Moving on

From February 2023, I will be taking on the role of Biodiversity Officer for the Gasworks Dock Partnership charity based at Cody Dock on the tidal stretch of the River Lea in east London. I will be co-ordinating volunteer opportunities for surveying and monitoring habitats and wildlife of the local area and delivering related training to our network of community scientists.

Not exclusively focused on invertebrates (though you can be guaranteed they will feature heavily) the monitoring will continue the existing bird counts, bat walks, and vegetation surveys that have been carried out so far – there is an excellent report available that covers this for 2021-2022. Plans are afoot to add in Flower-Insect Timed Counts to contribute to the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme and various other invertebrate recording schemes.

Habitat management and improvement works will also be part of this job where establishing new reed beds in the Lea will create cover for water birds and serve as a natural filter for some of the litter and pollutants in the river. Silt traps have already been set along the sloped concrete banks and have become vegetated, and we hope to be able to extend this work further along the east bank. Additionally, there are other areas on or near the industrial estate that can be better managed for wildlife and people including woodland, scrub, and parkland which will entail a number of different projects.

Canary Wharf as seen from the Cody Wilds walk along the east bank of the River Lea.

My vision for this stretch of the Lea is that it acts as a green and blue corridor through this part of east London which has a very industrial heritage, but which is now rapidly being redeveloped with high-density housing. The river serves as the boundary between the boroughs of Newham and Tower Hamlets. These are already densely populated areas (Tower Hamlets has the highest density per km of all English districts, while Newham has the 4th highest population of all the London boroughs) with high levels of poverty (Tower Hamlets has the highest poverty rates in London with Newham ranking 3rd highest). Consulting with property developers at sites in both boroughs to offset some of the habitat loss caused by building apartment blocks as well as helping to shape a nature-friendly approach to the landscaping will also be part of the job. The loss of post-industrial brownfield sites to development is of concern and we will be working to try to mitigate this through the establishment of green roof systems that mimic traditional brownfield habitat as well as advising on the best use of pocket parks and identifying areas to be set aside as wilder habitats.

Bromley-by-Bow Gasworks which is a classic example of the open mosaic habitats of post-industrial brownfield sites in the area which are being redeveloped into high-density housing.

In other news, I recently took on the role of Woodlouse Recorder for the London Natural History Society with plans to increase records for this group so that we can have a better understanding of their distribution across London. So come along to Invertebrate Field Recorder Days across London and Invertebrate Study Days at the Natural History Museum to learn more about these fascinating crustaceans. I have also recently been elected as a trustee for Bethnal Green Nature Reserve where I will be focused on helping with community-led ecology projects.

Working as FSC BioLinks Project Officer has been a fantastic experience. Some of my highlights over the past year-and-a-bit have been my reintroduction to aquatic invertebrates after spending such a long time focussing on all things terrestrial – there is so much to see underwater, and you get to have a bit of splash about which is especially fun on a hot Summer’s day. Formalising my self-taught ant ID with a number of courses (some of which I even got to teach!) and running my version of an Ant Picnic at Richmond Park where I got youngsters to do science while looking at ants. Rediscovering woodlice, millipedes and centipedes; finding the Downland Villa Bee-fly, Villa cingulata, in abundance at Bushy Park; visiting so many amazing sites in and around London from hidden gems to publicly accessible thoroughfares – the list goes on and on.  

Downland Villa Bee-fly (Villa cingulata) from Bushy Park in the summer of 2022.

It has been fun and an absolute privilege to work across so many different invertebrate taxa. I recently presented some of the findings from the project at the BioLinks Legacy Conference (the final report will be made available to the public in due course) at the Wellcome Collection in London and am very proud of the work that our team managed to accomplish despite a global pandemic in the middle of our project delivery.

Slide from my presentation at the BioLinks Legacy Conference on 20 January 2023 showing the breakdown of all BioLinks place-based course delivery by invertebrate taxonomic group.

I have learned so much more about a wide variety of invertebrates from national experts (further improving my ID skills) and came to meet a community of people who are passionate, enthusiastic, generous, and knowledgeable about our natural world and the invertebrates upon which we all rely. My sincere thanks to every person who I’ve met along the way and I very much look forward to seeing and working with many of them again in the future.

Author: Gino Brignoli

Currently employed as FSC BioLinks Project Officer for London, I am coordinating invertebrate-focused place-based volunteer training and delivering a range of recording project activities across London. I am also developing and delivering online training courses and content focusing on invertebrate taxonomy, field ID and ecology through a virtual learning platform. You can find out more about the project here. Previously ant genomics and evolution Research Assistant at Queen Mary University of London. With a keen interest in ecology and entomology, I have volunteered with the Lepidoptera department and Soil Biodiversity Group at the Natural History Museum, and on the Thorn to Orchid and Water for Wildlife projects with London Wildlife Trust.

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