The 1140 acres of Wimbledon Common, Putney Heath and Putney Lower Common are all rich in a wide variety of wildlife, plants and trees. Split into quite distinctive habitats, 900 acres of the Commons have been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), mainly because of the importance of its heathland. In addition, the Commons are designated a European Special Area of Conservation (SAC), not only for the heathland, but also because they provide habitat for the increasingly rare Stag Beetle.
The main habitats are heathland, acid grassland, woodlands, riverine areas and ponds. Important small habitats include the wayside verges, the wet and boggy areas and woodland glades. More information on these can be found in Plants.
Wimbledon Common and Putney Heath support an extensive area of open heathland. Extending to about 40 acres, the heathland makes up 50% of that found in Greater London, which is itself a small remnant of the original heathland area. Thus heathland is also a priority habitat within the London Basin Natural Area.
Recognised as one of Britain’s most important semi-natural landscapes for wildlife conservation, heathland is a habitat that develops and thrives on extremely impoverished soil, resulting in a characteristically open landscape dominated by low growing shrubs and grasses, with areas of bare ground, wetland and scrub.
The main plants to look out for on our heathland include Heather, Gorse, Broom and Purple Moor Grass. The’ Heather’, which mainly comprises Ling (Calluna vulgaris ), looks particularly spectacular when it comes into flower in August/September.
Lowland heath supports a rich variety of wildlife, including many species of birds, reptiles and invertebrates.
Historically, the heathland landscapes developed through the activities of human settlement. Originating from the forest clearance of early farming communities, grazing by livestock ensured that tree regeneration was suppressed and heathland habitats were protected. Without grazing, the continued survival of our heathland relies upon active management, with the work carried out by our staff and volunteers mimicking the actions of grazing cattle.
Often associated with lowland heathland, “acid grassland typically occurs on nutrient poor, free draining soil with a pH ranging from 4 to 5.5” (UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Habitat description)
On Wimbledon Common and Putney Heath, there are four areas that are managed as acid grassland sites (Tibbet’s corner, the small meadow off Centre path, Westside Common and the Plain) with the Plain being the largest of the four areas.
Information relating to flora & fauna for The Plain is available in the Monitoring on the Plain report from the recent surveys and BioBlitz events.
The woodland on the Commons is largely semi-natural, having established through natural regeneration. There are a few areas where trees have been planted but these are specimen trees in rings or avenues rather than large blocks or stands.
The trees that form the woodland are generally native British trees such as Oak, Lime, Beech and Silver Birch. Others, such as London Plane, Sweet and Horse Chestnut and Sycamore are introduced species that have been established in Britain for many centuries.
Since 2007, the Commons woodland has been managed under a Forestry Commission Grant Scheme with the main objectives of:
- maintaining & conserving nature conservation of the woodland
- maximising public enjoyment of the woodland
Enhancing environmental quality and biodiversity are key objectives of management on the Commons. Since first entering into the English Woodland Grant Scheme, some of the work that has been carried out has included:
- holly thinning
- hazel coppicing
- creation and maintenance of woodland glades.
Beverley Brook (Wimbledon Common)
Entering the Commons at Mill Corner, Beverley Brook flows approximately 1800 metres in a northerly direction before leaving the Commons beneath the Beverley Bridge on the A3 Kingston by-pass. Beyond this it continues through Richmond Park and thence to the Thames at Barnes.
The average width of the Beverley Brook is six metres. The channel substrate along the river course is a mixture of clay and coarse gravel with considerable fine silt deposits. The water flows very slowly during dry spells, with depths ranging from 15cm to 30cm.
The Brook itself has undergone several transformations. It was deepened during the 1800s and in 1936 it was widened and straightened and the banks built up using dredging. During 1952, a section of the Brook running parallel to the Richardson Evans Memorial Playing Fields was widened and the bank side raised to reduce the risk of flooding the playing fields.
The quality of the water in the Brook has improved dramatically over recent years and it now contains a good population of coarse fish dominated by chub and dace. Other species that have been spotted that are present in lower numbers include gudgeon, European eel, roach, rudd and stickleback.
We have been undertaking work to remove some of the boarding at the banksides to allow the Brook to run more naturally and create its own havens at the banksides for fish and other aquatic creatures.
Ponds are another important habitat and these are described separately on the Ponds page.