#2: 2011 Full Steam Ahead

Southwark backs our stand on democracy & consultation 

Council will work with the Friends & community to deliver a model process.

In the first issue of our newsletter (November 16, 2010), we laid out the principles of our organisation, and stressed our commitment to operate through inclusive involvement of the whole community.

All too often, local government stages “consultations” that are actually attempts to promote its own schemes, rather than developing schemes from scratch together with the community. We dislike also arrangements whereby officers or other employees of various authorities and agencies meet with selected individuals with nominal credentials to represent sections of the public, but who may not, in reality, be consulting actively with either their own groups or other local residents. Last year, Southwark officers suggested that a wildlife consultant be hired to produce a formal management plan for the Park. The Friends, who have worked with a range of wildlife experts over the years, were determined that this process should be pursued out through a model consultation; through well-publicised meetings that welcome input from the community at large. This would reinforce good practice within Southwark and promote the reputation of Southwark as a democratic borough. It would also provide a valuable yardstick against which the public may measure the integrity of other consultation processes provided by other local authorities.

We thank the London Borough of Southwark for answering promptly and in such enthusiastic and positive terms. This response demonstrates the genuine goodwill which cements our partnership with the Council. A future Newsletter will announce details of the first consultation meeting.

I think that a management plan would be a good thing for the park, but only if it is developed and owned by the Friends and local community. I think that a management plan of this nature would help protect the park and all the investment that you’ve made over the years and it would take the park successfully into the future. Our proposal is to get an external person to work up your and our ideas into this plan. We’d need to make sure that the person doing this work also understood and agreed with our approach.

We are very happy with the idea of taking this idea to a public meeting to
see what other people think and we can take it from there.

Rebecca Towers, Parks and Open Spaces Manager.

2010: January to July.
WEATHER REVIEW: 2010 had a frosty start, with cold weather continuing from December 2009. The view of a snow-bound Britain
(right) was taken by the NASA Terra satellite at midday on Jan 7,
and the panorama above was taken that same day in Belair Park.
At lower right, we see one of the ditches on the Lakeside Wildlife
Walk, frozen and glistening in the light of a low winter sun. On Jan 8, the temperature fell to -22.3C at Altnaharra in the Scottish Highlands (the lowest in the UK since 1995). The lowlands of South East England, of course, do not suffer the worst of the UK climate, but mean temperatures in England and Wales were, even so, lower than 1971-2000 values by 2.5 to 3.0oC in January and by 1 to 2oC in February. On Feb. 10 to 11, 10 to 20 cm of snow arrived in Kent and East Sussex. The first half of March was also cold, and the beginning of the growing season and spring flowering were delayed by some weeks. A high pressure area sat over or close to the UK for the last three weeks of April, bringing the fourth sunniest April since 1929, with most areas of England and Wales receiving under half of the average rainfall for the month. Parts of England enjoyed temperatures as high as 20oC.

Friends of parks conference.
On March 27, 2010, Southwark staged a conference for friends of parks groups at Francis Peek House, in Dulwich Park. This was an opportunity to hear articulate and enthusiastic presentations from those dedicated individuals across the borough who choose to contribute much of their personal time to their local public open spaces.

Campaigners have fought hard to preserve these much-loved
green spaces from a variety of threats over the years, and Southwark’s efforts in bringing this conference together were appreciated by most (with some sceptical utterances). The relationship between Southwark, its parks and their friends groups has, we believe, turned a corner, and the
Friends of Belair Park consider that we have a moral
obligation to encourage the present positive developments
as determinedly as we opposed Southwark when less
enlightened attitudes saw us having to fight a series of
battles to safeguard the Park. The Friends contributed a
discussion about how they have worked to enhance the
biodiversity of Belair Park and adjacent wildlife corridors.

One shadow was cast over the proceedings; plans from
Southwark to put housing on a section of Nursery Row
Park, in the north of the borough. This threat, which
harked back to the bad old days, when “Save Our Park”
was a perennially recurring slogan, evaporated later in
the year. This has significantly reinforced Southwark’s
green credentials. As the Friends have stressed in their
own discussions with Southwark, campaigning absorbs a
huge amount of effort from public-spirited individuals
that might otherwise be available for other community
projects and charitable work. It can be soul-destroying
to feel that one is having repeatedly to expend effort
simply to preserve the status quo, rather than to move
forwards and achieve new positive goals. Fortunately,
the present Southwark parks regime, headed by
Rebecca Towers, is itself keen to work closely with
friends groups, to protect public open space and to
help us move forwards. At Belair Park, we have been
enjoying the fruits of this green revolution.

WEATHER REVIEW: Mid-April saw closure of UK air
space due to volcanic dust carried over Britain from
Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano (seeNASA image,
left) However, media predictions of beautiful violet
skies produced by the high altitude air-borne
ash did not materialise convincingly for observers in
Belair Park. Airspace remained closed during the
first week of May and was closed again in mid-May.
Plane-free skies were unusual, because aircraft turn
over our area, many to line up with a runway at
Heathrow. A NE or N airstream dominated the cool
first half of May. Despite overall below-average
rainfall, 51.0mm of rain fell at Hampstead from
0900 May 1 to 0900 May 2. The second half of May
was warm, particularly from May 20 to May 24, with
a maximum of 28.8oC on May 24 at Heathrow. High
pressure areas produced dry and sunny weather in
June. In England there was a pronounced warming
in the second half of June. Mean UK temperatures
exceeded the seasonal average, and Gravesend,
Kent saw 30.9oC on June 27. From 0900 June 10 to
0900 June 11, 44mm of rain fell at Manston, Kent.

July brought changeable, warm, but
cloudy Atlantic-type weather. After
dry weather had seen reservoirs and
lakes dwindle across the north and
west, wetter conditions followed in
July (flash floods occurred in many
areas as a result of downpowers on
July 20). However, the Midlands,
eastern and southern England were
mostly very dry. Half the average
amount of rain was received in a
belt from Cambridgeshire to Sussex.
A heathland fire broke out on
Frensham Common, Surrey (July 11).

Earth & Sky – a series of free talks looking at our place in the universe.

A partnership involving the Friends, the Ecospheres Project, New Leaf
and Southwark, staged Earth & Sky, a short, free course of lectures for
the general public (May 6 to July 8, 2010). Presented by MartinXHeath,
with guest presentations from Ashley White (London Wildlife Trust),
Vinnie O’Connell and Helen Saunders (New Leaf), it surveyed the
cosmos, zooming in on the Earth and its fragile ecosystems. It looked
also at how community initiatives can promote the well-being of human
communities by protecting the natural world. The Francis Peek building
proved to be an excellent venue, particularly since it has automatically-
operated metal shutters which cover the windows allowing the room to
be darkened effectively even on bright summer evenings. We record our
thanks to Paul Highman, the Dulwich area parks manager and to
Anderson Springer, Facilities Officer, without whose kind support, these
events would not have been possible. Störm Poorun provided a
projector; Penelope Stanford provided transport and logistics.
A major focus of interest was the history of our landscape,
particularly of our local River Effra, whose tributaries
have scooped out the Dulwich basin (in which sits Belair
Park). We thank John Bellamy, who provided access to a
high vantage point, allowing spectacular photography. The
meetings were followed by a night-time field trip to Beacon
Wood, Kent, on July 17, which combined an astronomy
evening and glow worm walk.

Left: Ashley White discusses ecology in the landscape.

Wildflower meadow blooms. Above: This colourful project, launched by Southwark Ecology Offcier Jon Best, transformed a lawn by the car park with daisies, corn cockles, poppies and cornflowers. June 16, 2010.
From an evening star to a morning star.

Left: Venus and crescent Moon
over western tree tops in Belair
Park. Orbiting closer to the Sun,
Venus moves faster than Earth.
From Earth, the brilliant planet
appeared furthest from the Sun
on Aug 20, then slipped back
towards the Sun, as it overtook
us. It slid by the Sun on Oct 29,
to re-emerge in the dawn sky.

Venus is thought-provoking, because although it is almost Earth-sized, it is otherwise quite unEarth-like. 72% our distance from the Sun, it gets twice as much solar energy as we do. Waterless and with an atmosphere of greenhouse gas CO2 (100 times more massive than our atmosphere), it bakes at 460oC day and night. It’s bright because it’s shrouded in clouds of sulphuric acid droplets. The third brightest natural object after the Sun and
Moon, it ‘s easy to find, and it reminds us about the fine balance of conditions on our habitable Earth.

OPAL visits our park for pond-dipping.

What’s living in our lake? This event on July 24X
was an opportunity to find out, with the help ofX
experts. This fascinating day was not just fun,X
because it also helped professsional ecologists toX
carry out a wildlife survey.
We hope to feed the information obtained fromX
this event into coming discussions about howX
Belair should be managed.
The Open Air Laboratories project is overseen by
Imperial College, London. It will run from 2007
to 2012. Its website explains: “By bringing
scientists, amateur-experts, local interest
groups and the public closer together, lasting
relationships will be formed and environmental
issues of local and global relevance explored.”

Martin Heath, Vinnie O’Connell, Helen Saunders.
Contact: friendsbelairpark@hotmail.co.uk
Space images: NASA. Photos of Belair Park and Southwark events: M. J. Heath.


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