By the time this report is read it should by spring but most of its content will relate to the winter which appears now to be distinguished by bleak and gloomy weather. However there have been some unusual records. The first was a Woodcock that visited the garden of the Hole family in Rouse Gardens off Alleyn Park in late November. Woodcocks are not usually garden birds but migrate into woodland at about this time where they remain concealed by superb camouflage unless flushed by a dog (as was reported two years ago in Dulwich Woods). The second and even more spectacular record was a Waxwing which was observed in a garden in Rosendale Road in December. Unfortunately it did not stay long enough to attract Dulwich twitchers but it is indeed one of the ornithological gems for those lucky enough to see it. December is the best month to see them as they migrate then from Scandinavia in search of berries. The Hawthorn berry crop was less prolific this year but there was a huge crop of Pyracantha and Cotoneaster in our gardens and as a result the wintering Redwings visited gardens earlier than usual to clear the crop instead of their usual Hawthorn. The Waxwing may well have been part of this influx. It was reported that even Christmas Holly had been denuded of berries in advance of the festivities.
Following my last report that mentioned the penchant of Green Woodpeckers for lawn ants, Paul Bond, a keen beekeeper, reported that they have been raiding and puncturing his hives for bees which were in need of special fortification - a hazard of which I was not previously aware. And yet another hazard is coming our way in the form of an invasion of the much feared Harlequin Ladybird from Asia. These have already been found by Pat Reynolds in Great Spilmans. They are larger than our native ladybirds with more spots and white oval marks on each side of the thorax. They are though to treat their smaller relatives as food in preference to aphids and could therefore damage our native populations of seven and two spot ladybirds. They are also reported to hibernate indoors on curtains and other fabrics, on which they leave a nasty mess. Whereas Paul can fortify his hives there is unfortunately very little we can do to protect our beleaguered little beetles from these marauding cannibals. Not welcome visitors at all.
On a happier note, Frank Greenaway, our Bat Consultant, has done a comprehensive survey of the disused railway tunnel in Dulwich Woods and reports the presence of five and probably six species of Bat. As a result of this he has made some useful recommendations of tunnel improvements to benefit these little animals. The bats that were identified were the Common and Soprano Pipistrelle, the Noctule, Daubenton's Bat and the Brown Long-eared Bat. The probable additional species was the Natterer's Bat. Both this and the Long-eared bat are new records for us, and that we have such a variety of wild nightlife will indeed be a revelation to most of us! Do keep feeding me with your records and observations as they are the stuff of this column.
Wildlife Recorder (020 7274 4567)
September and October were the warmest such pair of months since recordings began more than three centuries ago. The first half of November was abnormally warm too, and even then the days were sunny. The lateness of autumn colour and the tardiness of the leaf fall were the result of this warmth, the sunshine and the absence of wind during this time.
So this unusual autumn gave us sight of some of Dulwich's 'Remarkable Trees '. Even in the middle of December, the rare Hop-Hornbeam in the Old Burial Ground in the Village stood still with the palest green, almost transparent small pointed leaves just tipping the fine dark branches. There was a young Sycamore, not usually considered a beautiful tree, in front of the College; perfect glowing golden ochre, caught by a low winter sun. In the middle of a field in Belair, an oak stood drowning in its weight of dark russet leaves, waiting for leaf fall and the first sign of winter.
New nature reserve in Dulwich Park
Dulwich Park has acquired a new nature reserve - although it's not one that has been officially announced or, as yet, achieved any bureaucratic designation. But with the co-operation of Dulwich gardeners - particularly those backing on to the park - it could get much bigger and better.
Last year, for possibly the first time on record, most of the perimeter of the park was left unmown and uncut. One result was a surge in butterfly numbers - around 16 species were recorded. Another was the creation of a more naturalistic "woodland walk", a major gain for those who appreciate a sense of the countryside in cities. The effect has been reinforced by the decision, after pressure from the Dulwich Society and the Friends of Dulwich Park, not to remove leaves from the perimeter over the winter: leaf litter is a valuable habitat and food source for many species of bird, insect and small mammals.
Elsewhere in the park, currently emerging from its year-long trial by heritage, there have been gains and losses. Southwark, which by now [March] is due to have formulated its biodiversity strategy, has proposed a summer wildflower meadow - the likely site is the corner of the park between Fireman's Alley and the Rosebery gate, south-east of the American Garden. A similar proposal was put forward several years ago by the Friends, who have welcomed the idea.
A new wildflower meadow will also form part of the expanded ecology area, known as the squirrel enclosure, behind the café. However, the enclosure is now to have a path through it, albeit with a gate at each end, and will be surrounded by an estate rail. This consists of horizontal rails with big gaps between them. The enclosure will thus be far easier to get inside and will experience much more human presence, potentially bad news for its ecology.
The old ecology area, readers may remember, had an upright chestnut paling fence. Why weren't vertical railings used for the heritage lottery scheme - as they have been in the HLF scheme at Peckham Rye Park? Because the enclosure is said to have had an estate rail when the park was opened and because vertical railings would have looked "municipal." As with much of the HLF's park work around the country, many will think, heritage appears to have triumphed over common sense.
David Nicholson-Lord, Wildlife Committee