Recently the RSPB and other wildlife organisations teamed up to investigate how under threat our birds, wildlife and ecosystems are in the UK today.
The shocking results were published in a seminal State of Nature report which reveals that in the last 50 years, a staggering 60% of monitored species have declined; one in ten are threatened with extinction and 44 million birds have been lost.
In consequence of the report, the RSPB launched a campaign appropriately titled ‘Giving Nature a Home’. The impetus behind the campaign is that the alarming loss of wildlife is because nature’s homes are disappearing or being destroyed.
Unfortunately, this is something all to familiar to those of us living in London and who are witnessing, day after day, the destruction and inappropriate management of our green spaces. In recent years, 17% of our green spaces in the city have been paved over. Huge swathes of green space, including the Eastway Cycle Track and Bully Fen Nature Reserve were swallowed underneath the Olympic construction machine; now these areas are only home to concrete and empty venues. Other areas, such as East Marsh and Leyton Marsh, which were earmarked for ‘temporary’ use for the Olympics, have not been returned in the condition promised to us by the authorities involved.
Leyton Marsh, formerly the home to many species of wildflowers and promised back to the public in ‘its original condition’ is now a dying wasteland. From the images, you can see the recent round of mowing has revealed vast areas where the grass has died and nothing is growing at all. The latest round of mowing cut the grass down to the lowest possible level and destroyed one of the four sections of the Special Area for Nature Conservation, one of the remaining areas on Leyton Marsh not affected by construction of the Olympic venue.
Many nature organisations are focused upon assisting people to make homes for wildlife in their gardens, a highly laudable aim which should be supported in its own right. However, what is often forgotten is the hectares of land with thriving wildlife which small grassroots organisations like ourselves are struggling to protect. Our marshes could easily be safeguarded as a home for our struggling native species of wildlife. No massive program of planting or sowing is required, just a few simple changes by the authorities in whose jurisdiction the land lies.
The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA) manages a huge area of land along the Lea Valley, including Leyton, Walthamstow and Tottenham Marshes.
Over the course of our campaign, we have witnessed firsthand how an organisation ostensibly set up in order to safeguard this land, with subsidies from London councils in order to do so, is actually undertaking development and management practices in direct contravention to the measures so desperately needed to protect our remaining wild spaces. At a full authority meeting back in February, SLM members were dumbfounded when it was declared that ‘contaminated areas’ would be left for wildlife. This was the only reference to wildlife during the full authority and executive meetings that day; these meetings went on from 10am to 4.30pm.
One of the ways the LVRPA could safeguard precious habitats for our wildlife is through improved management that takes into account both the State of Nature report and latest research on management practices. From the images, you can see some of the effects of undertaking mowing during early summer. Other equally detrimental effects to our wildlife remain hidden but are all too real. Species such as grasshoppers, necessary for supporting the rich habitat found on the marshes, perish when the mowing is carried out. Ants nests are cut in two and do not survive the assault of blades of heavy machinery driving through their homes – the remnants of dozens could be seen in 2013 after the June mowing .
Areas which once supported so much life are left barren and many species become unnecessarily homeless. This is entirely preventable. The government have been advised to ban grass cutting during early summer in order to protect bees and other pollinators in critical decline. As a park authority, the LVRPA should be a leading light in adopting these sort of measures, rather than justifying a maintenance regime unsupported by evidence.
The LVRPA could also maximise areas that support wildlife by refraining from hacking back wildflowers and undergrowth adjacent to paths and mowing either side of Sandy Lane so deep that it would require two trucks passing each other before anyone was forced to brush against a flower (also see image below of savage cutting adjacent to the Boardwalk on Walthamstow Marshes).
Whilst wildlife is threatened by the introduction of harmful invasive species by man, the solution is not the application of Monsanto-made products which are highly toxic to plant, amphibian and insect life. Unfortunately, the LVRPA has written to us recently outlining that it plans to maintain the use of glyphosate (Monsanto-made RoundUp) to control Giant Hogweed, New Zealand Pigmyweed and Japanese Knotweed. In the areas where this weedkiller has been applied to the Pigmyweed, the water in the ditches, which usually support a range of amphibian life including newts and tadpoles is milky and lifeless. An alternative would be the use of volunteers to pull up the weed by hand in winter, allowing any insects to crawl out and clearing it from the ditches without harming other species.
The areas where Giant Hogweed once stood tall around the former golf course are now yellow and brown which means that rather than being spot-treated, the areas affected have been sprayed, killing not just the Giant Hogweed but all life around the plants. Eventually the plant will become resistant to the weedkiller and larger and larger doses of this toxin will be required. We have suggested, after obtaining advice from the Pesticides Action Network, that both stem injection systems and the latest non-toxic WeedTech technology could be used instead.
And if this all sounds a little depressing, then keep reading, because you can help stop these destructive practices and help give nature a permanent home!
Walking through the marshes, there are still areas of vast natural beauty. These unmown areas of Walthamstow Marshes are a rich array of rusty red, white, yellow and purple wildflowers simply buzzing with life, despite the terrible winter for bees. These areas can be protected with enough interest and action from an educated public i.e. you!
Please write to the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority: firstname.lastname@example.org and CC their biodiversity officer Cath Patrick: email@example.com asking that they undertake the following measures:
1) That, in line with the latest research, mowing is not undertaken in early summer at all due to its detrimental effect on all species, but in particular our pollinators. Preferably, grazing can be used to substitute for mowing; grazing is a non-harmful method to support the biodiversity of plantlife which does not kill insects, ants, bees and other species nor make our wildlife homeless. For more information on the ‘No Mow’ campaign, check out the work of River of Flowers and Project Maya
2) Other means of controlling invasive species, that do not involve spraying or administering poisons such as Monsanto- made RoundUp, are found for the Site of Special Scientific Interest and elsewhere on the marshes. For more on the detrimental effects of pesticides on our wildlife and wildlife-friendly alternatives, check out PAN_UK
3) That the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme that the LVRPA has entered into with Natural England is adapted to take into account not just controlling plant species non-native to the UK, but to safeguarding all wildlife on the marshes, in line with the latest reports and advice on mowing and maintenance for healthy ecosystems.
Let’s give nature a home on our marshes!