Saturday, 21 January 2012

Once Upon a Time we had Woodpeckers

For the last two years on the trot we have had Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers breeding on Wanstead Flats. Wanstead Flats is mostly grassland and football pitches, with a few mature copses. The lack of cover meant you could easily see the Woodpeckers for the trees, so to speak. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is a good bird anywhere, let alone London, and as they were so reliable, people came from far and wide to get a glimpse of them. Most came away happy, and we, the patch-workers, were also happy. Wanstead is good for Woodpeckers.

Then came health and safety. The Corporation of London, who in all the time I have lived here I have yet to see perform a single worthwhile act that benefits wildlife, decided that the trees in the copses were dangerous. Being so attractive to Woodpeckers, and so, well, dead, there was a risk that they might fall on someone, and that that someone might sue. So breeding Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers be damned, all those trees are now gone. You cannot argue with health and safety. It's like trying to argue with the Olympics, utterly pointless.

The copses are used by breeding Starling, breeding Stock Dove, and Woodpeckers. Blue and Great Tits feed in them, as do winter thrushesSquirrels and Noctule Bats call them home, and when we had Little Owls, they lived there too. Human activity is confined to the drinking of lager, the lighting of barbeques, the dropping of litter, and casual sex. All of those activities could do with a large lump of wood interrupting them in my opinion. But no, the Corporation does not want to be sued by a bunch of half-drunk eastern european migrants or aged doggers, so the trees have all been reduced to bare trunks. The sensible thing to do would have been to fence off the copses, and leave nature to run its course, which would result in lots of nice dead wood for invertebrates, and the continued presence of breeding Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. But no, a branch might crush a drunk, so it's far safer just to get rid of the trees altogether. At least the beetles and grubs will have some nice logs to get going on though. Er, no. They constitute a fire hazard, and so have been removed in case the local youf or aforementioned drunks decide to burn them.

I spent a good two hours looking for Lesser Spots on Wanstead Flats today. Guess what?

I took this in 2010
Now the tree looks like this.

A big two fingers up to wildlife


  1. Complain to the relevant people. Loudly. Not that I think it would help, but it can't hurt.

  2. In the heat of moment I was perhaps slightly disingenuous. The corporation did make contact with the rspb before carrying out the work. This found its way to local birders and one of us was able to discuss the planned work and even accompany them round the copses. No alternatives were suggested, they were only ever going to do tree work. So in the end though, despite or obvious concerns that were made very clear, the health and safety rules are so obnoxious that it didn't make any difference, but I was surprised at write how drastic the chopping has been and I really do fear for the return of breeding birds as the copses must surely be far less attractive to them now.

  3. You're a good writer Jonathan, put something in the local press. Its a disgrace, the twats cant do anything thats needed but give them some destruction and they are there like a shot.

  4. This typifies London officialdom's attitude to wildlife. What a shame, and with Lesser-spots declining so seriously across Britain too. In Greenwich Park we have the joy of the Olympics to look forward to, but at least there are a few fenced-off wooded sections with some dead trees, and the Lesser-spots already went from here a few years ago anyway. What a shame council jobsworths have to destroy what little wildlife habitat remains in London. You can bet that they'd still be the first to trumpet their use of solar panels and recycled material in some landmark building project or other, to prove their green credentials to the public!

  5. As you say a great bird to see anywhere. I hope the relevant authorities can save this species. A great read.

  6. This is just vandalism. Couldn't they have fenced off the copses?

  7. Indeed Fraser, you would think so. But apparently not, perhaps because paths run through. them. You've been there, fences would have been ideal, no?