Saturday, 12 April 2014

Dawn Chorus Walk - 17-4-14 Species list

Here is a species list for the Dawn Chorus Walk:
Mistle Thrush
Song Thrush
Chiff Chaff
Collared Dove
Wood Pigeon
House Sparrow
Ring Neck Parakeet
Blue Tit
Great Tit

Carrion Crow
Feral Pigeon
Black Cap
Stock Dove
Grey Wagtail
27 species

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Creative engineering needed to end flood threat

The rays of sunlight streaming through the winter branches on a calm February midweek morning may get you thinking that all is well in the world. The glistening trunks and limbs of the trees, the saturated ground and the dark, brooding and oncoming clouds from the south-west imply a different scenario. The brief warmth turns to cold and a chill wind brings more rain, rain that has been the dominant feature since well before Christmas. The Somerset Levels have been flooded for months while the upper reaches of the Thames, where development is denser, are experiencing incremental water-level rises that have now reached a critical level. The emergency services have been scrambled and now work around the clock in both the Westcountry and the Thames catchment in an exercise of disaster management as opposed to risk-reduction. Did they see it coming? Well, yes, but certainly not this soon. Many climate-change academics say that the weather patterns we are experiencing now were predicted but not expected for 30 years or more. The long-term flooding threat has been seen by the Environment Agency as coming from rising sea levels,  as set out in the Thames2100 plan, and the upper Thames (River Thames Scheme). The Thames Barrier would be rebuilt mid-century and the riverside developments adorning both banks eastward face the installation of an elevated flood-protection wall. The current problems are with the upper catchment areas where, again, development and its hard surfacing increases run-off while changing farming practices have increased ground level saturation. This, with the Somserset Levels in mind, was laid out by environmentalist George Monbiot recently, where Monbiot criticised environment secretary Owen Paterson, from farming stock himself, for advocating the stripping of upland areas of vegetation and opting for a more canalised, culverted and straightened riparian landscape in order to flush water through. My old friend Paul Caudwell, a farmer in Oxfordshire, was prosecuted by the EA for doing just that four years ago. From a London, or Thames, perspective the stripping-out of vegetation was completed 200 years ago and, apart from some soft-engineered retrospective flood alleviation within catchment greenspaces, most of the riparian border landscape has been replaced by hard-surfaced car parks, driveways and shopping malls. In 2009, at the same time that Paul was battling with the EA, I took part in a real-time London flooding exercise with the Fire Service, Police, NHS and councils to detect any gaps in preparedness. Manning the phones, and with real resources at our disposal, we were given scenarios where sea levels, and therefore London flooding, were rising all the time. Borough Councils were busy, within the ficticious scenario, bussing people out of estates, caring for the elderly and infirm; hospitals were at bursting point etc. Now and then a curve-ball would be thrown into the mix like civilian dissorder, looting and fires. It was an all-day exercise and while generally it was successful, there were some Councils that didn't even get involved and refused to pick up the phone. Some of these said that they did not have the manpower, due to cuts, to get involved and some simply said it was too 'pie in the sky' to get involved with. Maybe some of these London Borough Councils will be scrabbling though their flood strategies as the reality is upon us. The problem is solveable but the answer is not to dredge, and return to the hard engineering of the last century, but to introduce create alleviation measures in the upper catchments. The Government must trust the Environment Agency strategists, flood experts and geomorphologists and give them the money to sort it out while politicians cut the rhetoric and take a back seat.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Thomas, Macfarlane, Deakin, Clare, Mabey, Petit & Sinclair

Walking along an old country lane you stop to hear a bird call, and wait to hear it again. You notice the high banks on either side, as you wait, and wonder, how many before you must have trod this path for it to have sunk so into a holloway. The path is wide enough to have taken a carriage but not a mechanised farm vehicle. The banks have grown inward through vegetation and now an earthen layer. Often, I re-live the experience of others where a very long walk is undertaken, one with purpose and possibly commercial, that requires the bedding down for the night under a tree or on a soft bank, Deakin and Macfarlane mention this and used to wild camp regularly together. Clare also, with Sinclair and Petit in his wake. Clare tended to knock on doors to sleep in barns and ask for scraps to eat. Some forage, building up a meal throughout the day's walk and settle down perhaps next to a small fire. In times past such journeys that required a stay under the stars would be out of necessity, now our lives are such that this would be choice. Or, one would think so.
Working and journeying along river banks occasionally I come across camps, tents etc of people that actually live in the woods. It is possible that we are coming full circle and that there is a new breed of transient communties travelling and living off the land. Finding the old paths and ways around, out of necessity. How many camps have you stumbled across while out walking? 

Sunday, 6 January 2013

URIC: Understanding our environment through experience

Here is the overview of the project for 2013
A series of walks and wades for students and academics over the last few years along the River Ravensbourne in South East London has now evolved into 'Urban Rivers in Context', a more coherently structured access-to-nature project. I was asked initially in 2010 to take a group of students from UCL for a wade along the river to explain my thesis 'From First to Second Nature: A study of the River Ravensbourne in South East London'. Some of the themes that have been explored on these early walks have been perceptions of wilderness, citing some of William Cronon's work; river regeneration and the question of 'regenerate to what?' and a discussion around the subjectivity of such projects; a little bit of political ecology and an introduction to Actor Network Theory, citing Noel Castree's work on the River Cole and finally some theoretical interpretations of nature's battle against development and the use of nature as a resource under capital. While these may sound 'heady', especially ANT, which I've often found a little intense, there is a good deal to be gained from getting waders on, getting into the water and letting nature come to you.
UCL MSc students 2011
More recently I've taken a small group of academics from UCL and University of Manchester and University of Chicago for a few hours visiting regeneration sites for an urban ecology/urban planning based walk/talk. One member of the group, Prof. Matthew Gandy (UCL), has a particular interest in urban ecology and also landscape and art and the evolution of Sutcliffe Park proved to be of particular interest as there has been a marked evolution from a straightforward river habitat into a wetland, thus bringing in a wider range of flora and fauna. Also, from a political ecology standpoint, there was great interest in the role of the Quaggy Waterways Action Group and other volunteer groups in making the case for regeneration there in the first place.
Landscape and art is a new area of development for Urban Rivers in Context in 2013. The landscape in and around urban rivers is constantly shifting, it is never a neutral or objective medium but one continuous with the act of perception. The riparian environment may be a rich palimpsest of cultural, social and industrial history but the constant movement of changing populations of flora and fauna and slower rise and fall of urban development also create a fertile ground for shaping and interpreting the landscape. City & Guilds School of Art have expressed an interest in bringing groups of students down to the river this year. Viewing an urban environment from within the river creates a completely different perception of the world around us and it is hoped that some interesting work will come out of this particular engagement.
UCL MSc ESS wade 2012

All wades and walks are fully risk assessed, equipment is provided and, where possible, back-up will be provided by Lewisham's Ecological Regeneration office. If you would like a walk or wade for a group along this river then please email your requirements to Lawrence Beale Collins and I'll send more information and a costing structure. Thank you, LBC 2013

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Films of the River Quaggy 2012

Here is a link to the four films we made along the River Quaggy in 2012. Prompted by the imminent departure of Quaggy Waterways Action Group stalwart Matthew Blumler, it was decided to wade the Quaggy to record Matthew's thoughts on the 'state of the river' between the confluence in Lewisham centre to Sundridge (as far as we could go). Please follow this link

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Mapping London: Bombs during the Blitz

This is particularly relevant as I'm told they pulled a bomb out during the regeneration of Chinbrook Meadows, home of the River Quaggy, in 2002. Wickham Road SE4, close to where I live now, had more than its fair share of bomb damage with many houses destroyed during the Blitz and a handful of unfortunate souls losing their lives. Here it has been mapped. London Blitz Map
My mother Ruby, who was an SRN trained at UCH, rode the ambulances around town attending to those injured during the Blitz in Central London.To say that she had 'seen it all' before she had me was an understatement.