Spring has come and so the time for the Friends of Dog Kennel Hill Wood annual spring walk. Led by Rachel Dowse from the London Wildlife Trust, twenty-seven local residents and visitors put aside 2 hours on Sunday 19th May to walk, talk and learn about the area we live in.
Starting on the path along from the Adventure playground, we pause at the remains of a dead tree. Rachel explained that freestanding wood is a great habitat for bats, fungi and other wildlife. This dead tree is part of a line of limes, which used to mark the end of where the stately homes that used to sit above it.
Moving into the depths of the vegetation we heard how our hidden wild area is a really important habitat for small mammals and nesting birds. This one also has a robin patrolling it. Robin’s are very territorial and aggressive and are one of the only birds in the UK who maintain their territory beyond the breeding season through winter. They usually sing from the edge of that territory which is why you can sometimes see two singing close together.
Exiting the seated area presented a great opportunity to admire the new hedge growth. Hedges make great habitats – this is one that the Friends of Dog Kennel Hill organized to be planted and maintained. They form a linear feature that some wildlife such as hedgehogs and birds of prey use to navigate. Although we’ve not found any hedgehogs here yet they have been recorded on the Green Dale.
These three trees found on the edge of the woodland are also great for hedges – hazel, maple, hawthorn (left to right).
Always time for a bit of litter picking – although this time it was a decomposing brown rat – recycled kindly by our Chair for another animal to devour!
Moving onto the meadow we learnt about the process of succession: meadows growing into scrub and then into woodland. Cutting the plants down once they have flowered, allowing them to dry for a week and then taking the cuttings away prevents the soil becoming increasingly enriched and maintains it as meadow. Traditionally large herbivores help to do this but here it’s done by the Friends of DKH Woods.
The meadow has a number of notable plants including Alexanders and Oxe eye daisies and sustains lots of different insects. This is in stark contrast to the grassland on the other side of the path. Known as ‘amenity grassland’, this grass is good to play on, but not good for wildlife so although the meadow looks overgrown, it’s playing an important role.
Rachel explained that a sign of woodland being healthy is the three layers that are evident to the eye: a low layer including lots of cow parsley at the moment; a shrub layer with hawthorne and small sycamores; and a higher layer of trees. The wood contains a range of trees, and although the ash are all diseased, Rachel reassured us that similarities between ash, elm and sycamore will mean that our sycamores will be continue to support the wildlife.
The trees also have a range of bat and bird boxes. Although bats have not been recorded in the wood, Pipistrelle (common and soprano) and Nocrelle bats have been recorded in the surrounding area and on the Green Dale.
Moving onto the Green Dale, that process of succession became evident. The Green Dale is a good example of scrubland, containing a range of meadow plants and bramble which provides a habitat for nesting birds.
At the back of the Green Dale are the remains of the old tennis courts. They seem rather disheveled but we learnt that this type of brownfield site is often underrated as it can be great for wildlife. The courts are great for butterflies and bees to bask and get body heat up. Not so bad for this oxford ragwort either.
The Green Dale attracts a range of birds including rare white throats, gold finches, blackbirds, and our first sighting this year of swifts high in the air, recognizable by their sickle shaped wings.
The Green Dale also supports a range of insects. Rachel suggested that a good entry point for identifying invertebrates are bumble bees as there are there are 12 species in the UK which can be differentiated by stripe patterns. Unlike bees, bumble bees live in a nest with a queen and a small number of workers. The dandelions make a great food source when the bees emerge in spring so it’s important that we don’t cut them all down.
More scrub plants: Common Vetch, Groundsel and a geranium (Bloody Crane’s-Bill?)
The Green Dale also supports colonies of yellow ants. Each of these tussocks is built on an ant hill. The ants are a preferred food source for Green Woodpeckers, however we also have Great Spotted Woodpeckers on the estate – they are notable by the drumming or drilling sound they make. Contrary to popular belief, the drilling sound is a way of communicating, and when they do drill holes into trees it’s much quieter. A little-known fact is the woodpecker has a very long tongue that wraps around its brain. This is so it can reach into trees to eat insects and protects the brain from vibrations when they are drumming on trees. Woodpeckers live in a different hole each year – some of these holes are now inhabited by Parakeets. The latter are often controversial as they are not native, but to date there is no scientific evidence that they have a detrimental effect on native wildlife.
Ending back on the path through the wood was timely reminder of the value that Dog Kennel Hill Woods and the Green Dale play as stepping stones for wildlife as well as providing outdoor green space for local people living in the area.
If you’d like to know more about the area and support its conservation you can get in touch or join the Friends of Dog Kennel Hill or Friends of the Green Dale.