Fence defence


Skylarks successfully bred on Wanstead Flats last year, helped by temporary fencing to prevent disturbance to these ground-nesting birds. Please respect the fence again this year, says Mary Holden

Wanstead Flats has always been known for its iconic ground-nesting Skylarks, but in recent years, numbers have fallen. During the 2012 Olympics, a temporary police base was installed on the fairground site, east of Centre Road, and in the following years, no Skylarks nested in that area, although several pairs continued to breed among the anthills on the other side of the road. These birds represent the closest population of breeding Skylarks to the centre of London.

Numbers have been in decline nationally for decades due to various factors, including loss of habitat. The future for the Wanstead Flats birds looked bleak. In 2020, no Skylarks bred successfully on the Flats and our other ground-nesting bird, the Meadow Pipit, also stopped breeding. Drastic action was needed to prevent the Skylarks from disappearing. The Wren Wildlife and Conservation Group, in conjunction with the City of London Corporation, which owns and manages the land, were determined to try and protect numbers locally.

So, in 2021 and each year since, temporary fencing has been erected around two areas of the Flats between March and the end of August. This has meant that the birds – whose eggs and chicks are particularly vulnerable to disturbance – have been protected from heavy human and canine footfall during the nesting season. This protection paid off handsomely last year with at least four young birds fledging – the best breeding success for quite a few years.

We hope the Skylarks repeat that success this year and that we will begin to see the recolonisation of more areas of the Flats.

In order to reduce the use of single-use plastic fencing, the City of London Corporation has this year been experimenting with blue rope to demarcate the two areas, and people are politely being asked to keep out and also to keep their dogs on a lead between Centre Road and the football pitches.

The reaction of walkers to the new ropes has generally been very positive and the vast majority of people are willing to keep out to protect the nesting birds. But like me, many people are annoyed and perplexed by those that wish to keep traversing the area. A person or persons so far unknown have been vandalising the ropes, meaning they had to be totally replaced several times last month.

Please respect the temporary fencing: the future of our Skylarks, which bring local people and visitors alike so much joy every spring and summer, may depend on it. If you see the rope being vandalised, please report it to the police by phoning 101.

For more information about the Wren Wildlife Group, visit wrengroup.org.uk

Author: Editor