FOBP will plan a new series of events related to woodlands over 2022. If you would like to be involved the first meeting is Tuesday 15 February 7pm (Zoom online). Ideas include – family friendly events, woodlands wildlife habitat action, walks and tree names. Please let us have suggestions (email below) or come along to the meeting. The focus is the Southampton Way woodlands running between Wells Way and Southampton Way.
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.
del Hoyo Macaulay Library
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!
K. Al Dhaheri Macaulay Library
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:
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.*
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.
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.
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.
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.
* See A Natural History of the Hedgerow by John Wright
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 fauna – https://www.gigl.org.uk/
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Southwark 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
I’m in at the deep end of the planning world. Over the last five months I’ve been preparing evidence and fundraising so that local groups can be represented at a planning appeal inquiry for a new development. There are a multitude of community concerns about the large-scale mixed-use scheme on the Burgess Business Park industrial land. For me the specific issues are the impact on the local park and the wider scene setting for future development (emerging context).
Community groups can be given permission to join the planning appeal and take part in the presentation of evidence and questioning of witnesses. Formally known as a “Rule 6 party” we are imaginatively called “The Local Group”. The six groups involved represent the local park, residents, campaigns on affordable housing and loss of industrial space.
To prepare for the appeal inquiry we’ve had fantastic support from Southwark Law Centre. They’ve been on top of the vast number of reports produced by the appellant (the developer) and the council (defending their decision to refuse planning permission). The Local Group has also had to provide evidence for the issues we want to be discussed covering industrial land, design, density, height and transport. Local people have provided a lot of useful information to help make our case.
I have written an “environmental proof” as a formal paper for the appeal, setting out environment related planning policy and relating this to my local knowledge about the park and my opinion on the impact of the scheme. It has been incredibly empowering to realise that as a local person with knowledge about the area I am in a position to provide both factual information and opinion about the impact of the development.
The Local Group raised over £5.5k to pay for a barrister and expert witness costs. We used a crowdfunding approach with CrowdJustice, who specialise in raising funding for legal cases. Our fundraising campaign launched in June. Six groups working together was very effective; each group used their own networks to raise awareness and ask for donations. Some of the local community groups were able to make large donations and we reached our first mission critical goal of £2.5k in a month.
This planning appeal inquiry is over 8 days. It’s a detailed behind the scenes look at the planning system in action, covering both planning policy and the specific merits of the scheme.
After a few sessions I’ve seen how the specific wording of a planning policy influences the development proposals. Balance has been a key factor so far — meaning balancing the demands of different planning policy objectives across the scheme as well as balancing the merits of the scheme details and identifying where it falls short not meet planning policy. In other words, there is always an exception to the rule; but deciding when this can happen seems to me to be very subjective. It is down to professional opinion and judgement as to what is the right balance for the scheme.
At one point the council planning officer was asked about the new local plan and the impact of consultation responses on a specific policy. It was very powerful to hear the planning inspector ask that question and see the importance of responding to local consultation since most of the time the process of influence is invisible.
More expert witnesses will be called as the inquiry progresses, including experts for The Local Group on transport, daylight/sunlight impact on local neighbours, and townscape and character. It must take nerves of steel to be an expert witness; it’s a formal process of presenting evidence with tough questions and then cross-examination on written statements and professional opinion. There is quite a bit of point scoring from what I’ve seen so far. Inevitably the main point is to demolish the other side’s position. However, even bearing this in mind, the inquiry is really getting into a lot of detail covering the issues identified as most important or most contentious. It is far more detailed than any planning committee discussion or council officer’s report.
Residents got to speak at two roundtables. Local people were able to explain the impact of less sunlight and daylight due to overshadowing. The Local Group expert witness reviewed all the technical details and identified that a number of the new flats would not meet “exemplary” design standards like room sizes and access to daylight.
The second roundtable covered townscape and local character of the area and how well the design fits into the area. I am surprised at the importance given to views of St George’s Church. Right from the initial officer’s reports to the planning committee which included “agreed views” through to the inclusion by the inspector in the roundtable discussion. I was able to explain that the church tower is a key feature of Burgess Park, seen from all directions. The Local Group’s expert witness pointed out specific design aspects like height and bulk are not characteristic of the area compared to other new developments.
Public transport is also important to residents. There are two local buses, both very full in the mornings. Even with more people cycling an extra 499 homes is a lot of extra bus journeys. Transports accessibility is rated low, (measured as PTAL 2 and 4, the highest is 6). The Local Group’s expert transport witness put forward alternative projections for passenger numbers and the developer has offered to pay for more buses. This is a very significant concession and probably wouldn’t have happened without The Local Group putting forward community concerns. If the scheme is approved this additional funding will be a planning condition.
Across the whole Inquiry the key issue has been “planning balance”. This is the balance between planning policy aims; what the proposed development delivers, as well as the relative weight to be given to different areas outcomes of planning policy. This is subjective and balancing harms v benefits is the essence of assessing the planning balance. The current planning policy does not allow tall buildings on the site so in order to be approved the scheme must be exemplary and align to the new Southwark Plan policies which are currently being developed. The Inspector again asked about what weight should be given to the New Southwark Plan policies and what representations had been made about the Tall Buildings policy.
The Inspector visited the Burgess Business Park site, toured all the buildings and walked around the surrounding area including Burgess Park and the planning committee agreed viewpoints of St George’s Church.
What happens next
There’s one more day to go when each party will sum up their arguments in final statements on Monday 23 September, 9.30am at the council offices 160 Tooley St, SE1.
After this the Inspector will write a report and recommendation for the Secretary of State for Housing who makes the decision. This is not a quick process. The outcome probably won’t be known until 2020.
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.