Bumblebees are under threat - but not in Penge, where they have found a heaven in Mark Carlton's delightful wildflower garden (writes Wildlife Committee member Sigrid Collins).
In July, I attended a workshop on bumblebees, arranged by Mark Carlton and Diana Cheng from the charity 'Buglife', the only organisation in Europe devoted to the conservation of invertebrates. Quite a number of the rarest species of bumble bees live in the Thames Estuary and 'Buglife' is particularly concerned that they might disappear under concrete. 'Brownfield' sites are a valuable habitat for invertebrates and all kinds of wildlife depends on them. Whilst housing needs necessitate the development of most unused land, 'Buglife' is trying to raise awareness of the need for sensitive planning so that some vital habitat can be preserved or incorporated into redevelopment projects. After all, if we remove plants and invertebrates, the whole ecosystem will collapse.
With dwindling green and 'brown' habitat, birds and bees are becoming more and more dependent on gardens; and those of us who are fortunate to have a garden, can help to create a home for them. Of the remaining 22 species left in Great Britain, we are likely to see only 6 or 7 (which are all hedgerow or woodland edge species) in our gardens. We all love these attractive and gentle creatures; they do not sting, unless threatened, and they are excellent pollinators of soft fruit, vegetables and wild flowers.
Bumble bees (which are wild) may be most easily distinguished from domesticated honey bees and solitary bees by their furriness; incidentally. Linnaeus, the 18th century botanist, named most of the bees by their characteristics, e.g. bombus pratorum, (yellow stripes, with a red tail) for instance, is so-called because it is found in meadows, while bombus hortorum (three yellow stripes and a white tail) is found in gardens. Bumble bees also have a different life cycle to that of honey bees, spending only a short time in a co-operative colony. Then most of them die, leaving only a few fertile queens to start the whole cycle over again the following year.
First, the queens must find a suitable place to spend the winter, safe and dry, so that she can emerge in March or April to find a new nest site in which to lay her eggs. Such sites are at such a premium that females may fight to the death over them.
In your garden, you can help these endangered bees throughout the year. First, as autumn approaches, provide them with:
- A home for the winter
A fertile queen will need to hibernate. She may go under compost heaps, leaf litter or rotten wood. Leave some places undisturbed.
- Food from spring to autumn
The best strategy is to do less. Bumblebees do not like manicured gardens and, unfortunately, most bedding plants do not provide any food for them. Many plants have been cultivated for their colours, shapes and scents - attractive to human senses but useless to most insects because they lack sufficient nectar. Bumble bees can only eat pollen and liquid nectar, a concentrated sugar solution and different types have differently-designed mouth parts (the garden bumble bee tends to have a particularly long tongue and can reach inside long, tubular flowers). Simple perennials, traditionally grown in cottage gardens, are best, e.g. foxgloves, lupins, salvias. Wildflowers and herbs are beneficial and I have seen many bumblebees on my cardoon (cynara cardunculus) and teasels. As different species of bumblebees have different preference, it is useful to plant a variety of flowers and it also helps to plant in drifts. Plant members of the pea/vetch family are also important food-providers for these bees. And it is best to avoid using insecticides, including organic ones.
- A home for the Summer
Now is the time to plan ahead. When the queen bee emerges in spring, she will look for a garden that has sufficient food and suitable nesting sites. Mark Carlton has tried some of the expensive ready-made bumblebee shelters but has found them to be ineffective. In general the queen is looking for a dry, cool cavity in which she can maintain a colony at a steady temperature. She will never pick a nest site that is in full sunlight. In natural surroundings, some queens will pick the vacated, underground homes of mice and voles. Others will go for an old bird's nest.
Here are some ideas for creating nesting sites:
- Leave some shady corners of your garden undisturbed.
- For ground-nesting Bumblebee species, place a paving slab over a football-sized hole in the soil, leaving a small entrance crack.
- For other, above-ground-nesting bee species , place a piece of thick 1 metre square plywood on the ground among long, tussocky grass and leave it for one or two years. You may also encourage slow worms to use it.
- Construct a chamber at ground level in a quiet part of the garden under a hedge (15cm x 15cm x 10cm high with a 2 cm wide gap), tile over it, cover with old leaves and put some old birds' nest material, or rodent bedding material (e.g. from a caged mouse or hamster) inside, to make it smell right! Build as many of these as possible.
I shall have a go. Mark Carlton's garden was full of bumblebees and gardening for wildlife is not strenuous, it suits the deckchair gardener. Already, I have noticed that the clover in my front lawn attracts many insects and bees and have decided to mow even less next year.
For more information see the 'Buglife' website http://www.buglife.org.uk
Publications: "The Field Guide to the Bumble Bees of Great Britain and Ireland, by Edwards & Jenner, pub by Countryside and Gardens Conservation series OCELLI ISBN 0954971302
Rose Jacobs of College Road writes
I was intrigued by the article on the diminishing Bumble Bees.
I wasted no time and purchased a very pretty bumble bee nester.
I have placed it in my garden as suggested - facing south and low on the ground. So far no baby bees are nesting there, but there are quite a few bees around my lavender. Time will tell.
The nester comes with instructions and hints on siting, food/pollination, nesting material, (An old mouse nest is most successful if you can find one!) The nester is quite small and neat . Planting traditional country garden flowers is just what bumble bees like most, and I know that there are lots of such gardens around Dulwich. More nesters?
(The nester purchased was from ecotopia.co.uk and cost £15.99 plus delivery)
It is difficult to know which of an excessively hot or an excessively wet summer affects our wildlife most, although it is clear that like ourselves the fauna and flora now have to adapt to extremes. This year clearly favours amphibians and those of us with ponds should have a good survival of frogs and newts which should in their turn be feeding voraciously on our slugs. However no sensible animal eats its entire food supply so our wet gardens continue to provide sufficient molluscs both to feed the frogs and to be fed by our Hostas. Such is the balance of nature.
Our birds appear so far to be maintaining their status. Dave Clark has done a census of both Dulwich Park and the Woods: Robins, Blackbirds, Wrens, Blue, Great and Long tailed Tits are all supporting good populations, Song and Mistle Thrushes are present in smaller numbers as are Nuthatches. Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers are also present, and being noisy are easily seen, but I have not so far heard whether the rarer Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers has been seen this year. On the positive side Goldfiches, Greenfinches and Chaffinches are doing well, House Sparrows are still present around Stradella Road and Lancaster Avenue and doubtless other sites. Goldfinches have become more common nationwide and are a colourful addition to our gardens. They can be encouraged by growing Teasels and Carline Thistles which provide favoured food. On the negative side the nationwide drop in Starling population I reflected upon here, has not been helped by competition for nest holes by our increasing numbers of Parakeets.
Of our summer migrants we have good numbers of breeding House Martins this year. However Swifts arrived late and their numbers seem small with fewer of the screaming parties around the Edwardian and Victorian houses whose roofs and eaves they favour to breed. There are fewer singing Chiffchaffs but good numbers of Blackcaps which reward us with a fluty song. A more unusual Warbler was a Lesser Whitethroat which sang throughout May in the Velodrome site though it may not have bred.
The biggest ornithological event was the successful breeding of a Little Grebe or Dabchick on the Dulwich Park pond which is probably a first although it attempted unsuccessfully last year. The Park's refurbishment may have provided food not previously available. More unusual was a Pheasant reported in Hawarden Grove, not its natural habitat, and a Hobby paid a call on the Burbage Road Housemartins hoping for a meal.
The residents of College Road have mentioned that they rarely now see a Hedgehog although there were reported to be "loads" in Dulwich Wood Avenue last year. It would be good to hear of sightings this year. In fact a last minute record is of a Hedgehog alas dead in Gallery Road. The multi spotted Harlequin Ladybird from Asia seems to have taken over dominance now from our native seven spot and on our few fine evenings the lumbering flight of Stag Beetles have shown that this rarity is still with us. Those of us with ponds will have seen many of the brilliant blue Azure Damsel Fly as well as perhaps the larger Black Tailed Skimmer Dragonfly. We still have a good variety of our commoner butterflies including Red Admirals, Peacocks, Holly Blues, Speckled Woods, Gatekeepers and Skippers although Tortoiseshells have mysteriously diminished in numbers.
I am phoned from time to time by readers of my articles who have wildlife identification problems and I remain happy to oblige wherever possible. Please keep your records and impressions coming and any wildlife photographs that you think may illustrate an article.
Peter Roseveare - Wildlife Recorder
Tel: 020 7274 4567
The Dulwich resident who sent in this photo of fox cubs in her garden, says that the animals were "very bold " and came right inside her house, if the garden door were left open. "They have removed several gardening gloves and also shoes. One fox was discovered by our neighbour on her sofa! " She adds that "the cubs' charm is considerable, but is outweighed by their nuisance value and, of course, they will soon be adult, mangy and disagreeable. How do we get rid of them?"
Wildlife Committee chair Angela Wilkes offers the following advice:
"As a wildlife hospital volunteer and animal 'rescuer' whose concerns tend to centre on alleviating the misery of foxes hurt in road accidents, snaring incidents or suffering from severe canine sarcoptic mange, my obvious initial reply has to be in the form of another question: " Why do you want to get rid of them? " But, understanding that some residents do struggle to come to terms with the "nuisance value" of adult foxes in their gardens, I shall put on my agony aunt hat and explain how best to soften the impact of vulpine visits and, hopefully, improve relations between one human family and their wildlife neighbours.
Firstly, although foxes are prolific breeders, many of the young effectively get rid of themselves. They do so, chiefly, by getting themselves killed.
One of Britain's leading mammalogists, Professor Stephen Harris, who has spent his entire working life studying foxes, has published detailed research which shows that, by the summer, only about a third of fox cubs produced will have made it through, alive. Some cubs die of cold, starvation, etc., before they are old enough even to leave the breeding earth. At a later stage, deaths of active cubs are particularly high in urban areas. Many youngsters die under the wheels of road vehicles, others come to grief when the vixen is killed, or as a result of accidents (e.g., drowning in swimming pools, poisoning, dog attacks). Being members of the canine species, they are susceptible to deadly dog diseases (wildlife hospitals caring for orphaned cubs now routinely vaccinate them against these in order to eradicate such killers as canine distemper and canine parvovirus from the environment). Also, being members of the canine species, fox cubs are keen, fearless explorers and get themselves into all sorts of horrendous scrapes, jamming heads in plastic and metal food and drink containers, trapping themselves between fences, in drains, and so on. So "Nature", or what passes for it in a south-east London suburb, takes care of litter numbers initially.
Then, later in the year - and in built-up areas this can be as late as Christmas - some of the adolescent cubs disperse. More young males leave the family group than females, and it's now thought to be pressure from other adults in the group that persuades them to go and find territories of their own. Professor Harris and his team conducted experiments in which young foxes were fitted with ear tags. These would get chewed in normal inter-pack grooming sessions, unless an individual was being "given the cold-shoulder" and encouraged to strike out on their own. Females are generally more welcome to stay behind, where the non-breeding vixens can help the alpha female (probably their littermate) with cub-rearing and food-finding duties. So that's the second-stage thinning. However, one Dulwich resident may be relieved to get fewer young foxes hanging around her garden but she will, of course, be liable to get a new "incomer" popping in! And the one that has left is likely to be seeking a home range of its own about a mile or so further away.
Meanwhile, the threats to a fox's lifespan continue: foxes seeking new territories in the autumn, crossing unfamiliar roads, cause another spike in RTA (road traffic accident) wildlife mortality figures. It is thought that a hungry, stressed, unsettled animal is more liable to pick up an infection or fall victim to the parasitic mite that causes canine sarcoptic mange. An animal unfortunate enough to collect these creatures on its coat (by up-close, skin-to-skin contact with shed, dead skin cells containing eggs and larvae) while brushing against a contaminated fence or lying up in a hollow where other, infected foxes have slept, can be dead within four months. The cause of death, incidentally, is multi-organ failure from the massive amount of toxins released from secondary bacterial infection - let into the fox's body when it scratches and bites itself in an attempt to alleviate the intense itchiness caused by mites' activities.
Canine sarcoptic mange is a parasitic infection that is not caused by, or confined to, foxes. It is a disease of the dog species. There are an estimated quarter of a million foxes in the UK (Journal of Applied Ecology, 2004), 33,000 in urban locations, and seven million dogs, so it does not take a mathematical genius to work out where the greatest reservoir lies. The problem is relatively easy to treat in a household pet dog, harder (but not impossible) to tackle in a wild-living one, like the fox. It can be picked up by humans (and some people may also display an allergic reaction to the mites), but it produces a self-limiting rash which is treatable, simply and effectively, by a topical ointment. (In seven years of handling foxes, many of which had severe mange, I only caught it once and my arms were slightly affected).
Finally, it is worth pointing out that foxes visit gardens where there is something in it for them. As cubs, they may have removed shoes, gardening gloves, etc., intrigued by their human scent, and taken them away to play chase with and to chew. Even adult foxes will do this. But wild-living canids usually play and steal for a purpose, such as teaching youngsters hunting and caching (food burying techniques). They routinely take bones and hide from a kill back to the den to be gnawed on later. There may not be much nutrition in a leather shoe or gardening glove, but it's worth a go - it's "skin", after all, and foxes are adventurous omnivores. (One group of cubs in London were recorded as nipping the tubing under parked cars and drinking the apparently sweet-tasting, but highly poisonous, brake fluid!)
Often, the attractions offered by a typical manicured, suburban garden include a pond (clean drinking water), a mown lawn (ideal for hovering up earthworms as they come to the surface on damp nights to mate - worms make up about a sixth of a fox's diet) and, probably some bird food. Another key feature will be the rodents - gardens are a woodland-edge habitat and in Dulwich they contain an abundance of house and wood mice and rats. Foxes also take birds and London's large pigeon population are a further lure. Wildlife predators, such as foxes, are attracted to hunting their prey with the minimum of energy expenditure - rather like us 'phoning for a takeaway or ordering our groceries online - so any rodent (guinea pigs) or lagomorph (rabbits) pets living in our gardens in inadequate caging could also be on the menu.
Finally, if you still want to ignore the foxes' valuable contribution as a local rodent control operative, and wish to discourage visits, make sure that you don't use bone-, fish-, or blood-based fertilisers. They will deceive the fox into thinking that there is buried carrion just ripe for the digging up. Various scented deterrents (the traditionally-used one, Renardine, has been taken off the market now) may be purchased, and the results of territorial "marking" signs removed hygienically using dog-poo bags or scented nappy sacs. Don't hose smelly areas - it will only spread the pong, which is an oil-based
ecretion passed in both urine and faeces. Human male urine, full of testosterone , is reckoned to con male foxes into thinking an aggressive rival is around and so discourage fox-marking. But, personally, I'd rather have the foxes in my garden.
Angela Wilkes is chair of the Wildlife Committee, an executive member of Dulwich Park Friends and of Commons for Wildlife. She is a writer and journalist and her latest book, Wildlife Rescue, is to be published by Broadcast Books later this year.
On the Street Where You Live - Lovelace Road By Ian McInnes
The first development plans for Lovelace Road and the north end of Rosendale Road were prepared by C E Barry, the Estate Architect and Surveyor in 1907. The first serious building proposal was from the well known local builder, A H Williams, who, in November 1911, made offers for land in both roads. In Rosendale Road he offered to take a frontage of 432 feet, at a rate of approximately 3s 9d per foot of frontage, to build 18 houses to be designed as flats on two floors, and in Lovelace Road his offer was for 16 plots for similar but cheaper house/flats at a price equating to 2s per foot. In his offer Mr Williams also pointed out that there was no sewer on Lovelace Road and that he expected the Estate to pay for one to be installed prior to work starting. The Governors were not overly impressed and told Mr Williams that the site afforded one of the best views in Dulwich and was 'worthy of a very much higher class of property'. They also told him that they would not accept flats in this location but they did arrange for the installation of the sewer (it cost £900). In April 1912, agreement was reached to start work in Rosendale Road and, by the end of 1914, twenty seven houses; (numbers 191-245) had been completed before the First World War effectively ended any further construction.
In November 1920 Mr Williams returned to the Governors with a proposal to build five bungalows on a site between the corner of Lovelace Road and No. 191, the last pre-war house in Rosendale Road. However, only a few weeks after signing the Building Agreement, he had to come back to the Governors as he was having serious problems selling the similar bungalows that he had under construction in the west part of East Dulwich Grove (now Village Way). He wrote 'I have not sold a bungalow in East Dulwich Grove for over three months, and in the present condition of things very much doubt the wisdom of continuing this type of house here. The accommodation it presented is too costly a form to find a market in the rapidly changing conditions. I am venturing therefore, to submit a proposal, to erect 12 houses, in blocks of six, offering the same accommodation and the same sized rooms as the bungalows but arranged in a form which, I think, would bring them within the reach of an excellent class of buyer, which today I am losing through their sheer inability to purchase'
C E Barry supported him and the Governors allowed him to change the design and build a series of terraced houses (numbers 167-191 Rosendale Road). Things went fairly smoothly by Dulwich standards, there was a small argument over the actual start date of the leases, which Mr Williams won, but he failed in an attempt to reduce the specification by using zinc instead of lead over bays, coal cellars and larders, and 7/8 inch instead of 1inch flooring and smaller drain pipes - the Governors would have none of it.
The first builder actually to build in Lovelace Road was Messrs H P and S H Smith, another local firm, who are, perhaps, better known for their development in Allison Grove. They offered 6s per foot frontage for the sites south of Mr Williams' but at the same time the Governors managed to obtain a better offer from another developer, the London Structural Company, at 7s 6d. Unfortunately this proved to be a try-on and a Mr Norris, the director of the latter company, wrote to the Governors in January 1924 withdrawing their offer saying that 'his company were only taking the site for the purpose of keeping their men employed, and as they were now very busy, they are reluctantly compelled to withdrew their offer.' The Governors were very unhappy but the Solicitor advised that they had no claim against Mr Norris and they finally agreed to Messrs Smith's previous offer. The Smiths agreed to finish their houses by June 1926 and the designs by E A Knapman, a surveying practice located in Dulwich Village, were passed in December 1924.
There was a minor argument over the heights of fences, and they were still building after June 1926, but the only actual problem seemed to be over Mr Smith's proposal to present one of the houses to one of his sister as a wedding present. He applied to the Governors for permission 'to have two friends residing in the house with her as her husband will be away from home a great deal.' He gave an undertaking that no structural alterations would be necessary, and that, to all external appearances, the house would be exactly the same as those adjoining. He did however propose to fix a sink in one of the first floor back rooms and also a portable dresser. Today it all sounds very harmless but the Governors declined his application. It is not known whether he did it anyway.
While Messrs Smiths' houses were under construction, Mr Williams took some further plots on the south east side of Lovelace Road, (Numbers 5-23), and he sought the Estate's permission to put up an advertising sign on Messrs Smith's land advertising that he was also building houses in the road.
Late in 1927 Lambeth Council served notice to take over Lovelace Road as a new street and make it up properly with tarmac. Mr Matthews, the lessee of 'Highlands', a large house at the southern end of the road, was very concerned as he had also leased the vacant land (with a large road frontage) to the north. Lambeth were looking for a sum of £181 2s 3d as road charges, a very large sum at the time when an ordinary house in the road could be bought for £1250, and Mr Matthews asked for, and was granted, a lease extension on the garden to match the lease on the house.
Messrs Smith continued to build in the road through the twenties and one or two private individuals also commissioned houses there. In 1932, Mr Leslie Preston, an architect who lived at No.34, obtained consent for a site on the north-west side of the road for a Mr W W C Lane-Claton and, in May 1929, a Mr T Ward-Higgs paid Mr R Pierson, a builder from Clapham Junction, to design and build a pair of semi-detached houses on a site directly south of All Saints Church.
In 1932, a Mr Arnold who lived in 'Stonehills', one of the very large houses in College Road, approached the Governors about building a hall for the Dulwich Crusaders in the road. Their aim was apparently 'to promote manly Christianity amongst Public and Private School boys.' In his proposal he said that 'Bible classes will be held on Sundays and camps, games, and outings are arranged to take place during the school holidays'. The design by an architect in Clapham, a Mr F Owen Dunk, took some time to be approved but after the proposal had been given the go-ahead the Governors appeared to have cold feet and had to be reassured. Mr Arnold reiterated that 'the purposes for which the hall would be used would include bible classes on Sunday afternoons, meetings during the week, lantern lectures and the like, and a certain amount of social activity, but that no bugles or undue noise of any description would be allowed in the hall or elsewhere.' The hall remains as the Thurlow Hall and is now used by the Church of God in Dulwich.
By 1935 there were now relatively few sites left. Another well known local builder, H A Wilmot, bought the four sites at Numbers 44-50 to build two pairs of semi-detached houses very similar to the ones he had just completed in Eastlands Crescent and, in October 1938, a Mr Watts of Aldrington Road, Streatham, signed a formal offer to demolish 'Highlands' and construct six semi-detached houses set back off a crescent drive with a large green space in front.
Lovelace Road did not fare well during the War. In January 1945 Austin Vernon, the Estate Architect and Surveyor since C E Barry's death in 1937, noted that numbers 28-36 (even) and 29-31 (odd) had all had to be demolished and that there was also damage to the 'Highlands' site. No. 32 Lovelace Road was the only house to actually have had any casualties - on 1/8/44 the Lambeth register recorded the deaths of Ethel Alice (53) and Peter (16) Jenkyn.
Numbers 28-36 were rebuilt in late 1947, the plans prepared by Marten & Carnaby in Dulwich Village, and numbers 29-31 followed shortly after. There was a real problem, however, with Mr Watts and Highlands. Work had stopped in 1940 with one house complete (No. 25), the second house almost finished, the third and fourth houses up to first floor level and the foundations just started on the other two. They had suffered some bomb damage and, in 1942, Mr Watts, the original lessee, had handed over his Building Agreements on the sites (together with other properties in Red Post Hill and Alleyn Park) as security for a loan from a solicitor, a Mr Neate. By 1948 it was clear that Mr Watts had disappeared with the money, and, to complicate matters further, Mr Neate had died. The Governors finally managed to reach agreement with Mr Neate's successors and the houses were completed during 1950.
With a summer of flooding behind us and potentially heavy winter rains to come, it's worth asking what Dulwich can do to protect itself against climate change. As residents of the village and surrounding roads will recall, flash floods are not exactly an unknown phenomenon in SE21.
Some of the answers are obvious, some less so. Most carry unexpected spin-offs, usually beneficial. Halting, or reversing, the paving-over of front gardens, for example, will slow down water speeds, holding up rainfall in soil and vegetation. It will also make for greener streets, good both visually and for wildlife - and for property prices too.
The bigger the expanse of greenery, the greater this effect. Trees are highly efficient in this respect, since their leaf area is usually many times greater than the area of ground they cover. But the more vegetation there is above ground level - bushes, shrubs, hedges - the slower the rainfall will rush off into the streets. From this perspective, "designer" gardens - full of stonework, decking or elegant but non-permeable statuary - are among the best ways of encouraging a flood. Turney Road, where paving-over has been at epidemic levels, was noticeably badly affected in the last Dulwich tsunami.
One of the keys to flood control is porous or permeable surfaces - which usually means natural ones. Hence the value of grassed and vegetated green space, with which Dulwich is well-supplied - at present (more on this below). Areas with "swales" - indentations in the surface - are better than flat ground, so impromptu wetlands in, say, Dulwich park are a sign that the park is performing a valuable flood-control function - even though it doesn't chime with some people's idea of tidiness.
Another method of preventing the overloading of drains is what is sometimes grandly known as rainwater harvesting. At its simplest, this means diverting your downpipes into a water butt (or butts) - relatively cheap and easy to do. If the butt overflow is directed into the garden you have your own continuous supply of (free) water for plants: you're also protecting yourself against building cracks and subsidence in times of drought. I know at least two people in Dovercourt Road (myself included) who have done this; a neighbour has even incorporated a rather elegant sprinkler system.
Moves such as these would come under the heading of "adaptation" or "mitigation". But we can also take preventative action that doesn't involve major challenges to lifestyles - cutting out carbon uses that are essentially peripheral, for example. These include many gadgets and products used in gardening and landscape maintenance. For smaller lawns and hedges, what's wrong with manual cutting devices? In parks, leaf-blowers and strimmers are an outdated, noisy and carbon-intensive concession to the neatness obsession. More and more studies are pinpointing pesticides as a threat to human health - not to mention the atmosphere (since fossil fuels are used to make them). A Dulwich without such items would be fitter, healthier, significantly quieter - and thus less stressful - as well as being far more climate-friendly. Even simpler, why not just garden or maintain less? Not only are "untidy" gardens better for biodiversity. More biomass means more carbon locked away in plants: each tree cut down, by contrast, is another pulse of carbon into the atmosphere.
But there are broader land-use issues. The biggest threat to Dulwich as a place is development and the loss of its semi-rural, village-like character. The causes of this are clear - the growth of population nationally and in London, increased wealth, the attraction of its schools, the lure of its environmental quality, the financial needs and objectives of the major local landowner (the Dulwich Estate). In one current case, at 37 College Road, virtually an entire garden is being replaced by a new executive-style house, with the loss of 20 trees, many of them mature - the estate taking the view that the size of the green space available presented, not a reason to preserve, but a unique opportunity to develop. The loss of the trees was described as unimportant on amenity grounds as many could, allegedly, not be seen from the road. But throughout SE21 and SE22 generally, incremental urbanisation, from designer gardens to infill and backland development, has seen the natural and the man-made increasingly in conflict - with the natural, usually, losing out. The increasing loss of trees to usually ill-founded subsidence claims is one of the most worrying symptoms of this.
Urban history is littered with examples of sought-after places that have been developed to death - the Bronx was once one of New York's greenest suburbs. Climate change is demonstrating that trees, shrubs and soft natural surfaces are more than mere amenity. Even if we don't value the quality of life they represent or the wildlife they sustain, they qualify, increasingly, as basic green infrastructure - a vital defensive commodity in a stormier and more extreme climate.
David Nicholson-Lord is a member of the wildlife and trees committees and of the executive of the Friends of Dulwich Park. He is an environmental writer, chairs the Urban Wildlife Network and is research associate for the Optimum Population Trust