Roehampton Garden Society


Fantastic Mr Fox?

Most of us are accustomed to seeing the odd fox in daylight hours – they are part of site wildlife, and seem amazingly unworried by humans.

Photo by Kate Pugh

This lovely photo, taken by Kate Pugh on site 2, shows how relaxed they can be! Certainly, most of us with a greenhouse have experienced the pleasure of a fox visitor enjoying the warmth and sunshine.

We do need to avoid crop damage and other problems that occur if too many foxes live on the sites. They are wild creatures that can give much pleasure. They do love digging under sheds, however!
There is excellent information and advice about living with foxes from the RSPCA – including how to find out if an earth (den) is occupied before you fill it in. Please do read it.


The Commons Conservators Wildlife Report

The Wimbledon and Putney Commons’ Wildlife and Environment Report 2022 has just been published.

This monitoring report on the wildlife species living on our commons shows health of our local wildlife, with winners and losers changing year on year.

This year the report shows:

28 species of butterfly were recorded – a slight increase on 2021. There was a more noticeable increase in dragonfly species, up by nine to 21, including a single Norfolk Hawker and a Keeled Skimmer which is a typical wet heathland species not seen on the Common since 2018.

16 Common Lizards were spotted, an increase on the previous year while frogs, toads and newts continue to spawn in many of the ponds.

The stag beetle population continues to decline with only 21 reported by visitors, a continuation of the fall since 2014.

While a number of new species are appearing, there is broader concern expressed in the report that more common species of butterfly are declining in numbers continuing a trend seen over the last few years. In particular Meadow Brown, Small Heath and Common Blue are showing significant declines over the past 5 years.

Read the full report on The Conservators website here


More or Less in the insect world

Our allotment sites have been home to greater numbers of Red Admiral butterflies this year. Such a welcome sight and a little good news. Peacock butterflies didn’t do quite so well, however, and numbers of the Small Tortoishell and Green-veined white slumped. If you’re interested in the full results of the Butterfly Count this year check them out here.

Red Admiral

The other insect species having a startlingly good year in Roehampton is a small brown grasshopper – seen in hundreds by those mowing the paths this summer as they scramble away from the mower. Look out for them hopping on your plot.

Common Field Grasshopper

If anyone is curious about our native grasshoppers there is more to see here


Butterflies Back from the Brink –

Good news for butterfly enthusiasts this week – the black-veined white butterfly, previously described as extinct in Britain for nearly 100 years, has suddenly re-appeared.

First listed as a British species during the reign of King Charles II, they officially became extinct in Britain in 1925. This month they have mysteriously appeared in SE London among their favourite habitat: hawthorn and blackthorn trees.

Butterfly Conservation says that it probably does not signify a spontaneous recovery of an extinct species., but someone has re- introduced them. Read more from the BBC here

Last year the Large Blue butterfly – declared extinct in the UK in 1979, had it’s best summer yet in England as the result of re-introducing caterpillars from Sweden and a conservation project led by the Royal Entomological Society.

Read more from the BBC here

Many thanks to Bill Young


Should we be planting nettles?

It seems there is a world wide trend to plant more stinging nettles – and not just for soup! In New Zealand nettle cultivation is revitalising their red admiral butterfly population, and in the UK the Woodland Trust urges us to conserve nettle patches – home to several lovely UK butterflies. If you have a small patch of nettles, please consider leaving it alone this summer….

Butterflies on Site 3…
On Sunday last, (9th May) both Albert and myself were treated to a charming Common Blue Butterfly fluttering over both our allotments. Everyone has been telling me about Peacock Butterflies, how they for a few days and were everywhere, then suddenly disappeared. Don’t be sad, they will have mated, laid eggs, and the caterpillars from those eggs will grow over the summer, to enchant us all flying around in August and September.
Small Pearl Fritillarys are now on the wing; several can be seen on site 3. They are about the size of an old half-penny at most. In some of the ponds, damsel flies are now in residence. I’ve yet to see any dragonflies but with the expected hot weather, they will put in an appearance.

Bill Young


Swallows and Swifts

We can look forward to the return of our migratory birds over the next four weeks.   Swallows, swifts, wagtails et al, will arrive with one thing in their minds, to nest.  There are Swift boxes attached to the walls of a couple of houses bordering our allotments and Huntingfield Road.  The Swifts arrived last year on the seventh of May, I will report back, when I see them this year.

Bill Young

Migratory birds all need somewhere to nest. Their chicks need good shelter from sudden cold spells – which also reduce their food supply.

Swifts will come back to the same nest year after year. They like high, deep crevices to nest, but because we’ve lost many old houses and buildings, and as roof spaces are filled or mended, their numbers have declined dramatically and they are now on the UK Red list of conservation concern. Fix a wooden swift box to the outside of your home to give them somewhere to nest. You can build your own swift box, or if you are short on time or DIY skills, you can buy a ready-made swift box If you have space, a Swift box in a warm, sheltered spot might help.

RSPB

Find out how to make a swift box here


Vanishing tadpoles – but a newt survives….

Several people have asked me why, the tadpoles within their allotment ponds, have suddenly disappeared.  Tadpoles ideal habitat is plenty of pond algae, pond weed, vitally – light and warmth.  Unfortunately the night temperatures over the last fortnight, (mid-April) have worked against them. That is the probable cause, for their sudden disappearance, small tadpoles aren’t robust enough to withstand the cold night-time temperatures.

Albert’s Pond – Its with great delight that I can report the return of Jaws!  I chucked in a handful of slugs and snails into the pond, all garnered from my allotment.  Then out from under the pond weed swam Jaws, as bold as brass, he helped himself to a nice fat juicy slug.  His spotted orange tail is quite distinctive, he must be between 12/14 cm. in length.  I’m afraid that newts are big predators of tadpoles. This is balanced out by adult frogs and toads, in turn, eating small juvenile newts. They are especially vulnerable once on land, when they are looking for a suitable place to hibernate. 

Smooth or Common Newt


Sparrowhawk and Robin

A lovely March story from Bill Young….

A pair of Jackdaws have acquired a very desirable residence in Elmshaw Road, just opposite Stewart’s allotment. The house had a vacant chimney, it is the centre for a hive of activity, the excited pair dropping sticks down the chimney, followed by a period of very intently, peering down into that chimney. All this in the hope one would lodge and form the base of their nest. Evidently they were successful, as they’re now disappearing down the chimney, with sticks, mud, straw and anything they think suitable.

I have got some shallots under a polythene cloche, whist digging up some weeds next the cloche. I was accompanied by a female blackbird, a robin and two sparrows all enjoying the worms, beetles, woodlice and ants exposed, as I rooted out the weeds.
A shrill shriek from the blackbird, with a whish it was gone, as were the sparrows. I found myself surprised, staring at a sparrow hawk about ten feet away. It had appeared from nowhere! It was on the ground staring at the robin, which had simply and calmly, had ducked under the polythene and into the polytunnel. The sparrow hawk totally ignored me, loped towards the polytunnel, thrust a foot under the polythene and tried to snag the robin. Which simply hopped away, adroitly using the wire stanchions of the tunnel, to limit the leg’s reach and get out of range. All this time, the robin was facing its sparrow hawk opponent, watching it intently. There was maybe a two inch gap between the soil and the polythene edge. The hawk then decided to try and get under the polythene and get at the robin. As soon as its head went under the polythene, our robin ducked out the other side and at top speed disappeared into Jim’s garden.
The hawk then, with a look of disgust, flew up and onto the top of a Elmshaw house chimney, where it proceeded to rearrange its feathers. This greatly disturbed all the resident Elmshaw Road Jackdaws, who communally began to mob it, creating quite a hullabaloo The sparrow hawk at this point gave up and flew off towards Putney Heath.

with thanks to Bill Young


Sights and Sounds of Spring

On the 18th February whilst digging, during a welcome blink of sun, this encouraged the frogs in Alberts pond to croak repeatedly. It also spurred the sparrows to start flirting, the brownish black headed cocks, were desperate to impress their ladies. Choice seeds were being laid gently in front of the lady of their hearts desire, to either be peck up immediately or rejected with scorn by her.

I haven’t seen the goldfinches for at least ten days, anticipating spring, they’ve probably disappeared to the countryside. My allotment owner, not RGS or the council – the owner is called robin redbreast, surprised me, turning up with a companion, both quite enthusiastically and amicably, following me as I dug and moved pots, cleared away dead material. They had a beano on small worms, beetles and much else, so-much-so they only had a little of the cheddar from my sandwich.

On the same day I discovered a red-tailed bumblebee comatosed on the path. I think a wing was damaged, never-the-less it was a welcome sign of spring. Two of our enthusiastic lady plot holders, excitedly told me they’d seen a butterfly. From their description, it sounds as if it was probably a small copper – Lycaena phlaese, but on this I could be totally wrong. All plot holders should be aware – their sheds on the plots are ideal place for insects to hibernate. During late autumn and winter, the shed offers inside, a dry area full of neuks and crannies. They can spin their cocoons with some security, no birds beak will come probing for them. I am guessing, but the I suspect the butterfly probably developed from a cocoon spun in a shed with a fair bit of glass, near the big apple tree at the top of the allotments. During sunny periods, the elevated temperature speeded up its development, hence the early appearance.

with thanks to Bill Young


Winter Goldfinches

December 2022

Today, the 20th of December, finally got a hour or two to myself.  Being a glorious morning, donned boots and a cap and headed to my plot.

Well the reward was tremendous. Digging up some leeks, I was surrounded by a flock of goldfinches. The proper term for a flock of goldfinches is – a Charm of Goldfinch.  What a expression for sheer joy that is!  I counted eleven, but could well be guilty of miscounting.
Just enjoy these magnificent little birds, in sharing – what our allotments are all about – the fruit and vegetables, birds, mammals and all nature.

with thanks to Bill Young


Birds, Newts and Frogs

November 2022

We are experiencing our first winter migrants; starlings are arriving in numbers from the continent.  So expect to see little parties hunting for worms and anything edible over the allotments from now on. 

Starling

We seems to have had a excellent crop of juvenile blackbirds, recognisable as somewhat dowdy greyish-black, with some darker spots on their breasts. They are everywhere, one has almost taken up permanent residence on top of my compost bin getting, no doubt, woodlice, spiders and the odd worm.

Blackbird

Robins are having squabbles across the allotments, all over territory with the best grub – to ensure survival over this coming winter.  Around my allotment – Jim’s garden with his bird feeders, some with meal worm grubs, it is the highly desirable Park Lane for a robin.  Yesterday, I witnessed a ding-dong battle going on, between two robins, all over this highly desirable territory. 

Robin

The newts seem to have vacated Albert’s pond, as the temperature drops they will be looking for a place to hibernate.  If you find a newt or frog under a pot or under a compost bag, if possible, gently replace the object.  If you have to move them – be aware that if you handle them, the temperature of your hand is capable of awaking them, from their deep hibernation torpor.   Best, if you prepare in advance a spot you want to move them to. Then move them quickly to it, making sure its safe from predators (Fox or Cat).  Do keep handling hibernating newts and frogs to the very bare minimum if possible. 

Smooth Newt

With thanks to Bill Young, Site3.


Tawny Owls

Tawny Owl

In conversation with a lady who lives in Elmshaw Road abutting the allotments, she is now certain we have a pair of Tawny Owls, staking site 3 as their own territory. She was alerted about a month ago; she heard repeated Kweet calls in the very early mornings. Since then she has heard the classic Twit-Twoo . That call is indicative of Tawny Owls, their very own signature tune.

Its only a guess, but they may be roosting in the Leylandii next to the allotments – tall with dense cover, which is ideal for them to roost in.   I looked on Tuesday with no luck, will let you know if I see anything.  When I next see my neighbour Jim,  I’ll ask him if he hears them at night, as his bedroom is next to the Leylandii ….

With thanks to Bill Young, Site 3