Sydenham Hill Wood sits in the heart of Dulwich and inspires great affection in residents and visitors alike. This year’s festival programme has included a bat walk and a dawn chorus walk led through the wood by the London Wildlife Trust (LWT), and the area will also provide the canvas for a piece of live outdoor painting to highlight the rare presence of the brown long-eared bat.
We spoke to Daniel Greenwood from the LWT to understand more about the enduring appeal of nature in the urban environment.
Your bat walk and dawn chorus walk are hugely popular events – do you think living in the middle of a big city sharpens people’s desire to connect with nature?
As a native Londoner it still surprises me just how much wildlife there is in London, from buzzards over the Dulwich Woods to miniscule bees that feed from weeds growing in the gutter. People are becoming more aware and they want to know more. That’s where our events are crucial. Urban wildlife is one of the most exciting ways to experience nature.
In your experience of conducting these walks, what has been the rarest or most notable bird or bat you have come across?
It’s not easy with bats because they are so elusive but we have seen tawny owls hunting at dawn, that was incredible. They cause havoc. In general I think it’s just nice to hear each different species waking up and becoming active. They seem to have a rota.
Which bird and bat species are most common around Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Wood?
The common pipistrelle bat is almost everywhere: in roofs, walls and trees all over the place. The most common bird is probably the wren, it’s tiny and can be found in almost every habitat above sea level, while robin, blue tit, woodpigeon and blackbird are close behind.
Globally-renowned outdoor artist Louis Masai will be live-painting in an old rail tunnel in Sydenham Hill Wood to highlight the plight of the brown long-eared bat. Could you tell us a bit about what measures we can take to protect them?
Brown long-eared bats are not actually endangered but in London they are rare. Some bat species have declined by 99% in the past 60 years and are now protected by law. The best thing we can do is alter the built environment in a creative and sustainable way and ensure our woods, parks and gardens have enough food (moths), water and shelter for them. In 2011 we found a brown long-eared bat in a crack in the old tunnel ceiling and last week we found one in a bat box. They like to be snug! On a national scale projects like HS2 are likely to destroy many ancient woods. This will lead to a decline in species like the brown long-eared bat and thousands of other species. Development must be more creative in protecting habitats.
Is it possible for people to volunteer for London Wildlife Trust and, if so, what sort of contribution can they make?
We are reliant on our volunteers to undertake the practical management of our reserves and complete our annual species monitoring programmes, of bats especially. Our volunteers at Sydenham Hill Wood contributed 5000 hours for wildlife in the last financial year. That’s a massive commitment. They care so much about birds, bats, fungi and trees, their enthusiasm inspires so many people. It’s what London Wildlife Trust is all about.
For more information about the London Wildlife Trust visit their website: http://www.wildlondon.org.uk/
To buy tickets for the LWT Dawn Chorus walk visit the event page on the festival website: http://dulwichfestival.co.uk/product/dawn-chorus-walk-with-lwt/
More information on Louis Masai’s live painting in Sydenham Hill Wood can be found here:
Photograph by LWT