Commons Update January 2020

The winter months have provided an opportunity for our Maintenance Team to get to grips with some of the important restoration and safety projects around the Commons.

Ongoing path works

Following the major repairs that had to be carried out on the horse rides after the torrential rain in October (see previous Catch-up), the Maintenance Team have continued their path restoration work along Ladies Mile near Kingsmere, where the increased rainfall had caused this already muddy major access route to become impassable for some of our visitors.

In order to increase increase natural light onto this shaded section, tree thinning and tree safety works were carried out adjacent woodland edges.  Existing drainage ditches were dredged and a new network of ditches and pipes created in the area around the area to help transfer water away from the twin pathways. 

Finally both the height of both the footpath and parallel cycle track were raised and resurfaced with a camber to help prevent severe flooding affecting this area again.

Restoration work on Putney Heath

Lowland heathland is a priority for nature conservation because it is a rare and threatened habitat.  It has declined greatly in extent during the last two centuries – in England it is estimated that only one sixth of the heathland present in 1800 remains – and it still faces major pressures.    

The habitat is defined by the poor fertility of its soils, which discourages other plants, but the process of natural succession results in heathland eventually developing into birch or pine woodland if left to its own devices. Traditional heathland activities such as livestock grazing and burning have played a vital role in stalling this succession and allowing heathland to persist over the centuries. 

The Heathland on the Commons is therefore vitally important and is the reason we have a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status.  As part of the Commons’ Countryside Stewardship Agreement with Natural England, we have a duty to ensure that the habitat is properly managed and, where possible, restored.  As we don’t graze or burn here on the Commons, we have to manually step in to mimic the effects that these would have. 

In early December, the Maintenance Team began work on the restoration programme for the area immediately north of Jubilee Path, clearing out scrub and some trees.   When this stage of the work is completed, follow up work will include mowing the brambles that currently cover much of the ground and during the summer, volunteers will be back on site cutting back bracken and dealing with any saplings or re-growth that may appear.

Putney Heath has also been designated a Special Area of Conservation because of its importance for beetles and insect diversity and so a large number of logs created from the felled trees have been used to create habitat piles that have been positioned along the edge of the nearby woodland whilst the smaller branches and other small pieces of wood are shredded and removed.

Poplars along Friars Avenue

In November 2019 we unfortunately had to carry out some tree removal along Friars Avenue, adjacent to the Richardson Evans Memorial Playing Fields. 

As the owners and managers of a public open space, we have both a legal and moral duty to ensure, as far as possible, the safety of visitors to the Commons and as part of this, we employ an independent tree safety consultant to undertake regular inspections of the trees on the Commons, particularly those along well-used paths or close to roads, buildings and the car parks.

Following the most recent survey of the trees on the Playing Fields, we were advised that the Lombardy Poplars on the south side of Friars Avenue contained significant amounts of decay. This decay meant that there was an increased risk of these trees failing and, with the high winds we experienced in late October, one of Poplars came down into the garden of an adjacent house.  Given their proximity to a well-used road and to the busy Playing Fields, this risk had to be addressed and the decision was taken to fell the trees. 

Because of the impact on the outlook from the properties on Friars Avenue, we advised the residents of the work that would be taking place, and why.  We were contacted by several residents asking if it might be possible to lessen the impact and not fell all the trees at the same time. Although all the trees will need to come down at some point, we agreed with the residents that we would only remove the most significantly decaying trees now and would remove the others that could safely be left at a later date. 

The trees were left as waist high stumps with the view that they will re-coppice and continue to maintain a natural wild hedge line along with the blackthorn and other fruit trees that are already established in this tree line.  Where possible we will look to plant new trees to replace them.



January 2020