Conservation Work: 23rd November
On a lovely warm and sunny November morning, 20 of us worked in the Spinney, at the eastern edge of the Grove, clearing an area of brash, bramble roots and self-seeded saplings, to give breathing space and light to the snowdrops, scillas and narcissi that carpet that area in spring. The area had become very overgrown, to the point where the spring flowers were barely visible.
We were included in a photoshoot in celebration of the park attaining Green Flag status, in recognition of the Friends’ conservation work that contributed to the award.
Anthill Meadow Conservation Work: 5th, 19th and 24th October
The late September work party had to be cancelled due to heavy rain, but to make up for it we had three in October. On the first two, nine of us, on our hands and knees, cut grass with garden shears, mimicking grazing animals (after a fashion). It sounds gruelling but the weather was so pleasant that it was a pleasure to be outside enjoying the extended Indian summer. This part of the meadow now looks like a lovely, undulating, manicured lawn. On the third session we were back to the task of uprooting brambles in the central part of the meadow; the overnight rain had made the ground soft and easier to work. The rain had also brought out an array of fungi that we had fun trying to identify, including a couple of penny buns (ceps) that we weren’t brave enough to take home to eat!
Anthill Work Party: 12th September
September is the time of year when we cut the grass in one section of the Anthill Meadow. So, on an unseasonably warm and sunny morning, nine of us spent a couple of hours on our hands and knees cutting grass with garden shears to great effect. Fred, our 10th member, used an Austrian scythe to do the job with great panache. Why, you might ask, do we hand cut the grass? To avoid damaging the ant hills, the residences of the yellow field ants, an unusual feature in any urban park but reasonably common in ours. The anthills are a relic of Alexandra Park’s previous history as grazed farmland. These anthills and the meadow are part of the mosaic of habitats that contributes to the biodiverse nature of Alexandra Park.
Anthill Meadow Conservation work: 22nd August
On a lovely sunny morning, 11 of us cut back bramble leaders, revealing the terrific crop of blackberries. It was hot work but much was achieved with a practised wielding of secateurs. There were still several butterflies flitting about, including the male common blue pictured (whose female is deceptively similar to the brown argus – see ‘Nature notes’ above). Many birds were seen and heard, including a flock of mixed tits (long-tailed, great and blue), with blackcaps, willow warblers and chiffchaffs amongst them. And there were still many flowers, the most plentiful being the pale lemon flowers of the hoary ragwort. We were sustained by some wonderful apple flapjacks that one of our number had cooked to share with us.
Conservation Work in the Spinney: 27th July
On a rather dismal and dank morning, 12 of us set to work to fight back the brambles in the Spinney (the woodland at the edge of the Grove). It felt more like battling in a primeval jungle, with the forest of briars and hogweed skeletons, and to top it all there were many froglets jumping around our feet. We found a buff-tailed bumblebee nest in the depths of a bramble, as well as very delicate, small white mushrooms on some woody debris – pinwheel mushroom (picture by Helen Odozi), common in deciduous woodland. We did make very good progress, reducing the bramble bank and improving the habitat for the snowdrops and scilla in spring.
Please do remember to check out the Anthill Meadow this month, especially on a sunny day – the knapweed, willowherb and ragwort are in flower, and the butterflies seem to be doing well this year, despite the damp conditions.
Anthill Meadow Work Party: 22nd June
We were greeted by the wonderful sight of many butterflies flitting through the grasses and flowers of the meadow as well as flashes of turquoise – an emperor dragonfly on patrol. There were also signs of fresh anthill activity. In terms of plants, there were masses of bird’s-foot trefoil, cat’s-ear and knapweed in flower, attracting butterflies and bees in large numbers. All of which is a vindication of our efforts to make the Anthill Meadow more flower-rich and therefore insect-friendly.
Eight of us spent a very sweaty couple of hours, on a hot sunny morning with high humidity, cutting back bramble leaders. We concentrated on the margins of the meadow so as to avoid trampling the flowers and grasses. Cold apple juice was a very welcome refresher part-way through.
Conservation Work Party: 25th May
On a dry but overcast morning, 11 of us joined forces to root out small brambles in the Anthill Meadow and cut back the advancing wall of brambles at the top end. At this time of year it can feel like a lost cause, with lots of young bramble shoots throughout the meadow, but each year the number of brambles is down and the quality of the meadow improves. Even more so this year, with the very pleasing spread of the yellow rattle, which parasitizes grass roots, reducing their vigour. There were areas where many had self-seeded and spread widely through the grass. Lots of other plants were in flower, such as cat’s-ear, red clover and ribwort plantain. There were also signs of ant activity on several of the anthills, and we saw small copper and holly blue butterflies, plus several varieties of bee.
Anthill Work Party: 25th April
On a lovely, sunny spring morning filled with birdsong (the most insistent being a wren’s), nine of us returned to the business of removing bramble roots to allow resident flowers and grasses to flourish over the summer. We noted that the yellow rattle seedlings (from seeds planted last autumn) are doing well and even better, a self-seeded patch, planted four years ago, is doing really well. It’s heartening because these delightful plants parasitize the rampant grasses, reducing their vigour; this allows more flowering plants to grow, which is better for insects. As if to prove it a bee fly joined us. We also saw a female brimstone butterfly, no doubt checking out the alder buckthorn to lay her eggs on. All in all, a very satisfying morning’s work.
Anthill Meadow Work Party: 23rd March
There being 13 of us meant that we achieved a lot, rooting out the stray brambles in the middle part of the meadow, and beginning work on the bigger clumps to the east of it. The ground underfoot wasn’t too wet, despite all the rain we’ve had this month, and it meant the bramble roots were relatively easy to pull out.
Spring is slow to the meadow this year, with only blackthorn in full bloom and one dandelion, but the yellow rattle seeds we sowed last year have germinated in profusion – all five patches are covered in tiny seedlings. If we continue to sow yellow rattle annually, it should reduce the vigour of the rampant grass species. This will make it worthwhile to seed other species of wildflower appropriate to our heavy clay soil.
There were 16 of us at February’s work party, a really good turnout, which meant much was achieved.
Spring Litter Clear-up: 18th February
An overcast day and a cold wind didn’t deter 18 enthusiastic volunteers wielding their litter pickers with gusto to dig this mountain of rubbish out of the undergrowth in the woodland and ditches at the eastern end of the park.
On Thursday 9th Feb, a small group of Friends worked with Reuben, one of the O’Conners team, to prune the fruit trees in the Railway Orchard. This is annual task undertaken by the Friends, each of the two orchards are pruned in alternate years (Springfield Orchard next year). Reuben is the expert guide who has the experience and eye to turn pruning into an art form. The benefits of pruning are to cut out weak growth, thin out central growth, allowing sunlight to reach all fruiting branches, and improve fruiting.
We managed a really good morning’s work removing thick, thorny, woody old bramble leaders from the shrubs and trees at the edge of the grassy area near the Grove Café (with committee member Robyn’s red hat visible in the shrubbery). Untangling and pulling out the bramble leaders was hard work and a challenge, but once done the greenness of the shrubs was revealed. Half of a pollarded holly went, too, all to allow more light into the area behind and therefore encourage grass and flowers to grow. What made the morning was working hard as a team, in a sunny spot, on a crisply cold winter’s day, the twitter of birds all around us – all very purposeful, pleasant and convivial.
While we were in the Grove, two oaks at the entrance to the Anthill Meadow were being crown reduced, to allow more sunlight onto the meadow, all the better for wildflowers to grow and yellow field ants and other insects to flourish.
Anthill Meadow conservation work: 22nd November
Our main job was to seed parts of the meadow with yellow rattle. We lifted the turf adjacent to areas we had seeded last year, and scattered the new seed liberally. Fingers crossed they germinate well. The lesson learned this year – yellow rattle seeds need moisture to germinate so, if conditions are dry again next spring, we’ll need to carry extra water to give them a drink. We also did some remedial pruning of the alder buckthorn and continued with the endless job of mattocking out bramble roots.
The meadow was looking good, with anthill mounds very visible where we had hand-cut the grass. We saw one fungus (a fragile brittlegill) and a few plants in flower (bristly ox-tongue, common ragwort, mouse-ear, bramble and common knapweed). Birds seen and heard included carrion crow, jay, magpie, parakeet, robin, great tit, great-spotted and green woodpeckers, and wren.
Work Parties in the Anthill Meadow - September
On Thursday 1st September nine of us started cutting the grass to the west end of the anthill meadow and made good progress, working in a line from the path. Last Tuesday, 13th September, ten of us continued working from the edge of the previous cut, working westward, and in total we have now cut about ⅔ of the meadow, and it is looking really good. It’s the 6th year that we have been cutting the grass at the west end of the meadow. The hoped for increase in the variety of wild flowers has not happened so we will probably have to give them a helping hand by introducing appropriate seeds. I will seek advice from the London Natural History Society (LNHS). I will also buy more yellow rattle seed to broadcast in November, again.
Conservation Work Party - July
The meadow, like the rest of the Park is in poor shape, though, with all this dry weather, and then the heatwave, last week, must have put huge stress on plants and wildlife - blackberries are very small this year. There was no birdsong, the grass was tinder dry but, despite that, there were lots of butterflies feeding on the remaining knapweed flowers, ragwort (which seems to have grown super tall this year) and spear thistle. There were large numbers of gatekeepers, a few meadow brown, a small copper and a speckled wood. There was also a very handsome, Jersey tiger moth (photo left by Tony Jakeman) and a six spot burnet moth.
Conservation Work Party - June
Conservation Work Party - May
The meadow is coming to life with several flowering plants noted, insects flitting and buzzing around, with a backdrop of bird song – particularly a black cap. Of particular interest was the yellow rattle: we had seeded five patches of bared ground, last autumn, all of which had some plants (including ones in flower) but two that were thickly carpeted with yellow rattle. There were also patches of self-seeded yellow rattle from previous years plantings. In those latter areas thinning of the vigorous grasses was evident – very pleasing to see. The next step will be to consider introducing seeds of other flowering plants appropriate to the area. People in the know, have noted that the meadow doesn’t have a great variety of flowering plants.
Anthill Work Party - April
Nine of us turned out on a warm and sunny April morning. We had a backdrop of spring birdsong to our work in the anthill meadow, with blackcaps, chiffchaffs and wrens being the loudest songsters. We continued with the remorseless job of bramble root removal before the new shoots take off. The yellow rattle seedlings are doing well in the west side of the meadow, although they do need water after all this dry weather. The highlight of the morning was seeing a female brimstone butterfly laying her eggs on the underside of alder buckthorn leaves (one of their host plants). She laid each elongated egg on a single leaf – so tiny that they were barely visible (pictured, an egg laid last year). This season’s butterflies will appear in around July/August.
As our contribution to Keep Britain Tidy’s annual campaign, 23 volunteers wielded their litter pickers and scoured the park for some of the hard-to-reach rubbish that accumulates over the winter. The result was around 30 bags plus a small bike. Those who had participated in similar events over the years felt that there was less litter than normal – a tribute not only to the John O’Conner team’s good work, but also to the efforts of all the volunteers who kept the park clean last summer, several of whom continued throughout the winter. Our thanks to all the litter-picking volunteers.
Conservation Work Party - March
It was such a lovely morning, especially with the sound of spring birdsong ringing around the meadow, the chiffchaff the loudest of all. We had a good morning’s work with most of us mattocking bramble roots, before the new shoots get going. Richard did some good work on the alder buckthorn, cutting out a rotten broken branch, the reward – three brimstone butterflies flitting around the meadow. Tony released an elder from the clutches of ivy, and Stephen stopped the march of bramble over cherry and blackthorn. To top it all we could see that good numbers of the yellow rattle seeds we broadcast last autumn had germinated.
Conservation Work Party - February 2022
Attached is a photo of a very tiny, germinated, yellow rattle seedling, which Tricia took, while we were working in the anthill meadow. Fingers-crossed it has many siblings in the next few weeks.
Fruit Tree Pruning in the Springfield Orchard
A small group of the Friends met up with Ruben of John O'Conner (Park Maintainance Contractors) to prune the fruit trees in the Springfield Orchard in The Grove. These are the trees above the large fenced Veteran Oak and below the 3-4-5 Playgroup. The trees had not had any work recently so quite a lot of cutting was involved to encourage fruiting and to keep the trees in good condition.
Some of the things that we learnt....
To cut off any slightly damaged branches first. This is, because as soon as they get weighed down with any fruit they are liable to break off.
Next to stand back and assess which branches need to go. Those good for the chop are the ones that grow from the outside of the tree toward the centre crossing other branches. They stop air circulating and their fruit can be too each other and branches.
Later cuts are made to both remove the tops of high and elongated branches as well as branches growing too close to each other. Also we had to try a give the tree an even look. After each significant cut Ruben demonstrated that we should stand back and look all around the tree before making the next move.
One extra point was not to cut back the stone fruits (e.g. plum) as hard as the others (e.g. apple) - they don't response so well to "rough" treatment.
Thanks a lot to Ruben for his patience and clear advice.
Special Conservation Work Party with TCV - January
Note sent out by Jane after the event nicely sums up the great success of this work party.
The Cricket Scrub is an area of bushes and trees between the main football pitch and the old racetrack.
The Grove Work Party - December 2021
Shading Holly Clearance in The Grove
I’d like to thank you all for turning out on what was a pretty miserable morning, on 7th December, although the rain held off, just!
Conservation Work - November
The work in the Anthill Meadow changes as the seasons change. Our November schedule consisted of planting yellow rattle seeds, an annual plant that parasitises the roots of some grasses, reducing their vigour and so allowing more flowering plants to thrive. We scraped off the turf in six small areas, loosened the soil, broadcast the seed then tamped it down. We sowed the seed more thickly this time compared to previous years, in the hope that we’ll have an improved germination rate. I did see a robin on one of the patches and couldn’t tell whether it was after a worm or the seed! A beautiful sunny morning brought everyone out (there were 17 of us) and therefore much bramble was cleared as well.
Conservation Work - October
More grass cutting and removal this session. During our break for drinks and chat, we were watched over by a robin sitting in a hawthorn bush. We continue to make a great difference to the area by reducing the fertility of the soil and allowing more wildflowers to predominate in the area. The weather was kind as well.
Conservation Work - September
We were lucky to have a lovely warm and sunny morning for the second of our sessions cutting the grass at the western end. If you were passing last Tuesday morning, you would have seen a line of 11 of us on our hands and knees, using garden shears to take the grass almost to ground level (pictured). As usual, all the cuttings were placed on the dead hedge bordering the meadow, so that any creatures caught up in the cuttings could stay local.
Conservation work in the Butterfly Meadow - Late August
Lucky with the weather, after a poor-ish spell, we had sunshine. We continued work on the west side of the meadow with a special attention to cutting leaders (long straggly bits of bramble) to stop them rooting.
Some tree reduction work took place to reduce shade coming from the Lower Path side took place.
Conservation work in the Butterfly Meadow - Early August
After a cool-ish start, quite warm weather for bramble bashing! We made a good job of progress working on some encroaching bramble on the western side of the meadow. We heard parakeets, crows, two types of woodpecker whilst working. Large numbers of butterflies were seen, but they were restricted mainly to Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns. A Jersey Tiger moth also put in an appearance as well as the odd dragonfly.
Conservation Work Party - July
This month’s work party was mainly about cutting back bramble leaders to prevent them touching the soil and taking root to form new plants. We worked along the hedgerows surrounding the Butterfly Meadow. It is looking particularly verdant this year, after all the rain we’ve had – such a contrast to last year’s drought conditions. This means that grasses dominate the habitat but wild flowers have managed to keep their heads up, too, with willowherbs dominating. It was a bright, sunny morning, which brought out the butterflies, mainly along the sunny, northern edge: gatekeepers in large numbers, meadow browns, large skippers, green-veined and small whites, peacocks and one red admiral. Also several six-spot burnet moths and a wonderfully striped cinnabar moth caterpillar were seen.
Work in the Butterfly Meadow: 22nd June 2021
The Butterfly Meadow is blooming with vetches, stitchworts and clover, and knapweed and willowherb just beginning to open. Working there last week was a delight. A few yellow rattle flowers continue and seed heads are developing nicely. There are a variety of grasses, too. At this stage in the year we are tinkering around the edges, removing bramble leaders and self-seeded, small saplings, so as not to damage the sward. Several butterflies were seen, including a marbled white and purple hairstreak, both firsts for this summer in Herts and Middlesex. An anthill was disturbed, unfortunately, but it was interesting to see the yellow field ants busy relocating their pupae (pictured).
Conservation Work Party - 20th October 2020
Temporary reports while we add in the pictures....