Tag Archives: towpath

Bat walk illuminates habitat wipe-out

27 people, of all ages, came out last Friday night to explore the presence of bats on Millfields, armed with bat audio detectors courtesy of our expert guide Alison Fure.
Learning about bats and bat detectors
photo courtesy David White

What we discovered was that our efforts to improve habitat in the park are being nullified by dazzlingly bright lights on the towpath at Hackney Council waste transfer station, and likewise on British Waterways land near Paradise Dock and the Princess of Wales.

Bats are found near water because the moisture keeps their wings in trim. They’ll fly along rivers and canals looking for the best food spots. Big trees full of insects are ideal hunting ground for them, and woodland edge meadows with wildflowers and long grass (which we have more of on Millfields than a few years ago) also raise the insect count. But few, if any, will hunt where there is bright light. And they live for decades, so they remember the good places and steer clear of the bad.
We expected to find bats easily by the community orchard, with its canalside woodland and meadow, but there was hardly a squeak. That’s not so surprising when you realise that just to the south, the towpath to Cow Bridge is as bright as a sports stadium thanks to the massive floodlights from the waste station.
The waste station lights are so devastating that we couldn’t even detect bats on the opposite side of the canal, showing that the lights have driven bats out of the trees on the edge of the Essex Filter Beds wildlife reserve. It was only when we walked on the less lit section of the filter beds towpath, opposite the orchard, that our detectors picked up bats in the trees which overhang the filter beds wall. You couldn’t have had a more vivid demonstration of how the lights have devastated the habitat of a protected group of species.
Too bright for bats to linger near the pub
photo courtesy David White

By Paradise Dock and the Princess of Wales, Alison said that the Daubenton’s bats she found feeding here 5 years ago are no longer pausing to hunt — they may just whiz through on their way to somewhere more congenial.

Security may be the pretext for this lighting level, but ironically it makes us less safe at night. Too much light destroys your night vision, so that when you move into a less lit area you are at a disadvantage. Moderate lighting would be more secure; and more comfortable for Paradise Dock residents trying to get a good night’s sleep.
Biodiversity Officer Kate Mitchell, who helped MUG set up the walk, has immediately taken the waste depot lighting up for us with her council colleagues. Kate and MUG will also be trying to get something done about the lighting under British Waterways control.After hearing Alison’s introductory talk on bats, we could understand more fully what a loss these fascinating creatures are to the park. We were all geared up to spot this year’s young bats flying with their mothers, trying to cadge a feed.
But on the bright (?) side, there are still some bats to be found on Millfields, and it’s worth looking. Local resident Maggie Murray tipped us off to look on the north-east corner of the cricket field, and demonstrated how she lures them towards her by making a kind of chirruping noise. Maggie is now the Millfields Bat Whisperer — can anyone else do this?
So please let us know if and where you spot bats. Apart from the sheer interest, any scrap of information may be useful in future battles to protect the park.All about urban bats: The London Bat Group

An orchard path?

LBH recently approached us to take up the idea of a path through the orchard area, which would join the Black Path to the towpath walk down to Cow Bridge.

You can see the proposal in more detail as a 1.2 Mb pdf.

The group last discussed this idea as project 8 of the Master Plan ’30 Projects’, and liked it as long as the design fitted the character of this part of the park. It’s clear from the wear patterns that there is a desire line through this space (i.e. lots of people go that way). It forms part of a pleasant circular stroll via the filter beds, and seems to be one of the few routes that is more to do with enjoying the park than going through it to somewhere else.

LBH is taking this up now because they would like to transfer the Cow Bridge towpath to the park, so they want to get the orchard link done and dusted at the same time. Currently the towpath is managed by Streetscene, as the Traffic and Transportation section is known, and they are trying to get it off their hands. The funding comes from LBH’s 2011/12 sustainable transport allocation from TfL.

The towpath was originally given as compensation for the land lost to the M11 link road. Since then LBH has neglected it both physically and legally, with the result that they’re not even sure that they own it: some of the land is registered to the London Development Agency and Transport for London. As a final stroke, the path was closed for a long time as a result of works in the council waste depot.

In 2010 MUG pressured the council into reopening the path. It was promptly closed again on safety pretexts, so we got it opened again. Since then park users have been able to enjoy it. A benefit of its neglect has been the number of small birds which took to living in the tangle of scrub – a de facto wildlife corridor.

The wildlife suffered a severe setback this January when LBH contractors took a flail to the vegetation, leaving the path looking like a section of the Western front. MUG took this up and, to be fair, received a prompt, full and frank apology. And it was at least done before the bird nesting season had begun. The reason for this carnage was that LBH was clearing access to the streetlights along the path, which it proposes (with MUG’s agreement) to remove. The reasoning is that we obviously don’t want lighting in the orchard, and it is unwise to lead people into a lit path by Cow Bridge and then leave them in an unlit park. They have asked MUG about the lights and the committee agrees with their removal.

So, we come to the orchard proposal, which is part of LBH’s project ‘to bring the canalside path into a state of good repair and create a new path linking it to the Black Path’. LBH Streetscene had discussed the path with LBH Parks before bringing it to MUG, and their route drawing takes account of the need to avoid the root protection zones of established trees. LBH are asking MUG our opinion of both the route and the materials.

The committee feels the route, first, ought to link to the steps to the filter beds bridge. Second, it would be better to route it more along the eastern edge of the space, if possible. Whether the latter is possible depends on whether there is a way to run the path closer to trees. Committee member Harry Hewat, who has relevant expertise, has drawn an alternative route and is investigating path construction techniques and surfaces that might make it feasible. Harry’s drawing shows the council proposal as a double dotted line and a possible alternative as a single brown line.

The LBH design is also too wide. This arises from the fact that in theory the Cow Bridge towpath includes a cycle route and the work is funded by TfL sustainable transport funds. In fact there is no particular need for a designated cycle route on the towpath, since it doesn’t lead anywhere other than on a pleasant potter over to the marshes, or down through Daubeny Fields. Considerate informal shared use can continue. We have told the LBH engineer that the theoretical presence of a cycle route, and the funding conditions, must not be allowed to land the park with an inappropriately wide or hard-surfaced path, and LBH seems to understand this.

The surface should be as close to a natural earth surface as possible. The usual material for this is hoggin, which is basically clay. There is a hoggin path for example on Daubeny Fields, running north-south along the east side.