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30 September 2020

Autumn nature notes: walks on the wild side

Autumn nature notes: walks on the wild side
I like to think of it as befriending wildlife: if every year you see the same species, it becomes familiar in your day-to-day.

From rivers to stately parks to roadside verges, Brent Cross is surrounded by a patchwork of habitats that bustle with natural life. And in autumn, the birds, bats and bees are easy to spot as they busily make the most of the last warm days. 

We asked Rosie Whicheloe, a landscape ecologist at the London Wildlife Trust, to let us some local wildlife secrets.

Photo by Alfred Kenneally on Unsplash

Make friends with house martins on Hendon Broadway

Brent Cross has a lovely colony of house martins. They are quite close to the station, around the Clitterhouse Farm buildings, and often nesting underneath the terraced houses on Hendon Broadway, just above the shops and traffic. They’re a sociable bird, quite easy to spot because they turn up in big numbers, busy busy feeding, and they don’t seem to be bothered much about people.

I like to think of it as befriending wildlife: if every year you see the same species in the same location, it becomes familiar in your day-to-day, or year-to-year, life. If you have a relationship with the species you see, it is easier to value them.  

Clitterhouse Farm is about 15 minutes’ walk from Brent Cross tube.

Welsh Harp reservoir is a haven for migratory birds, and walkers. Photo: Tian Khee Siong

Admire migratory birds on the Welsh Harp

At this time of year, the Welsh Harp, officially known as Brent Reservoir, is a great place to see migratory birds. Any bird coming through is likely to make a stop by the water and the scrub habitat around the lake. Look out for species like blackcaps, common whitethroat, and chiffchaff – these birds are not that common across London, but you can sometimes catch them beside habitats like the Welsh Harp. More unusual birds around the Welsh Harp are the lesser flycatcher, common redstart and lesser whitethroat. 

Walk to the Welsh Harp along Cool Oak Lane just off West Hendon Broadway, 10 mins from Hendon rail station. 

Discover the world of fungi in Golders Hill Park 

Golders Hill Park is quite a wooded area, meaning it has diverse fungi. Fungi is charismatic! Some of the most common ones around Brent Cross are quite visible and easy to identify. There’s the inkcap, which has a distinctive shape and often occurs in parks and verges. There’s also fly agaric, which is the classic red toadstool with white spots that grows beneath the birch; the two have a symbiotic relationship.

Golders Hill Park is part of Hampstead Heath; get there in 12 minutes from Golders Green tube.

Hampstead Heath woodland provides small creatures a wealth of places to hide. Photo: Simon Dunant
You’ll find that nature has colonised areas where you might not expect it.

Squint for bats and critters along the River Brent

There’s lots of ivy around at the moment, and invertebrates love feeding off this plant. Right now, the Virginia creeper ivy that’s draped over the walls around Brent Cross Shopping Centre is turning red, but when the ivy flowers it’s a really good nectar source for lots of different insects. If you find ivy, you can see life. The River Brent is in line for improvement over the next few years, but it remains an important wildlife corridor between habitats around London. The river is home to the little egret, a distinctive white heron with a dark beak.

If you go to the Brent River at dusk, look out for bats: the common pipistrelle and the soprano pipistrelle are the most likely ones to find in Brent because they are slightly more tolerant of light. The bats tend to come out just after sunset, while it’s still light – just around the time you might be heading to the pub. When the weather turns colder, bats hibernate not to be seen until the following spring.

The River Brent runs along the south side of Brent Cross Shopping Centre; catch sight of the birds from Prince Charles Drive. 

Spot berries and birds along the streets 

There’s a lot of apples on trees, and blackberries and rosehips in bushes right now – autumn is a great time of year in terms of visible wildlife. Look for these around the parks and along the Clitterhouse Brook, but you can see berries in trees and shrubs just by walking along the street as well. These attract starlings and other common birds like crows, robins, blackbirds and woodpigeons. Holly and cotoneaster have red berries which pigeons like to eat. 

Look for these in areas that aren’t managed so intensely, like roadside verges, along railway lines, and by fences in vacant lots. You’ll find that nature has colonised areas where you might not expect it, like along the edges of construction sites. There’s a funky plant called common mullein, which grows two metres tall; that’s great for invertebrates and thrives in these kinds of spots.

Any street will do, but the roads along the rail line from Hendon to Cricklewood (soon to include Brent Cross West station) have rich pickings.

Don't underestimate this Virginia creeper ivy outside Brent Cross Shopping Centre; there’s life hiding inside. Photo: Tian Khee Siong