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. 

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Wassail, Olives, Tolworth Treasure and the Apple Store

Me at Pensford
Recounting a 'short poem'

The annual wassail was held at Pensford Fields in North Sheen this afternoon. Pensford is a haven for wild flowers, birds and insects rescued from developers in the 1990's. It is a site of importance for nature conservation  and a designated area of tranquility. It also inspires art, children’s play and education. 

During proceedings the wassail master read his short poem against the cracking fire and a ukele band played sing- along - songs and we did circle dancing.

Crowning the new wassail queen
We clapped as Bella was crowned the new wassail queen and a noisy procession began. 

Fancy dress is encouraged and also any sort of instrument or implement which makes a good noise will help us scare the evil spirits away from the fruit trees in the orchard. This is a key part of the old english Wassail custom which dates back to pre-Norman times.

Toast and the ghost

Toast in the dressed apple tree

Cider was presented to a dressed apple tree in the  orchard. 

Toast was left in the tree to appease the spirits and give thanks for the fruit. 

Olives along High Park rd.
Heritage apple walks of Kingston

There were plenty of cooked apples in the food and drink - including
mulled cider - but the only fruit seen on trees in the local area were OLIVES growing on trees planted along High Park Road en route to Kew Gardens station.

per J. Lock

I am told that 70 people turned out to a Streatham Wassail. They look so beautiful dancing around the tree. The wassail cup was produced from an old trees that were removed a couple of years back. The cider was produced form Apple Day donations

For those interested in  Kingston's orchards- the leaflet mapping local the heritage apple walks - should be available in most libraries, the heritage museum as well as  the local history room. Lucy and I will be leading walks around Tolworth and the Hogsmill river from January 20th.

Of course there will be some news about the Tolworth apple store - see centre of the poster - get in touch if any of these appeal.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Beverley Brook and the Thames Water Pipe Track

Peacefull brook
Marble gall ( together with ramshorn)
The Beverley Brook rises near Nonsuch Park at Stoneleigh and forms the eastern boundary to the borough from Motspur Park through New Malden to Roehampton Vale. Along the Kingston boundary it forms part of a number of sites from Back Green (Sutton) Manor Park, Malden Golf Course, Coombe Wood and Wimbledon Common. (ref side-tabs Beverley Brook). Today we set off on the west or sunny side of the riparian vegetation, fringing the sports fields owned by Kingston council. 

Ramshorn gall
Ramana or branching fungi
 Here a wealth of galls were noted on oak: marble, ramshorn, cherry, currant and knopper galls which
is a bowl shaped protrusion. This is caused by a tiny gall wasp, Andricus quercuscalicis. It produces ridged outgrowths on the acorns of our native pedunculate oak; forming in August, becoming woody and brown. A second generation then develops in the catkins of Turkey Oak.

Norway maple
Hart's tongue and male fern
 Along the banks of the brook - wherever the tree cover opens -  are found both male and hart's tongue ferns. In the woodland - particularly around Fishpond's Wood - broad buckler fern is located. Norway maple  was a surprising but colourful invader in the woodland.

Environment Agency gauging station
 After leaving the woodlands of Merton, to continue along the brook,  it is necessary to negotiate the A3 via a subway followed by weaving through a residential area and along Cambridge Avenue to New Malden.  Here the brook  can  be picked up again near the Thames Water Pipe Track at Alric Avenue.

Arrow marks bridge over Alric Ave
This Site of Nature Conservation Importance is about to undergo radical changes to accommodate a cycle route as part of the council's  Go-Cycle scheme (see previous posts 21.3.15). The Kingston Handbook written by the London Ecology Unit (1992) includes the pipe track in with the Malden Golf Course (and Coombe Brook) as well as a section of the Beverley Brook, which curls like an 'S' shape in the south-east corner of the GC before crossing the pipe track and railway and into Beverley Park, heading south.

The handbook states that the Thames Water Pipe Track runs north of the railway lines - giving the appearance of a green lane- only it carries 5 water pipes from Seething Wells. It describes lush grassland, enlivened with flowers such as: ladies smock; meadow vetchling; birds foot trefoil; and meadow vetchling. Halfway along the track where the pipes leak have arisen wetlands, where yellow flag iris, soft and hard rushes and phragmites reed provide habitat for dragonflies and amphibians.

Pipe Track seen from Alric Avenue
Fast forward to 2016 when Thames Water undertook major repairs to the pipework under the trackway. Leaking pipework was removed leaving a deck of sleepers, which will be the canvas upon which the Council scheme - in partnership with the Sustrans - will be revealed in the current  planning application 17/15227 or Pipe Track to construct a 1.2 km cycling and walking path along the railway line. This will include installation of a 2m-3m impenetrable fence and associated lighting, and landscaping.

Whilst there is sympathy with the lack of appropriate surveys due to the difficulties in site access- the fauna and flora are widely known due the badgers, deer and foxes, reptiles and amphibians that appear in residents gardens - the Sustrans promise at the consultation stage ( see post 25.3.15) that 'this would be designed as a wildlife haven' will not materialise in this application as it is being designed solely for the use of people. Fencing to exclude the communication of animals between gardens and lighting to exclude nocturnal wildlife including the brown long-eared bat recorded in the Graves 2015 survey.

The council could be in breach of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, which requires it to identify those Section 40 species and conserve biodiversity in this scheme. Instead the Site of Nature Conservation Importance will be lost as it is urbanised with 3m high fences and lighting as well as non-native species of prickly plants.

This is not habitat improvement and when a certain level of urbanisation is reached,  so can the 'tipping point' for many animals and birds. For even the commonest bat species this is now determined as being 60% of built surface area and includes the anthropogenic effect of lighting.