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Aliens invade Burgess Park

Park users were shocked to suddenly see a large encampment in the middle of Burgess Park springing up without warning 22 and 23 February. The lack of information led to various suggestions as to what it could be for. Was it a music festival or a refugee campsite?  

FOBP contacted the council and discovered that it was all part of a film set; aliens invade the city and Londoners are in a refugee camp. Burgess Park frequently features as a location for films and commercials. However, the size and scale of the area of the park fenced off for the film – several football pitches as well as the sports centre astro, and the length of time on-site – 3 weeks – is unprecedented in recent years.  

There have been numerous comments on Twitter and FOBP Facebook Group and other social media on the pro and cons of filming and what it means for the park and park users. 

  • Loss of green space for park users – including regular football/keepfit players  
  • Queries about the impact on the grass – particularly as one of the areas had had extensive drainage work and been fenced off with no public access for about 2 years  
  • Impact on wildlife – geese graze the grass extensively; a swan was trapped inside a fenced area without space to take-off 
  • Recognition of the filming fees and where this money was going, what it was used for 

The film company statement about opportunities film work experience and donations to local organisations is all great, but feels a bit last minute, with so little information up-front to warn park users and park groups. 

The key issues are that park users were not consulted – if this had been an event there are arrangements in place. The impact on the park and park users, the local benefit of the filming the social value are not transparent, which has to be a feature of using a public asset and removing that use from local people. Finally the impact on the park itself and the wild-life. There are horror stories from parks across London of damage done and poor-quality remedial work.  

The full cost, including environmental and loss of amenity, of any event whether a music festival or filming needs to be part of the “value” assessment with an emphasis on the additional social value that can be offered.  

This filming took place just as the sports centre and open land around it has also been fenced off for the building work. Now the filming has finished the main park site is being refenced off again and other grass areas are not fit for use and will need time to recover.

Southwark Council is strapped for cash like all local authorities and park budgets are under pressure. We understand that but as a park friends group we are focused on the impact on the park and standing up for the park. Burgess Park is not a bit of space which is available for any alternative use; it has an intrinsic value as a green space, a public amenity and a haven for wildlife.  

https://www.southwarknews.co.uk/news/whats-been-going-on-at-burgess-park/​

Peregrine Falcon

Birds of Burgess 2021 Review

Blog: Dave Clark

Writing this in January 2022 the focus of birding interest centres around the lake at Burgess Park. Geese, gulls and cormorants increase their numbers at this time of year as they battle to survive the natural elements and human impositions before the high energy sapping spring arrives. Spring, when the days are longer, spring, when optimism fills the air, spring, when not just the lake but the whole park resonates to the natural sounds and movements of birds. Spring is when the lifestage focus shifts from one of survival to breeding; finding territories, finding partners, building nests, laying eggs and having kids…………well chicks. With this in mind and the short winter days and long nights providing an opportune mental space for human reflection it `s appropriate to mull over and review the multitude of bird highlights that over the 2021 seasons Burgess provided.

Mediterranean Gull - Josep del Hoyo

Mediterranean Gull                                                                              Josep del Hoyo Macaulay Library

Common Goldeneye Adult male

Goldeneye                                                                                               Dorian Anderson Macaulay Library

Eighty five species were seen across the year by twenty two observers who provided hundreds of important records of these sightings. There were twelve different long distant spring migrants recorded, either staying for a few days, using the park as a feeding stepping stone or remaining until summer to breed, nine different species of warbler, seven different species of gulls, five different species of birds of prey, two different flycatchers and a partridge in a pear tree………..ahem, not really,  but a pheasant was indeed seen!

Common Redstart - eBird

Common Redstart                                                                                 K. Al Dhaheri Macaulay Library

Spotted Flycatcher - Saurabh Sawant

Spotted Flycatcher                                                                                S. Sawant Macaulay Library

However these numbers are pretty, lifeless and unemotive without context. For the true importance of Burgess Park as an avian hotspot and green performer to be understood we should compare these figures and the interest that they have engendered to other green spaces. Eighty five is a tick list that would be expected in more `wilder` and `natural` areas or rural arcadian idylls not in an urban park, indeed in these traditionally more cosmeticized environments forty to fifty species would be a more likely expectation. Neither are these numbers just birders ticks in a little black book or competitive markers but more importantly denote what can be achieved in urban green spaces at a time when 67% of the UK`s bird species are deemed of conservation concern.

These heartening results do not come by chance. Burgess Park has locational advantages; it is not far from Thames and is characterised by superb vistas which allows birds sightlines of the lake and green areas. But it is the considered management and provision of various habitats which are the key factors in attracting the abundance and diversity of birds,  ……scrub, long grass, wild flower meadows, richly planted gardens and ofcourse the important water feature. It is no surprise that many of the rarer species encountered were found in the less sterile environments, environments which we have been institutionalized to believe as rough and unkempt. These pejorative terms mask the positives, we should be thinking rich, diverse and life affirming. Scrub is good is the mantra.

For these birds, several of which are long distance migrants, wintering south of the Sahara, to continue to be attracted, these habitats need to be retained and maintained by diligent management and hard work. Management that does not have dominion but understands that nature is at the apex of importance of any green space.

If anyone would like to take part in citizen science by recording bird sightings, the references below should help and if a full annual bird list is required check out this link:

https://ebird.org/hotspot/L7578420

or contact me at: dave@mailbox.co.uk.

Peregrine Falcon                                                                                      Joshua Stacy Macaulay Library

Resources:

London Birders Wiki

GIGL

BTO

ebird

Squirrel in tree

Love your woodlands

so much more than lots of trees

Wild boar, auroch and red deer shaped our ancient woodlands. They grazed on the saplings that sprung up in the clearings caused by falling trees and kept the soil open to the sky. Wildflowers and berries thrived in the sunshine attracting more wildlife. Stone-age hunters found it profitable to hunt where the animals gathered and were able to keep the clearings open using flint axes. Later on, Bronze age people developed the clearings into places to cultivate rough pasture and crops.* 

Closed canopy woodland
Under  the shade of a closed canopy, very little grows. Trees are not regenerated. Small areas like this add to the experience of walking in a wood, but it would be rather gloomy if covering a large area.

A completely closed canopy is poor in biodiversity as without sunlight, there will be no plants for forage on the woodland floor. The only insects to be found will be those that feed on decaying leaf litter and their predators. The mighty English Oak will not grow here, their seedlings grow best in more open conditions, often under the protection of a Blackberry thicket. ‘The thorn is mother to the Oak.’ When you find an Oak tree in the middle of a wood, it was there first, other trees grew around it.

Break in the canopy
Here, the break in the canopy is allowing regeneration of the woodland floor. Alkanet and nettles flower, encouraging butterflies to lay their eggs and young trees to grow from seed.

Throughout the many centuries since, under-woodsmen have harvested the underwood, taking Hazel, Ash and Chestnut to make hurdles, fences, rustic furniture, firewood and charcoal. The standards, Oak and Elm were left to grow on into timber for ship and house building or to become veteran trees. Felling all the underwood may seem like vandalism, but letting the light in regenerates the woodland as the trees quickly re-grow.

Woodland edge
The most biodiverse part of woodland is the woodland edge. Abundant plant cover provides food and protection for small animals, insects and birds. Birds will feast on the wild cherry on the right then spread their stones to create more trees. This is a good place to spot Speckled Wood Butterflies.

The woodland in Burgess Park West is a young Broad Leaf woodland, planted to imitate ancient woodland, but it will be many decades before it develops veteran trees and the complex wildlife that they support. Similarly, with the plants that indicate ancient woodland – Wood anemone, Herb Paris, Twayblade, Purple Orchid, They need deep, moist, leaf mould interlaced with fungal mycelium and soil micro-organisms to grow in. 

Adjacent to the Burgess Park West Wood is this area of wild carrot, Viper’s bugloss, Bird’s foot trefoil, Knapweed & Clover. Ants, spiders, shield insects and beetles in abundance are a vital supply for the hungry nestlings waiting in the wood. Pollinators turn the flowers into seeds that keep the birds fed through autumn and winter. Common Blue butterfly caterpillars feed on Bird’s foot trefoil, Painted lady on Viper’s bugloss and Clouded yellow butterfly on clover.
Dog Rose
This thicket of Dog Rose would provide enough cover for a Black Cap, nicknamed ‘Northern Nightingale’ to nest. There are quite a few of them in this part of London.
Hawthorn
Hawthorn provides fodder for animals, edible berries, and is a food plant of the Black-veined white butterfly caterpillar.

Sunshine is a vital agent. In a coppiced woodland, sections of the woodland called Coups are cut every 7-12 years in rotation. Under this system, there are always young tree shoots within the reach of grazing animals somewhere in the woods. Other trees and plants are mature enough to produce nuts and berries to feed animals such as dormice. Somewhere in the wood, areas of thick scrub will have sprung up into a site where nightingales can nest. Full exposure to sunlight every decade is enough to sustain bluebells and other woodland flora. In neglected woods, the flora will eventually be shaded out along with all the wildlife it supports.

Coppicing is hard work and under woodsmen a rare breed. In Blean Woods near Canterbury, things are going full circle and European Bison are being re-introduced to look after the woods. Unfortunately, natural habitats are becoming more fragmented by roads and buildings, so it will take a lot of changes to make it possible for native mammals like the hedgehog or the wild boar to return to this bit of London. The plants and trees that have lasted with us into the 21st Century have adapted to our ancient methods of managing the land and to the animals that live on it. But, they can’t keep up with our present rate of change and we run the risk of destroying these beautiful habitats if we don’t understand and fight for what it takes to keep them alive.

Jenny

* See A Natural History of the Hedgerow by John Wright

Pochard detail

Winter bird highlights on the lake

Ornithologist Dave Clark recommends keeping a record of the birds in the park and on the lake.

This gives us an indication of the natural health of our precious green urban space and allows us to understand the changes that occur seasonally within nature. The winter profile of the lake is one of gulls, cormorants and wintering ducks seeking, believe it or not, a warmer climate from their usual surrounds.

Being proximate to the Thames and easy for birds to see from the air, the wide vistas of the park provide a backdrop that allows avian incomers to assess the attractiveness of the lake, with food and safety being the prime instinctual drivers. This winter the lake has continued to provide a home, stopover and feeding station to the usual suspects alongside less common and in a Greater London context, rare species.

White-fronted goose walking
White-fronted goose. Photo: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The star of the show was a White-fronted goose which quite happily fed and swam with the resident Greylag geese population, gracing us with its rare presence for around a week. White fronts, check out the white patch above the beak in the above photo, migrate to Britain during the winter to escape the bitterness of lcelandic and Russian winters with this particular bird being one of the rarer subspecies which arrives from faraway Siberia to land habitually on our coastal and estuarine environments, a rarity indeed.

Goldeneye swimming
Goldeneye. Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sbern/, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Usually seen, if at all, on the large expansive London reservoirs the Goldeneye is a distinctive wintering duck from Scandinavia. A beautiful male appeared later in January for three days and was probably the same individual that appeared for the same duration on the lake before last year`s lock down.

Gadwall swimming
Gadwall. Photo: Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Other ducks of note that have also been seen are the subtly plumaged Gadwall and a long standing male Pochard in all its orange-red headed glory.

Pochard swimming
Pochard. Photo: Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

On our playing fields, parkland and ponds there is always a winter build up of gulls, and on any one day during this winter there have been up to two hundred Black-headed gulls swooping and swimming at the lake. We commonly make the mistake of perceiving them as seabirds when in fact they are coastal birds and with the Thames so close the route to the coast is only 20 to 30 miles away. Along with Common gull, Herring gull and Lesser black-backed gull the lake has also attracted, on occasion, Britain’s largest gull the Great black-backed gull, a serious beast standing at 70 centimetres it is twice the size of the usuals and five times the weight!

Black-backed gull standing
Black-backed gull. Photo: Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Finally in our water bird list is the Mediterranean gull which pops in and out of Burgess Park. As suggested by their name they are used to a warmer environment and although still rare the general increase in abundance of this bird in Kent coastal areas is a sign of our changing climate. Very similar to the Black-headed gull the white wing tips and droopy beak help discriminate between the two species.

Mediterranean gull swimming
Mediterranean gull. Photo: Martin Olsson (mnemo on en/sv wikipedia and commons, martin@minimum.se)., CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A heartwarming effect of the lake’s success is the notable increase in the number of observers who are recording sightings on the various social media platforms. I’m sure the coming seasons will add to our birding pleasure, and whether casual or serious in our intent there is no doubt in these strange times that the lake and the park are important for our well being. Keep birding!

Where to record your bird sightings

London database = GIGL = Greenspace Information for Greater London – collects data on flora and faunahttps://www.gigl.org.uk/

BTO = British Trust for Ornithology – strictly birdshttps://www.bto.org/

ebird – U.S. app for birds which we are increasingly using for our water and songbird sightingshttps://ebird.org/home

Dave Clark
dave@mailbox.co.uk

Head of Great Tit

Annual Burgess Park bird count

In any other year, in the last weekend of January the Friends would be joining residents and parks groups around the country to take part in the RSPB’s annual bird survey for the Big Garden Birdwatch; this year however, things are very different, and with current guidelines restricting park users to essential activities only, that sadly won’t be possible.

It’s vital that all those coming into the park at this time do so within the rules, and that they in turn remain respectful in giving the appropriate space so that other people who need to use the park may also do so safely. Thank you.

But even if we’re not getting around quite as much as we’re used to, thankfully the birds still are! And if we’re not stopping by the park, what instead are we likely to see coming to rest our balconies or hear twittering from among the hedgerows?

Great tit image and description

Well, if you missed his session back in May of last year, friend of the Friends, ornithologist Dave Clark hosted a superb introduction to birdsong specially designed to help in identifying species you might be lucky enough to find in and around our park. So if you’re looking for somewhere to start genning up on your ID skills, or you fancy a bit of a refresher as we look forward to the spring, we’ve updated our original presentation so that now it can be enjoyed with audio clips from home – open Birdsong at Burgess to begin.

Dave’s also put together some background on our local gulls, which species we’re likely to see in London, and how there’s no such thing as a ‘seagull’ – read all about it on the Friends website.

Or take a virtual walk through the park with a Burgess soundscape, recorded by the Friends in mid-summer to remind ourselves of what we can look forward to when we can return, with sounds of birdsong and children playing.

Burgess goes wild: Gulls

Gulls in winter

by Dave Clark, Ornithologist

The abundance and species of birds change with the seasons and at Burgess Park this is as true as anywhere in the country. Take a special look at the lake during the winter where the number of gulls and cormorants increase.

We commonly call these grey/black and white birds – seagulls – but they are actually coastal and inland birds and consist of several species, look out for these four different birds during the winter:

Black headed Gull: The smallest one – look out for the red bill and legs.
Common Gull: Not as common! as the others, a bit bigger with a white head
Herring Gull: Much bigger with a large yellow beak and pink legs
Lesser Black-backed Gull: Like a Herring Gull but black rather than grey wings and yellow legs
Litter pick volunteers load a rubbish truck

Tackling rubbish behaviour one bottle top at a time

Mother and child at litter pick morning

Litter picks are every Monday morning, 7.30-9.30am and Thursday evening session 6.15-8pm. Both weekly litter-pics continue until the end of September.

FOBP provide litter-picks, gloves and bags or bring your own. Come along to any session, meet-up at Chumleigh Gardens picnic benches.

Our first session was 20 July and between 12 and 20 people have come along at each session, 50 people have done 92 volunteering litter-picking sessions. Some people have come to lots of sessions and others just to one or two but it all helps. Together we’ve picked up bags and bags of rubbish and just as importantly loads of the little stuff that gets missed; bottle tops, cigarette ends, shiny metallic balloon confetti and broken plastic cutlery.

The FOBP litter-pick is helping the park gardeners after the week-end and improving our park for wildlife. With people from the community involved and some stronger messages from the council about the unacceptability of leaving rubbish we hope to make a small difference this summer.

Volunteer collection rubbish

During the summer you can’t have missed the photos and images of rubbish left in open spaces across the country, including Burgess Park. Parks have never been so popular, but for our gardeners it has just meant mountains of rubbish to collect every morning.
With many people complaining about the rubbish Friends of Burgess Park set up a regular weekly litter-pic session. We are so grateful for the fantastic help from Burgess Parkrun and Southwark Good Gym volunteers.

Come and join Burgess Park Team Zero Waste or get in contact if you have any suggestions for reducing litter at friendsofburgesspark@gmail.com.

Susan, Monica, Sam, Paula.

Postcard people and parks need sunshine

Don’t put Burgess Park in the shade

Burgess Park west (running from Wells Way to Southampton Way) is under threat.
New developments are planned all along the southside of the park on Parkhouse Street.

35-39 Parkhouse view from Burgess Park with planned buildings

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tall developments along Parkhouse Street
will block the sun

The 10 storey high blocks (about 30m) will be north facing and cast long shadows across the park. In the winter mornings the shadows will be over 100m long and reach to the main Surrey Canal path. In the summer, shorter shadows will still reach across the wildlife area, about one third the width of the park.

Overshadowing from multiple buildings* will change the character of the park. It will have a negative impact on green space, biodiversity, and people’s health and well-being.

Postcard back Jan 2020 v2Southwark Council needs to make clear in their planning policy and discussions with developers that they are taking seriously the cumulative impact of tall buildings along the park boundary.

Very little will grow in the deep shade from buildings. Some plants thrive in light shade, but wildflowers and pollinators need full sun throughout the day.

People and parks both need sunshine

Burgess Park west was created in 2018/19 with a £3.5m make-over taking out New Church Road, putting in a playground and extending the wildlife area. The new walkways through the wildlife area are already popular with children, walkers and runners bringing back into use a previously closed-off, no-go area. This is the squeezed middle of the park, less than 200 meters wide, so the extra usable space is really welcome

The wildlife will take a few years to become established. But the evidence from other areas of the park is that the mix of small woodlands, meadows and native bushes attracts and encourages a good mix of plants, insects, butterflies and birds. Sometimes this habitat mix is called scrubland. Often in planning reports it is implied as having little value. That might be the case in places with lots of green space but here in Southwark our patch of green space is important to many, many people.

Inner city green space is vital for people

People who live both nearby and further away use Burgess Park. Since the re-landscaping of 2012, user numbers have gone up and up. It is one of the major parks of the area. As Southwark’s population grows it will be very difficult to make more large, green spaces where children can run freely, play rounders and football. We must look after and keep green spaces for future generations.

Burgess Park has a vital role to play for local people. Around Burgess Park the new Aylesbury area is being built, taller blocks are planned along the Old Kent Road and the new residential developments along Parkhouse Street mean that many more people will use Burgess Park. We want the park to provide high quality green space with different landscapes for people to use and enjoy.

The real value of green spaces for people is easily overlooked

BAME respondents were twice as likely as white respondents to use parks and green spaces for team and individual sports and to meet friends.

  • Parks and green spaces are estimated to save the NHS around £111 million per year based solely on a reduction in GP visits.
  • Statistics from Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces, Fields in Trust, 2018 

* FOBP Shadows from tall buildings report, 2019

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