Dave Wills

We are saddened to report the death of Dave Wills, a local bird expert who has been involved in producing our annual Commons Bird Report for over 40 years.

Dave was a familiar face strolling around the Commons with his binoculars and camera and he will be missed, not only by the staff with whom he had regular chats when he stopped off at the Office for a cup of tea, but also by his group of able bird-spotting supporters and the public alike.

Our Conservation and Engagement Officer, Peter Haldane, spent a lot of time with Dave and has written this fitting epitaph:

Alongside E.D. McMillan and R.H. Kettle, part of the legacy that Dave Wills has left behind has been a record of bird reports that spans 42 years of bird life on Wimbledon Common and Putney Heath.

In addition to the species lists that he provided, each annual report would also contain an introductory passage where Dave would highlight certain significant bird sightings that had been made during the year, weather patterns that had affected the bird life on the Commons or the effects that certain habitat management had made on specific species.  

Dave once said “one of the pleasures of compiling the Commons’ annual bird report is that no two years are ever quite the same” and while some things such as the level of disturbance that affected the ground nesting birds on the plateau remained a particular concern for Dave, reading through past bird reports there were obviously many other things that provided a great deal of delight for him.

Never slow to thank the contributions made by those he called the Commons’ ‘dependable team of contributors’, some of the many highlights that have been mentioned during the course of Dave’s annual bird reports have included the eighth successful year (2008) that Hobbys nested on the Commons, the return of nesting Skylarks to The Plain in 2015, the return of the Dartford Warbler to the heathland in 2016 after an absence of almost 78 years and the first time in which the Commons achieved the recording of over 100 birds (101 to be accurate) in a single year (2010).

With his unwavering enthusiasm, the number of people who benefited over the years from Dave’s expertise and knowledge of the Commons’ bird life is impossible to estimate but reading through the bird reports from 1999, there is perhaps one passage that highlights so much about the way he felt about the area that he affectionately referred to as ‘his patch’.

“All things considered we have much to be grateful for. Thanks to careful management, the Commons continues to host a rich variety of habitats and can boast a wildness that few places so close to the centre of London can equal, and, of course, it unfailingly attracts a wide range of birds, usually between 80 and 90 species each year. For those of us who do much of our bird watching in its heather clad plateau or its woodland glades, the Common and its birds are inseparably linked: for us, it is a special place, a place where the disappointment of the odd, unproductive visit is easily tempered by its prevailing qualities, or where, conversely, the occasional highlight, perhaps in the form of a Firecrest or a Wheatear or the flushing of a snipe, instils an elation that is infinitely greater for having occurred on this well-trodden patch of ours.”

Peter Haldane
 Conservation and Engagement Officer

Dave's family kindly nominated Wimbledon and Putney Commons as one of the charities that mourners could donate to in his memory.  We would like to offer our condolences to them at this sad time, and to express all our thanks to them for their generosity. 


Dave's shoes will be hard to fill - last year alone he put in over 500 hours on the Commons watching our bird life.   He also participated in the Wildlife and Conservation Forum, sharing his insightful long-term knowledge of the Commons.  Fittingly Dave’s ‘Commons’ dependable team of contributors’ has stepped in to ensure his work recording the Commons birds continues.  A long-time friend of Dave's, Adrian Podmore, has very kindly offered to co-ordinate these volunteers’ observations and all the bird data and to join in the planning and monitoring work of the Wildlife and Conservation Forum.   

If anyone would like to contribute bird-sightings, or be added to Adrian's mailing list, please do contact the Ranger's Office and we will pass on your details.