By Daniel Greenwood
In the midst of a heatwave, it’s easy to forget the deluges that characterised June 2016. A month that is intended to be sunny and warm instead was a time of unsettling damp for our wildlife. On the night of the 22nd June, 40mm of rain fell. A month’s worth of precipitation in one hour. The next morning Sydenham Hill Wood was flooded like no other summer month that I can recall. Our base around the Crescent Wood tunnel could only be waded through at ankle-height. Still, our volunteers arrived to repair the damaged paths, barrowing gravel up and down the steps to seal up holes and cavities wrought by the rain. ‘This is more like winter work,’ we all said, and it was. The mud that usually disappears in summer was back, and it stayed for weeks.
Before the rains of June, London Wildlife Trust worked in partnership with the Dulwich Festival and the Dulwich Outdoor Gallery to hold a wildlife painting event led by outdoor artist Louis Masai. The Crescent Wood Tunnel has endured a chequered history of late. In 2014 we suffered mindless arson attacks on our timber stores and subsequent silver sheeting installed by Southwark Council has been daubed in graffiti. Thanks to the Dulwich Festival with vital support from Dulwich Going Greener, Louis Masai has painted a wonderful image of two brown long-eared bats flying between decaying silver birch trees in reference to Adam Paynacker’s Landscape with sportsmen and game (1665). The painting is in the Dulwich Picture Gallery and Louis Masai’s bats are the latest addition to the burgeoning Dulwich Outdoor Gallery. It is to our sheer delight that children and adults alike can arrive at the tunnel and instead find an illustration of the amazing creatures that live in secrecy in the woods.
The impact of the rain hardly registered on many of our lives but for our wildlife it has hit some species hard. Whereas brambles drank in the rainwater and raced across the footpaths, only halted by the blades of our volunteers’ loppers, butterflies were uncommon. Early suggestions from Butterfly Conservation are that 2016 could be the worst year on record for butterflies. For those of us who have undertaken weekly surveys in the past 5 years, 2012 stands out as a nadir for British butterflies. In 2013, however, they bounced back. Nature’s ability to respond is great and we should not let inclement weather dampen our spirits for too long. Late July has shown a surprising boost, with a new record for Sydenham Hill Wood in the form of a marbled white. This butterfly is common on our chalk grassland reserves in Croydon and Bromley, but to find it in the Dulwich Woods is unusual. It has locally been seen at Devonshire Road Nature Reserve and 52 were counted at Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery on 9th July. Further to this, our butterfly walk on Sunday 24th July resulted in another unusual record, a brown argus in the main glade. This relative of the holly blue is rarely seen in Dulwich.