Cleaner & Greener

IMG_2162Solar panels on a Wanstead home

In the third of a series of articles providing an update on the Cleaner Greener Wanstead initiative, Councillor Paul Donovan (Wanstead Village, Labour) looks at the challenges of tackling energy efficiency

One of the biggest challenges we face in the battle to reduce emissions and so cut global warming is a fundamental change in energy use. The use of fossil fuels needs to be phased out quickly. Renewable energy has to become the order of the day.

The government has recognised this demand, with a commitment for no new properties to have gas-fired boilers after 2025 – though with little detail or budget for delivery. There is also talk of a push for the replacement of existing gas-fired boilers, with technology like heat pumps and hydrogen-fuelled devices. Solar photovoltaic panels also have a role to play, though changes to feed-in tariffs have made them less economical for homeowners.

Some 56% of emissions in Redbridge come from buildings, with the council committed to switching to renewable energy for electricity in council buildings, as well as delivering retrofitting of insulation for hundreds of homes through the Go Green programme. However, council-based activities only account for 2.4% of total emissions in the borough.

Energy is an area where there needs to be a real reach out to individuals to act. And there are some fine examples in Wanstead of people taking just such positive actions.

One couple has solar panels on their roof that enables them to heat the house and charge their electric car. They also have low-energy appliances throughout their home.

Another household has solar photovoltaic panels on the roof supplying electricity and heating water. They also produce much of their own food from the back garden.

Another individual is taking advantage of the mayor’s Solar Together scheme, which buys up a large number of panels at a lower price. Selected fitters then assess the properties taking part and come up with a quote. The local resident who has applied for this scheme also intends to power his electric vehicle with energy captured from his roof.

We should all explore switching to renewable energy sourced suppliers, as well as exploring the potential to become our own micro-generator of energy. However, this technology can still be expensive and complicated, so the government needs to step in to help and ensure it is more accessible and economical. It’s only with that help that we are going to see the significant reductions in emissions from buildings required to turn the tide on climate change.

There is a long way to go to make Wanstead a sustainable energy centre, but the examples quoted show what can be done.

For more information on the initiative, visit


Endangered in Wanstead


The Wren Wildlife Group, London Wildlife Trust and Wild Wanstead have compiled a list of 10 species at risk of local extinction. In the eighth of a series of articles looking at each species in turn, Liz Ranger explains why it’s time to give toads a helping hand

Poor old toads get a bad rap – accused of having warts, featuring in witches’ brews and being used as an insulting description of someone. It’s a shame because if ever there was a little creature to welcome to our gardens it’s a toad. They are the friend of anyone trying to grow plants or veggies, sneaking up on slugs, aphids, ants and other insects and using their sticky tongues to hoover them up.

Common toads can vary in colour from greenish to grey-brown – sometimes with dark markings. Their skin is dry and bumpy, and when scared or threatened, they have a neat trick of secreting a vile-tasting substance as a defence against predators.

Common toads spend much of their time on dry land, but in early spring, they return to the pond in which they were spawned to find a mate and reproduce. Toad spawn is laid in long strings and tadpoles emerge in 10 days. After breeding, toads return to drier areas where they may spend long periods over summer, hidden away during the day and hunting for slugs and other food at night. Toads sit out the winter, burrowed in mud or under logs or a compost heap.

It’s not too late to spot a toad – the best time is at night between February and October – but you’ll have to be lucky, because despite being called ‘common’, they’re actually getting rarer. It is difficult to accurately assess toad populations, but in Wanstead, people are saying they now come across them less frequently in their gardens. Common toads are classified as a biodiversity priority species under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act because of recent declines. The problem is loss of the habitats where they live, particularly the removal of ponds and vegetation, and the drainage of wet areas of land. As green areas become more fragmented and we build more roads, more toads are being killed by traffic as they migrate to and from their breeding ponds.

How to help

  • Create habitats in your garden where toads can live and feed, like a long grass area or piles of old wood or leaves in a shady location. Have an open compost heap for vegetable peelings and garden waste.
  • Build a wildlife pond – find out how at
  • Help minibeasts thrive in your garden to provide food for toads. Don’t use slug pellets or pesticides. Invertebrates love dense undergrowth where they can hide away, so why not leave a corner to go wild?

For more information about the 10 species under threat of extinction in Wanstead, visit


Proposal for artificial grass football pitches on Wanstead Flats

Screenshot-2021-09-22-at-09.34.17The project seeks to provide additional facilities at the Harrow Road football site on Wanstead Flats ©2021 Google

The City of London Corporation is exploring the feasibility of installing artificial grass pitches (AGPs) on Wanstead Flats.

“The proposed project aims to reduce the overall footprint on the Flats taken up by sport by replacing 17 of the grass pitches with three AGPs. This means around 34 acres of Wanstead Flats can be recreated for ecological benefit… At the same time, the durability of artificial grass will increase football pitch availability [for the community],” said a spokesperson.

A public consultation is expected this winter.


Wall of sound

DSCF6743©Geoff Wilkinson

Kathy Taylor explains the story behind Wanstead’s first large-scale mural, a singing nightingale on Nightingale Lane. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson

Back in January 2021, I was dreaming up an idea of a Festival of Nightingales for September on Nightingale Lane, Wanstead as a celebration, a wake and a rallying cry for this wonderful bird. Sadly, due to council Covid restrictions at the time, the idea had to be severely curtailed to last month’s mini festival.

However, in response to my door-to-door leafleting, Mark Clack of Wood Street Walls got in touch to ask if there was suitable wall space for a nightingale mural in the area. A few possibilities were identified and by February we approached Syed Asad Haque of the India Garden restaurant, who was delighted by the idea of having his end wall brightened up, being a fan of the Walthamstow murals. Mark selected one of his artist contacts, Gavin McPhail, who came up with a design that was approved by locals and Syed.

Now we see how a plain wall can be enhanced with design and colour, I am sure there will be a demand to brighten up other Wanstead walls!

The image is of a nightingale, which is a small brown bird with a creamy breast and a pale ring around its eye.

This mysterious, rarely seen bird is best known for its amazing melodious song (celebrated by poets since Homer in 750 BC) rather than its plumage, so the artist has made a depiction of its song prominent in the design.

The nightingale is in steep decline in the UK (a 91% dive in numbers since 1967), probably due to climate change and scrub habitat loss (disturbance from industrial farming practices – it nests near the ground – and grazing by muntjac deer both contribute to this). At a talk given by James Heal from the local Wren Wildlife group for the mini festival, attendees were amazed to learn that a nightingale was last heard on Wanstead Flats only this spring! However, this is a rare ‘sighting’ as it would have been passing through, looking for a suitable habitat on return from its winter migration to west Africa (it is thought).

Fishers Green in the Lea Valley is probably the nearest known place that you might hear one in spring at dusk. But what is the answer to the question: “Would there ever have been nightingales nesting in Wanstead?” There is a record of someone catching 34 birds in 1858 in Leytonstone, so almost undoubtedly, the answer is yes.

Thankfully, we no longer trap nightingales, even if we could find 34 of them! They are the canaries in the coal mine, an indicator of the drastic decline in our biodiversity and many of our much-loved songbird populations, including turtle doves and, locally, skylarks.

How can you help the nightingales? Campaign for better farming practices and more rewilding projects, find out how your food is produced and influence things via your spending power.

For more information on the Wren Wildlife Group, visit

For more information on Wood Street Walls, visit


Ultra Low Emission Zone expands to Wanstead this month


Drivers are reminded that from 25 October, the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is expanding to cover a larger area out to the North and South Circular (the North and South Circular themselves are not in the zone).

This will incorporate western areas of Redbridge, including Wanstead, Snaresbrook, Aldersbrook and South Woodford.

The expanded ULEZ will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a £12.50 daily charge for vehicles that do not meet the required emissions standards.



Crowdfunding campaign launched to create natural play area in Wanstead Park

IMG_7417Some large logs have been placed on the site behind the Temple in readiness for the project

A campaign has been launched to raise £20,000 to create a natural play area in Wanstead Park.

“Residents have been campaigning for play facilities in or close to Wanstead Park for three decades. If this campaign demonstrates strong support, we may also be eligible for matched funding of up to 50% of the total from Redbridge Council’s Community Infrastructure Levy scheme,” said Caroline Clancy.

The play area – to be located on former scrubland behind the Temple – has been planned in consultation with local groups and will be constructed from natural materials found in Epping Forest. Volunteers and arborists from the City of London will be building most of the play structures, but funds are needed to purchase some specialist equipment

“If we don’t raise the full £20,000, then unfortunately, we receive nothing!”

Donations can be made until 6 December.



Christchurch Green tree decorated with messages of hope


Messages of hope decorated a sycamore tree on Christchurch Green earlier this month as part of the Spreading Kindness Through E11 initiative.

“We were so pleased to be able to bring back the Kindness Tree to the Wanstead Festival. This time, we were joined by Wanstead Climate Action to encourage messages about hope for a brighter future, both within our community and for our planet. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed. It was definitely one of our most decorated trees to date!” said Elsa Arnold.


A lot to lose

cata-1Emperor moth caterpillar at the allotments (June 2021)

In the fourth of a series of articles by plot holders at the Redbridge Lane West allotments – which are under threat from the adjacent gas works – Iain Ambler explains the site’s importance for local biodiversity

The proposal by our neighbour Cadent, the global gas company, to use all or part of Redbridge Lane West allotments as a compound to support their works has put the future of the site at risk. This hidden natural jewel in the middle of Wanstead is a diverse and rich habitat with a strong tradition of wildlife conservation, and I believe the site should continue to be conserved for the benefit of wildlife and all Wanstead residents.

From historic maps, it would appear the allotments were originally glebeland (meadows belonging to the Rector of Wanstead), becoming allotment land by 1915. We have found exemplar flora in some of the undeveloped areas between plots that suggest these are relict patches of old natural grassland.

In recent years, there has been a history of active wildlife engagement by plot holders, working together and with the council. Previous conservation efforts have included tree planting, installing a large pond and bog pond, and creation and management of a wildlife area in the middle of the site. The wildlife has been beautifully recorded in images on the website East London Nature (, currently maintained by one of our plot holders.

The site, opposite Wanstead Leisure Centre, is triangular in shape and is squeezed in between Redbridge Lane West on one side and the A12 on the other. It boasts mature trees on each of its three sides, including hornbeam, Lombardy poplar, lime, London plane, silver birch, ash, Norway maple, sycamore, apple, and several weeping balsam poplar adjoining the Cadent gas site. Thick hawthorn hedging runs down the Redbridge Lane West side. This makes the site a fantastic habitat for nesting birds: we recently undertook an early morning breeding bird survey and recorded 15 to 20 nesting territories, including blackcap, jay, wren and great spotted woodpecker. The site sits at the end of a green corridor from Wanstead Park over the golf course: we have recorded common pipistrelle bats foraging on site, which we think roost in the park.

It’s simply amazing what diversity of wildlife exists under our feet, and what it does when you leave it alone! This summer, we recorded over 150 species of flora on the site. A number of these are grasses including false oat grass and Yorkshire fog. A fox and her cubs have been living in a den here this year and we have found wood mice and bank voles. Recently, an emperor moth caterpillar was spotted – a first for Wanstead.

The importance of urban microsites like our allotments and others locally, such as Tarzy Wood and George Green, for conserving and increasing biodiversity in the face of wider declines cannot be overemphasised.

To view the petition to save the Redbridge Lane West allotments, visit




A grass verge, a raised bed, a thin strip and a circular patch. Marian Temple offers a potted guide to four new local mini gardens, courtesy of the Wanstead Community Gardeners. Photography by Geoff Wilkinson

As if 2020 wasn’t active enough (it was one of our busiest years ever, gardening-wise), us community gardeners have continued creating new patchwork mini gardens across Wanstead in 2021.

1. First off the blocks is the Redbridge Lane West grass verge. This has been in a sorry state for years. Kathy Taylor of Wanstead Community Gardeners applied for a Community Infrastructure Levy grant for improvement here along with the application for the flower turf for the traffic island near The George. Vision RCL prepared the soil and planted the shrubs. They are small at the moment, so locals have planted flowers there till the shrubs grow. A great improvement.

2. The second new patch is the raised tree surround on the corner of Wellesley Road and Hermon Hill. The tree, a large horse chestnut, was more than dead. We asked Peter Marshall (Redbridge Council’s Principal Arboricultural and Horticultural Officer), the ‘go to’ person for street trees, if we could adopt this raised bed as we wanted a patch of flowers in this area of hard surfaces. A new street tree was planted outside the Methodist Church, and the raised tree surround, with the hollow dead tree stump, was handed over to us as requested. The stump gives more character for the patch and rotting wood is good for insects. A thick mat of couch grass and weeds removed and seeds sown in time for rain. The resulting patch of bright summer flowers has been a delight, especially for the lady who lives in the nearby block of flats who can look straight down onto them. The flowers will seed themselves so the patch will renew itself and a pot of lavender sits in the hollow tree stump. A delight for bees, and for us.

3. Number three new patch is almost up to the Green Man Roundabout. It is a strip of soil in a recess in the wall surrounding the Ennerdale Court flats. Weeds and rubbish removed; seeds sown and favourite cottage garden plants added. The generous rain was on our side. By August, the patch was flowering and morning glories were climbing the trellis. Next year, hollyhocks and Verbascum, our tall favourites, will be flowering. Lovely for anyone passing by and especially good for the bus drivers of the W14 as it terminates there. They really enjoy our patches, so now they can have one for themselves.

4. The jewel in the crown of this year’s new garden patches is definitely the traffic roundabout further along from our flower meadow in between The George and Wanstead Station. We adopted this five years ago and called it The Island Bed. This year, Ingrid, one of our super energetic gardeners, took on the mini roundabout as a project and, with amazing speed, has turned it into a garden. A massive amount of rubbish removed, ditto ivy, to allow sun and rain to the earth. This is a full sun area and is being filled with donated plants. Lots of shouted conversations between drivers waiting at the traffic lights and passers-by on the pavement. There is so much interest and delight at seeing the island transformed at such a pace. It has something of the style of Derek Jarman’s Dungeness Garden, with interesting pieces of wood planted vertically in the earth giving it a sculpture garden look. One such piece is sprouting beautiful dark red leaves. It has no roots, but no matter. Miracles happen on Ingrid’s Isle!

For more information on the work of the Wanstead Community Gardeners and to get involved, visit


Endangered in Wanstead


The Wren Wildlife Group, London Wildlife Trust and Wild Wanstead have compiled a list of 10 species at risk of local extinction. In the seventh of a series of articles looking at each species in turn, Susie Knox says farewell to this summer’s swifts

Over the last few months, it’s been a joy to hear the distinctive screaming of the swifts as they zoom in small groups high over Wanstead in their endless aerial search for insects. Swifts spend most of their lives flying, even sleeping, eating and drinking on the wing and only ever landing to nest. Their scientific name, Apus, actually means ‘without feet’ because their tiny feet and legs mean they can hardly walk and can’t perch on trees or telephone lines (if you see a similar-looking bird do this, it’s probably a swallow or house martin).

Swifts come to the UK in the summer to breed and spend their winters in Africa – travelling thousands of miles during their migration. They like to nest high up in buildings in small holes in roof spaces. They pair for life, meeting up in the spring at the same nest site and sharing parenting duties. They normally lay two or three eggs and incubate them for about three weeks.

Sadly, swifts are on the Amber List of Birds of Conservation Concern. More than half of British swifts have been lost since 1995, probably because of a number of factors. We know from scientific evidence and the absence of bugs on our car windscreens that there have been very significant declines in flying insects, their food source.

As migratory birds, weather events associated with climate change will also impact them. But one very obvious issue in the UK is the loss of nesting sites in recent decades due to the modernisation of buildings, because swifts require suitable hollows and crevices in the eaves. In Wanstead, locals certainly report heavy falls in the number of swifts we see and hear in our skies over the summer.

Fortunately, there are lots of things we can do to support swift populations when they’re spending time with us.

How to help:

  • If you’re lucky enough to have swifts nesting in your building, protect them by ensuring any building work near their nests is carefully managed.
  • Put a special swift nest box under the eaves of your roof – or if you are having new building or renovation work done, incorporate ‘swift bricks’, which create nest holes integrated into the masonry (find out more at
  • Email your local councillors asking them to demand that any new developments in Redbridge incorporate swift bricks.
  • Make your garden an oasis for flying insects. Fill it with dense foliage and pollinator-friendly plants.
  • Install a wildlife pond and create a long grass area – these are habitats that help insects thrive.
  • Never use pesticides and lobby the council to stop using them.

For more information about the 10 species under threat of extinction in Wanstead, visit


Petition to save local allotments will be debated at council meeting

allotments©Stephen Lines

A petition to save the Redbridge Lane West allotment site from being used by Cadent will be debated at a Full Council meeting this month.

“We will be able to present the petition and then council members will be able to ask questions and debate it before making a decision. By the time of the meeting on 23 September, it will be six months since the gas company first told us they wanted to take over the site, and we are still no clearer about what exactly it is they want or need to do,” said plot holder Sally Parker.



Deep Roots

DSCF5393©Geoff Wilkinson

Wanstead resident Jean Medcalf published her first poetry book last year. To Everything There is a Season is a collection of lyrical, spiritual poems about nature. In the 11th of a series of articles, Jean – who celebrated her 90th birthday earlier this year – recalls some local coincidental link-ups. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson

Last month, I talked about how Wanstead feels like a village where everybody seems to know everybody.  There are so many times when the people I know seem to link up with each other in unexpected ways.

I first noticed this when my husband and I moved onto our street 60 years ago. We found that Mrs Rawlings across the road had been in my husband’s class at Wanstead High School. Harold, who lived opposite, was the son of my husband’s boss at Waltham Forest College, and just around the corner lived Ted Smith, the landscape gardener who used to be the gardener when I went to Leyton County High. Some years later, a young man moved into the end house with his family – he greeted me in the street with: “You must be Sally’s mum!” It turned out he had been in my daughter’s class at art college!

I was also once accosted by a lady in Cranbourne Avenue who announced: “I know who you are!” Her name was Kath Setchell and she was my other daughter’s boyfriend’s auntie!

When I first met my dear friend Beryl, we got chatting about the people we knew, and she mentioned that she used to look after an elderly man locally who turned out to be the father of one of my daughter’s Nightingale School classmates. When I retired, I took a creative writing class at Wanstead House, where our tutor was one Brandon Robshaw, who you may have seen on TV. And guess what – he too was in my daughter’s class at Nightingale!

Similarly, my elder daughter and myself used to go to a French film club at Wanstead House. Our tutor was a lovely lady called Yvonne. When we got chatting, she knew my husband’s cousin as they played bridge together.

The coincidences go on. Just recently, an old friend of mine named Sandra was out walking her dog and got chatting to a couple who had recently moved in. On asking where they lived, they said Colvin Gardens. She said: “I used to live in Colvin Gardens. What number is your house?” It turned out they’d moved into the very same house that she once lived in!

A year or so ago, I spent some time convalescing in Forest Dene Care Home following a broken arm. And pretty soon I heard a familiar voice; it was a lady named Beatrice, and as you can no doubt guess, her son was a great friend of my daughter at Nightingale! (I feel that if your children went to Nightingale you will not be short of friends in later life.) Not only did I meet Beatrice but another lady called Christine I had not seen for 25 years, who used to work with me at Langthorne Hospital. And to cap it all, we were in the visitors’ lounge and I saw someone whose face I seemed to recognise. We got chatting and I asked her who she was. She was the daughter of my school caretaker, who I had not seen for 75 years!

But the oddest coincidence of all took place when I engaged a new home help, Stella, who was Greek. She went shopping up the High Street, got lost and asked directions from a helpful lady, explaining that she had just arrived from Athens. By some strange chance, the lady she spoke to spoke fluent Greek! She and Stella went for a coffee together, and the helpful lady asked Stella who she was working for. “Jean Medcalf,” explained Stella, and the helpful lady replied: “Oh, I know Jean!” Can you guess who that lady was? Our very own Marian Temple!

Late Beauty
by Jean Medcalf

From my bedroom window

I can see into the heart of my tall old pear tree

My father-in-law called it Doyenne du Comice

Now in October the Virginia creeper twines carmine

Blood red among the green pendant pears

The creeper comes into its crimson beauty in autumn

At the height of its power its leaves will drop

Suddenly to burnish the brown earth beneath

It is at the height of its beauty just before death

I wonder – is this how it will be with grandparents

Best just before death?

Jean’s book To Everything There is a Season is available in paperback (£5.75). Visit