Monday, 24 July 2017

What happened to that Blackcap? - A guest blog

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I heard a Blackcap singing in our garden in Forest Hill from the beginning of March. At the time I wondered whether he was passing through or whether he might actually stay to breed?

In fact he, or a male Blackcap just like him, has been singing in our garden every day since then until July 12th. But his non-musical activities remained a mystery to me until June 24th, the day of the General Election result, when for the first time I saw him with a female Blackcap easily identified by her brown cap which contrasted with his black one. They were frantically catching large numbers of small insects in a Mahonia bush flying off and then returning for more. This is the unmistakable behaviour of birds with a nest full of hungry fledglings. What happened to those fledglings I have no idea although I hope that they are keeping a low profile as they build up strength for their epic return journey to North Africa.

This has been a good year for Blackcaps across the borough. In addition to “my” own Blackcap in Forest Hill, I have heard them singing in the railway cuttings off Buckthorne Road in Crofton Park, as well as in parks such as a Brookmill Park and in street trees for example in Tresillian Road in Brockley.

The breeding success of other birds in our garden has been variable. Once more the Blackbirds have failed to raise their offspring, and although this year I have no direct proof of my suspicions, I fear that once again the squirrels have robbed the open vulnerable nest of our Blackbirds.

However, the more resourceful Robins have been successful and have reared two broods of youngsters this summer. And families of Blue Tits, Great Tits and Long-Tailed Tits regularly feed in the silver birch. These species are plentiful and the juveniles are doing well (although one was caught by a cat). 

Blue Tit - slighter & a little scruffier-looking 
than the Great Tit (below)
Great Tit - Images courtesy of
Click on image for larger version
This year they have been joined by a handsome newcomer - the Nuthatch. This blue coloured bird is larger than a Blue Tit though smaller than a Thrush. It has a prominent beak like a dagger which it slams into the bark of Silver Birch - very much as do woodpeckers. However, in the Nuthatch's case it is hammering at seeds or nuts that it has hidden in cracks in the bark. Nuthatches live on the surface of tree trunks and line their nests with bark chippings.

Nuthatch - Image courtesy of
Click on image for larger version
So despite the many dangers of our suburban garden in Forest Hill, many small birds have successfully fledged this summer and are finding food for themselves in the garden. And once again the Silver Birch has had the most to offer them. Insects and spiders are there at all times of the year, larvae and caterpillars are abundant in summer and seeds will be ready for them in autumn. Native trees are always best for nature which has evolved to take advantage of whatever food is on offer, but of all our native trees the Silver Birch must surely support the greatest variety of wildlife throughout the year. 

Stuart Checkley
Guest Blogger, from a garden somewhere in Forest Hill

Monday, 10 July 2017

Gardeners' Question Time comes to Brockley!

You will find here everything you need to know about this exciting event coming to Brockley later this summer. Check back often for the most current news.

Brockley Society’s Street Trees for Living
is delighted to announce it will be hosting 
Radio 4’s flagship gardening programme:

Gardeners’ Question Time

Tuesday 29th August 2017 
The Mural Hall, 
Prendergast Hilly Fields College,
(Hilly Fields campus)

Update: 1st August - This event is now sold out, but if you would like your name added to a waiting list for tickets please email

Friday, 7 July 2017

Tree Sponsor of the month - July

In the second of our new series about our fabulous street tree sponsors, Ben and Sheila tell us about their decision to sponsor a tree in Comerford Road, SE4.

1. Where is the sponsor tree located and why did you choose that particular site? 
The tree is located on Comerford Road, Brockley. I chose this street as it is the street I live on, it's a lovely street but there are a few tarmac / paving spots hungry for foliage.

2. What species of tree did you select and why?
I just opted for the most convenient or suitable for the street - I left it in the hands of Street Trees for Living.  All trees are great so it was a safe gamble; I think it's a crab apple?

3. Why did you choose to sponsor a tree? Does it mark a special event or is it dedicated to someone?
I chose to sponsor the tree as a gift for my landlady. She is an amazing woman and I wanted to offer a token of gratitude, a tree is a great way to say thank you and a fantastic symbol of long-lasting friendship.

4. How long have you lived in the borough of Lewisham? Do you have any special memories you could share about the area?
I've lived here for nearly 4 years. I have untold happy memories here, it's really a great part of London! If I shared them with you I'd never make it to question 5.

5. Do you have a favourite tree in the area, apart from your sponsor tree of course? 
I love that massive tree on the Adelaide Avenue corner of Hilly Fields park, I also love the really tall trees in Brockley cemetery. And there's also that rare surviving Elm in Ladywell Fields. But really they're all great. 

6. If there were no constraints what tree would you have chosen and why?
A Giant Redwood, because they're HUUUUUGE!

7. How did you learn about sponsoring a street tree through Street Trees for Living?
I found out via Google, and got to know some of the people involved, I think it's an amazing way to spend your time and resources and I really appreciate your efforts. 

8. What would you say to someone who is considering sponsoring a street tree?
I'd say: "That's a good idea!"

Sheila’s story:

I moved into the flat in Comerford Road 32 years ago with my husband and baby after a period of homelessness. I fell in love with the road as soon as I saw it. One of the things I loved about my new home was the large silver birch in front of the house. Our flat is on the first floor and during some lengthy periods of ill health I have spent hours just looking at the tree from my settee. About 20 years ago, the tree simply fell down and I was so upset. I gathered some of the branches and a piece of the trunk and kept them in my garden for a while. I asked the council to replace the tree (not believing they would!). Lo and behold - they did and I again spend a lot of time simply watching the tree.

Ben knows how much I love trees and so, a couple of Christmases ago, he arranged for a tree to be placed in the road as my present. I was immensely touched then and still am. I got into decorating the tree last Xmas - the silver birch is too big to decorate, so I thought it would be fun to decorate the crab apple - it would also be a useful place to hang a Xmas card for my neighbours. I was surprised at how much people enjoyed the decorations; frankly, I was surprised that nothing was taken or defaced.That sowed the seed for the idea of using the tree to celebrate other events.

The Valentine's tree was very popular and I followed it up for Easter and Mother's Day. As dramatic world events unraveled, the tree has become a way for me to express messages of peace and solidarity. After Trump's election, I pinned a placard calling for an end to Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism - sadly, that one needs to be replaced quite often. I put up flowers and a message after the Manchester and London tragedies. Several people have told me that they have been comforted by the messages. Today I put one up to say thank you to the emergency services and a little one commemorating the death of Jo Cox.

I'm anxious that it doesn't become a mourning tree - have planned to put up some poems for children and adults. Of course, there will be a line of rainbow bunting for Gay Pride week. It's important for me to avoid party political messages - I have purposefully tried to reflect the culture and beliefs of my neighbours. My own indulgence was to put up prayer flags to celebrate Tibetan new year - and have left them there.