Fence offence

Acr2932146978304-2994710Some of the Wren members helping to erect the skylark enclosure

With the skylark protective fencing on Wanstead Flats being vandalised, Wren Wildlife Group members Bob Vaughan and James Heal are keen to educate the community on the need for this temporary measure

At certain points in history, Wanstead Flats has been at risk of enclosure and being developed. We should be forever grateful for the committed local citizens of East London and Essex who resisted those moves.

Wanstead Flats has, however, been enclosed and utilised a number of times, albeit on a temporary basis: a prisoner of war camp in World War II, a police muster station during the 2012 Olympics and a temporary mortuary (that was thankfully not really used) during the pandemic. Another enclosure of sorts is the temporary fencing put up around sections of the broom fields on Wanstead Flats where our local skylarks breed. Nobody wants to see Wanstead Flats enclosed, but, as with all things in life, there are times for compromise, and it seems to me that temporarily not being able to walk or take dogs into a relatively small section of grassland to give our ground-nesting birds the best chance of survival seems like a price worth paying. 

Skylarks can be heard singing on Wanstead Flats every spring, the closest colony to central London. However, this small brown bird is now a red-list species of conservation concern.

Over the years, the Wren Wildlife and Conservation Group have been monitoring the numbers of singing male skylarks on Wanstead Flats and have noticed a rapid decline from double figures in 2010 to just three or four in the last few years. As it is a ground-nesting bird, the skylark is prone to disturbance, and with the increase in footfall on the Flats, we are concerned that skylarks might soon be lost as a breeding species locally. A further complication is that skylarks will not nest near tree cover; they prefer open spaces.

So, in 2021, the City of London agreed to put up fencing during the breeding season (March to August) over a couple of small areas in the middle of the Flats. This experiment has worked well and, although it is difficult to be precise, with no breeding recorded in 2020, it is believed at least one pair bred successfully in the last two years.

However, this year, someone has been cutting down the fence. We are not sure why this is happening. We want everyone to support this initiative, which is now being adopted elsewhere to ensure the skylark’s song will remain a delight throughout the UK. The Wren Group has been involved in helping the community – especially dog walkers – understand the need for this temporary fencing. The public has been very supportive and appreciative of the lovely lilting song as they walk through the Flats on the main paths. Unfortunately, a small number of individuals seem keen to break the rules and ruin things for the majority.

Community. Neighbourliness. Dialogue. Understanding. Progress. These all seem like pertinent words at the moment.

For more information on the Wren Wildlife Group, visit wnstd.com/wren