Surrey Docks Farm Wildlife

Surrey Docks Farm is a working farm in central London – not the usual place you’d associate with wildlife. However, we garden for wildlife and work to organic methods (we don’t use any inorganic fertiliser, herbicide or pesticides). 

We grow wildflowers for pollinators, leave nettle patches and log piles for invertebrates. We are increasing the amount of hedging on site to provide habitats and nesting sites for our large sparrow population. We have also installed bee, bat and bird boxes and our youth clubs care for a dedicated Wildlife Garden in one secluded corner of the Farm that includes a wildlife pond hosting well over 50 frogs each Spring.

We also work in partnership with organisations in the Southwark Biodiversity Partnership to draw up and deliver the Southwark Nature Action Plan 2020 by encouraging biodiversity on site; with a particular focus on amphibians, house sparrows and bees

As a result our Farm is teaming with invertebrates, amphibians, birds and a regular fox visitor! Scroll down to see images of wildlife sightings this year:

15th September: This is a follow up to the butterfly egg photo on 9th September… one of the team went to check and found these caterpillars had hatched!

9th September: These eggs found at the Farm are probably of the Large White butterfly; a clue is that the leaf they’re laid on is a member of the cabbage family! Half the batch of eggs disappeared (or hatched?) overnight – you can see the circles on the leaf where they were previously.

8th September: Rosemary Beetles on the lavender in our herb garden; sadly these jewel-like creatures are pests, but we only found one pair. 

7th September: This green bug is the final stage nymph of the Common Green Shieldbug – you can see their wings just starting to develop.

12th August: We spotted this Leaf cutter bee using the insect hotels the Young Farmers installed last summer, as part of National Park City Festival. We also found circular notches in nearby bean and peach leaves which the Leaf cutter bees use to seal their eggs in the tubes. The youth plots are absolutely brimming with wildlife! 

11th August: Another wildlife discovery at the Farm this week was this nursery for Large White Butterflies. We noticed the wild sea beet looking rather stripped and shredded – on looking closer we found dozens of the caterpillars, of all sizes and varying shades, feeding up on its leaves.


10th August: We’re still finding dozens of frogs when watering, especially in and around the damp polytunnels. Most are tiny ‘first years’, but we also came across a very large mature one yesterday. They’re surprisingly happy to pose for photos inbetween hopping away from you.

3rd August: We often spot Red Admirals here at the Farm, but they don’t usually sit still for long so it’s hard to get a photo! This one was posing on the donation churn by the gate long enough to document!

28th July: These Mint Moths in our Herb Garden by the Thames Path are the second generation this year. This marjoram seems to be one of their favourite plants at the moment; they can almost always be found there when the sun’s out – but they’re small, so tend to go unnoticed.

21st July: This week we found the nymphs of the Southern Green Shieldbug that were first spotted 3 weeks ago. They’re much grown now, and have developed dark green ‘shoulders’. Next, they’ll become greener, and grow wings…

20th July; We spotted this Holly Blue butterfly on the mint flowers in our Herb Garden. Its’ long bendy proboscis reaches in the florets for nectar and it has striking two-tone antennae, with alternating black and white bands.

14th July: As its common name suggest, the Gatekeeper is often encountered where clumps of flowers grow in gateways and this one was photographed on one of our hurdle fences surrounded by long grass and wildflowers!

14th July: Large White butterfly, resting by the community plots that are full of their caterpillars’ favourite brassica foods!

14th July: We spotted this distinctive Great Pied Hoverfly or Volucella pellucens resting on a wood post by our Plot to Shop fruit and vegetable growing area.

13th July: We found what seems to have been an overnight mass migration of tiny froglets to the New Leaf garden. The froglet on the finger gives an idea of their size!

9th July: This is a hornet mimic hover fly. About 2cm long it’s one of the largest flies in Britain and is very distinctive but harmless! Its mimicry of a hornet helps keep predators, such as birds away.

9th July: We’ve planted a beautiful rose called ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’ in our new river garden. The flowers are very popular with visiting bees.

6th July: These Field Grasshoppers are brilliantly camouflaged, matching exactly the woodchip and dried grasses they’re ‘hiding’ in

7th July: Since finding the Peacock Butterfly caterpillars at the Farm, we’ve been watching keenly for the next stage. This week we found a dark mysterious creature on the path – it opened its wings to reveal its identity. Sadly it had lost a wing, so we helped it back to the meadow.

2nd July: Sunflowers are a great food source for wildlife. We’ve seen lots of insects visiting, including this bumble bee.

1st July: This decorative insect, found on the potato plants leaves appear to be the nymphs (juveniles) of the Southern Green Shield Bug – a recent arrival in the UK from Africa, inadvertently imported with food produce.

28th June: Caught in the act! One of the cheeky squirrels who love digging up and eating all our young vegetable plants also have been helping themselves to almonds from our tree by the Thames path!

28th June: Half-tadpole, half-frog: this creature was found when doing some duckweed-clearing in the wildlife pond. Over the next weeks it will absorb its tail back into its body; then it will be free to hop out of the pond as a tiny froglet!

5th July: The calendulas are in full flower; not only decorative, they help lure aphids away from the neighbouring vegetable crops, and attract aphid predators such as this hoverfly – probing within the florets for nectar.

27th June: Beautiful Comma Butterfly basking on a squash leaf in the Youth Allotment. It has an unusual wing shape with irregular edges and a distinctive white ‘comma’ shape on the under-wing. Caterpillars prefer to feed on nettles, but butterflies also lay their eggs on willow and hops, so we’ll have to keep watch on the willow arches that mark the entrance and exit to our youth allotment!

26th June: Update on the Peacock Butterfly caterpillars we found at the beginning of the month. They disappeared, only to be replaced by 3 times as many a couple of weeks later! We estimated 40-50. These have now also gone (to pupate in hiding?); we await the next stage…

22nd June: For those of you following the fortunes of the shield bugs that hatched at the Farm last week, they have now all moved on – leaving behind in perfect condition their incredible egg cases. The cluster of eggs is just 8mm across; you can only see this detail with a macro lens.

21st June: These insects are drowning, by design: the teasel plant has ‘cups’ which fill with rainwater to stop any insects advancing up its stem. A further strategy is needed though, as most sap-sucking insects can fly as well as climb…

19th June: Another sighting of a Speckled Wood butterfly, when watering in the gardens.

18th June: These are tiny, newly hatched Common Green Shield Bugs. They are so small they can barely be seen by the naked eye; note the curious neatness of their white egg cases, with their apparent ‘pop-up’ lids and latches.

17th June: These snails were collected from the broad bean beds and put on top of the compost heap to munch their way through the old plants. How long before they all crawl back?

16th June: Four little frogs uncovered when clearing and weeding by the polytunnel. We left some long grass for them to hide in. Common Frogs are a key species listed in Southwark’s Nature Action Plan 2020 and one we aim to protect, monitor and sustain here on the Farm.

14th June: Natural pest control. There are so many ladybird larvae at the Farm, they’re great friends to gardeners as help out by clearing the aphids and getting free meals for their trouble. The one in this photo has a green aphid in its jaws!

14th June: Other leading aphid eaters at the Farm are these Hoverfly larvae. They’re easily overlooked, especially the ones that disguise themselves as bird droppings. 


12th June: This Speckled Wood butterfly spent some time enjoying the youth allotments and rested on the willow leaves for a photo!

12th June: The hops and mulberry tree are covered in ladybird larva! Four larva and one pupa spotted on just one leaf. Ladybirds eat aphids and other small insects that feed on our vegetables, so they’re very welcome natural pest control!

10th June: Many of the insects at the Farm have been in their own little lockdowns over recent weeks, shutting themselves in to transform into their adult forms. Shown here is a particularly bright ladybird pupa, a hoverfly pupa, and a Harlequin Ladybird newly emerged from its case.

8th June: Saving snails! A dedicated volunteer rescued all these snails (and our vegetable plants from being eaten) from just one raised bed. They were relocated to our wildlife garden but I’m sure they’ll crawl back to the lettuces soon…

6th June: Another curiosity spotted at the Farm during lockdown; these piles of tiny twigs projecting unnaturally from these leaves are in fact the mobile homes of the larvae of a Bagworm moth, Psyche casta. They haven’t yet fully mastered the art of camouflage!

30th May: Two spot ladybirds are the most commonly sighted ladybird species on the Farm at the moment. This one is sitting next to some of it’s bright yellow eggs.

6th June: These striking caterpillars will become Peacock butterflies. We found at least 15 of these great spiny, velvety black creatures on the nettles in an area that has become a meadow over spring lockdown.

4th June: Bumblebee feeding on the lime tree pollen. It has pollen sacs on its legs that look very full!

30th May: This is a seven-spot native ladybird larva on the hop leaves

30th May: Mating pair of Fourteen-spot ladybirds.

30th May: This Silver Y moth was found sheltering in our youth shed.

30th May: Whilst removing weed from the wildlife garden pond we spotted lots of tadpoles and other pond life. This frog was keeping a close eye on our work! The garden is such a haven for wildlife and it is fantastic to see the pond thrumming with life.

26th May: Beautiful rosemary beetle on our Sage plant. The rosemary beetle (Chrysolina americana) originates from southern Europe and has been found in Britain since the mid-1990s. The larvae and adults feed on the foliage of rosemary, sage, lavendar and thyme.

25th May: We uncovered this frog living under some plant pots near our compost bins. Over 50 frogs journey to our pond to spawn each Spring, then disperse across the Farm and beyond. They’re very welcome here and provide a great natural pest control service – enjoying a slug and snail meal!‬

21st May: We think this is a Small White butterfly, visiting a valerian flower. It’s hard to identify white butterflies without seeing the underside of their wings. Visit the Butterfly Conservation’s website for lots of brilliant advice on where to spot and how to ID butterflies.

20th May: This is the Mint Moth, spotted in the Herb Garden – for good reason, as its caterpillars feed on mint and similar. This one is a fairly drab brown, but if you get them when freshly pupated, they’re a striking purple, like that in the second photo.

15th May: We have lots of bird feeders offering peanuts, sunflowers, fat balls and wild bird mix every day to visiting birds. We also have nyjer seed feeders which are particularly popular with this little flock of goldfinches.

12th May: Beautiful little yellow moth spotted at the Farm yesterday: the Yellow Shell, so-named after the wavy pattern on its wings which resembles certain sea shells.

28th April: Here’s one of the robin chicks from the walkway nest, after a rather traumatic night! It must have fledged the nest and fluttered into our plant room and with so few people working onsite we didn’t notice! The little bird was shut in all night, but when the door was opened in the morning it flew out and soon the parents found it and feeding resumed. What a lucky escape!

26th April: The wild birds that live and visit the Farm are taking advantage of the site being so quiet now: these robins are nesting above what would normally be a very busy doorway. They’ve cleverly made use of the pigeon spikes, which support the nest while deterring larger birds and predators.
The robins’ movements to and from the nest are split-second, so this is a great shot of the brief moment of food handover!

23rd April: On the youth growing plot there’s one bed dedicated to wildflowers which is great for attracting pollinators and looks beautiful!
The red campion is already flowering and bees, butterflies and moths are visiting.

14th April: This Wheatear was bobbing about the Farm’s riverside all day yesterday, one of many wild birds finding quiet space at the Farm during lockdown. It’s probably on a stopover in its migration.

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