2010 International Year of Biodiversity - The Hackney Perspective

2010 was a year of contrasts and contradictions as regards biodiversity in Hackney. Whilst amazing progress was made towards a long overdue Hackney Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), the reality on the ground was far less positive. Small, incremental improvements continue to be made by voluntary groups and dedicated individuals, and there were even a few significant victories won in defending sites against development (aka destruction). However major projects on Hackney Marshes and Clissold Park have caused considerable destruction of habitat thanks largely to the apparently unstoppable ignorance of those who command budgets. Other Hackney Parks operations continue to beggar belief and the unaccountable hierarchy seem less and less interested in learning from past mistakes.

The Good

The Hackney Biodiversity Partnership (HBP) and the draft Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP)

In 2008 Hackney Parks Forum and the Tree Musketeers (TMs) presented evidence to the Council Living in Hackney Scrutiny Commission and this ultimately led to the appointment of a Hackney Biodiversity Officer. Kate Mitchell was appointed in 2010 and her arrival has galvanised local wildlife experts and enthusiasts. Kate now facilitates lively bi monthly meetings of the Hackney Biodiversity Partnership. Anyone interested in Hackney biodiversity is welcome to attend. In addition to these general meetings smaller working groups have met to devise a series of Habitat Action Plans for each of six habitat types found in Hackney. These Habitat Action Plans (HAPs) now form the basis of the borough's draft Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP). The draft BAP will be published early the new year for public consultation. The partnership and draft BAP are major successes and illustrate how Council and community cooperation can work to develop action and strategy that are meaningful and effective.

On The Ground

On the ground the story is more mixed. Local volunteer ecologists and enthusiasts created more wild areas with long grass, deadwood log piles and of course new tree planting. New species to Hackney continue to be discovered as volunteer recording of moths, fungi, plants, birds and other species continues a pace. Recording of new and known species is essential if we are to understand the impact we are having for good and bad. Over the years there has been fantastic bottom up habitat creation across the borough with around 15Ha of new woodland on Hackney Marshes and 13 new orchards; Well Street Common User Group are planting the 14th on 8 January 2011. Reduced grass mowing around these areas massively increases flora and invertebrate diversity/numbers. New meadows on Mabley Green and Well Street Common add to the long fought for long grass areas on Stoke Newington Common and elsewhere. Hackney Marsh Users Group (HMUG) continue to pioneer biodiversity initiatives and the community Tree Nursery and Edible Forest Garden is an oasis for wildlife, now unfortunately enclosed by the massive South Marsh Sports Hub and car park. HMUG and TMs manage Wick Woodland and offer training in woodland management, habitat creation, coppicing, etc. In fact so many people do so much there is not space to record it all. To name but a few other projects of benefit to wildlife:-

Hackney Wildlife – recording wildlife, especially birds

St. Mary's Secret Garden

Hackney City Farm

Butterfield Green

Robin Hood Community Garden

Castle Climbing Centre Garden

Lordship North Estate wildlife and edible gardens.

The Bad & The Ugly

Elsewhere the picture for larger, big budget projects is shocking. The more you look, the worse it gets. Clissold Park's Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) renovation is a complet.... It serves only as an example of how not to do anything and is a disgusting abuse of the money thousands of Hackney's poorest spend on lottery tickets. The park has been turned into a building site without the slightest regard for the impact on habitat and wildlife. Just about every guideline and British Standard have been ignored. Worse, the project has actively destroyed valuable habitat, sometimes by accident, often by design! All the reeds and other vegetation round the ponds was destroyed deliberately to create a mythical 19th century appearance. Disturbance to birds was all the greater because work was done in the spring. Roots of the twin Dawn Redwoods that stand at the edge of the west pond were cut back without a thought for the consequences. One of the trees may die as a result. The old hedge around the Rose Garden, home to generations of house sparrows (a bird that has suffered massive declines in recent years), has been destroyed in more historically motivated madness. Meanwhile trees across the park have had their roots damaged and destroyed by heavy plant, spoil and vehicles riding roughshod over root protection areas. So bad is the situation neither the Council nor Heritage Lottery will reply to correspondence. The plight of the poor Fallow deer, trapped in a building site, has been well publicised. £9m very badly spent! 

On Hackney Marshes the cascade of sports and Olympic development continues with losses of mature trees at both the South Marsh Hub and the site of the proposed North Hub. Council consultants didn't notice the ELCRP compost and recycling site so that was lost together with its log piles that hosted rare Red Data Book flies (Myennis octopunctata is a very rare fly associated with dead poplar wood). Lighting for the big new car park and the huge Olympic coach park on East Marsh is likely to be a serious disturbance to bats navigating along the River Lea.

Seven mature black poplars (P. nigra Plantierensis), 11 semi mature native oaks and 12 planes trees were lost at the North Marsh site. The insane decision to install 3 full size cricket pitches on North Marsh, dictated by money and the English County Cricket Board, at precisely the time East Marsh is lost to an Olympic coach park is yet another triumph of money over everything. The North Marsh nature reserve is designated by Natural England and the GLA but the ignorance of parks officers and their consultants knows no bounds. Only relentless pressure and an ingenious re design by Mike Trier (TMs and HMUG) saved large areas of the meadow. Even so a large part of the experimental woodland planted 15 years ago on the old coal slag has been destroyed. Next they plan another massive sports hub and a 240 car car park!

What You Can Do

It is always possible to do something positive for wildlife; some dense scrub, bird feeders, hedgehoggeries, insect logpiles, or just areas of long grass and nettles. It is so easy anyone can do it, either in the garden or in a green space. Less management is better than too much. Tragically the leadership at Hackney Council have been determined not to listen for years and with massive cuts on the way it's down to us to take the lead. If you have the energy complain to your ward councillors.

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