Commons Update April 2021

Welcome to our Commons News Update for April 2021

Without doubt the landscape of the Commons has changed significantly over the last 12 months.  New paths have sprung up just about everywhere, existing paths are much wider and many grassy areas have been denuded of anything green.  But the flora and the fauna of the Commons are resilient and with time, and a little helping hand from us, they will recover.

Litter remains an issue and, unfortunately, the gatherings of large numbers of teenagers over recent weeks are also causing some damage to sensitive areas.  As the police patrol Rushmere more frequently, the gatherings have now moved further into the Commons, particularly around Bluegate Pond, and empty bottles and rubbish are either left where they're dropped or thrown into the pond.  Worryingly, fires are also being lit, with evidence of four in one area alone last weekend.

We understand the toll this last year has had on everyone, particluarly children and teenagers whose lives have been completely de-railed, and they need to let their hair down too.  But we are concerned not only about issues around under-age drinking - if anyone needs help it makes it much harder for us to find them when they are hidden away - but also about potential serious damage to the Commons as we move toward summer and the Commons become much more at risk from fire.

If your teenagers are visiting the Commons of an evening, do please ask them to take care of the Commons and take their rubbish away with them, and do make sure they at least have the Ranger's Office number on their phones to call us if they need help (020 8788 7655).

With apologies for starting this report on a sombre note, do please read on for an update on what's been happening around the Commons.

Queensmere Floating Platforms

Given how busy and largely unprotected Queensmere Pond, living on Queensmere is never without an element of danger for the wildfowl that call the pond home. 

Nevertheless, they continue to nest here and, during 2020, the swans raised five cygnets with four of the youngsters remaining on site until the middle of February. The cygnets were all very healthy but with Spring on the way and the breeding season in sight, the resident adult male starts to become territorial and sees off the youngsters, not allowing them into the water. So for their own safety the four youngsters were “rescued” by volunteers from Swan Rescue and released at Walton on Thames.

In readiness for the 2021 breeding season, our staff have spruced up the floating platform with new nesting material, much to the delight of the Pen who quickly took up residence.  Staff believe she is sitting on eggs but we don’t yet know how many.  Two additional floating platforms are also being built and are about to be launched. 


Kingsmere “Duck Tubes”

The sharp-eyed amongst you will have notices some new structures on the island at Kingsmere.  Our Conservation and Engagement Officer, Peter Haldane, has decided to trial the introduction of duck tubes. With mallard numbers in the UK declining, these off the ground duck nesting tubes provide added protection for the nesting birds from flooding and predation.  As with all trials, it difficult to know how successful they will be but we've learnt this week that at least one pair of Mallards have taken up residence.


Other Nests - As far as nesting help for our general bird population, we’ve been assisting there too.  Although the Commons obviously provides a good natural habitat, it never hurts to provide a little extra security particularly given how busy the Commons are at the moment. 

During February and the beginning of March 2021, a number of different types of bird boxes (and bowls) were located around various parts of the Commons. 

Since 2014, we have been fortunate to have Swallows nesting in the barn in our stable yard and their arrival every spring is a highlight of our year.  I’m sure many of you visiting the Information Centre or the Terrapin Pond will have seen them swooping and diving around the area.   Our volunteer bird recorder, Adrian Podmore, suggested we try to encourage additional pairs through the use of nesting bowls.  So we have installed five of them around the stable complex in the hope we can attract a few more pairs to breed here.


We have had one kestrel nesting box on Putney Heath for a few years, and this year we have had reports of a Kestrel inspecting it. With at least 6 pairs of Kestrels known to call the Commons home, we have installed a second box high in a pine tree on the other side of Putney Heath near Inner Park Ride. 

Other nest boxes that have recently been installed around the Commons include two boxes (known as roundhouses) for Wrens, two open fronted nest boxes for Robins and three nest boxes with a variety of hole sizes that have been designed for smaller birds such as Tits and even Nuthatch.

Bird Report - the 2020 Report, Birds, Butterflies and Dragonflies of Wimbledon and Putney Commons is now available - free of charge online, or £4 from the Ranger's Office.


Path Restoration

The value of the Commons in providing an opportunity for everyone to get some exercise and relief from four walls as we went into lockdown after lockdown over the last year has been immeasurable.  However, the additional footfall, particularly over a very wet winter, has taken its toll on all areas of the Commons with footpaths and grassy areas reduced to mud baths during the wettest part of winter.

Undertaking major restoration projects is not feasible at the moment as it will require us to source additional funding, either through grants or an appeal, but there are measures we can take to help alleviate some of worst affected areas.  These include dead hedging, drainage and the installation of temporary fencing.

Dead hedging is a really simple technique which aims to form a barrier made of using piles of cut branches and twigs to encourage visitors to take a specific route. It’s a technique that we’ve used many times on the Commons and it provides a great way of recycling natural materials that have been produced from other work around the Commons, such as scrub clearance on the Heath.

The section of the Beverley Brook foot path which was re-surfaced earlier in 2020 has, despite the heavy footfall and the wet conditions, proved to be extremely resilient.  However, and possibly as a result of people maintaining social distancing, some of the areas of ground either side of the path have suffered.  To ensure that these areas and others like them have a chance to recuperate and develop suitable ground flora, enhancing the Brook below, temporary fencing will be put in place again in order to encourage visitors to keep to the main path.


Woodland Management:

All woodland work on the Commons is carried out under the guidance of a five-year Countryside Stewardship agreement that has been agreed with Natural England, the Forestry Commission and the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators.

Over the past couple of months, our Maintenance Team has been carrying out a series of works including some restoration work on Stag Bog, and tree thinning around Curling Pond, as well as the removal of a non-native invasive Tree of Heaven on Putney Lower Common.

Stag Bog - located just below the Paradise Fairway, is one of three historic bog sites on Wimbledon Common. The initial phase of this small project, which started in November 2020, involved cutting back the bramble and tree cover that had gradually encroached upon the area. During the last week of February 2021, work continued with the creation of a thick dead hedge around three sides of the bog which should help to reduce the footfall in this area. In addition to this work, the drainage ditch which runs into Stag Bog was re-instated and a number of small pools were created around the site.


Tree Thinning at Curling Pond - Curling Pond is the smallest of the Commons’ nine ponds and it is located close to the Junction of the A3 and Roehampton Ride. It is one of our most important ponds for newts so maintaining the pond and its immediate environs is essential.  Turkey oak have been thinned from around the pond to allow more sunlight to reach it, reduce the amount of leaf fall that enters the water and to reduce the amount of water loss that is an unfortunate feature of this pond.  We will be carrying out some more work around Curling Pond during autumn 2021.


Wildlife Update

Comma ButterflyAs happened in 2020, a spell of warm weather in February and March certainly fooled much of our wildlife into thinking Spring had finally arrived and butterflies in particular started to be seen on sunny warm days, with Brimstones, Peacocks and Commas seen frequently on the Commons. 

Although our flora is taking its time this year, perhaps anticipating the recent cold snap, there has been a good showing of Snowdrops, and Cowslips are starting to come out too. That lovely coconut smell emanating from the gorse on the Heath on warm days has been glorious over the last few weeks, giving a welcome splash of colour too.

Bird migration is also starting with Blackcaps started arriving early in mid-March, and one of our regular recorders spotted the first Swallow on the Commons on 26 March over Putney Heath.  Over-wintering residents seem to be doing well and it’s been good to note that the Firecrest we have been recording at Putney Vale over recent years have been seen further afield and we are fairly confident they are now breeding here.

As always, we welcome reports of any wildlife you see particularly, as we come into May, any sighting of Stag Beetles.  Do please contact us at the Ranger's Office

Update on the Proposed Wildlife Garden

Many of you kindly donated to our Appeal for the creation of a Wildlife Garden in front of Manor Cottage in 2019, and you may well be wondering why nothing has happened.

Thanks to your generosity we raised the £20,000 target we set and work was scheduled to start in February 2020.  However, the very wet start to the year meant that the area we had designated for the underground water storage tank was completely flooded and work had to be postponed.  Then, of course, COVID-19 arrived and work was again put on hold as our staff, who were going to undertake much of the groundwork, had to shift all their focus onto dealing with the ramifications of lockdown and its effect on the Commons. 

Given the delay, we have taken the opportunity to give some more thought to the plans and we will likely scale down our initial ambitious proposals to something more manageable going forward, which will also allow us to employ contractors to help with the work.  We are now looking to start in Autumn this year.


Oil Leak on Robin Hood Ride

Several reguslar visitors contacted us about an issue with oil in the ditch along Robin Hood Ride leading into Beverley Brook.  We have finally got UK Power Networks out to look at it and it seems that a joint had ruptured causing the leak - the pipes are filled with oil to protect the cables that run through them - and, as many of you will be aware, repairs are underway. 

We apologise for any distruption if the Ride is on your regular walking or cycling route.