Sunday, 31 December 2017

Earlswood amphibian & reptile survey, 2016-2017

At a site in Earlswood last year, I saw a female Great Crested Newt (GCN) in a pond partially covered in ice on February 24th - a very pleasant surprise given how early it was in the year and also because the species appeared to have not been recorded at Earlswood since the 1980s! I was interested in finding out how many GCNs might be using the site, so later in the spring during sunny weather I returned and found two males and four egg-laying females at a different pond but within the same site. There was also at least 32 Smooth Newts at the two ponds on that occasion too, which was impressive! Hoping more GCNs might be present, an evening torch survey was undertaken with assistance from Warwickshire Amphibian and Reptile Team (WART) member Louise Sherwell, but only two males and a female were found.

Smooth Newt and Great Crested Newt (John Oates)

This year, the second pond was covered with duckweed for much of the spring making observation difficult but on May 26th, with the help of Agni Arampoglou and Vicky Philpott of WART, another evening torch survey was carried out and single male GCNs were seen in both ponds at the site - a low number probably because it was late in the egg-laying season for this species. It seems that only a very small population may be present, making them vulnerable, but fortunately the site is managed specifically for wildlife.

Ponds at Clowes Wood meadow and a private farm were also surveyed this year, and although no GCNs were found at these, both held Smooth Newts and my observations elsewhere at Earlswood indicate that "Smoothies" are common and widespread in the area. Most methods of surveying for GCNs require a licence from Natural England, and I am grateful to Louise, Agni and Vicky who are all licence-holders for their help during the last two springs. I hope to get a licence for myself next year, which will hopefully make it easier to arrange surveys with local landowners and potentially allow other ponds supporting GCNs to be detected. If any local landowners have ponds that would be suitable for surveying, please get in touch.

Agni, Vicky and Tony Philp also helped me set up a reptile survey at a private site next to the lakes, using 11 sheets of corrugated roofing material supplied by Earlswood Wildlife Partnership, which I then monitored during the summer. A Smooth Newt was found basking on top of one sheet, and a young Toad was resting under another, but sadly no reptiles were found. The hope is that Slow Worms might be present as the habitat looks suitable for them, and although the sheets have now been brought indoors for the winter, the survey will recommence next year.

Common Toad under reptile refugium sheet (Matt Griffiths)

Smooth Newt on reptile refugium sheet (Matt Griffiths)


P.S. I originally wrote this for Earlswood Wildlife Partnership, and I am grateful to them for allowing me the use of their reptile refugia.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Earlswood all-dayer - Autumn 2017

A total of 63 bird species were recorded during yesterday's Autumn all-dayer at Earlswood, which was a great result considering the pleasant weather and large amount of disturbance at the lakes (cf. 57 spp. in 2016, 56 spp. in 2015). Many thanks to John Bishop, Jon Chidwick, Janet James, Mike Jeeves, John Oates, Tony Philp, John Sirrett and Jim Winsper who also took part, and extra thanks to Mr. Sirrett who collated sightings during the first half of the morning. Species list as follows, highlights in bold:

  1. Greylag Goose
  2. Canada Goose
  3. Mallard
  4. Shoveler (1)
  5. Tufted Duck
  6. Pheasant
  7. Little Grebe (at private site)
  8. Great Crested Grebe
  9. Cormorant
  10. Grey Heron
  11. Sparrowhawk
  12. Buzzard
  13. Kestrel
  14. Moorhen
  15. Coot
  16. Lapwing (1)
  17. Common Sandpiper (2)
  18. Black-headed Gull
  19. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  20. Herring Gull
  21. Stock Dove
  22. Wood Pigeon
  23. Collared Dove
  24. Swift (5 - quite late)
  25. Kingfisher
  26. Green Woodpecker
  27. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  28. Swallow
  29. House Martin
  30. Grey Wagtail
  31. Pied Wagtail
  32. Wren
  33. Dunnock
  34. Robin
  35. Whinchat (2)
  36. Wheatear (3)
  37. Blackbird
  38. Song Thrush
  39. Mistle Thrush
  40. Blackcap
  41. Common Whitethroat
  42. Chiffchaff
  43. Willow Warbler
  44. Goldcrest
  45. Spotted Flycatcher (1)
  46. Long-tailed Tit
  47. Blue Tit
  48. Great Tit
  49. Coal Tit
  50. Marsh Tit
  51. Nuthatch
  52. Jay
  53. Magpie
  54. Jackdaw
  55. Carrion Crow
  56. Raven
  57. Starling
  58. House Sparrow
  59. Chaffinch
  60. Greenfinch
  61. Goldfinch
  62. Linnet
  63. Bullfinch

Somehow no-one managed to find Treecreeper though!!! Bat box checks with Earlswood Wildlife Partnership were a nice distraction for 4 hours, and the session was probably the best I've attended in the six years the project has been running, as we had five species including two scarcer ones: a Leisler's Bat (for the second consecutive year) and a Whiskered/Alcathoe/Brandt's Bat (droppings collected for DNA analysis to ID later). Later on, I also had a very close encounter with a young Badger at a new sett - all in all, a great day :-)

We had no hopes of beating most of the other patches that also participated, given that they were mainly premier birding sites, but we came second-from-last. West Midlands all-dayer results were as follows:

  1. Middleton Lakes 95
  2. Belvide Reservoir 94
  3. Grimley 91
  4. Draycote Water 85
  5. Ladywalk 84
  6. Sandwell Valley 82
  7. Upton Warren 81
  8. Venus Pool 80
  9. Earlswood Lakes 63
  10. Whitemoor Haye 61

Friday, 28 July 2017

Valley Road car park to be closed

Valley Road car park is to be closed for a 6-month trial, a decision which has been made with no consultation with birders who regularly use it. It was a nasty surprise when I found out, and very disappointing, especially as two people involved in the decision know full well I regularly use the car park and had talked to me about other things in recent months, but not about this! One of the reasons for the closure is fly-tipping, but I can't see how closing it will stop that as there will still be space there for rubbish, albeit behind a fence/barrier. I just hope other birders don't feel discouraged by this like I am...

Some email correspondence below for further info.


I was very disappointed to learn that a decision has been made to close the Valley Road car park for a 6-month trial, without any consultation with users of the car park. I and other birdwatchers regularly use this car park because it is accessible early morning when the other car parks are closed, and it provides convenient close access to the causeway, which is a favoured observation point for us. The car park is also regularly used by C&RT and their contractors, especially those who cut the grass along the dam/causeway and do the monthly safety inspections. Other visitors also use it, and although it has low vehicle capacity I disagree with the statement that it is rarely full of cars as this varies depending on time of day and whether weekday or weekend - generally it is well used at weekends and during nice weather, like the other car parks but on a smaller scale. I took the photo in this link on Thursday evening last week:

With the local population set to increase as more houses are built at Tidbury Green and Dickens Heath, more car parking may be needed in the future, not less. Closing this car park may encourage anglers who currently use it to park more along Malthouse Lane, especially at night when the other car parks are closed - poignant given the possibility of night fishing being allowed in future. It also won't remove antisocial behaviour from the Earlswood area as a whole as undesirables will simply go elsewhere to the dam, other car parks such as the Reservoir pub's, or the quieter lanes. Converting the car park to a planted area also won't necessarily stop fly-tipping there, as people could still drop rubbish on the plants from the road.

Surely if people are willing to take responsibility for closing the car park, they could take responsibility for improving and maintaining it? Perhaps removable bollards could be used there? I could help remove litter if provided with a picker and bags.

Kind regards,


Hi Matt,
thank you for contacting us directly.  I am aware that you have raised this on your Twitter account.

We have worked well together in the past so I am sorry that you are against this trial.
I am also rather disappointed that you don't seem to appreciate that we have monitored and explored all the possibilities that have been open to us.

I am sending the reply that I sent to Janet James, I believe you know Janet. 

However I will add that your suggestion of removable bollards was discussed as an option but discarded as it would not stop fly tipping.
I draw your attention to the fact that C&RT were present at the meeting which made this decision and have offered some financial help towards completing the work.

Your offer of help with litter picking is appreciated but the problem is greater I'm afraid than litter picking.  When we had the meeting in Valley Rd., including District Cllr., our MP, Sgt. Bob Shaw, Ian Lane from C&Rt, Parish Council representative and Res. Assoc. representatives, we had to stand amongst men's underwear, a pair of denim jeans, bags of assorted rubbish and the debris was noted which had accumulated at the back of the site.
Depressing sight.  Residents should not have to tolerate this as I'm sure you will agree.  This of course is the tip of the iceberg of ASB associated with this parcel of land.

You mention people taking responsibility for improving and maintaining the site.  The whole point of this trial closure is because nobody will take responsibility or spend any money on it.
We can find nobody willing to take ownership, we would much prefer it if somebody came forward.
It requires money of course to make it work as a viable car park. Dumped cars set alight, overnight sleepers, fly tipping and acknowledged drug dealing don't make it very attractive for a possible responsible organisation with funding.

Yes, it may put a few more cars elsewhere but that problem already exists and has to be dealt with.
The Causeway is on the list, along with Valley Rd., for the extra police patrols which we have successfully campaigned for over the last 2 or 3 years.
I will say that we have noticed a reduction in the last 6 weeks of fly tipping.  As for the number of cars parking there, I do regularly monitor this, I'm in and out often at different times of the day, as a resident.

There are no easy answers here Matt, we did a clean up there and took away 14 bags of assorted debris, a quantity of bedding from the back of the site, and the human waste issues associated with overnight sleepers. Asbestos panels and loads of broken glass.
There are people living right behind this land.

You mention lack of consultation but, as a Res. Assoc., we do our best to find the best outcome for the local community.  The residents of Earlswood make many compromises to accommodate the visitors to the lakes.
I did speak to users of the car park, most said that if it was such a problem then close it. 

It is impossible to please everyone of course and it is a trial and will be evaluated at the end of it.


Dear Ms. James,

The decision to trial a closure of this car park was taken at a meeting attended by our MP, the police, Canal and River Trust, our District Councillor and representation from our Parish Council.
The suggestion of a six month closure came from the police.  We, as a Res. Assoc. do not have the power to take action without the full support of those people mentioned.
It was agreed unanimously by those at the meeting.
Why do we need to take this action you may ask if you have not fully acquainted yourself with all details.
We can find no trace of an owner of the land.  This means nobody takes responsibility for maintenance or management of the land.
Streetscene, at S.D.C. have been cooperative in cleaning up the area when there has been fly tipping.  This has been a regular occurrence.
We are grateful for this as the land does not belong to S.D.C. therefore they do not have to accept any responsibility towards its maintenance.

We have people sleeping there overnight with the resulting rubbish and human excreta left behind.
We have had recently a car dumped there and then set alight.  There are two mobile homes directly behind and there was great concern for their safety.
The other issue which is ongoing is the use of this area to deal drugs.  This usually takes place in the hours of darkness although not solely.
Whilst monitoring the car park, such as it is, we have noted that it is rarely full, with a maximum of eight cars, mostly there are just one or two cars throughout the day.

I would also point out that overnight fishing is illegal at Earlswood Lakes so there should be no vehicles associated with fishing in the hours of darkness.

Whilst the residents of Earlswood understand the needs of visitors they are entitled to peace and quiet in the hours of darkness and the early hours of the morning.  This is not unreasonable.

Ms. James, you suggest that we improve the area in Valley Rd., but with no ownership, who do you suggest pays for this? Do you think that we haven't explored options?
The Res. Assoc., made up of local residents, is well placed to know all the recurring problems we have accommodating the visitors to the lakes

The residents of Malthouse Lane have to put up with far too much as it is and this area in Valley Rd. attracts anti social behaviour. 
We are trying to remove these unacceptable elements not encourage them.  If you live here I'm sure you would agree with this.

I would suggest that, in the early hours of the morning, you park in the Red Lion car park.  By walking along Wood Lane you can take the path down to the lakes therefore disturbing no-one. I would also suggest approaching Tanworth in Arden Parish Council asking if the Malthouse Lane car park hours of closing in the summer months could be reviewed and a sign for the car park be reinstated.

We do not want anybody parking anywhere in the hours of darkness, residents deserve their hours of peace to live and sleep.

This is our view and we would prefer the area to be taken over and managed but this is not an option that has been taken up by any of the interested parties.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Terry's Pool desolation

Apologies for the tardiness of this post. The past few months have been somewhat depressing for those of us with an interest in the wildlife of Earlswood Lakes. Although the Cormorant-scaring, which had been causing disturbance to waterbirds, was stopped around the beginning of this month due to the bird breeding season starting, further efforts to reduce Cormorant numbers at the lakes by removing trees used for perching have resulted in an unsightly, heartbreaking scene at Terry's Pool. Trees on some of the islands have been cut back extremely hard, and it will take a long time for them to recover, which I hope they will and will be allowed to. I thank Tony Philp, who has been monitoring the lakes more frequently than me of late, for permission to reproduce his email to C&RT here, which explains the story more fully:

As a conservationist I'm becoming increasingly concerned by the CRT Fisheries & Angling Management's approach to maintenance around Earlswood Lakes.

Initially it took the form of 'Minor Tree Works' around the angling platforms in December of last year, when contractors cut, pruned and removed overhanging limbs, branches and bushes from around the platforms on Engine Pool. This they then stacked 6' high between each platform (attached pics) thus suppressing any natural vegetation that might grow to screen the lake and provide refuge for fish and wildlife. As predicted in my email to Carl Nicholls on  9/01/17 this is now falling/being thrown into the lake and adjoining feeder streams, not to mention destroying the appearance of what was an attractive lakeside walk for visitors.

Last week the contractors returned and under the instructions of Carl Nicholls were to have removed limbs and branches from the 5 or 6 islands at the far end of Terry's Pool (this despite the fact that the CRT had been made aware earlier that birds were nesting on the site) What happened appears inexcusable - The large 2 islands at the north end of the lake, which had already been 'pruned' last year, were reduced to little more than floating platforms (attached pic). Most of the prunings were left on the island or in the water making it inaccessible to waterfowl for nesting. A third island which had no suitable perching places was half attacked and left with several ideal perches! (attached before & after pics)

This is not the first time that contractors employed by the CRT have made a mess of the job, and I would suggest that in future, such work is supervised by a knowledgeable member of the CRT on site or, alternative contractors found who know what they are doing. Carl was at pains to point out that these contractors were 'aware of environmental considerations including the potential for nesting birds'. - I don't think so!

I understand that you would like Terry's Pool to 'remain a place for nature, introduce more educational visits and try and regain the SSSI status'. So would I, but if this is the case, then the Fisheries & Angling Management staff need to be aware of it , so that they can actively support the aim rather than favour dismantling the habitat for the benefit of only fishermen.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Philp (10/03/2017)

C&RT sent the following response to an email from Earlswood Wildlife Partnership:

It appears that whilst a clear instruction was given by Carl, our contractors have failed to deliver the agreed works and done something totally different which is unacceptable. The works planned by Carl were minor tree works that had been approved. The works have been carried out on completely the wrong island as they  were supposed to be carried out on the small islands at the top of the reservoir but have instead been carried out on the two islands closest to the Engine lake .  The works have also been carried out beyond the specification of just cutting tree limbs and branches.

The Trust now needs to understand how this has happened and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

As is correctly stated below I still firmly believe the site can reach an environmental status. The nature of the lakes will always mean that we need to keep the balance of works to promote wildlife and also to ensure the fishery is successful but we can’t keep making errors like this and I can assure you that neither Carl, Paul or me are happy that this has happened.

Kind regards
Ian Lane (09/03/2017)

Cut branches at Engine Pool (Tony Philp)

Cut branches at Engine Pool (Tony Philp)

Terry's Pool "Little Egret island" - before (Tony Philp)

Terry's Pool "Little Egret island" - after (Tony Philp)

Terry's Pool "Cormorant island" - four years ago (Jenny Renowden)

Terry's Pool "Cormorant island" - this month (Tony Philp)