10 years ago I did some bird surveying for the council at Burgess Park and last week I had a revisit. Wow I was impressed! Blown away by the positive changes that have occurred in the interim.
Wildflower and meadow areas buzzing and singing with life, amenity grassland merging seamlessy into nature friendly areas. People working out with butterflies dancing around their feet.No inaptly named so-called ‘eco-zones’, just a park working with nature.All this in an urban area close to the centre of London.
The beloved Cockney House Sparrow which has lost 60% of its urban population since the 1970s is thriving here, not just picking up scraps from around the cafe but flitting amongst the meadowlands for live food for their hungry chicks.
I found at least 30 (last time just a pair) and to put this into some kind of context there are no Sparrows in Peckham Rye Park nor Dulwich Park. Similarly the Starling population, compared to other local urban spaces, is abundant. This lovable roguish street urchin of a bird, once so common it was deemed a pest, has suffered 66% losses since the mid-70s and is now a red-listed species, i.e. a species of highest conservation concern.
What was really exciting was finding seven different breeding territories of birds that had flown all the way from Africa. Five male Whitethroats busily displaying amongst the meadows and two Reed Warblers, guess where – in the reeds surrounding the lake. Both of these species travel from the Sahel, a region between the Sahara desert and the Savanna, to breed here in the UK. To find them so close to the centre of London is uncommon and a pleasure. The scratching sound of the Whitethroat and the gurgle of the Reed Warbler is deeply resonant of the exoticism of a faraway continent. Their joyous life affirming songs showing that nature can survive despite what obstacles we throw at it.
Well done, you should be proud. Burgess Park is an example of what can be achieved in an urban inner city area when ecological concerns are placed at the forefront of the agenda and not left at the bottom of the priority pile. Nature does not pick nature reserves. Nature is all around and can flourish with some care and attention. Praise should be given to Greg and his gardening team for being a large part of this environmental success despite having only limited resources and despite having to battle the conflicting interests that public parks bring.
So is this just a nature lover banging on …
Er … nope … the maintenance and improvement of the health of urban green spaces is paramount for all of us not just nature. 80% of us live in cities for a start and we also know that access and proximity to nature is beneficial to our physical and mental well being, reduces stress and reduces crime. By making nature more visible and audible the easier it becomes for people to engage with it.Engagement with nature not only brings joy but also increases our care for our environment.
We can deny nature but we can’t get away from it, it’s the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink. It’s incumbent on all of us to maintain its health.
by Simon Saville Chair of the Surrey & SW London Branch of Butterfly Conservation
I suppose that most people don’t think of butterflies when they think of Burgess Park. But they should! Already this year (by late March) I have seen a Small Tortoiseshell, a SmallWhite, a couple of Commas and a couple of Brimstones.
Over the past few years, I have spotted no fewer than 16 different types of butterfly in the park. On one spectacular sunny July day, I saw more than 160 butterflies of 10 different species, plus a couple of day-flying moths.
Burgess Park has been managed quite sensitively for wildlife, and there are lots of good places for butterflies. Some of them are shown in this map:
1 – Elm trees, supporting some very elusive White-letter Hairstreaks
2 – Nature area, being redeveloped. This could become a nature hotspot in a few years’ time
3 – The big mounds, home to the Common Blue butterfly
4 – By St. George’s Way
5 – Grassy area with brambles
6 – South-facing slope
7 – Wooded area north of the lake
8 – Grassy area by the lake
9 – Grassy area and hedges between Waite St and Oakley Place
10 – Glengall Wharf, start of Surrey Canal Walk
The Comma is a harbinger of spring, often seen in April. They spend the winter hibernating as adults and they reappear as soon as the weather warms up. This one was in the wooded area north of the lake – a favoured spot. The caterpillars used to feed on hops, but now have a taste for nettles and this has helped them increase their range and abundance in recent years.
The Small Tortoiseshell also hibernates as an adult. This one was spotted in the middle of the Park by some brambles in April. The caterpillars feed on nettles, so it’s important that we don’t tidy the nettles away! We used to see a lot more of these butterflies. Nobody really knows why they have crashed in numbers so quickly.
A Speckled Wood in the Glengall Wharf area in April. They like the semi-wooded areas and enjoy dappled sunlight.
A Sitochroa verticalis moth (this has no English name) on one of the big mounds in June when many of the flowers were in bloom. Also around at that time were lots of Burnet Companion and Silver-Y moths. The latter is a migrant that can appear in London in big numbers.
One of many Common Blue butterflies seen on the big mounds in June last year. The caterpillars feed on Bird’s-foot Trefoil which is present here.
The big mounds are often teeming with insect life, a result of the many wild flowers present.
The spectacular Jersey Tiger moth can be seen flying in the Park in July and August. This photo is from Kennington, about a mile away. This used to be restricted to the south coast, but is now spreading rapidly. It can be seen all over south London. Because it is colourful and flies by day, it’s often mistaken for a butterfly.
Elm trees by New Church Road. If you are lucky, you might see pairs of male White-letter Hairstreaks spiralling in mock combat at the top of the canopy.
Butterflies seen in Burgess ParkLarval foodplant
Common Blue Birdsfoot Trefoil
Green-veined White Crucifers
Holly Blue Holly (spring), ivy (summer)
Large Skipper Grasses
Large White Brassicas
Meadow Brown Grasses
Orange-tip Garlic Mustard, crucifers
Red Admiral Nettles
Small / Essex Skipper
(not separately recorded) Grasses
Small Tortoiseshell Nettles
Small White Brassicas, crucifers
Speckled Wood Grasses
White-letter Hairstreak Elm
I haven’t seen any Painted Lady, Peacock or Ringlet butterflies in Burgess Park, but I would be surprised if they were not present, as they have been seen at Nunhead Cemetery (3km away). The Painted Lady, which is a migrant species, was also seen at Walworth Garden (1km away). There may be Purple Hairstreaks on the oak trees by Waite Street.
Moths present include: Jersey Tiger, Six Spot Burnet, Burnet Companion, Silver-Y and Sitochroa verticalis.
All this goes to show what a wonderful place Burgess Park is for butterflies. I know that Southwark Council are keen to make it even better.
Butterfly Conservation has started a ‘BIG City Butterflies’ project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. This aims to get people to engage with the green spaces near them and to discover the wildlife that’s under their noses. We’ll be using Burgess Park as one of our key sites in SW London. It’s early days, but you can read more about Big City Butterflies here.
A murder of crows
Perhaps, if crows were brightly coloured, they would be loved instead of feared.Part of the Corvid family which includes magpies, ravens, jays and jackdaws they are arguably the most intelligent and fascinating of all birds. I have watched them fly off with a chicken’s egg, wash the salt off a chip in a puddle before eating it and mobbing a fox. Set aside an hour to watch this brilliant documentary which will make you view crows in a whole new light.
Just a piece of unkempt turf on the common that is providing shelter, protection and food for next summer’s butterflies, grass-hoppers and maybe the odd frog.
We don’t hear so much about acid rain these days, but it’s still there, scrubbing clean the tree trunks of moss and lichen, so a treat to see this.
Not one organism, but two, a fungus and an alga that can’t live without each other. The fungus provides the structure and the algae make the sugar. There are many different species of Lichen. It’s not feeding on the tree, but is affected by the acidity of the water running off the bark . You will find Lichen on brick and stone, glass, metal ,leather surfaces too.
Lichen is used to make Litmus paper. Dies are extracted and added to filter paper so that it turns red in acid conditions and blue in alkaline. Some lichens contain Usinic acid which is anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and attacks cancer cells. Unfortunately, it also damages the liver.
Still some lingering seed heads from last year’s spectacular display in St George’s Gardens. Many seeds have a protective coating and won’t germinate until they have been exposed to frost. This keeps them fresh and hydrated ready to send out new roots into the warm moist spring soil.
Burgess Park fishing lake was redesigned in 2012/13 and opened to the public along with the rest of the park after five years.
Nature and caring people have made the lake as you see it today with reed beds. The very tall reed is Norfolk reed mace. The shorter reeds are Phragmites. We also have Yellow Flag Iris, Bulrush and Water Mint in places.
In 2016 we received 6 rolls of coir matting which were planted with various water plants. These you can see between the bridge and the bird sanctuary. So have fun finding out the rest of the names of the plants for yourselves.
Waterfowl or birds that live on the lake are Mute Swans, three different types of goose (Canada Goose, Greylag Goose and Egyptian Goose), Coots (black body, white beak and head dress), Moorhens (brown body, red beak with yellow tip), and Tufted Ducks (males – black and white and females – brown).
Sometimes there are Common Pochard (grey body with reddish head), a pair of Great Crested Grebes (on Burgess lake in July 2018) and also the Little Grebe.
There are many other birds that visit the water to feed – Kingfisher, Grey Heron, Cormorant, Common Tern and different types of Sea Gulls.
There is as much that lives underwater as above. The most common plant seen is Blanket Weed, next is Najas Minor which is growing in the non-fishing side of the lake, and some patches of Silk Weed out towards the middle of the lake. The lake bed is made up of areas of mud, rubble and rubbish that have been covered in silt. In the pockets of silt can be found Bloodworm (larvae of the non-biting Midge – the little flies you see over your head sometimes) Dragonflies, Damselflies and other types of water insect, too many to list.
Friends of Burgess Park will be pond-dipping by the lake on Saturday 21 July, 4.30 to 6pm as part of London’s National Park City Week. Come and join us.
There are many fish in the lake. Carp is the main species found, Tench is next, then Bream, Roach, Rudd, Perch, Dace and Catfish. Carp can be divided into sub species Common, Mirror, Linner, Fully scaled, Ghost and Koi.
When fishing at Burgess Park lake you must have a rod licence before you fish. You will need to purchase a day ticket from the council web site. The Environment Agency, Southwark Council officers and community wardens come around regularly to check on licences.
While fishing you will need to have a landing net 36 inches minimum and unhooking mat as there is a chance of a large carp or more. You must fish from the swims only. Swims 1 to 6 are concrete. There is a dirt area at the side to put up a shelter and they are on the school and toilet side of the lake. Swims 7 to 10 are on the other side of the lake and are dirt covered.
If you’re lucky and catch a fish then you must return all fish back to the water.
Any day now, the Lime trees (Common Lime or Linden, Tilia Europea) will come into bloom. They perfume the air with one of the most delightful scents of summer. Walk along the main avenue by the tennis courts, especially in the evening and enjoy. This tree wants to attract bees and moths to pollinate it, so gives off most scent in the evening. The flowers are not showy, but worth examination as they are grow directly out of a leaf-like structure; this acts like a helicopter later on in the year when it separates from the tree and floats away to spread the seeds.
Lime blossom produces lovely honey and bees also collect honey dew to add to their honey. Honey dew – that sticky stuff on car windows is what the greenfly pass, they eat enormous quantities of sap to gain small amounts of protein and excrete the surplus sap.
Many types of moth and their caterpillars also feed on the heart shaped leaves and the nectar, Lime Hawk Moth being the most spectacular. May and June are the time to find them on a warm evening. It’s worth looking in lime trees outside the park as the park trees are kept trimmed at the base, look for a tree with arisings (Twigs growing from the base.) and you may spot a caterpillar with a spine on its tail. You may also find some strange red things on the tops of the leaves, lime nails which are produced by tiny mites.
As a child, I used to place a leaf over my pinched index finger and thumb, then pop it with the palm of my other hand – goes off like a paper bag.
Lime blossom is made into many perfumes, cosmetics and medicines. You can easily make a tea from them to treat a cold but the flowers must be freshly opened or they become narcotic. You preserve them by drying them so that they are available to use all year.
The inner bark layer is very fibrous and is used to make paper and fabric in Japan. The timber is soft and almost grainless so easy to carve. The Cravat by Grinling Gibbons will be on display at the Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, 20 October 2018 – 24 February 2019.
Butterflies and bogs
The nearby mounds are a good place to spot butterflies at this time of the year. There are several small blue butterflies which are difficult to distinguish, the one called ‘Small Blue’ has a sooty, dusty blue appearance, so I didn’t spot that one, there were either common blue or holly blue. The mounds are not mown, so the clover is able to bloom and provide food for butterflies and other pollinators.
See how the vegetation changes on the mounds. At the base, the plants are bigger and you will find clumps of sedge. This plant seeds itself all over the area and tells us about the soil and terrain. It is a plant that likes poorly drained or even boggy soil and Burgess Park can get quite boggy. if it were not for the Thames Barrier, it would be subject to flooding as it is quite low lying and used to be on the banks of The Earl’s Sluice (One of London’s lost rivers). This ran from Ruskin Park to Rotherhithe cutting across a corner of the park by the junction of Albany Road with Camberwell Road. It now feeds into the sewer system, what a shame!
All through June we doing #30DaysWild #wildaboutburgess part of the London Wildlife campaign. The perfect excuse to share your favourite photos @BurgessPk.
Saturday 21 July – 4.30 to 6pm Pond-dipping by the lake. Part of London’s National Park City Week.
In a corner of the English Garden you’ll find Daphne odora. As the name suggests, it has a gorgeous perfume.
Spot the frogs in the pond. There is some frogs spawn and probably more to come. Creep up slowly and you may hear them croaking. The tadpoles will emerge over the next 21 days. At first, they stick themselves to plants digesting the remaining egg yolk in their guts, then they swim about feeding on algae. As they grow, their diet expands to include other pond life and even plant material which they grind up with tiny teeth. By 12 weeks, they look like tiny frogs and at 16 weeks, they assume their adult shape and can leave the pond.
Between Chumleigh Gardens and St George’s Church
These are native trees that are usually found in boggy ground. Tap one of the yellow catkins and you will see a puff of pollen. These are wind pollinated plants that don’t need insects to fertilise them though you may see bees collecting the protein rich pollen to feed to their larva.
There are male and female flowers on the same tree. The female flowers are much smaller catkins which develop into cones. You will find brown cones from last year still on the trees. The leaves are round with a notch cut out at the tip and the bark has small holes in it.
Alder trees fix nitrogen into the soil, so add to the fertility.
Because they grow in boggy conditions, their orange coloured timber will not rot in water so it was used in the foundations of Venice and for water pipes. Above ground, it will quickly rot.
Siskin, Redpol and Goldfinches eat the seeds, several moths feed on the leaves and the bark is used in medicine.
Click on the icons to find out more about plans in and around Burgess Park
Burgess Park Planning and Redevelopment Facts: Redevelopment around the park
These are important issues for coming local elections. Raise them with ward councillor candidates.
There are at least six planning application in the pipeline for sites around Burgess Park. All are for tall buildings which will make a significant impact on the park.
Each application is made separately there is no consideration for cumulative impact. Tall buildings have already been approved for the Aylesbury redevelopment along Albany Road.
• Impact of tall buildings
Burgess Park is a very long, narrow park. Tall buildings all around will have a significant impact on the green space; how it looks and feels, if the immediate horizon is dominated by buildings.
The new Southwark Plan does not define a tall building or the amount of green space which would need to be provided for the new residents.
• Pressure on green space
Planning applications for development around Burgess Park (including current applications) all make the assumption that green space and play space can be provided by the park.
No assessment is made of cumulative impact of redevelopment – with resultant local population growth – on existing green space.
Burgess Park is a relatively new man-made park; it has increased in popularity and is well used all year round. It requires high levels of maintenance and repair to keep pace with wear and tear of heavy usage. Areas of the park will be out of use at some time; current drainage improvement works will restrict access to central portions of the park for the two years.
Friends of Burges Park proposals:
• Planning and Regeneration
Cumulative impact of new developments on Burgess Park must be a standard part of the planning application process. A comprehensive development plan which monitors and sets a framework for development around the park is needed. The Southwark Plan should:
specify maximum building height for developments bordering the park taking into account the extent of shade from new buildings given the park’s narrow shape and the current tree heights;
monitor the park’s capacity to absorb increases in user demand;
• Metropolitan Open Land
The council should compulsorily purchase buildings within Burgess Park Metropolitan Open Land footprint. This would prevent excessive building being proposed (and then having to be opposed by local residents).
• Sunshine ordinance
The council should set up local planning requirements for high standard for green spaces including access to sunshine. The impact of multiple tall buildings on green space must be considered. Sunshine ordinance is already used in places like New York, San Francisco and Japan.
Southwark Council will close the section on New Church Road that runs through the park. The road will no longer be accessible from Monday 4th December. Southwark apologises for any inconvenience caused. The new Quietway 7 cycle pathway which will cut through the park will be built as an alternative route. It is expected to open in spring 2018.
Consultations on the Burgess Park West new play area will take place on:
Tuesday 28 November 3.30 to 5pm Chumleigh Gardens play area, next to the Park Life café, off Albany Road. If the weather is poor the consultation will be inside the Chumleigh West building, which will be signposted from the play area.
Monday 4th December 6pm to 8pm Southwark Council’s offices 160 Tooley Street, SE1 2QH
Drop by to see the emerging design which has taken into account previous consultation results, and tell the designers your ideas and opinions.
If you cannot attend either session and are still interested in the play area design, please get in touch with Pippa Krishnan email@example.com
Listen to the fascinating podcast audio adaptation of the Animated Walkfrom the Friends’ Zeppelin 1917 season. It tells the story of the Zeppelin Raid on Camberwell, in the industrial and residential area that existed before the creation of the park itself, and puts the tragic events of that night into the context of local life at that time. Read about the Animated Walk.
Meet at Theatre Delicatessen, in the Old Library on Wells Way, for a walk around the locations for the memorial, with speeches, refreshments, a poem by Koko and more. To book tickets for the launch event, please see the Eventbrite page.
Take part in the drop-in family art workshop by Art in the Park.
2.30 pm Camberwell Community Choir sing songs from the First World War
3.15 pm History walk to view the art installation of memorial houses including Q and A with the artist Sally Hogarth
4.30 – 5.30 pm Performance of THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER
The Unknown Soldier is a moving show, often humorous, but above all thought provoking. It looks at the First World War from a new perspective, through the eyes of a man who has survived the carnage but who finds it hard to return home. A story of comradeship, betrayal and of promises both broken and kept following the carnage of World War One. Official EdFringe 2016 sell out show by award nominated writer of Casualties. Book for 4.30 performance
FOBP have just won the Mary Boast History Prize, organised by the Camberwell Society. Copies of our winning essay will be available at the events, and you can read more about the Prize here, or read the essay here.
2017 events: Revealing the impact of World War I on people’s lives and society
Almost one hundred years ago, on the night of 19th October 1917, a Zeppelin bomb landed in Calmington Road, Southwark. It killed 10 people, injured 24 more, and destroyed a fish and chip shop, a doctor’s surgery, and many homes. The Friends of Burgess Park project “Zeppelin 1917” will uncover the stories of local heroes and piece together the dramatic raid right over what is now Burgess Park.
Jon Pickup and Andrew Pearson, from Friends of Burgess Park are leading the project supported by a successful £9,800 Heritage Lottery Fund award. Jon Pickup said “We’re looking for people to volunteer, get involved and during the summer we’ll be visiting the Imperial War Museum and Southwark Heritage Library to look into archive material about the people who lived in the street. This is a fantastic opportunity to do some original research and uncover hidden stories. We’re also delighted that Southwark Council are funding an art piece for the park to remember this event.” Sally Hogarth has been appointed as the artist.
The project kicks off over the summer. Volunteers will find out more about the Zeppelin and the lives of ordinary people who took heroic action as part of the war effort. In September, children’s workshops led by Art in the Park will take place at the Creation Trust, Giraffe House.
During October 2017 a festival of events at Theatre Delicatessen, in the Old Library, Wells Way, will showcase the work created by local residents. John Whelan will bring together the historical research with volunteers to tell the story of the raid through an animated walk. Stephen Bourne, local historian, and author of Black Poppies, will talk about the armed services as well as men and women who stayed at home and played a role in the civil defence.
The Zeppelin 2017 festival will feature:
Exhibition – A timeline of the raid and archival display – open Saturdays during October 2017, with opening talk by Zeppelin expert Ian Castle on Saturday 7 October.
Hidden Heroes – Talk by Stephen Bourne, author of Black Poppies, on the black community and the Great War, Saturday 14 October 2017.
Animated Walk – Created by actors using research by local volunteers, to animate the history of WW1 and the Zeppelin Raid on Calmington Road in October 1917, on Saturday 21 October.
Family events – Drop-in family events including art workshops with Art in the Park, Cuming Museum object handling, stories and rhymes with Vanessa Wolf, Saturday 7 and Thursday 26 and Friday 27 October.
Thursday 11 January 2018, 4.00 -7.00pm at Burgess Park Community Sports Centre, Cobourg Road, SE5 0JD
Southwark Council with match funding from Parklife Funding Partners (The FA, the Premier League and Sport England) are presenting draft design proposals for developing the community sports hub. Who will run the new facility? Will there be more fencing of sports’ fields? Will Cobourg Road and Neate Street be closed? What will the provision be for access to Cobourg School? Will there be through routes for pedestrians and cyclists? What about parking? Will trees be cut down? Please come along and say what you think about the new plans. Download a pdf of the latest plans.Email your comments to Southwark by 19 January 2018.
2016 plans for Cobourg Road and the Sports Centre development
Southwark Council are proposing a major redevelopment of the Community Sports Centre on Cobourg Road. Friends of Burgess Park are concerned that the plan will fence off more of the park, reduce accessibility, cut down mature trees, increase pedestrian/cyclist conflict and cause parking problems. Read the Friends of Burgess Park submission.