Spring update

After winter’s dry conditions left much of southern Britain in drought, the welcome rains of spring saw the return of the rich mosaic of life found within Sydenham Hill Wood…

This year national attention is centered on the Diamond Jubilee of HM the Queen and the Olympics, but 2012 is also a special year for both Sydenham Hill Wood and the Wildlife Trusts’; celebrating 30 years of London Wildlife Trust managing the Wood as a nature reserve and the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Trusts by the pioneering environmental philanthropist Nathaniel Charles Rothschild. The Wildlife Trust’s Anniversary was marked by live broadcasting from Sydenham Hill Wood on BBC’s Breakfast Show.

Spring has also seen the continuation of the project to transform Dewy Pond and the Ambrook into a haven for aquatic wildlife. Volunteers have planted oxygenating, floating, emergent and marginal plants such as purple loostrife, flowering rush, water forget-me-not and white water lilies which have already attracted frogs, newts, ovipositing damselflies and a squadron of Mallards. A footbridge was built across the Ambrook for access so that visitors may enjoy watching the development of the habitat.


Elsewhere in the Wood species from many different families of animals were recorded taking advantage of the alternating wet and dry days. During our monthly moth surveys we recorded moth species including small phoenix, silver-ground carpet, common swift and brimstone. Nocturnal mammals such as pipistrelle bats, hedgehogs and a very inquisitive fox were also observed. Over the spring many species of bird have also been spotted or heard defending territories and raising chicks. One of the most exciting discoveries was a tawny owl roost. We collected tawny owl pellets that we found under the roost and dissected them to reveal house and wood mice, and bank and field voles.


Finally, volunteers have been involved with the ongoing routine but essential maintenance work such as repairing dead hedges and installing path edging to ensure that paths are clearly defined and sensitive plants such as bluebells and wood anemones are left untrampled.


This year we are celebrating London Wildlife Trust’s 30th Anniversary of managing the wood.

If you support our work why not join the Trust as a member?

See www.wildlondon.org.uk for more details.


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Barred-sallow by Daniel Greenwood

In September we sat
’round the luminating trap,
with faces-full
of mosquitoes, and
hands touched by beetles.

The barred sallow,
purple and gold,
made for the autumn
crop of failing chlorophyll,

it was the gentlest gift.

We are lucky, still,
to be met
by minor strangers
in the night.

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Encounters in the night

From last summer, when weather conditions have been suitable, volunteers have been meeting each month for four nights every new moon to carry out a moth survey of the wood. The survey involves us using a moth trap; a brightly lit box that attracts moths allowing us to ID them and then set them free. The wood is open to the public 24 hours a day, which means we are unable to leave the trap unattended. As a result we spend the evening sat around the trap, catching moths as they arrive.

To date we have found 303 moths of 44 species including tree lichen beauty; which was considered a rare migrant, but has expanded it’s range in recent years, small white wave; which is particularly found in ancient woodland and maiden’s blush locally common in the south of England.


(From left tree-lichen beauty, broad-bordered yellow underwing, shuttle-shaped dart and ruby tigers)

While trapping in the dark we have also experienced some pretty close encounters with other animals. One evening last summer we heard a repetitive squeaking. We followed the noise and found two fluffy tawny owlets. We heard the owlets and their parents repeatedly over the summer.


(Above:tawny owlets)

In September volunteers were sitting around the moth trap in the main glade and could hear a chirping sound on the edge of our hearing. Male Leisler’s bats exhibit lekking mating behaviour and it was this that we could hear. Breeding males emerge from their holes at nightfall and fly around the area of their mating roost calling loudly. They then return to the roost after a few minutes, where they continue to call and await the arrival of females. These calls are different to ecolocation calls that bats make and are audable to human ears. The following day we had our autumn bat box check and sure enough in a box in a tree behind where we were sitting we found a male and a female Leislers bat.


(From left: bat box check and male Leisler’s bat found )

Most recent of all was an amazingly close encounter last week with a very curious fox. The fox began by stalking us, crawling up to us one by one. It then inspected the moth trap very closely.


Our next moth survey will take place at the end of May. We’re looking forward to more night-time encounters with the Wood’s wildlife.

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My Sydenham Hill Experience by Alex Nicol

I have been volunteering with the London Wildlife Trust, Sydenham Hill Wood Reserve for a six month period of time (October-March) in order to complete a  work placement as part of my course requirement at Hadlow College, in partnership with the University of Greenwich. Part of my placement was intended for work and skills development in order to gain a wider knowledge, implement lecture knowledge into a practical situation and gain some management skills, the other part was to be a personal project: designed, implemented and concluded by me. I have been requested to write a blog of my time with the Trust, thus I have decided to write this short piece.

I will start with a necessary introduction. My name is Alex Nicol and I am 21 years old. I have been considering a career in conservation for some time now which has led to my degree study and a number of placements including this one.  I  found my time at Sydenham Hill Wood very enjoyable, there was freedom and sociability and a good and diverse group of people which added to the experience.

Practical work I conducted during volunteer workdays included path edging, Step cutting, practical habitat management, assisting with a public event (Halloween), wildlife surveying and monitoring. There was also work on other sites: Chapel Bank and Hutchinson’s Bank, as well as off site excursions to One Tree Hill to assist with some habitat management work and a day excursion to the Cliffe Pools RSPB centre to bird watch. Some days were also spent assisting the Dulwich Society Wildlife Committee plant a hedge. There was a variety to this placement I had not experienced in other jobs, volunteering groups or other work placements which was enjoyable.

My survey, as some of you will be aware, was woodpecker surveying and monitoring. The aim of this was to survey the two species of woodpecker in Sydenham hill wood to analyse short term and long term increases or decimation of population size and the amount of activity recorded, which were evaluated for statistical significance which would allow an estimation of a minimum population number. This was not possible from the P values gained from my data however, yet a find of no significance is still a result.

Now that I have finished my placement, I have decided to stay on with the London Wildlife Trust to further improve my  skills, gain some others e.g. brush cutter and first aid certificate. I am thinking of a dissertation for my third year and could well still be at Sydenham Hill Wood when the time comes to conduct my dissertation and beyond.

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Kier Corporate Volunteer Group

Kier Major Projects is a UK based construction company with a number of sites up and down the country.  Kier’s policy to proactively engage with local communities and charities has led to the first Major Projects – London Wildlife Trust workday.  Seven volunteers from three Kier sites located within central London attended Sydenham Hill Wood on 1stMarch.  The day comprised a number of activities including ‘dead-hedging’, which involves manufacturing a habitat and natural barrier out materials left-over from woodland management, such as tree limbs and brushwood.  The day was a real success – a number of volunteers have already asked if they can come along to the next event!”

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Ambrook and Dewy Project

Works began in September with a bat tree roost survey, in advance of the planned treeworks, in order to reduce the risk of disturbing roosting bats and ensure trees with a good bat roost potential were retained.

Extensive treeworks began in October. Trees along the Ambrook and around the pond were selectively removed, coppiced and crowns and overhanging branches reduced in order to reduce the amount of leaf litter and allow more light to reach the water and banks to allow plants to grow.

The pond and stream were de-silted in October and a scrape was cut into the boggy ground where the Ambrook feeds in to the pond. The silt was reprofiled and incorporated into the banks.

The entire area was fenced off in November. The fencing is intended to be in place for a period of three years to prevent erosion and allow vegetation to establish.

The recent wet weather has meant that the scrape and pond are filling up nicely.

In December steps leading towards the stream were re-cut. The next task is to build a new bridge over the stream.

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Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium)

Photograph by Daniel Greenwood

A sunny day in the glade brings out much of Sydenham Hill Wood’s colour. Gatekeeper butterflies appear with the sun’s rays, basking on leaves or fluttering to flowerheads to feed. The ambience of this open section of the wood is defined by the bright purple or pinkish flowers of Rosebay Willowherb, or Chamerion angustifolium.

This is a plant which grows on unsettled ground and can be glimpsed alongside railway lines quite commonly at this time of year. One alternative name,  bombweed comes from the fact that Rosebay Willowherb grew in the wake of London being blitzed by German bombs in the Second World War. It is also called Fireweed due to its predilection for fire-scorched earth.

The flower is successful in the Sydenham Hill Wood glade because of the history of the wood. The old trainline ran through where the flowers and gatekeepers now thrive. After 100 years of disturbance, the flower has come to settle in this now very peaceful and colourful space.

Here is a short and very sweet BBC clip about the plant: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p008lwk0

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Summer Activities

With summer now in full swing it has been a busy as well as exciting time for volunteers and visitors alike with the often rare but always welcome sunshine bringing the best out of the woods. The site is particularly well suited to the tireless curiosity of children with an abundance of learning and exploration literally at their (most probably grubby) fingertips. With this in mind under some glorious June sunshine families came for a fantastic afternoon of bug hunting that saw everybody getting stuck in bush sweeping, tree beating and leaf litter searching for all things creepy and crawly.

Leaf litter searching

Checking out whats been hiding in the trees and shrubs

Bush sweeping

Volunteers have also been making the most of what summer has to offer by trying their hands at the deceptively lengthy but ultimately satisfying process of wildflower identifying. This meant getting up close and personal with the flora through examining corollas, sepals and whorls to reveal the species in question and  allow volunteers to finaly put names to the floral faces seen everyday whilst in the woods.

Wildflower ID, harder than it looks!

With brains saturated and bodies frizzled in the summer sun, it was deemed time for a welcome picnic lunch break in the Glade with volunteers sharing out a myriad of culinary delights to consolidate another wonderful day in the Woods and recharge for the afternoons tasks.

Volunteer picnic

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Birds and Bugs

It might have been a while since the last update but there’s been no shortage of activity in the wood since then. In the last month our volunteers have recorded the following bird species in the wood or vicinity:

Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Starling, Robin, Wren, Dunnock, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Song Thrush, Woodpigeon, Carrion Crow, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Jay, Stock Dove, Treecreeper, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Swift, Ring-necked Parakeet, Mistle Thrush, Tawny Owl.

We have been pleased to note that a good number of these have been undertaking nesting activity. Noisy Great Spotted Woodpecker chicks have kept us entertained on Cox’s Walk  and this week a recently fledged brood of Blackcaps were observed feeding in the glade.

Our weekly butterfly surveys are also underway and so far the following species have been recorded:

Speckled Wood, Orange Tip, Small White, Large White, Green-veined White, Comma, Holly Blue, Peacock.

More updates to follow; why not write and tell us what you’ve seen or tweet us at www.twitter.com/sydenhamwoodlwt

Male Kestrel on Cox's Walk clock toweradult Great Spotted Woodpecker feeding chick


Comma butterfly warming up in the glademale Green-veined White butterflyBee Fly (Bombyliidae sp.) on ivy leaffly sp. on Sessile Oak leaf

 Photographs by Peter Beckenham

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Ramsons or wild garlic (Alium ursinum) flowers are just about to open. It has star- like flowers on long stalks and a pungent smell.

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Lesser stag beetle

Lesser stag beetles (Dorcus parallelopipedus) are miniature versions of the iconic stag beetle. The male lesser stag beetle’s jaws are larger than the females but not to the extent of the stag beetle. Larvae are found in decaying wood of broad-leaved trees, especially ash and beech. Adults usually become active in mid- summer and disperse by flying.

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Wood Anemone (Anemone nemerosa)

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Photograph: “The Bridge. Cox’s Walk. Dulwich”

Greetings. This very interesting photograph of the bridge which adjoins both section’s of Cox’s Walk in the wood was posted on a prolific South East London blogzine, Transpontine, in 2008. The photo is in stark contrast to what stands there today and, unfortunately, there’s no date for the image. But one would expect an aficionado out there could make an educated guess. Please click the image to read the original post. Please feel free to share any other hidden photographic treasures out there!

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Hedge planting in the rain

On Sunday a group of plucky volunteers began planting hedges (young whips in this case) along the upper stretch of Cox’s Walk. The rain arrived just in time and soaked the workers suitably for the hour and a half it took to plant 300 of the hedges. We planted a mixture of hazel, hawthorn, field maple, guelder rose, crab apple, spindle and buckthorn. Thanks to every who came along and willingly got themselves muddy. Here are some photos:

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Flickr Group

To any local or roaming photographers, amateur or professional, please join the Sydenham Hill Wood Flickr group so all the beautiful images already on the site can be pooled in one place:

Join the Flickr group

Here is one of the many fine images that Flickr holds of the wood (by John Russell)

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Photos: Pathmaking

For the past two weeks volunteers have been busy putting together new drains along the pathways.

We were joined by an interested onlooker as we replaced the old water-drainage ducts.

Our friend can here be seen modelling the new drain.

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