I’ve been fascinated with nature since I was tiny: growing up in Essex in the early 1980s, an abandoned children’s home was our playground, the grounds home to frogs, toads, grass snakes, common lizards and slow worms. Before the site was redeveloped, with help from a bunch of friends, I removed, then rehomed, hundreds of reptiles and amphibians.
As a youngster I’d raise baby starlings that council workers removed from local flats and gained a reputation as ‘the animal rescue kid’: people would bring me all kinds of birds and animals in need of help. My poor mother, who loved a perfect home, had to put up an endless tide of young birds, hedgehogs, squirrels – not mention a particularly destructive crow – in the house. But that’s another story.
In recent years I’ve spent endless hours on Leyton, Hackney and Walthamstow Marshes watching the wildlife, in particular the reptiles and on a couple of occasions released a few grass snakes removed from land about to be built on.
With the new Lea Valley Ice Centre recently approved, despite our protests, I made a short film to record my thoughts on the negative impact it will have on Leyton Marsh and the local habitat.
I’ve witnessed the sad loss of common lizards at Walthamstow Wetlands and the disappearance of the slow worm population at the Waterworks meadow.
And I’ve made it a personal quest to study, track and create a refuge for grass snakes, the one remaining local reptile species. With the local population increasing, this year I finally observed individuals moving from Walthamstow Marshes through Leyton Marshes to Hackney Marshes. The new ice rink will cut off the corridor used for this journey, and have a grave impact on the success of the species locally. Watch the film here:
In case you’re wondering, the grass snakes filmed in my hand were briefly caught and recorded as part of an ongoing study of the local population, then returned to the location were I found them, while the shrew was caught after being chased by a dog and moved to a nearby safe place.
While all species featured in this film (apart from the slow worm and common lizard shown to highlight local species lost in recent years) are present on Leyton Marsh, not all footage was filmed on site.
With grass snakes are thriving, it’s tragic to have the ice rink extending into the protected land that they inhabit. Follow us on social media if you can.
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