27 September 2015

Coming Down the Line

Network chaos
Since the last newsletter in the spring, train services have improved considerably — well, they really couldn’t have gotten much worse, after half of the evening peak services from London Bridge were cancelled between January and May of this year due to poor planning of services around London Bridge station’s improvements. Since May’s timetable changes, Southern trains have managed to run on a relatively reliable schedule, although there still continues to be more cancellations than anyone would like to see.

As a result of the appalling service at the beginning of the year, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) severely criticised Network Rail for their inadequacies in planning for the impact of Thameslink’s engineering work and timetabling. The ORR subsequently fined them £2m, which is not a great deal for a company that receives a £10m per day subsidy from the taxpayer; no doubt, any higher a fine would only have made it harder to achieve passenger improvements. In addition, the chairman of Network Rail was sacked and Sir Peter Hendy, one of the most respected managers in UK transportation and who had been head of Transport for London (TfL), was appointed as his successor this summer. We can only hope that Network Rail will now improve services.

The Forest Hill Society had been asking questions about changes to ticketing and timetabling — which would occur during Thameslink’s planned upgrade work at London Bridge station — for the four preceding years. Despite our continued expressions of concern, Network Rail and train operators proved that they had not adequately planned for the chaos that was to result from the temporary removal of so many tracks into or out of the station.

On a positive note, work around Bermondsey appears to be progressing well; and, this time next year, train services should be running to and from Charing Cross again albeit without direct services to and from Forest Hill (as was once the case).

Bakerloo line
You may remember, at the end of last year, TfL consulted about plans for a Bakerloo line extension to Lewisham and Hayes; and, possibly, Bromley. Not surprisingly, 96% of 15,000 respondents were in favour of such plans. Notable amongst the 4% who opposed TfL’s plans was Bromley Council, which was concerned about slower connections to London for people who would use the proposed extension to Hayes. Despite the objections, the idea of extending the Bakerloo line seems to be gaining traction, with many candidates for 2016’s London mayoral election expressing their support for the concept.

Recently, mutterings have been heard from Croydon Council about a different route for the Bakerloo line that would run to Croydon. Why this is necessary, when there are fast services from Croydon to most main line stations in London, is not clear at this stage. The location for such a route is also not clear but, given the congestion around Norwood, it is possible that tunnelling close to Croydon is being considered rather than taking over busy tracks and junctions - but all of this is speculation.

The Forest Hill Society continues to support the concept of extending the Bakerloo line. Our belief is that almost any route would be advantageous to large areas of South London, and the sooner an extension is started the better!

26 September 2015

Hedgehog Highways of SE23!

Did you know there are hedgehogs in Forest Hill that need your help? Tim Lund (Friends of Dacres Wood Nature Reserve) provided us with news about the plight of local hedgehogs.

This hedgehog was found in the daytime in August in Dacres Wood Nature Reserve, but hedgehogs are active mostly at night when they travel 1-2km in search of food. A neighbour of the reserve, who had seen hedgehogs with their young in her garden in the last year, first realised they were about when she heard a persistent scraping coming from one of her flower pots. Since then she has made sure her pots are kept upside down and, with the help of neighbours, made holes in fences to help them access other gardens.

In light of how the UK’s hedgehog population has fallen 30 percent in the last 10 years, this year’s Wild About Gardens Week — which is run by the Royal Horticultural Society — is focusing on hedgehogs’ neighbourhood needs. Making ‘hog holes’ between gardens is one of the best things we can do to help.

Our local nature reserves, together with the railway embankments and the gardens backing onto them, provide valuable habitats for wildlife that sometimes goes unnoticed. To support the plight of hedgehogs, the Forest Hill Society and the Friends of Dacres Wood Nature Reserve (FoDWNR) are asking local people to do what they can to help — whether by growing a diversity of plants, leaving wild corners alone, creating water sources with safe access (i.e., ponds with beaches or ramps), creating log piles (to attract hedgehog prey) or building shelters, and by avoiding the use of pesticides.

As for the hedgehog shown, sadly it was injured and did not survive. If you happen to come across any during the day, there are local charities that will try to help and then release them back into the wild.
For more info about Wild About Gardens Week (26th October-1st November), visit www.wildaboutgardensweek.org.uk.
• For more info about the FoDWNR, visit dacreswood.org.uk.

Think Globally, Plant Locally!

Quetta Kaye (Chair, Environment Committee) provided information for this report.
Are you concerned about the environment — globally, nationally, locally? If so, you should join the Forest Hill Society!

Think globally
On the global front, the Society organised a public meeting in June when local author, Dr David Cotton, alerted us to the dangers of climate change (as published in his recent book, ‘Climate Change — A Wake Up Call’). Some of the questions that he has been researching for the last eight years and posed in his presentation were: What role has the human race played in climate changes? What will happen if we continue burning fossil fuels? Will we be able to produce enough renewable energy in the future? 

...but plant locally
Locally, our work on improving the environment in Forest Hill’s town centre has continued with the planted areas in the forecourt and on the platforms of Forest Hill station, and with the tubs of trees and flowers for the Edible High Road project. These planted areas attract lots of attention and many pleasing comments from passersby and commuters, but they need volunteers to keep them looking healthy, attractive and ‘doing their bit’ to freshen the air that we breathe. Watering plants during the summer months is one of those tasks that needs to be done regularly. Following the Climate Change meeting, Dr Cotton and his wife, Gail, volunteered for mid-week watering of the station’s planters — which they continue to do. You, too, could contribute by pouring water from your bottle onto a different planter each time you pass by — or by contacting the Forest Hill Society with an offer of help.

Despite the vagaries of the British summer, the efforts of our very dedicated (but small) group of volunteers have succeeded in bringing colour and greenery to Forest Hill’s town centre. The station and street planters have looked really good with different combinations of colourful plants, which included sunflowers generously donated by Horniman Gardens. This idea seems to have worked well and, with any luck, a good proportion of the plants should survive to bloom again next year. The Edible High Road tubs, too, should last through the winter and beyond. We will learn the decision of the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘London In Bloom’ judges on 15th September. [We were awarded 'Outstanding' -Ed]

However, it never fails to amaze me that — while many people stop to tell us how pleased they are with the work we do, and how the flowers brighten their way to work and shop — other people think the planters are really rubbish bins or the plants are there for the taking rather than community enjoyment. In the spring I actually saw someone pulling some bulbs out and popping them into a shopping trolley!

For those of you interested in volunteering, a work afternoon at Forest Hill station is being organised for Saturday 19th September (meeting at 2.30pm) for trimming the station’s lavender bushes, and generally cutting back and tidying up the planted areas. Please look at the Forest Hill Society’s website for more details on how you can help with this or, if you see people snipping away, please don’t be shy, join in — if only for half an hour. If you have them, trowels, secateurs, gardening or other protective gloves — along with a spare plastic bag — would be very useful to bring along. Without volunteers, we are not able to try and make Forest Hill a brighter place in which to live and work, and to do our bit to protect our natural environment. 

...and brew locally!
After distributing hop kits for Forest Hill Society’s Community Beer Project in the spring, we decided that Platform 1 of the station was not a suitable place to grow hops as originally thought; instead, a number of individuals have been nurturing hop plants in their gardens. We hope to harvest everyone’s hops this autumn and brew our very own ‘Forest Hill Pint’, and will soon know how successful this venture has been.