Park Life

P1033643©Diane Dalli

In the sixth of a series of articles featuring the images of local photographers who document the wildlife of Wanstead Park and the surrounding area, Diane Dalli presents her macro shot of a Batman Hoverfly

Wanstead Flats and Wanstead Park are havens for all forms of wildlife and are ideal places to find subjects to photograph. There is an ever-changing bird population as many species stop off here during migration as well as the resident population of birds of all sizes, including Skylarks, Dunnocks and Kestrels, in addition to the many types of finches and warblers, and many species of waterbirds on the ponds and lakes – too many to list!

During the summer months, the many areas of long grass are alive with butterflies, moths, spiders, grasshoppers and all sorts of other bugs. They are challenging to photograph due to their size and speed. It can take a while to focus on them and often before I can press the shutter they hop, jump or fly off!

It is fascinating to see the amount of detail that is revealed when you look at an image which is larger than life-size, much more than can be seen with a fleeting glance of the naked eye.

I use the long end of a telescopic lens for the larger subjects, such as butterflies, and a macro lens for the tiny creatures, such as ants, crickets and beetles. They are very easy to spook, especially if your shadow falls across them, so better to try to keep a distance. They can be elusive, so it is sometimes worthwhile lifting a leaf or looking closely at the area near a spider’s web to discover tiny creatures hiding away. Sitting still for a while in a patch of grass can also be rewarding as you can spot little insects moving around as they get used to your presence.

Hoverflies are one of my favourite subjects as their habit of hovering in the same spot for a while gives me a chance to focus and snap them. This Batman Hoverfly, so-called because of the shape of the marking on its back, feeds on pollen and nectar from many different plants and is common in the area. There are over 280 species of hoverfly in the UK, about 30 of which can be found in Wanstead Park. As well as their long Latin names, they are often given common names such as Marmalade, Banded, Pied and Long Hoverfly, according to their characteristics.

Insects both flying and crawling can be found all over the Park but the area near the stables known as the Old Sewage Works (so-called because it was a parcel of land that used to belong to a water company) is particularly rich in butterflies, spiders and grasshoppers in the summer months. Even grass snakes have been seen there, although they tend to slither away as soon as they feel the vibration of approaching footsteps!

I really enjoy my visits to Wanstead Park and will continue to explore the area regularly as there is a huge variety of species which is constantly changing with the seasons, and there is always something new to photograph.

To view more of Diane’s wildlife photos, visit


After Clyde

bonnie-1Bonnie and her two cygnets on Perch Pond

Wanstead Park swan couple Bonnie and Clyde were separated over the summer following an incident in which Clyde broke his wing. Helen O’Rourke updates on the sad separation 

After Clyde was admitted to The Swan Sanctuary with a broken wing, the vet went to great efforts to set the bone in an attempt to try and save the wing. However, it was not healing, and an amputation was necessary. He is still recovering but making good progress.

Over the season, many cygnets receive treatment for illness or injury at The Swan Sanctuary and are unable to return to their family if they have been away too long. When well enough and of a suitable size, these cygnets move to an outside, small ‘natural’ lake to prepare them for a return to the wild. This is called the Nursery Pond, where several long-term or permanently disabled adults accompany them. It was expected Clyde would be one of these adults, but instead, he was moved to a permanent home on the sanctuary’s large lake. He was getting bored being with rehabilitating birds, and a bit aggressive with other patients, so he now has plenty of room to socialise and make bonds with other permanent residents.

Bonnie and her two cygnets have remained on Perch Pond in Wanstead Park. They do not require lifetime care, and although these decisions are never easy, it was considered in their best interests to leave them in their territory and monitor them. We have a team of volunteers who visit twice a day to do this. We believe one of Bonnie and Clyde’s cygnets is male and one is female. The male cygnet is affectionately known as Clyde Junior. Bonnie remains very vigilant and the family is doing well. Although swans do mate for life, it is possible for them to find love again.

We are always grateful for donations to keep the swan ambulance on the road and The Swan Sanctuary also relies on donations to treat and care for admissions. Whilst every effort is made to return patients to their homes, it’s not always possible. And it is illegal to release disabled swans back into the wild. 

There are currently six of our local swans under lifetime care at The Swan Sanctuary: Clyde and Mr and Mrs Bob from Perch Pond and Edward, Moon and Shadow from Eagle Pond. You can help to support them by signing up to the sponsor-a-swan scheme, which is an invaluable source of income for The Swan Sanctuary and helps to pay for day-to-day running expenses such as food and veterinary bills. Sponsorship is £15 per swan for a year (you can choose to donate more per swan if you wish). In return for your sponsorship, you will receive details of your particular swan and newsletters throughout the year telling you all the news from the sanctuary. The sponsorship details can be sent to anyone of your choice with a card and message, making it an ideal gift for all swan lovers.

To report a local injured swan or waterbird, call 07970 404 866

To sponsor a swan at The Swan Sanctuary, visit




A botanical spectacle in an Aldersbrook front garden has been the cause of much excitement, says Alice Batsford, proud owner of the Aldersbrook Agave

My husband, son and I (and now joined by our newborn daughter) moved to Aldersbrook just over a year ago, and the garden was one of the first things that caught our attention. The people who lived here before us were very green-fingered, especially when it came to growing more unusual, tropical plants. 

The Agave in the front garden was impressive back then, but over the last few months has become a real spectacle in the area. Over the course of a week, it suddenly sprouted a spear and since then has grown progressively taller, now standing almost as high as the house with some large yellow flower heads. 

Agaves are usually found in North and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. Given the weather conditions of where they are usually grown, they are rare to see in the UK – especially in flower.

They are monocarpic, meaning they only flower once in their lifetime (usually when they are between 15 and 20 years old) and will die after flowering. They are a distant relative of the asparagus family, which is not surprising when you see the stalk of the flower head. The sap can also be used to make tequila!

We’ve had lots of local interest with people knocking on our door to ask about it, and being opposite the primary school have overheard lots of pavement conversations between parents and children – so much so I put up a little sign to explain what it is!

It’s sad to think that because it uses up so much energy in flowering it will then die, so let’s enjoy the flowers while we can – the bees certainly are!

The Aldersbrook Agave can be seen opposite Aldersbrook Primary School on Ingatestone Road.

For more information on Agaves, visit


Can you help create new woodland in and around Redbridge?

Screenshot-2023-09-12-at-15.08.33Looking east from Wanstead Park to Valentines Park. ©2023 Google

A charity that protects London’s countryside is asking local residents to help identify new woodland planting sites across Redbridge.

“We plan to create a tree ring circling London, delivering a continuous community forest around the capital. The first step is identifying local areas that could be planted with new trees. One example already identified is land between Wanstead Park and Valentines Park, especially the overgrown spaces adjacent to the River Roding,” said a spokesperson for CPRE London.



Carving out memories

2_DSF2107©Geoff Wilkinson

Chainsaw artist Marshall Lambert has created three new wood carvings for the play area in Wanstead Park, a place he used to visit as a child. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson

I was born in the East End some 60-odd years ago, and as an urban kid, I found the parks and green spaces I fell in love with offered an entirely different playground to my usual surroundings.

Many years later, just as the new millennium dawned, I found myself mooching around Hainault Forest and happened across a guy carving the woodhenge that was to be placed around the forest for people to find as they explored the woods. He had started the project carving the life cycle of a frog, and although it was rough cut and nowhere near finished, I was very impressed with his work. In conversation with the artist, he suggested I could carve if I chose to. But my thinking at that time told me I couldn’t do such an artistic thing. Plus, how could I afford tools? So, that was that.

Roll on 2014 when, by chance, en route from a family visit to a volunteer group at Audley End House, I saw Andy Butcher’s version of the Tiki head theme. Once again, I was impressed with this guy’s work: carvings made on seven-foot-tall logs. Long story short, I saved up and purchased one, which is still in my workshop today. From there, we struck up a friendship and I was encouraged by him to have a go. This time, the ‘I can’t’ thoughts were silenced.

I got a second-hand Sthil, a little domestic chainsaw that was perfect for the job, and a cheap grinder. I had begun. Later that year, I moved into a small woodland to get closer to the wood resource I was working with. Rough living, but I enjoyed it. Then, after a couple of years selling my bits roadside and to the odd person here and there (these small sales encouraged me to keep at it), I got my first project, which was to carve a 12-foot standing tree trunk in a local school. That project was well received and word soon got around. After that, I was asked to carve a fallen tree in Henry Reynolds Park for a natural play area. Then other projects came along, in Valentines Park, Lodge Farm Park and Raphael Park to mention a few. And then carving for a 12-piece animal sculpture trail in Highams Park, partly funded by the Arts Council. This was a fantastic boost for me.

Around March 2022, I was asked to carve some pieces for another natural play project in Wanstead Park, and in July 2023, I found myself carving in the park I used to roam as a young child. Mad how life twists and turns, eh? I feel chuffed that my work is so well received.

A big thank you to all those who have aided and assisted me – past and present – to allow me to get my art out there.

To see more of Marshall’s chainsaw art, visit


Discovering Wanstead


Madeline Wong is an artist from Hong Kong now living in Wanstead and applying her passion for painting old buildings to the landmarks she is discovering here

Since I was young, I dreamed of becoming an artist. I also aspired to be a teacher. Unfortunately, my family’s economic environment couldn’t provide me with artistic nurturing, but after graduating from university, I became an art teacher, which became my lifelong career.

Some 15 years ago, I left my teaching position of 20 years, having fulfilled that ambition, drawing a simple, yet unfinished conclusion to the first half of my life. Transitioning from full-time teacher to housewife, my pace of life slowed, and I decided to reignite my interest in painting. In the process of painting, I found joy in life and pursued my unfinished dream of being an artist in the second half of my life!

Hong Kong has undergone rapid change in recent years, and the fast-paced life there can be overwhelming, making it difficult to catch one’s breath. When I take a moment to pause, I realise things around me have vanished without a trace. Old values have also faded and become blurred. Many old buildings and even the skills of experienced craftsmen are gradually being eliminated due to the loss of economic value. However, to me, these scenes and the small characters in the city are the fragments of my life and the pieces of my growth. Hence, I enjoy roaming the streets, exploring historical sites and searching for subjects to paint. I hope to use colours to preserve past emotions and memories, capturing fleeting encounters and vanishing moments, allowing my art to retain a strong local flavour.

Ten months ago, I left my native Hong Kong and moved to the UK, settling in Wanstead. Exploring the community has become a means of understanding the local culture. Many beautiful historical buildings have captured my attention and I couldn’t resist putting them into my paintings, like Christ Church pictured here.

Since I don’t have many local friends, I have been sharing my finished works in community groups online. Through this, I also got to know more about the local landmarks. I discovered these historical buildings hold unique meaning for individual residents, just like my own desire to preserve certain architectural scenes; they are puzzle pieces of my life. And so, I completed one artwork after another, and painting has become my daily life and motivation here in Wanstead.

Apart from old buildings, I also love painting flowers. In the UK, beautiful flowers can be found everywhere during spring and summer, which truly brings joy to the heart! I hope to share my floral paintings with everyone soon.

To view more of Madeline’s paintings, visit


Only when it rains

Cat-n-Dog-001©Mary Holden

Wren Wildlife Group member Nick Croft shares his experience of breathing life back into Cat and Dog Pond on Wanstead Flats. Additional words by Tony Morrison. Photo by Mary Holden

Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t, but if you walk across Lake House Road from Jubilee Pond, or take the rough route over the ant hills in that same direction, you may discover a small, semi-permanent pond that goes by the curious name of Cat and Dog Pond. The site presumably gets its name from the fact that it’s only visible when it’s been raining ‘cats and dogs’.

First shown in an 1863 map as a body of water with a course going towards Harrow Lane (now Harrow Road), it was possibly a sluice to help drain the road. Another line on the map shows a ditch or water course running toward an area of the Flats known as the Brickfield. Early reports, when the area was used for mining clay and gravel for brickmaking, mention a water course there.

If you’re lucky enough, you will see the pond filled with water, and then next time you visit, it’s gone, choked by undergrowth and lost from view.

It may have come to your attention that a few of us have being doing a bit of work at this old, neglected site over the past few years. The pond was in danger of drying out and becoming scrubbed over, threatening the amphibians, invertebrates and water birds that depend on it. In an effort to reverse this onslaught and restore this historic landscape, channels have been dug around the pond to form a network of ditches – a Wanstead Flats Wetlands – with tall rushes rising around the edge of the waterscape and birds fleeting between the reeds and bushes. 

Getting permission from the authorities to go ahead with the project was, I assumed, going to be the hardest part. That naive assumption was put to bed the first day of diving into the reeds. Get a fork in, dig out the reeds, plant them further down the ditches – easy. Not!

So, here we are, three years on, seven pairs of wellingtons, one broken fork, one spade, six pairs of trousers, many gloves, three buckets, a visit to A&E and the unavoidable conclusion that I hadn’t a clue as to what I was doing.

It did look quite impressive over that first winter as the rain filled the pond. Water actually remained throughout the first summer, bringing in the butterflies, damsels, dragonflies and, of course, frogs and newts. 

Last year, the weather turned against us and warned of what’s coming down the line as the climate catastrophe takes hold. The frogs managed to get out before the pond dried up, but I’m not sure the newts were so lucky. The drought also clobbered the planting we’d done around the site and, at one point, it looked like we lost most of the 200-plus trees and shrubs we had put in. Come the rain in August and September, we were pleased to see many bouncing back. Not that you’ll see many of them this year as the grass has swamped everything and – with the help of burrowing critters – has made it a bit dangerous to guess where the paths are, so take care!

We will be back (once the autumn migration is over in October) as this is a job that keeps on giving! Thanks to all my team of volunteers, especially Mark Thomas, Sean K, Sean T (aka JF), Tony Abbott and not forgetting Trevor ‘The Mole’.

For more information on the Wren Wildlife Group, visit


Fringe starts here


It all began in 2013, and now, as the Wanstead Fringe gears up for its 10th instalment of 100-plus cultural events, director Giles Wilson reveals what he’s looking forward to the most

Ten years ago, the Wanstead Fringe started as a joke among a few friends. Why shouldn’t little old Wanstead have its own cultural fringe to complement the Wanstead Festival? we thought. Well, it was a joke then, but nobody’s laughing now (comedy nights notwithstanding).

The Fringe has become something to take seriously. Alongside our favourites – the open-air Kinema, the jumble trail, The Duke street party and others – more than 100 events will be taking place before the end of September.

We will have four plays running, and thanks to the support of The Bull and some careful investment on our part, we hope to be able to expand that number during the rest of the year. We have 11 talks from authors – some local, some national – including one of the greatest living English novelists. We have always had music as part of our programme, but this year, we are hugely expanding the amount on offer. International opera star Lucy Crowe and husband Joe Walters will again be transforming St Mary’s into a magical venue for music – and that will also be the place to hear a new musical, Dark Isle. There will be a recital called Low Strings Drama, led by local composer Simone Spagnolo, which promises to be a unique blend of chamber music and drama soundtracks. Redbridge Brass Band, local singer-songwriters, singer Lydia Gerrard and local guitar virtuoso Peter Black also feature in the programme.

The event I’m looking forward to most is hearing from novelist Jonathan Coe, whose series of novels have told an authentic story about the changes in British life since the war. The event will have a vivid counterpart as Helen Day, historian of Ladybird Books, talks about the perceptions our society used to have of itself. Author Paterson Joseph will talk about the life of Charles Ignatius Sancho, a revealing insight into a lesser-known side of our history.

One national newspaper website profile of Wanstead this year said that, in the evenings, it became a ghost town. Wanstead-bred author and theatre director Patrick Marlowe will be doing his best to disprove that by telling an evening of ghost stories in the St Mary’s churchyard. 

It’s our sponsors – listed on page 32 – who have underwritten this. Do support them if you can. Vision RCL is supportive and generous with its buildings, but we have built the Fringe without any public money. Our host venues and volunteers keep the show on the road. But the people really responsible for the Fringe are those, like you, who buy tickets and attend events. Thank you. 

And here’s to the next 10 years.

For more information on Wanstead Fringe events, visit


Wanstead’s loss

jean© Mike Edwards

Following the recent death of Jean Maestri – the proprietor of the Wanstead Park Tea Hut for over 30 years – the Maestri family reflect on the life of the Queen of Wanstead Park

Jean was born on 22 September 1944 in Dagenham. She was the youngest of three children. Her childhood memories were playing on the bomb sites and having games of rounders with her friends between four trees in the street. She went to school with Terry Venables (the famous footballer), who was a year above her. She left school at the age of 15 and surprised everyone by getting a job as a medical receptionist at the Royal London Hospital, where she worked for eight years until she had her first baby.

She met her husband Giovanni in a crowded Trafalgar Square on Bonfire Night back in 1960. He asked her if she had seen his cat. It was a chat-up line and she fell for it (and him). Jean and Giovanni were together for the rest of her life. They got married in 1965, and a year later bought the house they lived in ever since. Jean and Giovanni went on to have five children and fostered 60 others.

As her husband was Italian and worked in the ice cream trade, this inspired Jean to get an ice cream van with her friend and go back to work. In 1986, after many years of working in the ice cream van, Jean came across the old wooden boat house cafe in Wanstead Park. It was in a right old state and the cafe needed a lot of love and TLC, which is where Jean came in. She applied to the Corporation of London to get it rebuilt and their architect designed the building to match the Temple nearby.

Jean continued to run the Wanstead Park Tea Hut for 37 years. She loved this cafe and dedicated her life to it, working seven days a week. She became the life and soul of Wanstead Park and would have her regulars, who loved coming over to see her daily for a cup of tea and a chat. Jean loved baking and all her cakes were homemade. She was especially known for her homemade bread pudding, an old recipe handed down from her mum. People would get very upset if they turned up and it was sold out!

When the pandemic hit, Jean took a back seat, retired at home and bought herself a Pomeranian dog to keep her and her husband company. She loved her little dog, Fluffy, so very much and she became the apple of her eye. Jean was also very lucky to have 10 grandchildren, who all absolutely loved and adored her.

We would like to thank all of the customers, the people of Wanstead and the Corporation of London for all of the kind messages, love and support we have received. Jean died on 30 June 2023. She was a wonderful, kind and caring lady who will be sadly missed by all.

The Wanstead Park Tea Hut overlooks the Heronry Pond, near the park’s Wanstead Park Avenue entrance. For more information, visit


Tickets available for October’s Wanstead Beer Festival


Tickets are available for the first Wanstead Beer Festival, taking place in the halls of Christ Church on 14 October.

“The festival will include a number of real ales from the local area and beyond. There will also be craft ales, lagers and cider, and some carefully chosen wine and prosecco for non-beer drinkers,” said organiser Paul Donovan.

Proceeds from the event – which runs from 1pm to 10.30pm – will be donated to local charities. The £12 ticket price (£10 in advance) includes a commemorative pint glass.



Deer Here


Tricia Moxey takes a look at Muntjac Deer and urges residents to report any local sightings to help the London Wildlife Trust map their distribution and population growth

A number of local residents have been reporting sightings of a small deer in their gardens, in Bush Wood, the City of London Cemetery and Wanstead Park. These are likely to be Muntjac Deer (Muntiacus reevesi), named in 1838 after the naturalist John Reeves (1774–1856).

John Reeves was the son of Reverend Jonathan Reeves of West Ham. John was educated at Christ’s Hospital, becoming a tea expert and respected natural historian. In 1812, he was dispatched to China by the British East India Company to search for plant and animal specimens of potential economic value. He sent a pair of live Chinese deer to the Zoological Society in London and so this species was named in his honour. Further specimens were introduced into large estates such as Woburn Park in Bedfordshire, where their ability to scale fences ensured many escaped into the wider countryside. Over the years, others were deliberately released so that Muntjac Deer are well established in southern counties, living in woods, farms and other green spaces, including urban gardens. Muntjac Deer were classified as an invasive, non-native species in 2019. They are protected in the UK under the Deer Act 1991.

Muntjac Deer are small, stocky mammals about 45–52cm tall, their long back legs causing a hunched back. Adults weigh about 14kg. The main coat colour is a coppery brown with a creamy white underbelly. The bucks have black V-shaped stripes on their heads and 20cm long, backwards-sloping antlers. The does have black diamond-shaped stripes on their heads. Both have protruding canine teeth, but those of the bucks are longer and used in territorial battles. Largely solitary animals, both bucks and does mark their territory with scent from special glands on their faces, which become inflated when in breeding condition. 

Muntjac are crepuscular mammals, feeding either at dawn or dusk on trees, shrubs, shoots, herbs, berries, nuts and fungi, eating at least 85 different plants and consuming as much as 8% of their body weight in a day. They also like eating bluebells! Although mainly vegetarian, they have been observed to consume insects, snails and other ground-dwelling creatures. Their penchant for stripping bark off young trees and eating woodland plants has serious consequences as suitable nesting sites for birds are removed, leaving the ground unvegetated.

When trying to deter predators or to attract a female, the bucks will bark for some time, sounding similar to a human with a smoker’s cough!

Muntjac Deer do not have a set rutting season and mate throughout the year. The gestation period is around 210 days, with the does usually giving birth to a single fawn. A doe can become pregnant again just days after giving birth and her fawn is weaned after eight weeks. Young females reach sexual maturity within their first year. 

This species was first recorded in the northern parts of Epping Forest in the mid-1960s, and in subsequent decades have dispersed into the more urbanised areas, often seen eating rose bushes in gardens. They do feed on roadside vegetation and nationally may account for 25% of deer collisions with vehicles. As they are much smaller than Fallow Deer, such collisions are less likely to immobilise a vehicle or cause injury to its occupants, and many such incidents may go unrecorded.

Muntjac Deer have no natural predators in the UK. Wild deer numbers in Britain are now the highest they have been since post-glacial times, and populations of all species are increasing both in number and geographical distribution, but exactly which species and where is not accurately known.

The London Wildlife Trust, therefore, needs your help in recording sightings of wild deer across the capital so their distribution can be mapped, along with an idea of population densities. This information will be used to develop future management strategies.

For more information and to record deer sightings, visit


Local councillors urge NatWest not to close Wanstead’s last bank


Local councillors are urging NatWest to reconsider the proposal to close their branch in Wanstead.

“This well-used branch provides a critical service for local people, including those who may struggle with online banking and find it difficult to travel further afield,” said Councillor Jo Blackman. The branch – the last remaining bank in Wanstead – is scheduled to close on 31 October.

In a statement, NatWest said: “We’re getting in touch with customers and engaging the local community to talk through our decision.”

Call 0131 380 6528