Friday, October 31, 2008

Hallowe'en sunshine

I have no idea whether it was warmer today or on the 29th, which was the last time that I braved the cold. It was impossible to judge because I was wearing so many layers that I looked like a bright pink toffee-apple, on a blue-grey stick, all woolly jumpers and ski jacket with a couple of skinny denim-clad legs sticking out of the bottom. Not a pretty sight, but I was warm.

The first thing that I noticed was that Quadron had done a brilliant job of managing the leaf situation. The leaves had colonized the pathways and, although very pretty, they were somewhat slippy and made it difficult to see where some of the paths actually went. The tidy-up job left enough leaves to look thoroughly autumnal, but removed any potential hazards. Most of the leaves in that area are from the plane tree family (platanaceae) and offer a glorious autumn colour display.

A tree stump just at the start of the winding path that leads from the Greenland Dock underpass (a former lock) has a large family of fungi growing out of it. My parents, who are great edible toadstool collectors, would be able to identify it on the instant but all I can say with certainty is that you wouldn't want to collect it for a fry-up. Wide dark brown saucers with a layer of film coating them hid, on closer inspection, a revoltingly slimy soup which was attracting insect life.

I saw one or two others visitors, but not many had braved the cold. Most of the other walkers had dogs with them and there was only one woman with a pushchair and a single jogger. Even the birds were somewhat lacking. The pigeons were out in force but apart from them I saw nothing more than a few sparrows, a robin and some blackbirds. Even the ducks and coots were hiding out, with only a handful lending their presence to the day on the Downtown Pond.

Quadron, TRUE, or a combination of both have been busy in all areas of the parks, and I noticed that a new track had been cleared where the Globe Pond stream meets the footpath that circles behind Globe Pond.

At the Downtown Pond there were some deep blue-black berries (possibly Aronia melanocarpa?) and a few bravely-surviving blue zephyr flowers but the main plant to take hold at the moment is the moss, which is rampant. The moss has the most marvellous bright green shades, brilliant in the sunshine, carpeting great areas. The other thing that I noticed everywhere, perhaps only because other distractions are now missing, were the lichens on various tree branches.

Most of the berries are going over, although some brave rose hips and others are still contributing their colours to the autumnal kaleidoscope. Some of the plants appear to be coming into winter bud, and I was lucky enough to notice some white pearl-like globes which may be U.S. imports called snowberries (Symphoricarpos albus). Let me know if they are something else, but that is the only description of leaf and fruit that appears to fit.

If I hadn't climbed the small rise beyond the butterfly sanctuary I wouldn't have had many photographs to show for my outing. I only had the macro lens with me, and I hadn't found much to point it at, but surveying the world from the rise I realized that the ivy hedge on the path climbed over a wall which was now, due to TRUE's clearences, visible and accessable. I went to have a look and found that it was absolutely covered with wasps and some flies. The flowers of the Ivy (Hedera helix) are spherical with tiny flowers radiating out on stalks, of which there will be more photographs in the next few days.

Wasps are not my favourite insects because although they are lovely to look at I've been stung a few times and BOY it hurts. Sticking my lens into close proximity, with my head only a few inches behind seemed like a mad thing to do, but in the end I scarcely noticed the buzzing and flying. The wasps were fully focused on the ivy flowers, moving between them with absolutely no interest in macro lenses with strange women on the end. There was a sharp breeze so getting the insects in focus was a challenge but I got one or two shots which weren't too bad.

It was a marvellous outing. The colours continue to be gorgeous. I'll post more photographs from today over the next few days.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rotherhithe News Updates

If you're interested in local news I've been typing like a maniac on the Friends of Russia Dock Woodland website. Thanks so much to Steve Cornish, Kam Hong Leung, Lorraine Smith, Councillor Paul Noblet and others for all their hard work and for copying me in on the emails that allow me to keep these pages updated. I don't think that it's ALL bad news., but there's not much good to report. See the following two pages:

Recent Rotherhithe News
Downtown Defence Campaign News

I am particularly fond of the above photograph, which was taken by Steve Cornish in the Russia Dock Woodland.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Freedom for an hour

This morning I was up at the Institute of Archaeology at Gordon Square. Not a momentous or remarkable event its own right but the upside was that all the snow that I had heard about on BBC News 24 this morning but hadn't seen outside my own window turned out to be real! There it was, carpeting the areas still in shadow in the pretty park in Gordon Square. Someone had made a tiny snowman and I enjoyed crunching across the remaining inch of snowfall to inspect what was left of it. I would love to see the architect firm's justification for the IoA building - a ghastly block of a thing right in the heart of Bloomsbury.

I managed to leave early, and even though the 188 bus's route through Elephant and Castle is more than a little impeded by roadworks at the moment I was back at home by early afternoon. It was such a gorgeous day that I abandoned my work bag, grabbed my camera and shed the fetters of both home and university lives by heading off to the fabulous autumn shades of the RDW and Stave Hill. After all the rainfall yesterday, and the visible snow in Bloomsbury, it was quite remarkable that the day was so stunning.

I promised myself that to save blog visitors from another deluge of the autumn leaf photographs which have featured on the blog recently I wouldn't click any leaves. I broke my promise, but I only broke the rule for one or two particularly colourful photographs. As usual, if you want to see a bigger version of the photograph just click on it.

I started off wandering down the winding path that starts off at the end of Onega Gate or the Greenland Dock underpass. The sun was doing its thing, filtering delightfully through the leaves. There were lots of birds, most out of sight, but in full voice. Several robins and blackbirds were singing brightly one or two of which could be seen as they sang. The usual mix of magpies, pigeons and the occasional sparrow were there, and there were lots of squirrels. Other than that it was very quiet indeed.

I walked along the edge of the green, where two sets of dog walkers had met to talk whilst their dogs played with each other. I very much enjoyed watching a group of sparrows taking it in turns to bath noisily in a pool of dirty water, and then headed towards the Downtown ponds. The first one that I reached seemed to be rather sorry for itself. The pond vegetation looked battered and sad, probably because of the heavy rainfall, and there was an unpleasent smell of decay. But when I reached the other side of the bridge the story was much more positive. Yesterday's rain seems to have replenished the water to a considerable degree and for the first time in ages there were mallards as well as coots enjoying a float through the reeds.

Globe pond had the usual selection of ducks and coots, and it was there that I bumped into Steve Cornish, with whom I enjoyed a chat about all things local which really helped to elucideate some of the topics that are flying around on email at the moment. You can see a summary of the latest events on the Friends of RDW news pages.

Steve told me that in August a Stave Hill Ecological Park survey had identifified a new type of pipistrel bat in the woodland, one of a rare few to be known to inhabit a London urban park. That is a great piece of information to add to the news that a rare wild orchid was discovered in the ecological partk a couple of months back. Overall, we seem to be looking good on the habitat diversity front!

As Steve and I talked we spotted two foxes, both glowing in the sunshine. One of the Quadron people passed, with strimmer in hand, and told Steve that he had salted the bridges to ensure that they weren't slippery. Good news all round.

Steve went down to see Rebeka at the Trust For Urban Ecology shed and I walked towards the Stave Hill pond. There was no life to see at all there, and the only unusual thing there was a supermarket trolly thrown into one end of it. Some people are completely useless. But looking to the right the reeds were brightly golden in the sunshine and very beautiful.

I did a half circuit of Stave Hill, from which people were viewing the Thames scenery, and headed down Dock Hill Avenue towards Surrey Water for the sad task of photographing the sorry remains of the Nature Girls. Part way down the path that leads from Stave Hill to Dock Hill Avenue is a rather strange dip in the path which contains a small bas-relief sculpture of Tower Bridge at its centre. Stuart Rankin's walking guide to Rotherhithe says that this was once a fountain but that due to repeated vandalism the thing was dismantled. He also says that a fountain that once gave life and light to Surrey Water was stolen. The urge to destroy something both unique and there for the common enjoyment of the entire community always strikes me as incomprehensible.

The remnants of the Nature Girls really were a sorry spectacle to contemplate, with the remaining red shoes amputated crudely at the ankle. There was something quite dreadful about it, and criss-crossed as the remaining shoes were with bright light and deep shadow they were more than slightly disturbing. Sad, because they had made so many people smile.

Steve says that there has been some suggestion that the gorgeous sculptures outside the Surrey Docks Farm on the Thames Path, also metal, should be relocated to a place within the farm. I love them and would be very relieved to see them moved for their safety. I've written more about that plan on the Friends website.

The rest of Surrey Water looked very peaceful, with birds preening on pontoons. I walked back up Dock Hill Avenue towards Stave Hill, where a family were having a chilly picnic on the steps, and walked down the tree-covered avenue towards the RDW that cuts down by the side of the primary school. I cut in from there into the ecological park again, circling round to the butterfly sanctuary.

The bits of the butterfly sanctuary that weren't cut down are now completely dead, and the bits that were given a crew-cut are now recovering. I would have cut the whole lot down in one go at about this time to give the insect life half a chance whilst the plant life was still alive, but TRUE obviously had a different and more informed agenda. Lots of work has been taking place in the general area, cutting back trees, hedges and shrubs and strimming down the grass.

Popping out from a back track onto the top path circling the green I heard a lot of rustling of leaves and branches from the evergreen to my left. I turned my head slowly to see a male chaffinch sitting looking at me. As I slowly raised the camera he took off, taking a whole feathered clan along with him.

It was by now extremely cold, in spite of three layers plus a ski jacket, so I headed back down the winding path and eventually found myself magically in the Moby Dick pub where the heating was on and my friend Garrett had fortuitiously just arrived and purchased himself a pint. A warming hug was most welcome.

I didn't take many photographs, so I'll have to dive out again in the next few days to capture some more. If it doesn't rain!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Nature Girls

I am jumping through hoops in my other life at the moment and have had very little time to go over the road and take photographs. Sadly I've either been buried in my office at home or stuck in town with the joys of the dour architectural block otherwise known as the Institute of Archaeology in London. Not one of the world's best pieces of urban design. Fortunately the place is full of fabulous books and rather good people.

In spite of the inability to make it over to the RDW or Stave Hill I am still receiving news from the outside world, thanks to the wonderful world of email. You can see the main subjects of discussion on the Friends of Russia Dock Woodland website.

One of the sadder pieces of news is that the 1996 sculpture by sculptress Laura Ford has been removed, presumably stolen for the financial value of its metal. People never cease to dissapoint. The sculpture consisted of three botanically-themed constructions made of bronze. They appear to have been designed for another location at the Cass Sculpture Foundation. They were put here by the L.D.D.C., which was committed to adding art to its new developments. Perhaps they were moved to Surrey Quays when the Surrey Water area was under development, or perhaps copies of the originals were installed. I have been unable to discover which was the case.

Here's what the Cass Sculpture Foundation website says about the artist and the sculptures:

Laura Ford has been thinking about how sculpture operates within a landscape and wanted to make something that would become part of it, but which on closer observation would be rather strange in that environment. She started with the Stump Girl, which takes the form of a regular tree stump animated by a pair of little girls' legs. The later Conifer Girl and Bush Girl which complete this unruly trilogy, add to the conundrum. When brought together they give rise to questions of identity, intent, fear and humour. Are these depictions of real trees? Are they watching? Are they malevolent? They provoke parental concern, but remain beyond our reach. The sculptures are made in a traditional material, bronze, with all its authority and associations with important monuments. It is employed here to suggest a different scenario. The artist has used the convention of perfect outdoor sculpture for a subversive subject-matter.

The Conifer and Bush are quieter than their Stump counterpart, but possibly more malevolent. Simultaneously they have the innocent joy of girls playing in the wood and the bleakness of children gone missing. In a gallery setting (they were first shown at Spacex in Exeter in an exhibition for which they were especially cast by Sculpture at Goodwood) they are hopelessly attempting to camouflage themselves, like children hiding their

heads and thinking they cannot be seen. A landscape setting such as this renders their fantasy almost a reality. Nature Girls are uneasy, but comical. Laura Ford shares with Camille Paglia a view of nature which, like sexuality, is at times romanticised but is brutal and cruel. Nature Girls evolved from a series of works devoted to the tyranny and contradictions manifest in children. All of these girls are egotistical, attention-seeking and aggressive as well as possessing the opposite qualities.

All that remains of the sculptures are the feet, stumps above the little red shoes.

Whether you love these and other local sculptures or hate them is not the point here. They are part of our local heritage and, like the rest of our heritage, should be preserved from theft and vandalism. The point is that something that belonged to the community as a whole has been stolen for the self-centred personal gain of those who took them. I can't find better words to express my own frustration that those of local resident Gary Williams who said today that "The idea that such a wonderful public work of art can simply be taken for private gain is beyond terrible".

Hopefully I'll get the chance to go up to Surrey Water in the next couple of days and get a photograph of the sad remains.

As Gary Williams also said, it would be a truly terrible shame if the defacement and theft of public art works in our area were to overshadow or even prevent plans for future works, like the Brunel statue that has been planned.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

News updates

I have updated the Friends of Russia Dock Woodland's news page with the latest information about local development planning issues and other items of potential interest to Rotherhithe residents.

Photograph of 1928 flooding in Rotherhithe

The Barrow Boy

There's a rather nice photograph on the above blog of children being rescued from the upper floor of a Rotherhithe home during the 1928 flooding.

I've attached a small copy but go to the above page to see the large image.

There's an article about the flood on Wikipedia, which describes the flood as "disastrous". Fourteen people drowned when the Thames flooded its banks, and thousands were made homeless. It was apparently caused by the sudden thawing of snow in the Cotswolds, which doubled the volume of water in the river.

Poppy sales in Southwark

Southwark News (David Yuill)

I was saddened by this story from Southwark News. Money from the sale of poppies goes to raises fund for the provision of financial, social and emotional support to ex-servicemen and their families.

RESIDENTS OF Southwark are turning their back on the Royal British Legion's poppy appeal, despite previously being one of the strongest areas for collections, it is claimed.

The iconic paper poppy goes on sale this weekend and has been used by the British Legion for decades to raise funds to provide financial, social and emotional support to ex-serviceman and their families.

But the numbers of sellers in the borough, one of London’s worst hit in the Second World War, are rapidly falling away.

Southwark branch distributor, Beatie Hall, told the 'News' that she was banging her head against a brick wall: "Only two out of the 40 new customers that I wrote to have agreed to take poppies. We have got the same old 50 or so regular places who do it every year, but we’re lacking interest from new people."With a record breaking £30 million being raised by the national appeal last year, Hall is convinced that the buyers are definitely out there - just without the sellers.

She said: "There is not a lack of people wanting to buy poppies. Last year at Waterloo, there were queues of people waiting to get theirs. There are just not enough people selling them.

"What we are lacking is the man on the street. People seem to be turning their back on the Poppy Appeal, which is such a shame. If it wasn't for our regular collectors, then we just wouldn't get them sold."

See the above page for the full story.


ShipStamps (Auke)

The story of the role of the ship Oroolong in bringing Price Lee Boo to Rotherhithe is told on this page. Prince Lee Boo was the son of Chief Abba Thulle, head of an island tribe who helped to return the crew of a wrecked East Indiaman back to the UK.

When on 9 August 1783 the East Indiaman ANTELOPE, under command of Capt. Henry Wilson a fast sailing dispatch vessel of the East India Company underway from Macao from which she sailed on 20 July 1783 on a surveying voyage was lost on the western reef of one of the Pelew Islands (now Palau Islands), the crew of 51 persons including 16 Chinese saved themselves to a nearby island, which she named Oroolong (Ulong)
The wreck of the ANTELOPE did not break up quickly, so the crew was able by constructing a raft and using the ships boats to ferry much needed provision, arms, stores and working tools on shore.
One day after landing they met some natives which came to them in two canoes, one of this men was from Malay, and by good luck Capt. Wilson had a man from Macao on board who could speak the same language.

A friendly relationship with the natives began. The natives high ranking Chief Abba Thulle agreed that the shipwrecked men could stay on the island and were allowed to use the trees on the island to build a small ship. It was agreed that in return of the hospitality the British would help him to subduing rival islands villagers, who where causing problems for Abba Thulle.

See the above page for the full story.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Birds from Friday on the RSPB website

The RSPB website has some beautiful illustrations of birdlife. Here's a sample of some of the species that I saw on Friday. Click on the images to go to the details about each bird on the RSPB website (text, audio and visual).

Blackbird (male)
Turdus merula

Blackbird (female)
Turdus merula

Long-tailed tit
Aegithalos caudatus

Chaffinch (female)
Fringilla coelebs

Green woodpecker
Picus viridis

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Last lot from Friday 17th October 2008

Hedera helix

Bulrush / Reed Mace
Typha latifolia

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Autumn in the Russia Dock Woodland

Local news updates

I've updated the Friends of Russia Dock Woodland website with a few of the latest news items which are relevant to the immediate area.

Friday, October 17, 2008

More autumn, colours, cold and sunshine

This afternoon was very cold but very beautiful. A sharp breeze kept the few clouds in motion and ensured that no-one in the parks stayed still for very long, but the sun touched everything, sparkling on the water, filtering through leaves, and offering some soft warmth against the chill. In spite of the sunshine I was taking no risks, and was firmly wrapped in a ski jacket, which proved to be a wise decision.

After a week the main story in the Russia Dock Woodland is the relocation of leaves from tree to ground. Walking into the Woodland from Onega Gate in an ancient pair of trainers I was almost skating over the thick surface of shiny orange-brown leaves. The colours are absolutely stunning wherever you look and only a few trees are completely denuded of foliage. Nevertheless, so much leaf-fall has taken place that it is now possible to see far more of Canary Wharf through the trees than before. Autumn is singing its annual swan-song.

There was almost no insect life to see. Two wasps, one large -white butterfly and some damselflies were the sum total of my observations.

By contrast, the bird life was much more vibrant than usual. The blackbirds were having a marvellous time turning over leaves and creating almost as much noise as the pigeons, which were stampeding through the fallen foliage making a real din. Near the windmill I saw a small group of long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus), darting in and out of the trees, landing for seconds at at time on branches before taking off again. They were absolutely enchanting to watch, but quite impossible to photograph. There were lots of magpies around, their shrill calls very distinctive. In the Russia Dock Woodland there was the unmistakeable sound of a woodpecker and I tracked it down just as it took to flight. It was an enormous green woodpecker, Picus viridis. A solitary female chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) sat on a branch and looked down at me, familiar from my parents' garden but the first I have ever seen in the RDW. Like everything else today, it took off before I could photograph it.

Globe Pond was packed with mallards and several moorhens, as well as a single heron. Nothing much was happening at either Stave Hill or the Downtown ponds. The Yellow Flag pods at the Downtown ponds have split completely into their three segments and the large copper-coloured seeds were littered all over the stone blocks which edge the pond.

There were squirrels everywhere, making a vast din in the leaves, racing up and down tree trunks and generally making more noise than the pigeons and blackbirds put together.

Greenland Dock, where I paused for a quick beer outdoors at the Moby, was very quiet. A few seagulls and coots were the only birds to see, apart from one very scrawny Great Crested Grebe which I assume was just growing into its plumage. The only sound, other than the sharp calling of the coots, was the noise generated by kids in canoes outside the watersports centre on the other side of the dock. I was one of a small handful of people who were brave or mad enough to sit outside in the cold sunshine. But as icy as it was, it was still a lovely pause before returning to work on a truly ghastly paper on coping strategies adopted in marginal areas by early Egyptian economies. Sigh. The things we let ourselves in for.

I very much love Egypt and the desert heat but I wouldn't willingly take up a life of ever-lasting sunshine as a substitute for a sometimes maddeningly seasonal and tempermental climate which includes days like these, all colour and sensation, changing daily, a real joy.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Alien invaders hit the UK

BBC News

There's a good piece on the BBC News website at the moment which looks at species imported from overseas which have begun to be somewhat invasive in gardens and other areas. Species include one or two familiar names from Stave Hill and the Russia Dock Woodland.

Alien species are a problem in the UK - and invasive plants are causing some of the worst damage. Simon Ford from the National Trust shows us around the Stourhead estate in Wiltshire, pointing out some key alien invader plants that grow in gardens around the UK.

Click on the interactive picture to find out more about different types of plant.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Autumn berries

Berries are one of the characteristic features of autumn. They lend wonderful colour to rural areas and parkland when all the flowers have gone over, and can be all shades from orange and red through to pale pinks and dusky blues and purples, and blacks. There are many different varieties in the Russia Dock Woodland and Stave Hill Eco Park. Here are just a few examples.

Common Hawthorn
Species: Crataegus monogyna
Family: Rosaceae

Serbian mythology states that the hawthorn is deadly to vampires and stakes must be made of hawthorn wood. A useful tip with Hallowe'en coming up? :-)

This looks to me, from the identification books, like Viburnum opulus, but I cannot remember any flowers that look like those associated with that specie flowering earlier in the year.

Dog rose rosehip
Specie: Rosa canina
Family: Rosaceae

There are many varieties of wild rose which produce hips with different physical characteristics. Oval and without a beard of sepals, unlike other types of rosehip.

High vitamin C content and used commercially in the production of marmalade and syrup, amongst other products. It is unknown where the name canina (dog) originated

Sea Buckthorn (female)
Species: Hippophae rhamnoides
Family: Elaeagnaceae

High content of vitamins C and E.
Leaves are eaten by a number of moth species, and the berries are favoured by fieldfares (a member of the thrush family)

Himalayan cotoneaster
Specie: Cotoneaster simonsii

Family: Rosaceae
A garden plant which, spread by birds, grows well in the wild
Semi evergreen

Contone is from the Latin name from "quince", cotoneus
Aster is from the Latin word "resembling", aster

Introduced from the Himalayas
Berries are particularly enjoyed by blackbirds and thrushes, pollinated by flies and midges