Sunday 9 June 2019

Open Garden Squares Weekend

8th June 2019
After finishing most of my exams, and with nothing to do, I thought it would be a great opportunity to do something London and wildlife related. So, as part of an event which I had been looking forward to doing for a number of years, I visited four different gardens, as part of Open Garden Squares Weekend. This annual event allows the public to visit all sorts of gardens throughout inner London, most of which are private spaces.

My first stop was the Barbican Wildlife Garden (BWG), which I'd previously visited in February, and this is a garden with many brilliant, dedicated volunteers, who tend the garden in their spare time. It was wonderful to meet Jo, and a few other volunteers again, as well as Dorothy, the resident poet. The wildflower meadow was brilliant, and a surprise to find one in the City!

One of the two ponds in the Garden, which have been home to a number of Frogs this year

Feral Pigeons

A wildflower meadow-in the City!

Next, I headed to a rather unusual garden off Aldgate- Sir John Cass Primary School's Roof Garden. A spectacular garden with brilliant views of the City, it is wonderful to see that primary school children have planted vegetables and a variety of flowers, to allow themselves to engage with nature and for pollinators to thrive. 

It was also great to talk to the City Gardener there too, who explained to me how the garden benefits the local area, and how the children use it.

Bumblebee pollinating 

The Rooftop Garden has a wide variety of plants

The Garden has some amazing views- yet another oasis of life in the City

The Garden

Afterwards, I walked to the City/Tower Hamlets border, where it was wonderful to meet Nic Guerra again, who I'd previously met at the BWG in February, at his Secret Garden next to All Hallows by the Tower. He uses his garden as a home for plants rescued from development, government buildings and people's homes, and tends them, before giving them to local church groups, schools and other places, which I think is a great idea! His Secret Garden has many species of plants, native and non-native, and has a few resident Great Tits. 

Nic's Secret Garden

Bicycle racks, old carrier bags and containers are used to give plants a home here!

Great Tit


From Tower Hill Station, I took the Circle Line to King's Cross, and walked over the Regent's Canal, past the London Wildlife Trust's Camley Street Natural Park (closed for building works), and beside Lewis Cubitt Park. Within a secluded part of the King's Cross Central development, lay a very innovative and extraordinary garden- the Skip Garden. Yes, it is a garden, which produces a variety of local produce and a fantastic green space, through the use of rubbish skips. There is even a greenhouse constructed entirely from old windows from across London! The garden is the result of a local community creating a space for sustainable farming and wildlife, in a very unlikely way, and is an amazing example of what we should all do- creating something innovative and exciting, using basic resources.

The skips

An interesting way of enjoying a garden...

Lavender growing in the Herb Skip

A greenhouse made from windows-complete with a bat box

After visiting four inspiring gardens, I decided to walk by the Regent's Canal into Islington- an area where I'd mapped many wildlife sites, some of which I'd visit very soon...

Battlebridge Basin, on the Camden/Islington border and home to the London Canal Museum

A Coot nest!


A superb mural of the birds of the Regent's Canal, near Caledonian Road

I soon realised that I was near two wildlife sites, one of which was Barnsbury Wood LNR, London's smallest publicly accessible local nature reserve (the smallest is Burnt Ash Pond LNR in Lewisham, which has limited access). Unfortunately it had shut an hour before, so I visited Thornhill Square instead, the other wildlife site. It's been wonderful exploring hidden oases throughout the inner city, and I hope to visit them next year too! However, all green spaces should be enjoyed by everyone, all the time.



Another interesting garden at Caledonian Road & Barnsbury Station

Sunday 2 June 2019

BTO Bird Camp 2019

Here is a post about another year’s excellent BTO Bird Camp, sponsored by the Trust.

24th May 2019
On Friday, my mum picked me up from school, and it was a two hour drive from London to the Nunnery, the BTO’s headquarters in Thetford, Norfolk. This was a camp I went on last year, so I couldn’t wait to see what this year would bring. When I arrived, it was great to meet friends I’d made on the previous Camp, as well as new ones, and shared a tent with Michael Sinclair, Wilum Johnston, Sam Newcombe, Rowan Wakefield, Alex Liddle and Calum Mckellar. This year, the Camp was run by Nick Moran and Faye Vogely, both who I’d met previously, and Ben Porter, a brilliant wildlife photographer. After dinner, Faye ran an activity about conservation careers, and how there can be many unexpected ups and downs to it, which I enjoyed a lot. That night, the tent was very noisy, so most of us didn't get any sleep!

25th May 2019
On Saturday morning, Calum, Alex, Rowan, Michael and myself walked round the Nunnery grounds, to see what records we could submit to BirdTrack. After breakfast, we all gathered excitedly around the moth trap, with the highlights a Small Elephant Hawkmoth and a Lime Hawkmoth.

Small Elephant Hawkmoth

Lime Hawkmoth

We then all headed to RSPB Lakenheath Fen, Suffolk, where we were split into groups led by David Walsh, Chris Mills and a few other volunteers and experts. Together, we saw some brilliant birds, such as Sedge Warbler, Cuckoo and Hobby, with a few groups seeing Bittern and Great White Egret! The dragonflies were just as exciting, which included Scarce Chaser, Hairy Dragonfly and Variable Damselfly.

Heron coming in to land

Azure Damselfly


Scarce Chaser

Hairy Dragonfly

Scarce Chaser

Reed Bunting

We all had a picnic at lunch, while Lakenheath’s site manager, Dave Rogers, explained how the reserve became a conservation success, which involved transforming carrot fields into fenland over a few decades!

Next, we headed briefly to NWT Weeting Heath National Nature Reserve, famed for its Stone Curlews. We saw one, along with some Eurasian Curlews, but the views were very distant, so we travelled to Thetford Forest. This massive forest, bordered by a few fields, was the perfect habitat for Tree Pipits and Mistle Thrushes, both of which we saw. We also got very brief views of Firecrest, Crossbill and Dingy Skipper Butterfly.

Tree Pipit

Red Kites, an uncommon sight in Breckland

A distant Yellowhammer

Back at the Nunnery, a superb dinner was kindly prepared by Nick's wife, and their daughter. We were given a talk by Greg Conway, the Nightjar expert of Thetford Forest, and after learning about their habitat and distribution, we went back to the Forest, and Nightjar traps were set! While dusk approached, we were entertained by Cuckoos and Woodlarks, and finally, both male and female Nightjars were ringed, and were spectacular birds.

Nightjar's wing


26th May 2019
On Sunday morning, we woke up early to do surveying activities at the Nunnery Lakes, the BTO’s adjacent nature reserve. There, we contributed to the Breeding Birds Survey, an activity where I paired up with Simon Ball, another brilliant young birder. We discovered that a massive area of the woodland was the territory of Long-tailed Tits! Our group then did nest recording with Lee Barber, where we explored the wetlands for nests, unlike last year, and it was amazing to see how big Mute Swan nests can be! Afterwards, we did a Constant Effort Site activity, which was ringing, and most of the birds caught, unsurprisingly, were Long-tailed Tits, one of which I was lucky enough to release.  

Long Tailed Tit fledgling

Song Thrush

Reed Warbler

Stone Curlew

After a few hours out and about, we returned to the Nunnery, where we packed our things and did a survey indoors on how to improve the BTO’S services, and looked at the moth trap again.

Finally, we shared our experiences over the weekend with our parents, marking an end to a memorable weekend. I’d like to thank Nick, Faye and Ben, and everyone who helped to make Bird Camp such a wonderful experience, and also to the Cameron Bespolka Trust, for their generosity, sponsoring the event. I’m looking forward to next year!