. Temporary fencing is protecting known wildflower areas, allowing tree roots to breathe and enabling our local hedgehogs and birds to forage and feed without disturbance.
Big urban areas like ours are surprisingly rich in flora and fauna. Our green spaces and gardens brilliant oases. Yet some of the best bird watching in recent months has taken place in the busy car park of a large local supermarket. Rare Barbastelle bats have been found in London for the first time in 50 years, and the Brown Long-Eared bat, which doesn’t normally nest near people, was recorded both in Sydenham Hill Wood inside the old railway tunnel and in Dulwich Park. The tunnel is too cold and damp to make an ideal roost, even though it is now closed and secured. Cracks in a real, old mature tree make better homes for bats, birds and insects and LWT are recording Ancient and Veteran trees across the whole area so that they can be best managed to maintain them as healthy, living wildlife habitats.
The cold Spring of last year made life difficult for birds. The conditions produced large numbers of incoming Redwings - flocks of about 50 in Dulwich Park, 80 Fieldfares on Dulwich College playing fields. A big colony of toads and newts were discovered at the rear of a house in College Road, living in a large undisturbed compost heap with a big old pond nearby. Our Wildlife Recorder, Dr Peter Roseveare, heard a Mistle thrush (very few notes, very strident, a species that has been decreasing) at the top of a tree. Goldfinches were seen to be doing well, Chaffinches and Green finches less so.
Mid-year 2018, butterflies were sadly lacking; no Tortoiseshells, Peacocks, Red Admirals and Commas in what should have been an ideal summer. The ‘Beast from the East’ and April snow would have killed our native butterflies emerging from hibernation. Migrants were notably absent, recovery likely to take years. But there were plenty of Dragonflies recorded.
Worldwide insect decline, poor air quality, an ever-expanding human footprint, climate change, wildfires, floods and other manifestations of Nature’s destructive powers continue to give all life on earth challenge. As Sir David Attenborough said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year, there have never been more people out of touch with the natural world. Its future, he said, was in our hands. “We can wreck it without even knowing we are doing it.” We need to value, respect and protect our important local green spaces and aim to improve them. But first and foremost, we must try to Do No Harm. That includes not putting on major works or music events, with loud, continual amplified, round-the-clock sound and bright lighting in public green spaces during the bird nesting season, i.e., March through to July.
Angela Wilkes, Chair Wildlife Group