Even though a drizzly Tuesday morning was forecasted this didn’t discourage a group of 15, from the Richmond Biodiversity Partnership, from heading to Barnes in Richmond upon Thames for a walking tour of the common. The tour was led by Mike Hildesley (Friends of Barnes Common (FoBC) Chairman) and organised by the Richmond Biodiversity Partnership/SWLEN for the benefit of its Partners who are local land managers and/or biodiversity officers. The entire common land covering 100 acres (50Ha) provides a varied landscape of meadows, woodland and rough grassland with heath. The Common is a Local Nature Reserve and Site of Nature Conservation Importance.
The Walking Tour started at Vine Road, recreational ground.
Mike outlined the route and introduced the FoBC management plan which aims to ensure the green space is preserved and thriving. The plan involves identifying species present on Barnes Common, highlighting key species so that individual Species Action Plans (SAPs) can be established and managed. Some of the key species at Barnes Common are the Song Thrush, Lowland Acid Grassland and the Stag Beetle. Another important aspect of FoBC’s management incorporates educational aspects and the promotion of outdoor learning.
We crossed the level crossing to the first stop of the tour – The Old Cricket Pitch
A lovely green open space. Mike explained that a blocked field drain causes the water table to rise so only certain tree species survive, e.g. Willow. The promotion of other plant species had been implemented by FoBC, a Black Popular sapling could be spotted doing very well!
Along a stepping stone path and into the first part of woodland stood an old oak leaning to its side in several directions, the frequent occurrence of children climbing is a big problem.
The first pond of the walk was a man-made seasonal pond, comprised solely of rainwater.
Lots of flora had started to grow with a high concentration of Celery-Leafed Buttercup. There is hope for amphibian presence if conditions continue to improve, although it is likely to take a few years. The machinery used to deepen the pond had caused a clearing effect, creating a dark path for nocturnal species namely bats.
The next stop on the tour was the Forest School Base it is a good example of trampled woodland due to a group of children coming weekly to experience learning within a natural environment.
It was noted as a ‘sacrificial spot’ as less vegetation was in sight and it is unlikely that key species habitats are affected.
We followed the trail towards Barnes Station past diverse flora and through to the next woodland area. A great example of bracken control was highlighted with all cuttings and chippings eventually composted.
On the other side of Barnes station a rubbish bin with an interesting dual purpose became topic of conversation, as it had a rat trap at the bottom. This is a good way to help control the number of rats, which may be a threat to other species and habitats around the common.
The next green open space on the common has indicated high species richness including the presence of voles and ant hills. It is also a perfect demonstration of a key habitat, Low Acid Grassland, regeneration by the clearance and thinning of scrub and undergrowth from areas in the Habitat Action Plan (HAP). For example, the removal of small pockets of bramble, scrub and saplings ensures more light and air can reach the grassland. This encourages key species like Sheep Sorrel and Heather to grow. The walk meandered through a lovely meadow highlighting the diversity and beauty of the common space and then across the road towards Old Barnes Cemetery!
Mike explained that this broad-leaved woodland area had undergone thinning of understory in the winter to ensure a lot of the invasive holly was removed, and some Hazel whips have been planted where the undergrowth was cleared.
Next stop along the footpath closest to Putney an invertebrate haven could be observed. These log structures of dead wood are left standing to support invertebrates and beetles. Stag Beetle populations are rare and protected so this creation of important habitats like these help to promote their survival.
The last part of the tour passed a reed bed pond hoping to appeal to nesting birds and then onwards to Beverley Brook, a peaceful water feature, used by smaller animals and water grasses. A non-native invasive plant called Himalayan Balsam was spotted and is a wide spread problem due to its negative impact on native plant species and wildlife. It seems a common concern throughout the group and ensuring the plant is pulled out when spotted is essential for management.
The final stop has been claimed the oldest cricket pitch in London, whether that is completely true who knows but one thing is for certain, the hard working team at FoB ensure a continuous preservation and promotion of environmental enhancement for the Barnes Common Nature Reserve.
The tour was successful in highlighting how effective appropriate management of green spaces can be for the improvement of habitats, conservation and biodiversity and with future communication and links to schools and the community, FoBC is a great example of progress in action.
I would highly recommend a visit to Barnes Common and a stroll through the varying habitats, for more information click here.
By Jemma Chamberlain-Webber (SWLEN Biodiversity Communications Volunteer)