Monday, 19 March 2018

Tolworth Treasure: Walk 3 Gentle Stroll to the Moated Manor

Many participants on our afternoon stroll, had been on a morning litter pick, around the snowy, service roads on the Sunray Estate; they had a jolly good turn out despite the obvious weather - related- inclemencies.

After meeting at the Court Farm Garden Centre Cafe (aka as CFGCC) we took the Old Kingston Road, overlooking  snow covered fields; and saw the kestrel, twice. I imagine however that the kestrel saw a lot more of us. There was a brief discussion on Mercy - we couldn't remember how to avoid straying snowballs, but fortunately our young assailant had a familial enemy in his sights.

According to Wikipedia, 'Mercy' is a regular game and is more popular when played in the snow. Players must use the basic mercy stance: twisting fingers, pushing to the ground - whilst of course - avoiding snowballs. The person who says 'Mercy!' or gets floored loses the game. We used to say 'Uncle' but no doubt you will have your own version and the safe word was different if you had learnt Latin at school. Ancient Romans playing 'Bench Mercy' in earlier times when it was  Talworth  may have said 'avunculum'.

Once gathered by the be-icicled barn on the Moated Manor site - and while hearing the dunnock singing and singing in the hedgerow - we listened to Lucy read a John Clare poem about snow. He also said,
'I love the snow, the crumpling snow
That hangs on everything,
It covers everything below
Like white dove's brooding wing,
A landscape to the aching sight,
A vast expanse of dazzling light'.

Lucy remarked on the way dazzling light highlighted the uppermost surface on the dead hedges - that protect the perimeter from incursions - whilst continuing to allow animal movement along the river corridor. We discussed the plummy hedgerows along the A240 and the elm suckers; whose  provenance may stem to the 1820 (late for Tolworth) acts of enclosure, granting local landowners permission to fence the fields, heaths and woods, excluding the people who had worked and played in them; very much like the great-grey-barrier that now encloses the former go-karting track at Jubilee Way. 

Ancient trees were felled, the scrub and furze were cleared, the rivers were straightened, the land straightened and squared. Farming became more profitable, but many of the people of Tolworth – especially those who depended on the commons for their survival – were deprived of their living; much as we  see today, those hoardings erected around  once open land, which will neither be open for any - kind - of - karts nor available for nature.

We discussed the extent to which Richard Jefferies, on his daily walks  around his home of  Tolworth would have seen these changes, gathering inspiration for his nature writing, much in demand by the travelling public-the London commuters.

Icicles hanging on the barn
A usually hidden - by-vegetation, low-lying  arm of the moat made an atmospheric setting for us  participants, who heard that the pilfering heron had taken more than it's fair share of  the frogs spawn.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum Walk 2: The Edgelands

The second  walk in the series presented by myself and walking artist Lucy Furlong, was designed to
highlight features in the Tolworth Edgelands and it's environs. The edgelands are a window through social and cultural history; as well as being a reservoir for the shyer species of animals and birds, such as badger, deer, kestrels and buzzards etc. Tolworth was an inspiration to the nature writer - Richard Jefferies (see previous post), and we followed in his footsteps, as well as navigating the informal pathways and desire lines made by  animals, birds, and people.

Tithe maps and the tithe apportionment are sound  documents for historical research regarding past land use; as well as dissertations available in the Local History Room (at the back of the Guildhall); one comprises a series of interviews with staff that lived and worked in the Worcester Park. This included the silk printing mill whose remnants exist at the Bristows haulage yard and until 2017, the mill wheel lay in the garden at Mill House (demolished earlier this year). When they had sufficient orders, the printworks at Merton Abbey Mills subcontracted  Henry Wilkes of Worcester Park to print Liberty patterns. This was abandoned at the outbreak of WW2 as the product was seen as a luxury.

The Toby
Worcester Park House - was located behind the Toby pub in Cromwell Road in the photo - was made uninhabitable by an oil bomb in 1941. This entire area was once  the  edge of the Great Park of Nonsuch - the royal hunting grounds. In 'Places and Buildings by H.V. Molesworth Roberts 1970, it is asserted that Dancer Dick wood along the Salisbury road is a relic of the Great Park of Nonsuch. This woodland copse owned by Epsom and Ewell council is partially responsible for the strong woodland bird community in the district, which includes nesting nuthatches, tree creepers and woodpeckers; there is also a woodland designated a Site of Nature Conservation Importance at Riverhill north-west of the Hogsmill.

As we followed the London Loop along the west bank of the Hogsmill we discussed how Surbiton Raceway ; the pylons that run to the southern tip of the borough;  and the way the land is drained; conspire together to maintain an informal land use which gives both seclusion and permeability for wildlife. Here we saw thrushes on the open land: mistle, redwing, fieldfare and songthrush and a kingfisher took off noisily along the river as we approached the A240 bridge.

In the  edgelands  can be found remnants of hedgerows planted under the Enclosure Acts, which came relatively late to Tolworth (1820). They contain a lot of English elm and are located near the entrance to Tolworth Court Farm Moated Manor site, which was first recorded as a manor house, chapel, bakehouse and brew house in 1327. Here we saw a green woodpecker at the yellow meadow ant mounds, kestrels in the barn, buzzards along the tree tops and herons standing alongside the pond, which was once part of a four - sided moat.


Pam and egg
Elizabeth and ganoderma
We shared our knowledge of the local history and wildlife: Elizabeth showed us the ganoderma at the base of this old boundary oak tree and Pam found a brown hairstreak egg on the new blackthorn growth, which we viewed with the aid of a hand lens.

No visit was complete without a homage to the Apple Store alongside the boundary oaks. We convened at Court Farm Garden Centre Cafe where the tables had been laid out for us by staff and we invited people to contribute recollections to the Memory Tree that has been erected for the purpose of capturing local stories. We heard from participants about picking apples on the local estates and the Italian prisoners of war that worked in the fields of Chessington and of course, Tolworth Court Farm which will be the subject of a later excursion.

Many  features we saw as we became 'edge navigators' were absent from the consultation documents of the Tolworth Area Plan (held last year at the library). If we cannot get them recognised they will be swept away in the new rounds of development. Across the country there are major changes to edgelands. Councils are under pressure for example to create cycle paths for better air quality. Paul Fairley, in his home of  Bilston, nr. Harrowgate in his book 'Edgelands' - as well as other authors - note the changes to our informal countryside. Tolworth's edgelands are losing their fluidity and responsiveness to the needs of the communities they serve, as exemplified in the new hotel and other developments planned along the A240/Jubilee Way.
Alison and Lucy
Thank you to staff who allowed us to convene on the grass outside the pub prior to the start of the walk and Court Farm Garden Centre for hosting the memory tree and the lovely reception after the walk. All of the locations mentioned - except for the public path along the Hogsmill known as the London Loop - were accessed by  prior arrangement and written permission. Please ask before reprinting as the material may be copyright.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Richard Jefferies in Tolworth 1877-1882

Jefferies' biographical sources (Thomas, Besant and Looker) - agree that his years in Tolworth were his most creative - those between 1877-1882.  He lived at number 2 Woodside (now 296 Ewell Road and an estate agents) for which he typically paid around £28 annual rent.

It was described as abutting a copse in 'Round About a London Copse'. Despite his daily walks around Tolworth (up to ten miles per day) his initial focus remained on the Wiltshire agricultural landscape, which he had recently left. The 'Future of Dairy', for the Livestock Almanac was his last essay on agriculture. Jefferies was encouraged by his publishers to write about his observations in the north Surrey landscape, as there was a market for this information amongst the suburban commuters.

Former St Marks School

In  'The Crows', published in The Standard November 1880, he wrote,' the numerous pieces of waste ground, to let on building lease, the excavated ground where rubbish heaps can be thrown, the refuse and the heaps, these are the haunts of the London crow. He wrote in his diary that he heard a cuckoo in the copse; although the march of bricks and mortar continued and St Marks school (as it was then) was built opposite Woodside.

Thomas observes that his subsequent writing became introspective and led to greater self-examination leading to an autobiographical book 'The Story of My Heart'. Jefferies was probably suffering the effects of tuberculosis and took several protracted seaside holidays. Jefferies lung conditions required surgery and he had four operations in 1881. The following year he decided to move to Brighton.

His death was noted as phthsis, a lung disease resulting from continuous bad environmental conditions. During those years the District Improvement Commission noted there was a 50% increase in deaths from  this lung condition between 1877-87 (despite much less typhoid and cholera).

In 1941 a bomb destroyed the villas except 294 and 296 but they were later rebuilt and more recently  a blue plaque has been erected.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Lady of the Butterflies

I read this book when it was first published. Set in the ancient marshlands of Somerset, in the shadow of the English Civil War, 'Lady of the Butterflies' tells the story of Eleanor Glanville, the first English female lepidopterist. The Glanville Fritillery butterfly was named after her

The daughter of a strict puritan, her longing for colour and brightness lead her to an obsession with butterflies. During this period butterfly hunting was seen as a purely masculine pursuit, something no woman in her right mind would ever consider, as it could lead to accusations of  witchcraft and madness. 

She kept accurate records of laval food plants and reared a number of species which are identifiable on account of her accurate records. Some of her collection is available at the Natural History Museum.

This is a link to a radio 4 segment on where author Fiona Mountain to discuss the life of lepidopterist Lady Eleanor Glanville.

The Trees of Kingston Cemetery

view from south to north west

Conceived in 1854, Kingston Cemetery along Bonner Hill Road, Norbiton comprises 32 acres of parkland and was opened in 1855. Burials include Thomas Hansard recorder of Parliamentary debates, A.C. Ranyard editor of Truth magazine and Dr Joseph Moloney, an African explorer. The only bronze is the tomb of Dorothy Burton 1908 - a listed monument cast at her parents foundry in Thames Ditton. I love searching the council website for grave records

For many years the cemetery was a special plot in the national Common Bird Census surveys convened by the British Trust for Ornithology. It was started by Duncan McNeil, and Surbiton and District Birdwatching Society, which I participated in during the 1980's and 90's; we have about twenty years of  good data for birds (and plants). If you put 'cemetery' into the search box at the top left corner several posts on the wax caps and roll rims; orange peel and honey fungus appear - but very little on it's trees  - and predictably only those notable oaks and deodars or the so-called 'specimen' trees.

Sawara cypress Chamaecyparis pisifera
There are many trees that are unremarkable; when we took a look before Christmas, we  were uncertain of the provenance of the coniferous trees. We asked John Wells to come and take a look to help us key out our confusion. Not realising some trees were present just because we had taken for granted everyting was a Lawson or Lleylandii. See if for example if you can spot this Sarawa cypress tree - one of the commonest evergreens in the newer portion of the cemetery (the lower slope at the town end). Many of them have a trendy lean to the left, depending on your perspective of course. The red, soft, stringy bark is reminiscent of redwood. The Collins guide describes the bark as red and grey but only the oldest of their number displayed any greyness (and  perhaps a lean to the right). The horticultural effect of  crossing this tree has been to make the 'leaves' or scales appear 'spread' or juvenile rather than as a sheath.

Strange fruit
Lawson cypress
Nevertheless, there are several Lawson cypress trees in the cemetery and their size suggests they were planted at the same time. They come in a great variety of colours as there are 200 horticultural varieties. First the scent is parsley- like, look for the droopy top, and then the small cones. Although many of the characteristics of the tree on the left were common with Lawson, we it could not be identified due to the large cones. On the right is the only stand of blue Lawson trees the rest are golden especially in the sunshine.

Of the true  Lleylandii x cupressus crosses were many shapes and sizes. First recorded when Nootka cypress hybridised with a Monterrey cypress around the 1870's. Characteristics are the lemon smell, the 3D appearance (i.e. the tree has upward sprouting leaves as well as flat leaves). A favourite with birds as can be seen from the amount of bird droppings found within the branches. During bat surveys I have seen many song thrushes, blackbirds and starlings flock to communal roosts in Lleylandii trees and it is certainly favoured by goldcrests for nesting purposes.

Blue Atlas
There are several cedars in the cemetery including a Deodar - with dropping branches - at the main entrance on the left. A cedar of Lebanon in the south-east quadrant is not looking in great shape and has had quite a lot of 'surgery'. This blue Atlas near the rose garden with its slightly upturned branches, is stunning.

Silver birch
A walnut - near the Dawson road entrance - was eventually identified by twigs with spirals of mitre - shaped buds along its and its silvery trunk. It took a while to find it along a boundary line of trees, in a similar age class, but were found to be ash and three Norway Maple pollards. The silver birch is probably the oldest in the cemetery and we checked in case it was pubescens or downy birch. However under a hand lens the tell-tale white spots along the twigs were present.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum

Sediment: view from the Hogsmill
Sediment: view from the Bonesgate

A wet start: - our band of twelve walkers- gathering at the confluence of the Bonesgate with the Hogsmill - discussed the amount of sediment flowing down the minor river from Chessington and the effect on its fauna. From a fish perspective this can transport beneficial food resources as the routine presence of the kingfisher testifies, perching just above the deep pool carved at the join.

However, in times of spate the system can be  overloaded with suffocating sediment. Lucy read  'A Ramble by the River Side' by John Clare, a highly accessible poem with resonances of the Hogsmill, due to the coincidence in species such as teal; followed by a passage from Richard Jefferies on finding bluebells in the district with a reluctance to divulge the location; based on his wish that we find beauty for ourselves.

We discussed how sensitive species can be lost during urban densification and how increasing amounts of  sewage pollution undermines the health of the stream. Volunteers monitor the effluent from the river outfalls to quantify the amount and type of pollution.

The River Monitoring Initiative or RMI as its known, was explained; there is a training course  at Kingston University 21st  April from 11am until 4pm. If anyone wants to come along, the training is free, but people have to sign up beforehand – there may have a cap of 25 on the day, so I would recommend getting in touch soon.

Pam explained the hedge
We walked through Riverhill Copse and discussed the inventiveness of the council in creating spaces designed to increase the peaceful enjoyment of nature at this sequestered school playing field; as well as a figure of eight amble through trees, which now adorn a former allotment site. Here we discussed the value of the yellow meadow ant mounds for birds and small mammals. We admired traditional country crafts such as hedgelaying along Rushet Road, and willow spilling along the river bank towards Chambermead - creating good habitat for wrens and basking reptiles- just after hearing a song thrush singing the 'end of rain'.

We stopped at Pam's favourite elm tree where she watches white-letter hairstreak butterflies flitting around the top of the tree. The tree is opposite the Ewell storm tanks, which function as temporary storage for untreated sewage as it travels through the network of pipes towards the Hogsmill Sewage Treatment Works (STW). During heavy rainfall, rainwater as well as sewage fills up the system: to prevent it backing up into homes. Usually the storm tanks contain the sewage until the rain has passed and the sewage can drain back into the network to be treated at the Hogsmill STW. However, occasionally, during higher rainfall, the storm tanks fill up completely and will discharge any excess sewage to the Hogsmill river itself.

This system was designed when the population of London was much lower and the area of paved urban surfaces (which cause rain to run off rather than infiltrating into the ground) was much less. It is a consented discharge – which means it is legal – as it was originally designed to happen only very occasionally, but with population growth, urbanisation and climate change, it now happens more frequently. Volunteers have monitored around 12 or 14 flow events per year in recent year including a big event which happened a week after our walk see the video here

'Proper' stepping stones
At the Ewell Court Stream Lucy revealed the Pre-Raphaelite painters who lived and worked locally.We viewed the chalk in the strata at the Stepping Stones' and were reminded that this is a rare or 'priority' habitat with only 200 chalk streams in Europe.

Brown hairstreak egg
Pam showed us the egg of a brown hairstreak on blackthorn with the aid of her hand lens. When we came to the Green Lane stream we had a prolonged view of a kingfisher from the bridge arcing away to avoid us while actually surrendering his full colours; we walked through a grand tree line avenue to celebrate the oldest tree in the borough.

The oldest tree in Epsom and Ewell
Ending at the six ponds at Bourne Hall- some are spring ponds - whereas others are on a different system, such as the horse pond and the channel along the front entrance to the park. 
Lucy and I will lead our next walk 25.2.18: come and be the Tolworth Edgelands come and be an Edge Navigator.
Meeting in front of the Hogsmill Toby Carvery along Old Malden Lane/Worcester Park Road Come and discover some of Tolworth’s ‘edgelands’ – find out what edgelands are and why they are important.

A second incident took place on Saturday 27th January 2018, in which sewage sludge from the Hogsmill Sewage Treatment Works was released into the Hogsmill river. Sewage sludge is one of the final products from the sewage treatment process and so it does not contain any rag.

Thames Water has been working through the night to minimise the impact and has provided the following statement.“We’ve stopped a spillage at our Hogsmill treatment works, and are working closely with the Environment Agency to clean up the area. We are very sorry that not all of the spillage has been contained on the site, and a full investigation is now underway.” – Anthony Crawford, Head of Wastewater Control, 28th January 2018'.

During our walk we said that although this is a  sad business; but not to despair, as nature has a wonderful way of fighting back. The bullheads and stone loach that reside in the Hogsmill are surely testament to that. Last night Chris Packham commenting on the state of the palm oil business said  that it is important to let people know about these things - they will be hurt - but without this knowledge they can do nothing to fight back.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Draining of the Filter Beds at Seething Wells

Ankle deep
Many noticed the draining of the water in the filter beds, even though it took place the week before Christmas. I have no hotline to the offshore company who own the site and can only hazard a guess as to why this is happening now.The water level had risen to the top of the filter beds posing a management issue and leaving it any later could fall foul of the bird breeding season. If proposed Environment Agency charges for abstraction and disharge go ahead from April 2018 it could be very expensive to discharge the water  see

Little egret

There used to be a charge for a discharge permit until deregulation followed Agency staff cuts. Abstraction for small amounts of water became free but this has not helped the environment and our local rivers such as the Crane, Hogsmill and Beverley suffer constantly from low flows. So the Agency have to reconsider but the admin causes a financial headache and any new charges must reflect the true cost of officer time (especially as much of it is spent sitting in traffic as they negotiate larger and larger jurisdictions). 

The Agency  also propose increases to permits to carry out habitat improvement work such as angling clubs and rivers trusts have been doing for years. A permit to place woody debris into the river channel currently costs £50 but would increase to £764 - more than the work would actually cost to carry out. Similar massive increases are proposed for permits for fish passes and off-channel fry refuges.

Fishing heron
The Angling Trust has lodged a formal objection to the scale of the proposed increases but it would be most helpful if as many people as possible replied individually to the consultation; although I tried to answer a small part of the questionnaire but then found it impossible to submit.
Consultation ends 26.1.18

There were winners and losers after the draining. The winners were the little egret (above) and several lapwings, which enjoy poking around in  mud for invertebrates. Good numbers of fishing heron, cormorant and even a little grebe was seen struggling with a small roach. The losers were of course the stranded fish.

 Be aware that Planning Guidance for the river side is under consultation, which includes a viewing platform over the filter beds.The draft Kingston Riverside Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) sets out a vision for Kingston Riverside  from Canbury Gardens to Seething Wells and how it should change over the next 10-15 years. 

Supplementary Planning Documents provide more detailed guidance about policies in the Core Strategy and the Kingston Town Centre Area Action Plan (so-called K+20). They are a material consideration when determining planning applications.

Feedback is important and will be used to finalise the SPD before it is adopted. Once adopted it will provide more detail about how planning policies are applied to the riverside and guide future investment priorities for public spaces in this area.

The consultation period runs from the 19th of January until the 18th of March 2018. You can download a PDF version  of the document by visiting Copies of the document are available at borough libraries, and at the council offices at the Information and Advice Centre on the ground floor of Guildhall 2, from 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday.