Update from Around the Commons
With winter almost behind us and spring just around the corner, the prospect of longer days and warmer weather is something to look forward to. But over the last few months, winter has provided the Commons with some incredible sights.
For those of us lucky enough to be on the Commons at the start of the day, the cold winter mornings have provided some amazing views across The Plain and even in some of the less well trodden areas of the Commons, the chilly mornings have still manged to transform fairly ordinary sights into something very special.
Storm Doris certainly made her mark when she arrived towards the end of February and we did lose 15 trees to those strong winds. The only other damage to affect the Commons was caused by one of those trees falling on to one of our memorial benches. In order to carry out repairs to the damaged bench old slats have been removed and these will be replaced by new pieces of wood in the very near future.
Amphibians - As we head into March, the Commons ponds should hopefully be teeming with frog spawn. In 2016, frog spawn was located in seven out of the Commons’ nine ponds as well as turning up in a flooded area of heathland just off of Ladies Mile.
Unfortunately, while frog spawn was fairly abundant on the Commons, we didn’t receive any reports of Toad spawn during 2016, although sightings of large numbers of baby Toads around the area of Cassell’s Cavern in June would indicate that Toad spawning must have taken place in Queensmere.
Breeding a little later than both Frogs and Toads, newts tend to spend most of the year away from ponds but will return during Spring to lay their eggs which they deposit on small broad-leaved plants within the pond. Peter Haldane, our Conservation Officer commented “Although Hookhamslade Pond and the Curling Pond have traditionally been good areas in which to find newts, unfortunately during 2016 the only newts that we were aware of were found beneath logs on The Plain and various locations around the heathland.” To help monitor their distribution, Peter would be grateful for any reports of Newt sightings on the Commons this year.
In addition to our own monitoring of amphibians, the Freshwater Habitats Trust has also launched their own Pond Net spawn survey 2017 and are very keen to know about the distribution of Frogs and Toads across the country.
If anybody would like to join in with this fun initiative, please visit The Freshwater Habitats Trust website:
The spawn survey will be running from now until the end of May 2017 and the idea is for participants to look out for frog and toad spawn as well the presence of tadpoles, adult frogs and toads. Anybody can take part in the survey and all recordings will contribute to the national pond database.
Birdlife - With 1st March being the official date of the start of the UK bird nesting season, preparations have been underway to help small birds such as Blue Tits and Great Tits on Putney Lower Common by positioning wooden bird boxes around various parts of the site.
Built by three members of staff, these bird boxes are of the highest specification and should provide an ideal home for these small bird species over the coming years.
Dave Wills, our local bird expert has also reported sightings of a Dartford Warbler again, which is really good news. He has also reported sightings of European Stonechat, Common Buzzard, Redwing, Reed Bunting, Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Red Kit and Eurasian Teal.
And, of course, our restrictions on dog-walking on the Plain came into effect on 1st March and there is a more detailed post on that, with information for dog-walkers in particular, here.
In the next few weeks, a couple of our brave staff will take to the water at Queensmere to start dressing the three floating platforms in anticipation of the swans successfully nesting there again.
Hedgehogs - While Hedgehogs have not been reported on Wimbledon Common or Putney Heath for a considerable number of years, it was with some excitement that during 2016 we received seven reports of sightings of this elusive creature from the area surrounding Putney Lower Common. Having virtually disappeared from many areas of London, national figures for Hedgehogs also show that there has been a strong decline in numbers across the entire country in recent years.
To find out more about the behaviour and conservation of Hedgehogs, local expert Dr Nigel Reeve kindly provided a talk to a group of approximately 80 people at the London Scottish Golf Club on 8th February. According to Dr Reeve, the decline in Hedgehog numbers in the UK is down to a number of factors including loss and degraded habitat, fragmentation of habitat, reduced levels of invertebrate prey, use of pesticides, hazards such as garden netting, ponds, litter, large numbers of foxes and dogs and heavy traffic resulting in road kill.
To help us continue with the protection of Hedgehogs on the Commons, Dr Reeve has kindly agreed to provide training for our staff on what precautions to take and best management practice for hedgehogs and this will help guide our future management of Putney Lower Common. With Hedgehogs emerging over the next few weeks from their winter hibernation, there is no better time in which to start thinking about ways in which we can help to improve the Hedgehog population, both here on the Commons and in your own gardens. We have plenty of helpful leaflets in the Ranger's Office, provided for the talk by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, which you are welcome to pop in and pick up.
Ivy - While the spread of Ivy on trees close to busy roads is actively managed as part of the Commons’ tree safety programme - with much of its clearance being carried out by volunteers - elsewhere on the Commons, Ivy is regarded in a very positive light and therefore actively encouraged.
Considered by many as a parasite, its benefit to our wildlife cannot be underestimated. It takes nothing from the tree and uses it only for support and provides shelter and food for our native wildlife throughout the whole year. The dense foliage provides an important nesting site for birds, summer roosting for bats and a hibernation site for some of our butterflies. Being a late flowering plant, Ivy also provides a variety of insects and birds with one of their last opportunities to stock up on food for the winter, such as the Ivy Bee picture above.
Development at Putney Lower Common
The landscaping works to restore parts of Putney Lower Common following completion of the school and new apartments have been finalised for this planting season. Temporary chestnut pale fencing has been installed around the newly seeded meadows and planted areas to protect them while they establish.
We are very much aware of the issue regarding the light pollution from the new school affecting wildlife habitats, particularly in the woodland belt immediately to west of the new school.and we are working with the Executive Principal, local residents and the developers to get this issue resolved as quickly as possible.
News from the Stable Yard
Over the last few months we have had two new arrivals in the Keeper’s Stable Yard. The first of these is the very wonderful Merlin the Tawny Owl.
Having been bred in captivity, Merlin has spent the majority of his life so far with the team who have managed the London Wildcare Centre in Beddington Park, South London. As a result of rising costs and after twenty years of nursing London’s wildlife back to health, the London Wildcare Trust was forced to temporarily close its doors until it can raise funds for new premises, and they needed to find a new home for Merlin.
We have worked closely in the past with them aiding in the recuperation of birds prior to release so we were their first port of call and we were pleased to step in. Merlin now resides in a very bijou flight pen in the stable yard where he is fascinated by the comings and goings of horses and people. He is a very sociable owl and greets anyone walking into the yard!
Hhis arrival has caused a bit of a stir with our indigenous population - the sudden appearance of a male Tawny Owl into an area already frequented by other male Tawny Owls has, on more than one occasion, had the effect of transforming an otherwise quiet stable yard into something reminiscent of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry! Merlin is a wonderful addition to our team and has already captivated the groups of schoolchildren who often visit the yard.
Our second addition comes in the form of our new patrol horse, Romeo. Although is he with us on a short-term loan, he has taken to patrol like a duck to water and already wormed his way into our hearts as he really lives up to his name!